It happens weekly. Whenever I’m running errands and there’s some sort of lull or pause, someone in line either ahead of us or behind us will start to make small talk in order to pass the time. I LOVE small talk. What I don’t love are questions about my fertility.
When you ask a woman about children, THAT is what you are asking about, whether you’ve thought that through or not.
I know people mean well. I know that to them, a simple question about children and siblings is not a big deal. They have no way of knowing how their questions could be harmful. Depending on the day and depending on my emotional capacity within the moment, I will either smile and not answer or I will attempt to quietly educate within my answer.
“Do you have any children?”
The brief answer: Yes.
What I sometimes say: I have one and he took a long time to get here.
What I wish I could say: You know, if you had asked me this a few years ago, I would have collapsed into tears. Of course you would have no way of knowing that I was a woman going through fertility treatments. Of course you would have no way of knowing that I was terrified that I will never become a mother.
“Is he your only one?”
The brief answer: Yes.
What I sometimes say: Yes.
What I wish I could say: Yes. After five years of trying, I got really lucky and had a baby.
“Don’t you want more?”
The brief answer: (No response.)
What I sometimes say: Who wouldn’t?!
What I wish I could say: Are you kidding me? I would have loved to have had more. It would have been so fantastic to have been able to do things that fertile people do like plan the spacing between my children. It would have been amazing to actually use the word, “Children.” Of COURSE I wanted more. But I lost them.
“Does he have any siblings?”
The brief answer: No.
What I sometimes say: No, I had multiple miscarriages.
“I bet he is such a wonderful big brother!”
The brief answer: He is an only child.
What I sometimes say: He is a fantastic kid, but I was not able to have any more children.
What I wish I could say: Thanks for making me cry.
The thing is, we have no idea what families are going through. None. On most days, I have made peace with having one kid. (One wonderful, amazing, brilliant, kind, funny, snuggly kid.) But I can’t promise I won’t weep a bit in private if someone asks me about children.
I’m not the only woman who has this inner dialogue when presented with assumptive questions about children. The latest stats from the CDC reveal that 10.6% of women have impaired fecundity (fecundity is the ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term). Who is the 1 woman out of the 10 you may talk to today who lives this stat?
There is no way to know, not for certain.
The topic of siblings isn’t just hard for moms, it’s also hard for kids as well. When my son W was in preschool, there was a moment where more than half of his classmates had mothers who were expecting. Out of a class of 18 there were only two who were only children. During this time I got pregnant but then sadly miscarried.
Several months later W and I joined two families at the local playground. He and his buddies ran around having a great time while I sat on a bench with their two moms who were nursing newborns. All of a sudden one of the older kids came running towards us on the bench exclaiming, “It’s time to kiss the babies!”
Two children leaned down and sweetly kissed the tops of their sibling’s heads. One child went charging off and collapsed in tears underneath the slide.
When W and I are out running errands he is often asked, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” or told, “I bet you are a great big brother!” Like me, some days the remarks don’t phase him. But on other days I can see the emotional wall crumbling down, and it’s heartbreaking.
It took me so long to achieve motherhood. So long to have this one and only child. When I am asked about other children or siblings, a part of me wants to yell, “But don’t you get it? Don’t you realize how lucky I am to have this boy?!”
That’s when I realize that a lot of people just don’t get it. They don’t realize how heavy and emotional questions about children can be to a person. Everyone has a back story, and everyone has an under story. Knowing that is one of the reasons why I talk about my infertility journey so openly. It is why my son knows his creation story involves doctors and a lab in New Jersey.
So I beg you, if you find yourself about to make small talk with a woman you have just met, please stick to questions about her shoes or the weather and try to leave anything relating to her womb out of it.
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