“So when can we expect to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet?” my mom’s friend asked me with a smile, the Christmas after I was married. At this point, I had been a married woman for precisely eight weeks. I had no idea when I was going to start trying to have a family let alone when I might even get pregnant. I looked at this woman and was speechless — I mumbled something about waiting for a stork and dashed off.
I’m reminded of this incident after attending my 25-year high school reunion with my best friend. Having been dreading going, I ended up having a ball, but when I caught up with my friend, she surprised me by saying she hadn’t enjoyed it as much. While it was lovely catching up with old classmates, she felt like all anyone asked her were the predictable questions: “Are you married? Do you have any kids?” She’s divorced and hasn’t had children. She said that the look of pity on the faces of those asking made her feel that in somehow not having kids, her life hadn’t amounted to much. Why is it that people feel they can ask about when and why we don’t have kids — as if it is a given that all women want to procreate?
People feel it is perfectly acceptable to ask women about the state of their womb, particularly when a couple has “settled down” and gotten hitched. Last week, U.K. TV host Christine Lampard admitted during an interview:
“Oddly enough at 37, if you don’t have babies, it’s all I get asked. … That’s a really big question. It doesn’t bother me really but it’s something I would never ask another girl. Purely because I have so many friends who have been through terrible struggles to have little babies and you just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors and what’s going on in other people’s lives.”
Imagine being in the public eye and having to swat away questions from reporters asking intrusive questions at every turn? Last year, Chrissy Teigen admitted she had seen fertility doctors on her show FABLife and that she and her husband John Legend were having trouble conceiving. She said, “We would have had kids five, six years ago if it happened, but my gosh, it’s been a process.” Clearly being asked about why she hadn’t had kids bothered her, as she admitted:
“It’s kind of crazy because I can’t imagine being that nosy to be like, ‘So, when are the kids coming?’ because who knows what somebody’s going through. So anytime somebody asks if I’m going to have kids, I’m just like, ‘One day you’re going to ask that to the wrong girl who is really struggling and it’s going to be really hurtful to them, and I hate that. Stop asking me!’”
And Teigan’s admission prompted a confession from her cohost Tyra Banks, who broke down in tears as she said:
“I’m so tired of seeing on my social media, ‘Why don’t you have kids, why don’t you have kids?’ You don’t know. You don’t know what I’m going through, you have no idea. … For a long time, it was so funny. I was 23 years old, I used to tell myself, ‘In three years I’m going to have kids.’ Then I turned 24, ‘In three years I’m going to have kids.’ Every single year I just kept saying that. And then after a while it’s like, now I want to, it’s not so easy.”
Fertility is an incredibly private subject, and I wish we’d all learn to tread far more carefully. I’ve watched friends at work announce pregnancies and seen them turn to others saying, “You’ll be next!” I’ve done it myself — all with good intensions. But what if that person has just had her third failed round of IVF and all she keeps thinking is that she WON’T be next? An innocent comment could wound far deeper than we’d ever realize.
Meanwhile friends who have had one child feel a similar judgment. Some I know split from their partners or for fertility reasons only had one child — and yet they get asked, “Wouldn’t you have wanted another?” Or people question, “You don’t want to have an only surely?” Since when is it okay to make judgments on people’s lives in this way? Would it be okay to comment on someone’s job, sexuality, hairstyle, or where they lived in the same manner?
When I think back, I remember being asked ALL THE TIME in my late 20s, “When are you going to meet a nice young man and settle down?” It infuriated me because first — being married wasn’t a life goal of mine. Why should women have to have a partner to feel settled or whole? And second — I had dated a wealth of idiots and put myself “out there” but hadn’t met anyone great, not for lack of trying. It was like until I met a man, I had somehow “failed.” I often wanted to reply that I was too busy having affairs with married men (a lie) just to shut them up.
Likewise, women in their 30s don’t need to be reminded that their “clock is ticking,” newlyweds don’t need to hear “Don’t wait too long, eh!” and parents of small toddlers don’t need to be questioned “When are you going to give little Joe a sibling?” It is frankly none of our business.
Back to the reunion I attended: wildly aware of how upsetting those kind of questions might be, I avoided them. I asked people instead if they settled in Ireland (where I am from) or moved away? Did they keep in touch with anyone from school? I brought up old memories of schooldays and waited for them to offer any info on their relationship status, their children, their jobs. I employed some good old-fashioned tact. Isn’t it time we all did the same?