It’s probably a question you’ve received a thousand times before; from a well-meaning relative, an overly enthusiastic friend or someone you’ve barely met whilst trying to make small talk. But asking someone “when they’re going to have children” is invasive, and uncomfortable, and is, quite frankly, not anyone else’s business.
There will never be a satisfactory answer for anyone when they ask this question. If someone wants to discuss this, they’ll bring it up themselves if they feel safe and secure enough to do so. If a woman is actively trying to have a baby, chances are they still might not tell you in case something goes wrong and it’s not all as straight forward as they hoped. The only answer to this is that is not uncomfortable for everyone involved is “I’m already pregnant!” – and then you’ve just ruined their pregnancy announcement that they’d probably been planning for months.
This question (along with “when are you going to settle down?” or “aren’t you engaged yet?”) is rarely meant to be offensive, but it so often is. There are many, many reasons in someone’s life why they haven’t had children, why their relationship hasn’t taken the next step, or why they’re still single.
They just don’t want to
This is possibly the most straight forward reason, but also the one that people seem to refuse to accept as a ‘legitimate’ answer. If someone says they don’t want children, it’s often met with the rhetoric of “you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person” or “how do you know you don’t want them if you’ve never had them?”. Firstly, deciding to have children shouldn’t be a trial and error situation. It’s not something you can return to a department store if you decide it’s not for you.
Most women who decide not to have children have thought about it, they’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided it’s just not for them. We aren’t all born with a maternal gene, and whilst it’s wonderful for those of you that do have it and feel like you can’t imagine your life without a child, for those of us that don’t have that sense of longing, having a child just sounds, well, awful.
For some, they may be afraid of passing on a hereditary medical condition, or know that they are not physically able to care for a child, or just don’t want to give up the freedom of being childless. We should be applauding these women for being considerate enough to make these decisions, not shaming them for being “selfish” or “cold”.
It does also seem to be a common idea that if you don’t want children then you must hate them. Many women who are opting not to have children don’t loathe your child – they just like to be able to go home and not have to take a child with them.
They’re unable to have them
This is one of the major reasons that it’s never ok to ask someone if they’re having children. Many people are physically unable to bear children, and it can be incredibly difficult for them to talk about it. Some have made their peace with not being able to have a child, and others are still coming to terms with that information.
It’s not ok to expect women to lay out their medical history in order to explain to an overly nosy aunt why they aren’t having a baby. Infertility comes from anything from genetics to cancer treatments to women who’ve recently transitioned, to medical conditions that affect their reproductive system. No one wants to have to revisit this discussion over and over again with every well-meaning person who asks about it.
It’s also not ok to counter this with “well you could always adopt! Or get a surrogate!”. Trust me when I say, these women have considered all their options. These choices are not always ideal for many people for a number of reasons, and all you’re doing with this counterargument is trying to make them feel like their reasons are not enough.
They’re currently trying
As I mentioned before, some women are actively trying to have a baby (or not not trying, in some cases). Whilst this can be great news, it can also be a minefield – conceiving is not always as straightforward as some would like it to be. It can take years to conceive, and some may never manage it with no clear reason why.
No one is owed the ins and outs of someone’s consummation journey – you don’t need every gory detail of doctor’s appointments and what positions they’ve tried and whether they’ve drunk herbal tea whilst standing on their head under the full moon because someone you know did that and they got pregnant. Let people work through it in their own way – if they want advice, they’ll ask.
They aren’t in a position to have one
For some people, they’d love nothing more than to be a parent, but situations out of their control don’t always marry up with this. Finances, mental health, physical health, careers and relationships are all important factors to take into consideration when trying for a baby. We know it’s an age-old adage that there’s never a ‘right time’ to have a baby – but trust that people know when there’s a wrong one.
Babies, toddlers, teenagers, young adults who still haven’t left home – they’re all a huge responsibility financially, emotionally and physically. Some people are not prepared for that – and won’t be for years – or simply are unwilling to give up the life they currently have in favour of caring for another person.
Whilst we know everyone always means well when they’re asking about someone’s life, next time try to remember that your question can be very emotionally triggering or distressing for someone to have to answer. If you genuinely just want to know how their life is going, try asking if they have any future plans, or what they’re hoping to achieve in the next 5-10 years – if a baby’s on the cards, they’ll probably tell you about it. If not, don’t ask.
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