I want to talk about that dreaded question. You know the one where someone casually asks you if you have children. Like it’s no big deal. Variations of this seemingly harmless question include the presumptuous “when are you going to have children?” or the ‘innocent’ but invasive “do you plan to have a second child?”.
For most people, these questions are nothing more than a polite, albeit nosy, conversation starter. They’re a way to connect, to find some common ground. No harm intended right? Wrong.
To a woman who desperately wants a child (or a second one), who has just learnt the heart-breaking results of yet another failed IVF round, who’s grieving the shattering loss of a baby, or who knows she will never have the child she desires, these questions are anything but harmless. They really should come with a warning - “proceed with caution” or “likely to provoke extreme emotion” because most often the person enquiring is unaware of the impact of their question. The awkwardness/embarrassment/upset (insert other emotional response here) is somehow worn by the person to whom the question is directed to.
When we feel broken, vulnerable, or deeply sad, we don’t want to ‘causally’ talk about our infertility. It is a personal and tender topic. Answering a question like this when you’re in the midst of trying and struggling to conceive, is uncomfortable and it’s painful. It highlights exactly what you don’t have and reinforces that you’re different from those around you. It’s hard to answer because we are in such a sensitive state, we just don’t know what to say. Often, the question is enough to trigger the emotion we’re trying to hold down as we get on with everyday life, and exposes it for the world to see.
I used to really struggle with this question. For years I felt like I had a secret that I couldn’t share. I never knew what to say. And while I still don’t have the perfect answer, I’m more comfortable to deal with it now.
So how do we deal with this question?
Firstly, let’s be clear that there isn’t a magic answer. There isn’t one correct way to respond. It can depend on who’s asking, why they’re asking, where you are, and of course, how you’re feeling.
With that in mind, it pays to have a few prepared responses up your sleeve that you can pull out when called for. Everyone needs responses that work best for them. There are lots of things you can say. Some creative responses I’ve heard are “no humans, just a dog” or “I hate children”. You can turn it back to them and enquire “why do you ask?” or simply tell them it is none of their business. Of course, you can choose to also ignore the question or change the subject.
What I’ve come to conclude, is that the best approach is an honest one. It’s saying something like “we hope to”, “we’re trying”, or “we trying but no success yet”. If you feel up for it, let someone know that you tried but it didn’t work out for you, that you’re struggling and it’s not going to plan, or you would have liked to but can’t. You may simply say “no I don’t” and leave it at that.
I get that it takes courage to be open. It takes a sense of resilience to deal with the awkwardness that being honest can create. Sometimes you just can’t manage it and that’s ok. There are no rules for this.
Despite the fact that I can be annoyed at the frequency this question is asked, (we need better questions people - we are not defined by having children!), I no longer dread it. It doesn’t trigger me like it once did. I don’t always get the answer right, and definitely have my fair share of cringe worthy moments, but I’ve come a long way.
So, what’s changed?
Infertility’s no longer raw and it’s no longer painful for me. My wound has healed. Infertility will always be a part of me, and of my story, but I’ve found a sense of acceptance with where I’m at. I don’t have children and I’m ok with that.
I know that sounds simple, but please don’t confuse that with easy. I’ve worked hard to get to this place. Here’s the thing… it will be easier for you in time too.
Infertility leaves a wound. The more raw and tender this is, the harder these dreaded questions are to answer. The real secret is that these questions will always be hard to answer until you have had the time to heal. So, I want to say take the time along the way to heal. Whatever it is that will nourish you, seek it out. Decide to feel a little better now. Know that this question may fill you with dread right now, but in time, with healing, maybe it will be a little easier.