Writer's 'fertility shaming' Facebook post goes viral
September 28, 2015 1:59 PM   Subscribe

On September 20th, Ann Arbor-based freelance writer Emily Bingham, 33, wrote a post on Facebook that went on to be shared more than 40,000 times. Why? Because it touched on something that many, many women related to - namely, how often they're asked about their personal reproductive plans.

Coverage of Ms. Bingham's post has spread around the world, with coverage here and here, as well. She also spoke with Good Morning America [vid] regarding her post and how it's touched a nerve for so many.
posted by Xavier Xavier (192 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
The original post from Emily Bingham:
Hey everyone!!! Now that I got your attention with this RANDOM ULTRASOUND PHOTO I grabbed from a Google image search, this is just a friendly P.S.A. that people's reproductive and procreative plans and decisions are none of your business. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

Before you ask the young married couple that has been together for seemingly forever when they are finally gonna start a family ... before you ask the parents of an only-child toddler when a Little Brother or Little Sister will be in the works ... before you ask a single 30-something if/when s/he plans on having children because, you know, clock's ticking ... just stop. Please stop. You don't know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues. You don't know who is having relationship problems or is under a lot of stress or the timing just isn't right. You don't know who is on the fence about having kids or having more kids. You don't know who has decided it's not for them right now, or not for them ever. You don't know how your seemingly innocent question might cause someone grief, pain, stress or frustration. Sure, for some people those questions may not cause any fraught feelings -- but I can tell you, from my own experiences and hearing about many friends' experiences -- it more than likely does.

Bottom line: Whether you are a wanna-be grandparent or a well-intentioned friend or family member or a nosy neighbor, it's absolutely none of your business. Ask someone what they're excited about right now. Ask them what the best part of their day was. If a person wants to let you in on something as personal as their plans to have or not have children, they will tell you. If you're curious, just sit back and wait and let them do so by their own choosing, if and when they are ready.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2015 [44 favorites]


First it starts as "when is he gonna put a ring on your finger? Why should he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?" Then it's "why are you throwing your money down a hole, get a house." Then it's "when will we have grandbabies?" Guess what baby boomers. You didn't turn out as great as you thought. Piss off! You are the original helicopter parents! You didn't turn out as great as you thought. :(
posted by aydeejones at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2015 [69 favorites]


How lovely.
posted by medusa at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2015


We went to college together--I feel proud to have seen the original post before it went viral.
posted by Tesseractive at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


You didn't turn out as great as you thought. :(

Maybe get an ice cream cone.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am pretty damn childfree and I don't think it's a rude question. I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:16 PM on September 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


But it's NOT small talk, is her point. It's actually some pretty large talk.
posted by ktoad at 2:19 PM on September 28, 2015 [152 favorites]


Huge talk. Not casual at all.
posted by agregoli at 2:20 PM on September 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

I may be a prude but I don't find people's plans for their reproductive organs to be a good topic for small talk.
posted by edeezy at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2015 [66 favorites]


Once, they're just being nice and making small talk. After the first time you've managed to deflect the answer, it's pretty damn rude. There are a lot of possible answers to that question, and only a tiny percentage of them are "small talk"-appropriate.
posted by KathrynT at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


I am pretty damn childfree and I don't think it's a rude question. I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

Well, she wrote the article after one of her friends struggled for a very long time with infertility, finally got pregnant and carried a baby to term, and then had people asking BUHHHHHHH WHEN ARE YOU GONNA HAVE ANOTHER ONE?!?! within a month of giving birth.

It's fine that you don't think it's rude, but it's pretty obvious that there are so, so, so many people who do find it rude, maybe we could leave off with this "well I think it's fine so what's the big deal?" nonsense?
posted by palomar at 2:21 PM on September 28, 2015 [91 favorites]


Making small talk of a major life decision seems really counterintuitive
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am pretty damn childfree and I don't think it's a rude question. I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

It's not small talk, though. It's pretty much the anti-small talk. Like, what if the answer is, "Well, we tried, but I had three miscarriages and on the third one I had to go to the hospital and have a hysterectomy... and how are your kids?"
posted by Huck500 at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2015 [33 favorites]


I mean, seriously, small talk is not "so tell me about how you fuck! are you fucking with intention? what position do you fuck in?". Small talk is "how about those local sports teams? i hear they play sports, locally!" or "gosh, weather! it is happening all over my face!".
posted by palomar at 2:22 PM on September 28, 2015 [152 favorites]


I don't know. I certainly spent a good part of my twenties and -- OK, thirties too -- reacting horribly to my parents and their friends well-intentioned but tone-deaf nagging about when I was going to do something with my life, when I was going to get married, and then when I was going to have kids. So I know the pain of feeling I'm being judged, not living up to people's standards, etc. But here's the thing. If you go around experiencing resentment and rage every time someone asks you a question that touches a nerve for you, you're going to live an unhappy, resentment-and-rage-filled life because -- believe me -- the people are not going to stop asking. They're just not -- not ever. Because in their world, those are the 100% appropriate questions to ask. That's just how they see the world -- it's not their fault. And even if they did stop asking, it wouldn't help you at all because you'd know they would be asking if you hadn't specifically asked them not to, which means they're still thinking it, which is, if anything, worse than if they just blurted it out.
So I appreciate this, but in my experience, the only answer is to see clearly that you are not judged when other people judge you. To forgive them their lack of tact, their unhelpful world-view that they, in their ignorance, impose on you, and to love them or at least accept them just as they are, tactless questions, flawed worldview at all. This is possible, and it's just an easier way to live, although you do have to give up certain pleasant fantasies about meeting other people's standards or expectations.
posted by haricotvert at 2:23 PM on September 28, 2015 [40 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen, I'm glad you don't find it a rude question. I can tell you from experience that if you're having trouble conceiving or carrying then it is an *awful* question.

Now that I'm old and divorced enough that people have stopped asking me if I'm pregnant, they've moved on to asking me why I never had children. Sigh.
posted by frumiousb at 2:24 PM on September 28, 2015 [20 favorites]


It really sounds like it's small talk for some people, but not for others.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:25 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Couldn't the person being asked the question about future family plans just say 'Sorry I don't plan on having kids' or even "Sorry, I don't feel like discussing my plans about family' if they don't feel like getting into personal details and leave it at that? It may be considered 'large' talk by some, but it takes two to have a conversation and there are many ways to shut down a conversation that one doesn't want to have.

Small talk includes big subjects like jobs, families and hobbies. One doesn't need to engage in it if one doesn't want to.
posted by dazed_one at 2:25 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Small talk equals: "do you have kids?" - "Oh how many?" - "Oh my kids did a funny thing."

Small talk does NOT equal: "Why don't you have kids?" - "When will you have kids?" - "Are you trying for kids?" - "Do you want more kids?" - "You'll change your mind and want kids later."

I am child-free and this has not been my small talk experience as a young women. Most of this "small talk" then becomes pressure on why my choice to not have children is wrong, including statements such as "You're young, you'll change your mind." - "I didn't want kids but now I have Xmany." - "Are you sure you don't want kids?"

Well yes. I am sure. My husband got a vasectomy. But the thing is, when people say "You'll change your mind" they have NO IDEA why I say I won't be having kids. At that point in the conversation all I've told them is "Oh, we won't be having kids." Yes, for me it's a choice, but for many women there may be medical reasons why they cannot have children. I am not broken because I choose to not have kids, nor is it anyone's right to know why that is or discuss what is actually my intimate sex life. I can only imagine being on the other side of wanting kids and not being able to have them and people saying that they'll "change their minds."

Asking about someone's family as-it-stands is fine. Pressuring someone to change their family status is not okay.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2015 [80 favorites]


I think this raises awareness to change the culture. Because people should know that its rude. If they know, maybe fewer people will ask. Which would be great. Throwing up your hands and saying people will always ask isn't going to help anything.
posted by agregoli at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2015 [34 favorites]


When I start checking profiles for stated gender in threads like this and am not in the least bit surprised to see the gender makeup of who's saying "hey, just get over it when people start asking deeply personal questions about your plans for procreation!" , that's my cue to get off the internet for a while.

Gentlemen, much like when you told us ladies to just stop doing the emotional labor if it bothers us that much... it's not a great look when you tell us to just not let it bother us when people pry into our most personal life and health decisions. Consider not doing that.
posted by palomar at 2:29 PM on September 28, 2015 [97 favorites]


It really sounds like it's small talk for some people, but not for others.

Yes, it is small talk for self-absorbed people who can't see past their own noses, and not small talk for people who give a shit about how others feel.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [29 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not a fan of this, and I don't think it makes good small talk. I think a lot of times people ask the question without thinking much, and not really anticipating what might happen if people gave an honest answer. Is the workplace coffee break a good time for a father to bring up the vasectomy he just had, because people won't take "no" for an answer unless you go the nuclear option and explain that you're now sterile? Should a mother talk about how rough her birth went and how she's really not keen to repeat the experience? Is it okay to talk about how you were trying but you'd had an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage and now you're done with this? Really, if you're not ready to have a conversation about reproduction, you probably shouldn't be asking causal questions about people's reproductive plans. Don't ask questions you don't want answered.
posted by langtonsant at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

You're absolutely right. Most people do mean to be nice, and just want to make simple conversation.

But idea of what's acceptable as a subject of simple conversation has changed over time -- we no longer ask whether a woman will be quitting her job after or before her wedding, or assume she'll be staying home once she gives birth, or assuming that her husband's company's move means that she'll move, or assuming that her wedding will include a groom, etc., etc., you know where this goes, ad nauseum.

Times change, and there are things we all no longer say, and good riddance to most of them. The topic of childbearing also needs to be off the table. For women, and for men.
posted by Dashy at 2:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [58 favorites]


I mean, possible answers to the question of "when are you going to have a / another baby?" include:

* I just found out yesterday that the 10 week fetus I'm currently gestating has no heartbeat.
* We're currently trying to figure out how we can afford IVF, since that's the only way we have any hope of getting pregnant.
* My husband cheated on me and gave me an STD, and now I'm infertile.
* My first pregnancy was plagued with misery from the word go and I am not prepared to go through that again.
* We've been trying for two years and just aren't conceiving. Doctors don't know why.
* My husband and I are both genetic carriers for a fatal condition. Our first child died from it and the heartbreak is too fresh.
* My husband is trans and this is not a friendly state for adopting under those circumstances.
* I've had nine miscarriages.
* After my second child, I had post-partum depression so severely that I had to be hospitalized. My psychiatrist does not recommend that I get pregnant again.
* I loathe children. All children.
* I have an extensive childhood abuse history and I do not trust myself to be an acceptable parent.
* I have serious mental health issues that are exacerbated by stress, which make parenthood unwise.
* We are teetering on the edge of homelessness.

etc, etc, etc.

How many of those are appropriate cocktail party conversation?
posted by KathrynT at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2015 [238 favorites]


I am also really sick of the kind of comment centered around the bizarre idea that annoyance over something rude or annoying means you're destined to live an enraged-filled or frustrated life. It is a classic dismantling of women's legitimate complaints, and not needed, ever.
posted by agregoli at 2:32 PM on September 28, 2015 [170 favorites]


A person, no longer my friend for many reasons, whinged on at me once about not having children.

"But who will care for you when you get old?" he asked.
"Whoever gets paid to," I answered.
"But who will bury you?"
"Whoever has the backhoe."

There is quite the spectrum of intent regarding questions about having children, more children, or not.

As for all those well-intentioned people (he's excluded from that massive number): you don't realize. But once you have been told, you have no excuse.

Talk about politics or religion instead; so much safer as topics go.
posted by datawrangler at 2:35 PM on September 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


Is the workplace coffee break a good time for a father to bring up the vasectomy he just had, because people won't take "no" for an answer unless you go the nuclear option and explain that you're now sterile?

Funny you mention it. I have the "my husband had a vasectomy" in my back pocket just for this occasion and I'm sure I'll have to use it at least once in my life. I'd gladly see their face turn red hearing it. I'm sure it will lead to a quick, "Oh" and a change of subject.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:35 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

There have got to be like at least 80 "small talk" topics out there that don't have the overwhelming potential to literally break someone else's heart. Is it so motherfucking difficult to pick one of those? WHY CAN PEOPLE NOT JUST CHAT ABOUT BEYONCE OR CATS.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2015 [77 favorites]


I was in my mid-twenties when I started getting lectured by total strangers about how I had better hurry up and start having children before I got too old. I'm not offended by the question (except when it's assumed that, as the fat woman not drinking alcohol at the party, I must be pregnant!), but ... yeah, people need to realize before they start this conversation that it very often comes with a lot of baggage.
posted by Jeanne at 2:38 PM on September 28, 2015


Crystalinne: "I have the "my husband had a vasectomy" in my back pocket just for this occasion and I'm sure I'll have to use it at least once in my life. I'd gladly see their face turn red hearing it. I'm sure it will lead to a quick, "Oh" and a change of subject."

(Heh. If he's cool with it you totally should - I've done it a bunch of times and it's an awesome conversation-killer)
posted by langtonsant at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm now at the age where it's becoming obvious that I'm too old for the kid thing and I'm not married any more.

The latest incarnation I've gotten more then once is. "So any kids?"
Me. "Nope."
Them with some sort of pity or sad look. "Aw that's too bad." And then them lasping into what appears to be uncomfortable silence.

Makes me feel like I need to assure and comfort them that really I'm okay that I missed out on something or that I have to explain my life or something.

I don't say anything because it's just a messed thing to say and do on so many levels.
posted by Jalliah at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


Oh this times 1,000. I have really terrible endometriosis and spend a lot of time being frightfully bloated. I look pregnant sometimes and people point to my tummy and ask how far along I am. Then they try to have a conversation with me about do I already have kids, and since the answer is no and I don't put on my resting bitch face fast enough there are questions about "don't you want any" or "well, are you married/are you trying?"

If I'm feeling less than charitable, I now just straight up tell people that I want children very much but that it doesn't look like it will be physically possible for me. If I'm really angry or annoyed, I volunteer the gory details of what this disease has done to my body and exactly how heartbreaking it is for me to face my untested fertility as a single 34 year old woman.

And nope, I don't comfort these people any more. I'm tired of the "intention" card. I know it wasn't your intention to hurt me. But what so many of us are asking for is that people take a second to think through the possible consequences of actions.
posted by bilabial at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2015 [73 favorites]


Running your fool mouth without first really, truly considering whether or not what you are about to say will be welcome or could have a negative effect on the person you're subjecting it to is not "being nice," it is "trying and failing to avoid what you consider an awkward silence for entirely selfish reasons," FYI.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


[A few comments removed; there's a difference between "this is something women in particular tend to have to deal with" and "men literally never deal with anything like this" and it's not a difference we need to try and work out from scratch for the nth time in here.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:44 PM on September 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm tired of the "intention" card.

Yes, indeed. Intentions are in your head, consequences are in my face. If I know you well and love you deeply, your intentions may matter to me. Otherwise, fuck your intentions.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015 [69 favorites]


Even people who knew I had a problem with miscarriages (got taken from the office once in an ambulance for bleeding-- good times) would literally *give me advice* on how to avoid miscarriages. Really, this isn't small talk.

Small talk is music, art, weather, film, sports. STFU about fertility.
posted by frumiousb at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Except you already said it's not a problem for you, you don't care if you're asked and you don't understand why it's a problem for people.

Except that's not what I said at all. I said I didn't care to discuss mine or other people's family plans, that I understand people have fertility problems or have made decisions about having kids that they don't want to talk about and that small talk can cover a wide range of subjects that may illicit negative emotions in some people and I feel that rather than trying to enact a moratorium on certain subjects of small talk (and trying to figure out what every potential subject for small talk that may illicit negative feelings in people), politely shutting down the conversation is what I do.
posted by dazed_one at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015


I'm tired of the "intention" card. I know it wasn't your intention to hurt me. But what so many of us are asking for is that people take a second to think through the possible consequences of actions.

I'd like to ask everyone who believes procreation interrogation is an acceptable form of small talk... are there any painful bits of your life that you don't like talking about? Is it okay if I come over and start asking you about those things? My intentions are good, I promise.
posted by palomar at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015 [19 favorites]


Funny you mention it. I have the "my husband had a vasectomy" in my back pocket just for this occasion and I'm sure I'll have to use it at least once in my life. I'd gladly see their face turn red hearing it. I'm sure it will lead to a quick, "Oh" and a change of subject.

I have had two doctors (well, one was an OB/GYN so I guess I should've expected it from her) wave away the fact that my husband has had a vasectomy when the subject of family planning/birth control/etc. comes up. "Oh, that can be reversed," they said, among other things related to having children. Well, great, but I don't want to reverse it? He got it in the first place because we don't want kids at all.

I've had generally decent luck with coworkers/peers being respectful when the subject of kids comes up, and generally horrible experiences with my own mother (as expected), but to get fertility shamed by my (former) doctors? Even with my handy-dandy vasectomy excuse? Maybe when I'm menopausal I won't have to worry about this crap.
posted by phatkitten at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I didn't come out publicly until my mid-twenties, and one of the pleasant-but-also-weird things about it is that people immediately stopped asking me when I was going to have children. Even when I was planning to get married to my same-sex partner, no questions.

It's nice not to have people asking the question for sure, but I'm also kind of resentful that people are making assumptions about whether or not I'll have kids based on that one fact about me. Plenty of GBLT folks have kids.

I guess there's no win on this one. I wish people realized that this is not small talk, even among intimate groups like friends and family. I'd rather have the assumptions than the questions any day, and I suspect I'm not the only one.
posted by possibilityleft at 2:46 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Small talk includes big subjects like jobs, families and hobbies. One doesn't need to engage in it if one doesn't want to."

It's honest to god such a flat-out echo of the beginning of the emotional labor thread, I have to laugh. I mean... wow.
posted by palomar at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [42 favorites]


Like everything, it is all about context. There is no single Internet-dictated rule of etiquette on this. Having conversations about parenting (including the decision about whether to have additional kids) can be totally appropriate and a way to strengthen friendships. Grilling total strangers? Obviously not ok. But this stuff really isn't taboo.
posted by yarly at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


For women in particular, there is literally no point at which people don't feel entitled to opine on your reproductive choices.

No kids: when are you going to have kids! Tick tock! Tick tock!

One kid (my current status): when are you going to have another! Don't condemn your kid to be a lonely only!

Two or three kids, same gender: when are you going to have another so you can have {gender not represented}?

Two or three kids, mixed gender: Are you going to have another?

Four+ kids: WOW, you must be REALLY busy, hope you're not gonna have any more, have you kicked your husband out of your bedroom yet, eye wiggle lolololol

***

It's exhausting. It's maddening, because yeah, most of the time it is meant as conversational filler, but it's filler of the most obnoxious stripe because it is NONE OF THEIR GODDAMNED BUSINESS and also they don't usually know if there are fertility issues or miscarriages or stillbirths or health issues affecting these choices, because, oh right, NONE OF THEIR GODDAMNED BUSINESS.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [38 favorites]


I'd like to ask everyone who believes procreation interrogation is an acceptable form of small talk... are there any painful bits of your life that you don't like talking about? Is it okay if I come over and start asking you about those things? My intentions are good, I promise.
posted by palomar at 5:46 PM on September 28 [+] [!]


Yes. You're welcome to try and engage me in conversation about many different subjects, including ones that are painful to me. Just don't be surprised if I politely decline to talk about the things I don't want to talk about.
posted by dazed_one at 2:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


You never, ever know what someone is going find hurtful or offensive for whatever reason.

It's true, one time I asked a new acquaintance whether she was fond of Scrabble and she never spoke to me again.

This did not happen. THIS NEVER FUCKING HAPPENS.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [47 favorites]


"well, are you married/are you trying?"

Ew, this is a whole other problem. People are basically asking "Do you have a male that is regularly ejaculating inside you in hopes of it meeting your egg?" It's so freakin' gross when you understand how babies are made, for a stranger or even family to ask this.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


You never, ever know what someone is going find hurtful or offensive for whatever reason. Things you find innocuous and boring are subjects of intense anxiety to some people.

Yes, but fertility is hurtful and awful for an awful lot of people. So why is it not okay to ask people to cut it out with the questions?
posted by frumiousb at 2:51 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Couldn't the person being asked the question about future family plans just say 'Sorry I don't plan on having kids' or even "Sorry, I don't feel like discussing my plans about family' if they don't feel like getting into personal details and leave it at that?

Well, sure. But no matter how much you want to change the subject, if your response is anything short of "Surprise! I am/My partner is actually about to give birth, like, right now! Shit, we probably should have planned this better! I hope you have some kind of medical training!" the end result won't be anything but more questions. If you don't have children, why? If it's because you don't want them, why? If it's because you're infertile, have you tried [eating chia seeds/a raw vegan diet/IVF/surrogacy/adoption]? If you already have one or two or three, when are you going to have another? If you already have four or five or six, why do you have so many?

Also, based solely on my experience as someone who is visibly female and thus generally assumed to be intent upon giving birth at some point (spoiler alert: I AMN'T), let me just say that anyone who considers it their right to ask about the past, present, or future contents of my womb is not going to be deterred by a simple "I don't want to talk about this."
posted by divined by radio at 2:51 PM on September 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


Yes. You're welcome to try and engage me in conversation about many different subjects, including ones that are painful to me. Just don't be surprised if I politely decline to talk about the things I don't want to talk about.

Yes, but as a lady of a certain age who for about six years now literally cannot go a day without someone asking about my pregnancy because of the way my body is shaped, I am sick to death of politely declining and deflecting. There's a point where the whole thing gets really, really old.
posted by mochapickle at 2:54 PM on September 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


I may be a prude but I don't find people's plans for their reproductive organs to be a good topic for small talk.

At least two generations have grown up watching Oprah, and one generation has grown up watching The View. Anything and everything is now discussed in intimate detail. There are no social boundaries, and don't hold your breath waiting for that to change. I don't like it, but I accept it, because I'd OD on aggravation if I didn't.
posted by Beholder at 2:56 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like kids--like to play with kids, amuse them, play games with them, etc. I absolutely will never have any of my own, by choice.
I used to get this question all the time, and it is very rude. And it was usually followed up by more questions, no matter what answer I gave...until I started responding by looking very sad, and saying in a small voice, my eyes full of tears (which I can do at will) "I'm afraid that isn't possible for me".
posted by librosegretti at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I thought it was bad when I was infertile for the first time, undergoing fertility treatments and giving vague answers when people constantly asked if/when we were having kids. But that was NOTHING compared to secondary infertility. When you have a 2-year-old, everyone assumes you have no problem conceiving. So there are constant questions about when the "next one" is coming... "why are you waiting so long, don't you want to space them right?", etc.

My general strategy had been to be honest so that they stop asking questions. So I would explain we were trying, doing IVF, etc.....but then the conversation becomes all about me comforting them because they felt bad for making assumptions. There really is no way to win. It's exhausting to be forced to discuss the one thing that is causing you the most emotional pain. Now that my daughter is 4 I think people are finally starting to realize they shouldn't ask anymore. If we were able to have more then we would already have more.
posted by barnoley at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Couldn't the person being asked the question about future family plans just say 'Sorry I don't plan on having kids' or even "Sorry, I don't feel like discussing my plans about family' if they don't feel like getting into personal details and leave it at that?

I can count on one hand the number of times anyone has "left it at that" when asking me incredibly personal questions about why I don't want to have children. One lady got so far as to ask me if I had some sort of genetic condition that I didn't want to pass along.

Oh my GOD ALMIGHTY, like three people EVER have just left it at that.
posted by jesourie at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [33 favorites]


but that's different from trying to stop people from initiating a conversation in the first place.

We're not like some kind of jackbooted censorship squad out looking for innocent grandmas to beat down. We're human beings asking other human beings to stop doing a hurtful thing! People who won't stop doing a hurtful thing when asked are jerks.

And we are not asking a hard thing. We are asking for people to flip one more card on the mental conversation rolodex.

[Awkward pause, what to say??]
"UR VAGINA: WHAT BEEN IN IT?" [hm maybe could go badly]
"WATER ON MARS: WE HAZ IT" [there we go!]
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [81 favorites]


[Several comments deleted. dazed_one and other people who feel this way -- if this doesn't bother you, that's fine, but lay off it in here. People are saying it's really hurtful for them, and "it shouldn't be hurtful" isn't the way to get an interesting conversation going... it's a way to just piss people off and shut things down. So please stop.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:58 PM on September 28, 2015 [48 favorites]


I don't mind this as much as some, though I agree it needs to stop, but I did remind my BIL the last time he asked "are you going to tell us when you start trying?" that I would probably not announce to my family what kind of sex we were having and how often.
posted by chaiminda at 2:59 PM on September 28, 2015


Look, if you've spent even a day here on metafilter, reading threads related to pregnancy and fertility, you'd know that having (a) kid(s) can be wonderful, but it can just as likely be terrifying with a million complications and horror stories and ways things can go terribly wrong. You would know that long-term relationships are often fraught with complications because adults are complex people, and maintaining a long-term relationship can be hugely fucking challenging. These are not novel concepts.

So, knowing all that, why in god's name would you feel entitled to ask about a person's fertility choices? I mean, hell, the whole point of conversation is connecting with another human being, and doing so effectively means exercising a basic level of empathy and compassion for their circumstances, even if you don't know what those circumstances are. It's like that thing about being kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

People here, lots and LOTS of people, are saying yes, this is a hugely sensitive issue and can be fraught with pain. Now that you know that, why would your reaction be anything other than, whoa, sorry, now I know to steer clear of this topic unless someone specifically wants to discuss it with me.
posted by shiu mai baby at 3:03 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage and a hundred million fraught, awful disagreements over 7 years with my husband about having children. The fact that talking about this stuff - particularly but not only the miscarriage/infertility stuff - was taboo was infinitely more painful than people asking me well-meaning questions about my private life.

For me, it was much much more painful for me that people in my circle didn't have any idea of what I was going through when they announced their own pregnancies, and the fact that people I had known for years had no idea how to respond when I was going through something painful. When it was people I didn't want to talk to or share with, I really didn't mind saying "Yeah, that's a tough topic right now, better not to get into it."

I think we give mixed messages on this topic. "That's personal private, don't ask!" at the same time as "Why is this topic taboo when it happens to so many?" There was so much happening with my own friends around infertility, losses and troubles, that I didn't know until I had them myself.

I don't know. Of course it's a minefield. I do think you should be careful if you're talking to a person you're not close to, but be less careful and more open with people you care about. And what I'm saying is that missteps on the former were much easier to handle than mistakes around the latter, for me. And I sort of blame that on posts like the facebook one posted here that say this topic is Not Open For Conversation.
posted by vunder at 3:03 PM on September 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's easy to wave this off by saying "Oh, if the question bothers you so much, just don't answer it." The problem isn't that it's a difficult or uncomfortable question to answer. The problem is that other people are comfortable asking it. The problem is with the asker, not the answerer. Bringing awareness to this is the entire point.

And the reason the question itself is a problem, aside from all of the reasons mentioned above that people have actual experience with, is that the question cannot be divorced from the fact that we modern folk STILL see reproducing as women's foremost reason for being, even if it's an unconscious assumption. After however many centuries of living in a patriarchal world, a woman's inherent value, the thing she brings with her, is the ability to pop out the next generation. That is the fundamental reason why the question is a problem: It assumes that having a child or children is the end goal that women, as women, should be aiming for.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'm a clueless awkward person sometimes, but it still never occurs to me to ask "so; gonna pop out a kid/another kid?" unless the other person brings it up first. I mean, I had those conversations in school about "how many kids I want" and "I want to marry a guy with green eyes and live in a blue house" but I stopped doing that as an adult.

The world is not that bereft of things to make small talk about. Ask a woman about what she's reading, or if she's seen a good movie lately, or taken a vacation/going to take a vacation. Or how her work is going. All mostly harmless topics that tell you far more about her than what her uterus may or may not be getting up to.
posted by emjaybee at 3:06 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


How many of those are appropriate cocktail party conversation?

You would be surprised by how easily some people can wave away the notion that you just won't be having a kid and just don't want to talk about it. Let me demonstrate:

* I just found out yesterday that the 10 week fetus I'm currently gestating has no heartbeat.
REPLY: Oh, I'm so sorry. Well, you still have some more years left to try.

* We're currently trying to figure out how we can afford IVF, since that's the only way we have any hope of getting pregnant.
REPLY: Can you really put a price on life, though? Besides, my best friend's sister's daughter had IVF and got pregnant right away! It hardly cost anything with just one try!

* My first pregnancy was plagued with misery from the word go and I am not prepared to go through that again.
REPLY: But every time is different! My second pregnancy was SO much easier than my first.

* We've been trying for two years and just aren't conceiving. Doctors don't know why.
REPLY: Have you tried [xyz]? Who is your doctor? You need to see Dr [blah] and you'll have no problem! My best friend's sister's daughter saw Dr [blah] and got pregnant right away!

* I've had nine miscarriages.
REPLY: Oh, I'm so sorry. My best friend's sister's daughter was also plagued by a series of miscarriages and then once she stopped thinking about having kids, she suddenly became pregnant and it was smooth sailing! Don't give up yet!

* I loathe children. All children.
REPLY: But you won't loathe the children that are your own! There is nothing more powerful than a mother's love for her child.

* I have an extensive childhood abuse history and I do not trust myself to be an acceptable parent.
REPLY: What are you talking about? You're a great person; of course you will be a great mom!

* I have serious mental health issues that are exacerbated by stress, which make parenthood unwise.
REPLY: What are you talking about? You're a great person; of course you will be a great mom!

* We are teetering on the edge of homelessness.
REPLY: Having a child isn't really that expensive. If everyone waited until they thought they could afford it, no one would have children at all!

etc, etc, etc.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2015 [95 favorites]


[Several comments deleted, folks please reload before responding, and please just flag things rather than instantly snapping back.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, oh, the BEST is when you're doing IVF, and everyone tells you that the minute you STOP fertility treatments you're going to get pregnant naturally! You know, because it happened to their sister's best friend's cousin.
posted by barnoley at 3:10 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have an 18 month old, and I used to think that I was endlessly snarky, but even I have run out of funny responses to the people in my life who ask when the next one is coming.
posted by palindromic at 3:11 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Menopause is great. Not only do you age out of the male gaze, so nobody commands that you smile or perform like a trained monkey, but you age out of the reproductive questions. Sure, hot flashes are no fun, but I can beat them with an ice pack, whereas, apparently, I'm not allowed to beat other people with an ice pack.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2015 [101 favorites]


The point of small-talk is to negotiate a social pecking order. The people whose go-to small talk involves invasive questions are trying to establish themselves as dominant by pushing your boundaries.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:17 PM on September 28, 2015 [39 favorites]


I hate small talk with a fiery passion and don't understand how to do it (this probably has to do with being autistic). But even I know this is not a subject you ask people about unless they are already talking about it. I've seen friends and family reduced to tears over being harangued about their fertility or choices.

When making small talk, I just quiz people about their favorite books and movies. I'm probably annoying to people who don't like books or movies, but at least I don't make people cry.
posted by thetortoise at 3:23 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


palindromic: I have an 18 month old, and I used to think that I was endlessly snarky, but even I have run out of funny responses to the people in my life who ask when the next one is coming.

"Sometime after the onset of puberty, probably after finding my dirty magazines. What an odd question."

That one is compliments of the house.
posted by dr_dank at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think we give mixed messages on this topic. "That's personal private, don't ask!" at the same time as "Why is this topic taboo when it happens to so many?" There was so much happening with my own friends around infertility, losses and troubles, that I didn't know until I had them myself.

I'm sorry you had to go through that, vunder. I do think that having open honest conversations about all aspects of pregnancy and parenting, even the dark/hard stuff, would make these conversations less taboo. I think the problem with the assumption that such questions are appropriate small-talk, however, is that it rests on the assumption that pregnancy and family planning are always "light" topics, which they're obviously not, and so actually further stigmatizes pregnancy loss, infertility, and other painful situations. I think there's also a difference between asking about someone's family planning (which I don't think anyone other than relevant healthcare providers should be doing) and being open to talking about friends' difficulties with family planning -- I think it matters who initiates the conversation, I guess.
posted by jaguar at 3:26 PM on September 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


The closest I've ever gotten to questions of marriage or babies was overhearing a relative of my then-partner joke about his niece calling me "Aunt". He promptly shut her down. My mom has openly expressed her preference that my #1 focus be my career over all else.

I think that between the 4+ cats in my house at any time, my transient living and job situations, and the relentless parade of feminist posts on Facebook everyone else who knows me assumes I'm planning on dying alone, an angry spinster, my body undiscovered until after my face has been eaten by my cats.

I recommend this arrangement to everyone.


but realtalk my friends are not assholes and don't ask people these questions because they are personal questions
posted by schroedinger at 3:27 PM on September 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Of course there is a difference between "That's personal private, don't ask!" and a subject that is taboo and Never To Be Discussed!

It is perfectly possible to listen compassionately and with empathy to someone who wants to share something personal. This does place more of the onus on the person who wants to share to bring up the difficult subject, but in the event that you know or suspect that someone wants to share, ask open-ended questions like "how are you feeling?" or "is there anything you'd like to discuss or share? I'm happy to listen to you". This way, the person gets to choose what they share and what they don't share, without being forced to fend off probing questions. It's conversational consent! Both parties agree to move into more intimate and personal topics!

But asking someone to share details about what may very well be a difficult personal matter (hint: if a bunch of people say "this can be super personal and not something I want to discuss with everyone" you're probably safe in assuming that it may, in fact, be a personal subject even if it's not a big deal for you personally) is much more forceful, and disadvantages the (probably) more vulnerable party in the conversation. Just let people choose what they want to share.
posted by Kpele at 3:27 PM on September 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


The point of small-talk is to negotiate a social pecking order. The people whose go-to small talk involves invasive questions are trying to establish themselves as dominant by pushing your boundaries.

I almost posted something like this in response to the conversation-is-about-connection comment above. A lot of the times when this conversation happens for me, it's family members rather than strangers, so there's not a pecking order being established exactly, but still, there is a subtext that almost becomes text: "oh god, where do I put you, where is your box, is your box OK? Is it OK for me to be OK with the box you are in? What does it mean that your box is different from my box? DO OTHER PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS BOX YOU HAVE CHOSEN? WHAT WILL THEY THINK??
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:27 PM on September 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


My husband and I foster kids and every other person I tell that is like, "OH NO ARE YOU INFERTILE!??!" And (luckily, I guess?) the answer is no but... WTF? People will even do this in front of the 7 year old standing next to me at the park. So it's a double whammy because the kid understands this to mean, "Ick! Why would you want that one? Oh, you probably can't make your own good kid so you have to have this hand me down one."
posted by Saminal at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2015 [48 favorites]


My wife's response was often a slightly too loud for the room, "Did you really just ask about our sex life?"

Mine was often to remind people asking if/when we were going to have kids, "I don't think that's a great question to ask. Not everyone is able to make that choice for themselves." Of course I got the question a lot less often than my wife.

Before we eventually did have kids it seemed like the frequency of the question only increased with age (of us/our relationship). Maybe everyone was concerned we were running out of time or something. Or maybe we just had less patience for it over time. I don't know.
posted by ODiV at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


> "Oh, that can be reversed," they said

I typically play the vasectomy card when the conversation gets intrusive, and I've had some people ask if it was a voluntary thing. I typically end it with an "Of course, I really don't want kids" - It wasn't until recently that it occurred to me that some people literally think I didn't do this of my own volition, like it was forced upon me, or it "happened" to me.

I still get the response of "It can be reversed, you know."

I've typically worked in a more conservative office environment, whereas my wife worked with more of an artists community - She's been very fortunate that generally nobody does this to her, but she always gets it SO much worse when they do. When we got married, so many people literally jumped to the "So when are you having kids?" When the vasectomy comes up when we are together, she gets the "And you are OK with this?" response.
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:30 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


A generation or two back, if you lived in places like Ireland or Quebec, it would be the local priest coming by to make this kind of "small talk".
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:32 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


The problem is that people not only don't think it's rude, they think they are helping you by nudging you toward a better life decision than you're obviously making. Women obviously get it a lot more than men but having a penis doesn't make you immune, especially if you're living with someone (When are you going to marry her?) or married (JUST as frequent about when are you gonna have kids).

The way I finally shut it down after about 10 years of hearing it at least once a week was kind of the opposite of "he got a vasectomy." At the lunch table, the sweet little lady who had been our front office secretary forever asked me for about the 10,000th time when I was going to marry my girlfriend.

ME: (Looks at phone) No cold spells predicted for Hell, so probably not any time soon.
SLL: Well what will you do if she gets pregnant? (IN FRONT OF MY OTHER COWORKERS AT LUNCH)
ME: That's very unlikely. She's been on the Pill since before I met her.
SLL: Well those things can fail you know.
ME: That's true, but 99% of Pill failures are due to forgetting to take it, and she's a fanatic about taking her meds.
SLL: Well, it could still fail, what then?
ME: I'm pretty sure she would get an abortion. (SUDDEN DEAD SILENCE. Did I mention most of the people I work with are Catholic?)
SLL (very small voice): Well what would you think of that?
ME: I don't get to have a think about that. She has to go through the abortion or the pregnancy and I get to do what I can to help whatever the decision would be. Having lived with her for 15 years I'm pretty sure I know what she'd do, but part of that is I doubt she'd bother to call me before making the appointment.
SLL: (even smaller voice): Wouldn't that bother you?
ME: Not at all. If she surprised me and decided to keep a surprise baby I'd accept my responsibility and deal with it because love is sometimes dealing with things like that, and you never completely know the heart of another person. But there are reasons we've been together all these years, and this is one of them.

That was the last I heard about it from any of them.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:34 PM on September 28, 2015 [57 favorites]


But idea of what's acceptable as a subject of simple conversation has changed over time

The acceptability of this topic may be in the process of changing, and there are certainly people who want it to change, but I don't think it has actually changed yet. There's no big boss of small talk to make these decisions and circulate memos informing everyone of the new way it now is.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:37 PM on September 28, 2015


There's no big boss of small talk to make these decisions and circulate memos informing everyone of the new way it now is.

I mean Facebook and Twitter have like 90% of this covered, now we just have to get some email forwards going for Those Relatives (you know the ones--the ones with the email forwards) and we're set.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:38 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: be kind?
posted by Xavier Xavier at 3:41 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just throw a picture of a minion in there and you're set.
posted by ODiV at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Kinda wondering when this was ever considered anything other than rude and prying?

Not that being a boor has ever stopped anyone before.
posted by notyou at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean Facebook and Twitter have like 90% of this covered

Now all that's needed is to find the big boss to make the edict...
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:50 PM on September 28, 2015


Crystalinne: "I have the "my husband had a vasectomy" in my back pocket just for this occasion and I'm sure I'll have to use it at least once in my life. I'd gladly see their face turn red hearing it. I'm sure it will lead to a quick, "Oh" and a change of subject."
A friend of mine was at a community grill event this summer and was chatting with a couple of the neighbours (all guys). One of them asks my friend whether they're stopping at two kids or if they want another. After my friend says two's enough, the guy proceeds to describe in detail how he's had a vasectomy after he and his wife decided they were done having kids, how easy and painless the procedure was, how great it was not having to worry about contraceptives failing etc.

I think he asked about my friend's kids just to get an excuse to talk about his vasectomy. So caveat emptor.
posted by brokkr at 3:51 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Language and civility, and the ways they propagate, are ever-evolving. Ms. Bingham's post, and threads like this, are necessary components of evolution. They make us think, and then we evolve.

At least for those who believe in evolution ;-)
posted by Dashy at 3:53 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now all that's needed is to find the big boss to make the edict...

No that was the point of the comment, we don't need the big boss because all of the people who say the thing on the social media get talked about and in the... with the... I honestly don't understand what you mean.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:53 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the era of IVF, there's even a further unpleasantness visited upon women. I have a friend with twins who gets the question "Are they natural?" on occasion. I'm pleased to report that the snappy comeback is "No, they're synthetic," which shuts down that line of questions post-haste, but, goddamn, that's a fucking shitty thing to ask (re: the implicit judgement in the phrase "natural," as well as just asking about it in the first place).

Infertility can be incredibly painful to talk about, and there's a distinct lack of empathy in those who pry, or offer advice. Also, being child-free by choice is a valid life decision, and people don't need to be browbeaten about it if you disagree.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:54 PM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

I got kind of beat down here a few weeks back for trying to "make small talk" by complimenting people on small things (name, voice, et al.) -- but I really try to avoid using people's fertility as fodder for idle chat because I know how many folks find it a source of unhappiness/dissatisfaction/angst/whatever. Geeze, you guys, it's by definition an exposed nerve, and a very fundamental, primal topic -- leave it alone!

I have four kids and I am tediously proud of them, but I know it's not for everyone, so I will talk about them all the live long day to whoever is in earshot but won't really ask you about yours until you make it clear you want to have that conversation.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kinda wondering when this was ever considered anything other than rude and prying?

Maybe 40-50 years ago when the birth rate was higher? My simple guess is a lower birth rate = less birth talk. I guess we could test that by seeing what are common topics of conversation in countries with an even lower birth rate than the US.
posted by FJT at 4:00 PM on September 28, 2015


Omfg the IVF thing. I have identical twin nieces! My sister has fielded questions about whether they're 'natural'.

Makes my spine tingle with rage every time I think of it.

Rage. Fiercely gendered rage.
posted by bilabial at 4:09 PM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's this spectrum of really sodding rude social inquiries that people love to utilize in conversations, and the "so when are you and X getting married?" one definitely does get followed by "so when are you and X having children?" Whenever read as a straight ciswoman by acquaintances, especially older acquaintances, I brace myself for this near-inevitable line of questioning. Although I've definitely started getting the "so at what age are you planning to settle down and have children" question, and I usually just give them a flat stare and say "I'm infertile."

Which isn't a lie, and there are more polite ways to answer that I'm sure, but I've developed a perverse sense of enjoyment in watching people squirm for a beat. If they're particularly rude, they'll skip straight to "but doesn't X want to have children?" if they know that I'm not single. I hadn't really thought to use the "why are you asking me about my sex life" line before seeing other posters' comments, so, I'm glad this post is up. I'll definitely be using it now.

This is also why I hate leaving my house
posted by Ashen at 4:10 PM on September 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ask someone what they're excited about right now.

I hate that question because I feel that it implies that I always have to feel INCREDIBLY EXCITED!!! about something and have my 1 minute elevator speech ready. I'd rather be asked if I wanted another child. (Answer: No.)
posted by tecg at 4:11 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was a young newlywed and folks from the community would ask if we were trying to have children, I'd reply, "Sure, every night. After dinner. We push the dishes to the side and try right there on the dinner table." I'm fun at parties.
posted by ColdChef at 4:15 PM on September 28, 2015 [55 favorites]


In the era of IVF, there's even a further unpleasantness visited upon women.

Seriously, because the sad head shake and "Sadly, it's not in the cards for us" doesn't work anymore. Everybody knows about IF treatments now. And if you're IF and stop treatment before trying every (expensive, invasive, painful) option under the sun, SURELY you didn't want it enough.

Yes, I know your aunt had her last kid at 46. Yes, of course anything's possible. Please, do tell me more about Jimmy Fallon's surrogate...
posted by kimberussell at 4:19 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I find that people who thinks it is small talk are generally friends that already have kids or your older relatives (who have also had kids). It's strange that no matter what difficulties they had in procreating, once it's successful it's not a big deal to them anymore. And that's including people who've had miscarriages, still births, former infertility, etc. I'm of the opinion that most of my friends are in a cult once they've reproduced and they're just trying to recruit more.

Also, if you're from an asian family (of any part of that continent) it's not even small talk, it's always the topic of family gatherings.
posted by numaner at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I barely have a stake in this game, as I couldn't get pregnant even if I wanted to, but my go to response for these sorts of questions (as noted in a previous thread) is usually:

"Well, I do a lot of drinking most days, and I'm not really sure how I can fit the time to raise a child into that schedule."

That, or:

"I don't want kids, my reasons are my business, and if you have a problem with that, you can go fuck yourself."

Feel free to use either.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:23 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I was a young newlywed and folks from the community would ask if we were trying to have children, I'd reply, "Sure, every night. After dinner. We push the dishes to the side and try right there on the dinner table." I'm fun at parties.

And if they're familiar with your line of work, you can just smile and say: "I hope someone's breeding. We could use the job security. "
posted by Xavier Xavier at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Someone (a coworker who I don't know very well) asked me the other day when we are going to have kids (we've only been married for 6 months!) and I paused and said "That's an awfully personal question". I was met with a look of shock and then "Well, when?" WTF people! Why people feel entitled to ask prying questions to women of child-bearing age about their fertility just really reinforces just how women's bodies and lives are still viewed as public property. Disgusting.
posted by floweredfish at 4:26 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had a friend who kept asking and asking me when I was going to have children and I told him I didn't want any and he insisted (smugly) "You'll change your mind". I simmered angrily for 15 years and then ran into him again. I was still childless, but he had gotten married and, in his mid-fifties, now had three toddlers. He had clearly projected his own desires on me.

However, when I first knew him, the workplace was nightmarish for professional women like me. It is much better now, with more representation of different cultures and gender preferences at work, so that there is a dim suspicion now that not everyone thinks the same way.
posted by acrasis at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2015


In regards to the IVF/intervention questions, there's another one that I guess I feel slightly against the grain about. At 42 years old, and 8 months pregnant, most people assume my pregnancy was the result of fertility treatments.

In my experience, the people who ask are genuinely trying to understand something about fertility interventions. For some people it's sort of general, they want to know how that works. For other people it is personal, they are considering it for themselves and want to understand the landscape of options and costs. When they ask, how do you know which it is?

I don't know. I guess I feel like the alien here. I hate the cloak and dagger of it all. The shaming "Oh no you didn't just ask that" tone of the original post feels counterproductive to me. It seems like we apply this tone to so many things that it would maybe be better to be able to discuss openly and graciously, not just fertility.
posted by vunder at 4:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


vunder, I can see your point. Something like "I'm actually considering fertility treatments right now; would it be okay if I asked about yours?" seems a world away from "Are they natural?" though. So many of the examples in this thread just go against all common decency. I don't think any subject is truly always off-limits for every interaction; "off-limits unless you're genuinely exercising sensitivity and respect for others' privacy" is probably closer to the truth.
posted by thetortoise at 4:40 PM on September 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


In my experience, the people who ask are genuinely trying to understand something about fertility interventions. For some people it's sort of general, they want to know how that works. For other people it is personal, they are considering it for themselves and want to understand the landscape of options and costs. When they ask, how do you know which it is?

I don't know. I guess I feel like the alien here. I hate the cloak and dagger of it all. The shaming "Oh no you didn't just ask that" tone of the original post feels counterproductive to me. It seems like we apply this tone to so many things that it would maybe be better to be able to discuss openly and graciously, not just fertility.


Again, it's great that this has been your experience. It hasn't been mine. My experience is that people who ask/advise me about IVF or surrogacy or whatever are experiencing anxiety that infertility happens and that you literally sometimes can do nothing about it. Even if they don't realise what they're doing, it often boils down to feeling like if you literally cannot get pregnant or keep a pregnancy then you literally must be doing something wrong. I have been given advice about which hospital to use. I have been advised to take cough medicine to increase my fertility. I have been advised not to eat gluten (what?). I am offered opinions about surrogacy. I am usually (finally) asked why I don't adopt if children are so important to me. If people had told me others could say things so breathtakingly hurtful and rude, then I would not have believed them. But they did. All the time. The more they knew about my personal circumstances then the worse the questions became.

Good friends are excepted. They do ask for advice about costs and experience and everything else and they are welcome to do so because they are good friends. I am happy to dispense advice for morning sickness to people who know my history-- I am, after all, the queen of the first trimester. But this is not small talk, and it is not something I want casual strangers to address. And frankly, I don't see what that has to do with grace.
posted by frumiousb at 4:42 PM on September 28, 2015 [19 favorites]


Ever since my aunt had a difficult miscarriage and lost a much wanted baby when I was a teenager, I've found all fertility-related questions to be unspeakably rude, outside of contexts where the conversation has naturally drifted towards discussing kids/pregnancy or all parties are clearly open to discussing fertility-related issues. Every time I hear someone ask out of the blue about "when are you guys having more kids?" or "when can we expect a baby from you two?" I think about my aunt and how devastating questions like that would have been to her in the months and even first few years after her miscarriage. To quote Miller Williams, you don't know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.

Also vunder, I see where you're coming from, because I've had a lot of valuable discussions with friends and family about women's health stuff like this, but the small talk version of fertility questions is a whole different thing than that. Busting out with a "when are you having kids?" question as casually as asking "how about that weather, eh?" is rude as hell because it basically boils down to asking "so what's up with your/your wife's uterus?" We don't walk up to friends and acquaintances and ask how their bowel movements went today, we don't ask dudes how their dicks are hanging, we don't ask how many calories they've consumed for the day.

No one is entitled to someone else's medical information, and that's basically what you're asking when you ask fertility-related questions out of the blue.
posted by yasaman at 4:45 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


We're on our sixth (and possibly final) IVF cycle. I've had two miscarriages plus three unsuccessful IVF cycles, not to mention the year we spent trying to conceive before we started IVF.

This is not small talk territory. I don't know how to answer if someone asks me these questions. If I say some variation of "I'm not willing to discuss that" people get all offended, so I go with a general "oh we'll get to that someday" and change the subject to avoid the inevitable awkward pause.

It's. No-one's. fucking. business. Until I choose to reveal what we're doing and then and only then am I willing to answer questions.

It does a number on your identity -- even your humanity. At a purely reductionist level (and I realise not everyone ascribes to this view, but hell this my identity we're talking about) we are here to reproduce ourselves. And my husband and I have failed to do this. I feel like I have failed as a human being and as woman. And now, if this sixth cycle fails we have to start searching for what our identities mean as childless people (cf. childfree -- this is NOT our choice).

So no, this is not small talk. It's yet another intrusion into women's reproductive choices. I'm asked the questions, not my husband.

I've never presumed to ask anyone about their intentions -- even if I have their 8 months pregnant belly in my faces -- and I wouldn't mind if the same respect was afforded to me.

I love what she's posted. A true PSA.
posted by prettypretty at 4:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [39 favorites]


Just wanted to chime in as a man married to a man, who gets this line of questioning quite frequently from the people in my life (but surely only a fraction of what women face). I too find it invasive, bizarre, and irritating to have to answer, even coming from close friends.

When am I going to have kids? I DON'T KNOW, MAYBE ONE DAY WHEN I HAVE AN EXTRA THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS LYING AROUND AND THE MOOD STRIKES ME???
posted by wats at 4:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


By the way, this very subject came up on my university facebook group and one of my supposedly fellow human beings remarked: "I don't see why most of us should have a normal topic of conversation cut off because some women waited too long to try to have children."

Just try to unpack *that* sentence.
posted by frumiousb at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2015 [57 favorites]


Whoa.
posted by agregoli at 4:59 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoof. Damn. I'm sorry, frumiousb.
posted by kimberussell at 5:02 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm very glad this post went viral, and sincerely hope people listen to it. I'm a guy, and I don't get these inquiries nearly so often, but I loathe them too.

The problem is that people not only don't think it's rude, they think they are helping you by nudging you toward a better life decision than you're obviously making.

Came here to say that, give or take. Saying these questions are small talk, no different than discussing movies or the weather or something, is incorrect because they're generally a prelude to unsolicited, uninformed and condescending advice.

Upon preview:
"I don't see why most of us should have a normal topic of conversation cut off because some women waited too long to try to have children."

... in his case, I'd be in favor of cutting off more than a topic of conversation.
posted by mordax at 5:03 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


(in fairness, she got jumped on hard by others, but still-- she said it, others think it.)
posted by frumiousb at 5:09 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was going to mention this in the post proper, but I didn't want to over-editorialize. That said, the comments on these articles have been uniformly awful in my experience. On the level of the story frumiousb shared, above, but even worse somehow. I'm not saying "don't read the comments." I'm just saying -- I hoped that her post would serve as an example of a call to action for basic courtesy.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 5:10 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine the heartbreak of those dealing with miscarriages or infertility being hit with those questions.

But I do think that sometimes, the occasional, sort of random question comes from ignorance, not malice. It would seem that some people think that anything involving babies is fair game. My daughter is adopted and I've gotten some ridiculous questions from total strangers, like, why didn't you adopt a white or American baby? What's her story? Why did her parents abandon her? and so on. I try to answer civilly and put an end to the conversation and usually people get the message, and some even realize they've gone too far. In ways, it reminds me of people's urge to touch the bellies of pregnant women--another violation of private space and decency.

I'm not intending to belittle the very real grief of people struggling with major issues. I just think that sometimes people say inappropriate things without evil in their hearts.
posted by etaoin at 5:35 PM on September 28, 2015


I'd go so far that *most* of the time these questions come out of genuine curiosity, not malice. But as pointed out upthread, a benign intent doesn't negate the very real pain these questions can cause. When people step on my foot, it's rarely on purpose, but they still stepped on my foot and hurt me.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm not intending to belittle the very real grief of people struggling with major issues. I just think that sometimes people say inappropriate things without evil in their hearts.

I wholeheartedly agree and sort of touched on this in my comment: human beings reproduce. It's a fact of life. Much like the weather, it's something people make small talk about because a vast majority of human beings do it, without any assistance or trouble. Everyone has kids, except the people who won't or can't or don't want to (for whatever reason, really). So if you're in a position where you can't do what 80% or 90% of the human race can do, you're a outlier and I think human beings generally have issues with outliers (I realise that's a huge generalisation, but the nuances of that topic are probably another discussion for a different day).

So if you can't, or won't or don't have children you are a source of curiosity. And if you're in that position the questions really hurt. Unfortunately, the questions are directed at women in a way and in a volume they're not directed at men.

The discourse needs to change (a) so it's not so virulently directed at women and so that it doesn't cast us as failures if we can't reproduce and (b) so that if someone declines to talk about it that's the end of that particular part of the conversation. We should assume that everyone is the expert about their situation and their own inner state and emotions.
posted by prettypretty at 5:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Do you have kids?"
"Oh, how many?"
"Oh, me, that's a lot, isn't it?"
"Do you not practice birth control, or...?"
"I'm sure that someday you want fewer kids, though, right?"
"Oh, you're young. You'll change your mind."
posted by Navelgazer at 5:49 PM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


Here's the thing about the occasional random question coming from ignorance or well meaning.

Those sound exactly like the ones coming from the jerks who are set to pounce with the claws of judgment and the fangs of accusation.

Exactly. The. Same.

And it's not fair to the listener to have to sort out which sort of talker you're facing.

The plausible deniability needs to be removed from the equation. There are so many things that women are faced with and then told 'but maybe they meant well' or 'they're otherwise a perfectly nice person.'

I'm done giving the benefit of the doubt with this stuff. If you want to not be mistaken for a conversational jackass, don't act like one.

Telling me I look pregnant/asking me if I'm having twins/ asking how far along I am, suggesting that this is all part of gods plan for me, telling me that if I find Jesus he'll give me a baby, telling me to hurry up and trick a guy into getting me pregnant, telling me to take my time and wait for the perfect guy because even women who are 45 are having perfectly normal babies...these are EACH more common than someone saying 'oh, sorry, I didn't realize that was a tough topic for you.' Together, they are outright exhausting in their frequency and assertiveness.
posted by bilabial at 5:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [36 favorites]


When I shared this (or something similar) on facebook one of my relatives posted a really aggressive snarky sub-post about 'making conversation' and 'curious' and 'supportive'. Here are the tactics I've used with this family when it comes to my reproductive choice to have one child over the six years she's been here:
I'm happy with my daughter.

I thought I was going to, but when she was six months old I realised that I was happy with one child.

I don't want any more children.

No, I really don't want any more.

Yes I know my pregnancy was a bit rough, and that it is often different the second time around, I just don't want any more children.

This is actually a point of contention between my husband and I, I'm not fond of talking about it.

No I'm not trying.

No I don't want any more children.

Yes I'm on birth control.

Yes he supports my decisions.

I don't fucking want any more fucking children.

No actually, I wouldn't be talking to you if I were trying and it wasn't working.

Yes I can probably get pregnant again, I don't want to though. Because I still don't want any more children.

I am happy with my family as it is. It feels complete.

This is a kind of painful topic and has not changed. Please stop.

No, I won't be adopting or fostering children either.*

I am really happy with me, my daughter, and my husband.

Please don't ask my child if she wants siblings.

Never ever EVER tell her to tell me to have more babies.

Yes she's fantastic, no another child wouldn't be guaranteed to be so amazing.

No I don't think I'm depriving her of family.

No I don't need another child just in case she dies.

I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD THE NEXT PERSON WHO ASKS ME ABOUT MY REPRODUCTIVE CHOICES IS GOING TO GET FUCKING CHOKED OUT GOT IT?
All of this was in large conversations with multiple people offering jokes and extra commentary and with women I know who have miscarried, most in front of my child. Just think about that - she's six, and has suffered through countless conversations about how my family mustn't be finished or enough with just her. She started asking me about birth control when she was 4. I've told my husband that the next time anyone in his family asks me about my family choices I am just leaving, I don't care how 'rude' that might be. I'm done, I am so done with this conversation.

*This was a doozy because as I said that, my husband said "I've been thinking about it." - since when motherfucker? And I'm just gonna say flat out no to it, even if I were eligible. Christmas dinner conversation is not the damn time to hash out our family structure.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:51 PM on September 28, 2015 [45 favorites]


yasaman: "We don't walk up to friends and acquaintances and ask how their bowel movements went today, we don't ask dudes how their dicks are hanging, we don't ask how many calories they've consumed for the day."

We live in a world where it's totally normal to ask someone who just got married "So, when are you having kids?" but unspeakably rude to, say, ask someone who just got a new job "So, how much are you making now?". Weird, huh? One of these is a business transaction while the other is a deeply personal decision that often (but not always) involves smushing genitals together.
posted by mhum at 5:52 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


now we just have to get some email forwards going for Those Relatives (you know the ones--the ones with the email forwards) and we're set.


Just throw a picture of a minion in there and you're set.



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SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE'S FERTILITY!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


. . . they've moved on to asking me why I never had children. Sigh.

I don't want to believe anyone is this rude, stupid, and aggressive.

Asking someone IF they are going to have kids, I can kind of / sort of / maybe see how, depending on the person asking and the person asked, and the setting, I can see how maybe sometimes it would be okay.

But: Why did you never have children? OMG. Shut up and go away. Even if it is your mom asking that, just shut up and go away.
posted by MoxieProxy at 5:57 PM on September 28, 2015


I have a friend with twins who gets the question "Are they natural?" on occasion.
"Well, they can both pass the Voight-Kampff test, so.. close enough."
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:07 PM on September 28, 2015 [24 favorites]


I married late and had a child even later. First it was "got a nice girl yet" and "when are you having children" etc. Then it was "when are you guys having kids". This is by lots and lots of people. So, finally, we have a kid. We like the kid. What surprised me was that the questions didn't back down; in fact, they are asked more aggressively. Before, when we said "not sure" or whatever, people dropped it. Now, when they ask if we are having more and I say we aren' t interested, a quite surprising number of people pursue it fairly aggressively. They seem to feel that now that we have one, it is kind of open season. Finally I often resort to telling them that we are both only children and aren't bothered by our child 'not having a sibling'. Sometimes I actually get "Oh, you are one of those". I often get a 'look'. Sometimes, they push it even harder: "Wouldn't you like to have had a brother or sister?". Um, no, actually, I didn't mind at all. I had parents, and friends, and books and computers and the world to explore. I didn't mind at all.

So not even having the children will shut em up. Maybe 2 might, but I'm not going to find out. And I'm not convinced even that would shut them up.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:17 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Good times. I'm in the likes kids/won't be having any camp. Usually "I can barely take care of myself" is enough, but once I had to resort to making barfing/omg-spiders-are-on-me noises when the coworker who WOULD. NOT. LET. IT. GO. wouldn't let it the fuck go. So yeah, barfing/spiders. Effective!
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:33 PM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Rebecca Solnit had a piece in the October issue Harper's titled "The Mother of All Questions" that is about the intersection of this question and her life as a writer. It's a fantastic piece and would make for a great FPP, but Harpers has been putting most of their stuff behind a paywall so although it seems to be free to access at the moment I don't have any confidence that it will stay accessible.
But just because the question can be answered doesn’t mean that I ought to answer it, or that it ought to be asked. The interviewer’s question was indecent, because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live.

But even to say that there’s one proper way may be putting the case too optimistically, given that mothers are consistently found wanting, too. A mother may be treated like a criminal for leaving her child alone for five minutes, even a child whose father has left it alone for several years. Some mothers have told me that having children caused them to be treated as bovine non-intellects who should be disregarded. Other women have been told that they cannot be taken seriously professionally because they will go off and reproduce at some point. And many mothers who do succeed professionally are presumed to be neglecting someone. There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

We talk about open questions, but there are closed questions, too, questions to which there is only one right answer, at least as far as the interrogator is concerned. These are questions that push you into the herd or nip at you for diverging from it, questions that contain their own answers and whose aim is enforcement and punishment. One of my goals in life is to become truly rabbinical, to be able to answer closed questions with open questions, to have the internal authority to be a good gatekeeper when intruders approach, and to at least remember to ask, “Why are you asking that?” This, I’ve found, is always a good answer to an unfriendly question, and closed questions tend to be unfriendly. But on the day of my interrogation about having babies, I was taken by surprise (and severely jet-lagged), and so I was left to wonder — why do such bad questions so predictably get asked?
posted by Dip Flash at 6:39 PM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


My dad did his best to stop the flow of questions about siblings after having me by saying, "We stopped at perfection."

I'm fine with that and it seemed to work pretty good to shut people down. You can't argue with perfection.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


The people whose go-to small talk involves invasive questions are trying to establish themselves as dominant by pushing your boundaries.

OK that's going in my book of painful insights for the socially incompetent, right after "if someone tells you they're laughing with you not at you, they are laughing at you."
posted by 3urypteris at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Intentions are in your head, consequences are in my face.

I don't want to believe anyone is this rude, stupid, and aggressive.

Making small talk of a major life decision seems really counterintuitive

what so many of us are asking for is that people take a second to think through the possible consequences of actions.




There are some really judgmental people in the world, and some who use that judgment to be just plain malicious, or to try to force an agenda on other people. It makes a lot of sense to be angry at them, and to get upset when someone does or says something that even reminds us of that kind of mean attitude.

Unfortunately, completely innocent people with neutral or even good intentions, who are perhaps trying to understand or care about you as an individual (even on a casual basis) can look and sound exactly like the first group.

The judgment and self-control to avoid topics that might be sensitive is something that is _learned_. It's not innate. It's not like children are born knowing which questions not to ask.

If their parents have no problem talking about other people's having or not having children, and if they haven't been in a situation where someone patiently and kindly explains that this could actually hurt someone's feelings, then kids can well grow up into adults who don't understand why they shouldn't ask, when meeting someone at work or at a wedding, "So, are you guys going to have kids?". They may not even know to wonder if it's rude or hurtful (see: Dunning-Kruger effect).


Depending on how you grew up, it may seem completely obvious to you that this kind of thing is not only personal, but fraught. I grew up in a semi-rural town in Georgia; educational attainments aside, I happened to spend a lot of time alone. I barely had a clue about this stuff by the time I graduated (technology) college. I've learned to be reasonably sensitive by forcing myself to take humanities classes and by reading a lot, but if I hadn't had that experience -- as a lot of people don't, even those who graduate college -- I would probably be accidentally miffing people all over the place.

I am grateful to the people who have taught me to be kind, but kindness isn't a default state; the absence of kindness doesn't represent some kind of evil aberration. The absence of kindness indicates that not enough people have been kind enough to you; not enough people have yet explained to you, or demonstrated and then explained to you, how exactly one goes about being kind.



I'm done giving the benefit of the doubt with this stuff. If you want to not be mistaken for a conversational jackass, don't act like one.


It's easy to hate people for being ignorant. Now, it's less acceptable to call it hatred of the ignorant, so we just call people insulting names and assume their ignorance is actually malevolence.


The pain you feel when someone makes an insensitive remark is real, and worth respecting, and I would never hurt someone that way intentionally. The pain that you feel when you unintentionally hurt someone is real also. Some people don't feel that last kind of pain, but most do. They would want to know that they hurt you, and they'll feel terrible that they did so, but they could learn from you how to be kinder in the future.
posted by amtho at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


The people whose go-to small talk involves invasive questions are trying to establish themselves as dominant by pushing your boundaries.

This is undoubtedly true of some people. It is undoubtedly not true of some people.


If I'm curious about whether another person is planning to have children, it may be because I'm hoping to find women who _aren't_ planning to be mothers, so that I can plan adventures with them, or explore common interests we might have.
posted by amtho at 6:54 PM on September 28, 2015


Related to bilabial's comment on the affliction that is endometriosis (which is not in the Firefox dictionary for goodness sakes), the Guardian online has two articles today on endometriosis, infertility, and the medical profession's neglectful approach to both of these. The first is by Man Booker prize winner, Hilary Mantel, the second is by Guardian Australia's deputy opinion editor, Gabrielle Jackson

Endometriosis took my fertility, and part of my self - Mantel

'I'm not a hypochondriac. I have a disease. All these things that are wrong with me are real, they are endometriosis' - Jackson

So for people with endometriosis-caused infertility, not only do they have to deal with the extreme pain and discomfort of the disease along with its broader health complications, they also have to 'cope' with the dismissive behaviour of the medical profession, and the very possible likelihood of never conceiving. So, on top of all that, to be also faced with questions from people who assume they have a right to know about your fertility plans and status, it's a quadruple whammy.
posted by Thella at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Having gotten this a lot, the nice thing about this question is how easy it usually is to lie. But yeah, I don't ask, because it does bear the risk of being an intensely painful question.

I do think that 90% of the time, the question is coming from people who enjoyed the parenthood journey and would enjoy talking with you about your own travels, should you ever decide to take a trip to that land.
posted by salvia at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2015


Don't ask me about my reproductive choices, but also don't ask me about my health, my relationship choices, my sexual choices, my dietary choices, my financial choices, my housing choices, my political choices, my religious choices, or my perceived lack of any of the aforementioned. If you are someone who thinks you are entitled to know any of these things, please reconsider speaking to me at all. If you want to find a group of people who share a common way of thinking with you, join a club, join a church, join a support group, join a political party. It is not my responsibility to educate you on decorum. Children can be forgiven for ignorance in this area, adults cannot.
posted by tempestuoso at 6:59 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


I certain instances, it's just because some people's headspace is just, "babies, babies, babies, babies!".

My girlfriend and I had friends egging us on to have kids but hese friends weren't currently in relationships, or were gay men, and didn't feel like they were in a position to do it themselves. Us buying a house/nest was some kind of triggering event for them and they got vicariously excited. We were planning a family anyway. Later, when the family never came about, they let it drop. No harm done.

....but that pretty much just applies to close friends. There's one question from strangers that I will never excuse, "so, you guys never had kids, huh?"
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:19 PM on September 28, 2015


If those people are so concerned about not hurting me then maybe they could, say, read a viral Facebook post? Or any of the other writings that constantly float around suggesting that they should stop it. Asking the recipients of this nonsense to shoulder the burden of educating the well-meaning but too fucking lazy to learn ahead of time is just as bullshit here as it is with feminist or race or trans topics, amthro
posted by phearlez at 7:34 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


. . . they've moved on to asking me why I never had children. Sigh.

A few years ago I had another encounter with a little old lady, no relation to the one I mentioned upthread, in fact one of my company's customers. She asked conversationally if I had kids and I said no and since it's obvious I am now past prime childbearing age she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Oh, don't be, my wife and I planned it this way."
(utter shock on her face) "But... but... didn't you want to leave a legacy?"

At that point I really felt kind of sorry for her, if she could not imagine any legacy other than spraying my genes into the next generation. I've designed thousands of industrial control systems and if you live in the US it's a near certainty you've eaten or bought something that passed through one of them. People write me to this day about stuff I wrote back when kuro5hin didn't suck and one guy who is in a prestigious graduate program for AI research credits his career choice to reading my novel when he was 14. Which is frankly a little frightening because I didn't want that kind of responsibility, I just wanted to tell a story but my little story was powerful enough to stick its finger out and touch someone like that. I have lived an amazing life and to think that it is somehow devoid of meaning because I didn't also have kids just seems kind of, well, a sad failure to appreciate what is there.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:35 PM on September 28, 2015 [35 favorites]


Something like "I'm actually considering fertility treatments right now; would it be okay if I asked about yours?" seems a world away from "Are they natural?" though.

See above about the pecking-order thing though. This would be revealing your own insecurities and self first instead of testing boundaries and where's the fun in that?
posted by 3urypteris at 7:41 PM on September 28, 2015


It amazes me that sex, finances, medical issues, and religion are all things you don't discuss in polite company, yet reproductive decisions lie at exactly the intersection of all of these things and people still can't grok why it's colossally rude.
posted by almostmanda at 7:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [36 favorites]


I have the "my husband had a vasectomy" in my back pocket just for this occasion

for extra amusement, say that you "had him fixed". so fun.

(yes this is assuming that he's ok with you talking about him this way)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


We joked that instead of going to the urologist he was going to Starbucks. The same way you lie to a dog that they're going to the park. Then I would pat him on the head and say he was a good boy. Yes. We are that weird.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:55 PM on September 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


I consider it my great good fortune that I have virtually never been asked about marriage or kids by anyone. Once, one time only, my mother kind of hesitantly asked me whether I thought I might want to maybe meet a man or get married or....? And I snapped back that NO I HOPE TO DIE PENNILESS AND ALONE and that was literally 10 years ago and never has the question been repeated. No one in my extended family asks anyone anything personal and doesn't even pry for more detail when personal information is shared. FUCK YEAH, GUESS CULTURE!!

I have certainly had this conversation with close friends and partners over the years, but rarely have I had to suffer through it as a topic of small talk. I honestly can't imagine who makes it to adulthood without knowing at least one really sad and terrible story about miscarriage or infertility or whatever. And if you know even one story, how do you not therefore see how non-small that talk is? I don't think of myself as particularly tactful, but I just know so many complicated reproduction-related stories. Even just the straightforward-seeming reproduction stories are complicated and full of personal details that aren't appropriate for cocktail hour.
posted by looli at 7:58 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


"there is a subtext that almost becomes text: "oh god, where do I put you, where is your box, is your box OK? Is it OK for me to be OK with the box you are in? What does it mean that your box is different from my box?"

This whole box thing is why we have questions like that. Society needs to pigeonhole women into one of a few tiny boxes, and god forbid you not fit into one of them.

I don't get this question much since I'm obviously permanently hopelessly single, but it is kind of funny to watch some people just be utterly dead in their tracks/stop talking to me once I can't fit into one of those boxes/talk about my nonexistent husband and kids too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Last comment, I promise, but it really bothers me that people seem to assume that ignorance is intentional, or that if people weren't awful to begin with they'd magically have information.

If someone's hurt and upset, then of course they're not obligated to educate anyone. No one is obligated to educate anyone else, and upset people who feel trapped into explaining stuff aren't going to be the best teachers anyway. It's important to honor your own feelings, always. It's important to give yourself permission to not be "polite" all the time, and it's even more important if you're dealing with others who aren't as polite as you are.

In addition, sometimes, speaking bluntly, or letting your anger show, is a pretty effective way to communicate.

There are some issues I'm pretty inflexible on; if I see a person do X thing, I do not ever want to deal with that person again (even though most people consider X not that bad). It paints the person as an unpleasant jerk in my mind. Even though I know there are reasons they do X, that they may be predisposed to X, I just can't get past it. I allow myself this feeling and don't beat myself up about not being a better, more forgiving person. Sometimes we just can't deal with certain people; I get that on a fundamental level.

The only thing that's bothering me is this persistent idea that somehow, if people don't know better, then they should know better. If you don't even know that this kind of offending people is a thing, you won't know to read up on it. Not everyone is on Facebook (really). How are all these people hearing stories about childbearing problems before they're adults? Who talks about this with kids? Sometimes "normal" people seem like an entirely different species to me.

Why do I care about this so much? I'm an outlier in many ways; people assume unhelpful things about me frequently, so I do occasionally deal with insensitive questions myself, and it does hurt. One or two topics make me tear up reliably. I guess I just hope that, if there is a well-intentioned young person out there who is as naive as I once was, they don't become isolated because folks assume that their hurtful questions indicate that they are a terrible person beyond all help.

Be angry, hurt, snappish, or however you feel. That's more than legitimate, it's necessary. Don't take on all the world's problems, especially other people, especially when you're in pain yourself.

Later, when there's been a little time and distance, you don't have to think about that person at all. However, if you do think about them, or talk or write about them, just, if you have any emotional strength to do so, maybe consider adding a little layer of kindness. If the person who hurt you doesn't seem otherwise malicious, maybe consider that they may not be irredeemable, and that people in general may not be irredeemable. You don't have to like them, or forgive them. Just maybe don't put them in the "jerk" box.
posted by amtho at 8:22 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


What a great post. Thank you everyone for the lively discussion.

I HAVE to ask "currently pregnant?" at work and it is never not painfully awkward - I dread it every time. But I don't accidentally want to give them a miscarriage by poking the right set of acupuncture points, so I explain it with that and then change the topic. Immediately.

I am the most socially awkward person I know but I've never asked this of anyone, once. Not good friends, not strangers. You know what's less awkward than this? Pausing to think about what is kind to ask.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 8:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I HAVE to ask "currently pregnant?" at work and it is never not painfully awkward - I dread it every time.

One way to approach this is to ask "Any recent health changes? Broken bones, sprains, pregnancy?" As an acupuncturist, you might have other relevant conditions you can drop in there, camouflaging it as a routine question without putting anyone on the spot.
posted by mochapickle at 8:40 PM on September 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


oh god, where do I put you, where is your box, is your box OK? Is it OK for me to be OK with the box you are in? What does it mean that your box is different from my box?


Note- asking people about their box? Also rude.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:48 PM on September 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am conflict-avoidant as all hell and rarely stand up for myself IRL, but one of my few cherished moments happened this past Labour Day weekend with a few of the fiancé's family members and their neighbours. This was cottage country in Ontario, so it was mostly small-C conservatives and religious-by-habit types.

The Crowd: When are you going to have kids?
Me: We're not.
TC: Why not?
Me: I don't want kids.
TC: Why not?
Me: Why? Kids are awful and my life is great.
TC: *shocked silence*
Fiancé: *gives me high-five*
TC: You'll change your mind.
Me: I doubt it.
TC: Wait till you accidentally have one and then you'll want to have six!
Me: Why would I ever accidentally have one when medical science is a thing that exists?
TC: *shocked silence*
Me: *sips beer*
TC: *shocked silence*

Someone tried to start lecturing me about morality and I think I said something mean about not caring what an invisible sky wizard has to say about my life and left the conversation. That entire weekend was a bit of a shit show overall, but that was one of the small silver linings.
posted by Phire at 9:07 PM on September 28, 2015 [50 favorites]


Very late to thread & WhiteSkull beat me to it, rather triumphantly, but longtime lurker who joined just for this:

Now all that's needed is to find the big boss to make the edict...

*Knock that shit off or you're fired. From all small talk; blacklisted for all time.*

My 82 year old SuperCatholic, crapped-out-half-dozen-kids mom who says inappropriate shit constantly (my last victory was getting her to stop saying "Chinaman", just to give you an idea of where we're at here) does not even do this to me, and of all the people who would be nagging me about grandkids, she doesn't. Nor did my born-in-the-19th-Century Gramma. And we're from the midwest where big families were common. You can be old-fashioned and still have tact & sense and know when to shut it.

Yet in my 20s I had numbskull coworkers who were *shocked* that I had no kids yet (I was only 26; I was so insulted that they just assumed I'm a babymachine). Their next question was "Do you have something wrong? Are you ok?" Because of course, babymachine must be broken, what else could it possibly be?! I thought they were just idiots who never heard of choice, feminism etc, etc. I had no idea that this happened all the time with younger people who should know better. When I did tell another coworker about this incident and I said, in honesty, "I actually don't want kids partly because I don't want to pass on my disorder", he very cluelessly laughed because he thought I was joking. I didn't tell him that, ha-ha-ha, yeah, mental illness isn't so good in my family, so yeah, never going to curse my children with that even if I wanted them, but thanks for asking everybody! Have a great day!

If my elderly, not-always-enlightened mom can learn not to say "Chinamen" for asians, then yeah, people can get this fucking memo.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:17 PM on September 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


"How often are you fucking? Is it good?"
posted by gottabefunky at 9:31 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tend to agree with her sentiment, as my wife and I have gone through some trying times--inability to conceive, miscarriage--before our sons were born. Yes, talking about babies or plans for babies or lack of babies can be offensive, but I also think the context in which it's discussed and the way the question/comment is framed is crucial. The fact is that couples have babies, and that's not going to change anytime soon, just as a million other facts of life. So yes, everyone should take a step back and consider the potentially upsetting reasons for why couples--and especially women--are uncomfortable talking about it. But incivility can occur on the other "side" as well, and we should also all at least recognize when someone is simply trying to inquire about your life, with no malice intended--quite the opposite, actually.
posted by zardoz at 9:53 PM on September 28, 2015


My partner and I had a hard time getting pregnant and she encountered a lot of pain (physical as well as emotional) along the years-long road to having children. I agree (of course) that people should really be more careful what they ask about for all of the reasons eloquently and humorously noted above in the thread. I feel like we got more personal questions and prodding from friends and family (most of whom never knew about the miscarriages and treatments) than from others. one incident makes me think amtho's advice is helpful.

At a family event right near the time we had just learned about our infertility, a dear uncle--one of the sweetest guys you would ever meet--a man who volunteers at one of the worst prisons in the US and tries to give men serving life sentences some human kindness--this quiet man came up to us and asked when we would be getting around to giving his sister a grandbaby.

She: Oh we'll get working on it soon enough.
Him: Do you need some help?
Me: I don't think so.
Him: I can show you how it's done. Is that what you need?
Me: Are you offering to fuck your niece?
My wife: (Laughs) Or my husband?
Him: [Turns red.] I guess...um...hmmm. I'm sorry. What a thing to say....I think maybe I should...um...go fuck myself.
Me: That's what I was thinking. (Laughs all around.)

Good people can learn to stop something hurtful (like GospelofWesleyWillis' mom). They just need to be told it is not ok with most people.
posted by Cassford at 10:21 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is my personal mission as a widow.
Whenever I get this question, I respond with a "wow, ok" *big pause* " you do realize I was widowed at 33, right?"
*much bigger pause* (and now I've got their attention)
"But you do realize that's a really insensitive question to anyone because of x,y,z, right?"

But what I really want to say, is "really buddy, if you were inside the circle of trust, you'd already know the answer, but you aren't, so you don't, and get the hint, ok?"
posted by susiswimmer at 10:32 PM on September 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


I don't talk to people anymore. It's easier that way.
posted by mrhappy at 10:34 PM on September 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


You can't win even if your relatives/coworkers/acquaintances wholly accept your polite reply that you're not having kids.

Because then, they're SO SURPRISED that you LIKE children and are so comfortable holding/playing with/talking to them!!!

[sigh]
posted by desuetude at 11:22 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have an 18-month-old and get a fair amount of "are you planning to have any more?", and I wouldn't even mind answering if the conversation didn't end up oh so often going like this:

Me: "Well, I'd love more, but I had a very tough pregnancy with [daughter] and I'm not sure I can manage going through that again, so I haven't decided yet."

"Oh you never know, though! Every pregnancy is different."

"Maybe, but [details of the horrendous vomiting and nausea I went through from weeks 3-42 the last time] and there's a fair chance it would be either the same or worse next time."

"Did you try ginger? Ginger really helps! Or nibbling on crackers. Or my friend's sister's hairdresser's dog's vet had these travel sickness bands you wear on your wrist and..."

And I am right back remembering to the illest I've ever been in my life, chugging down the anti-sickness drugs they give to chemotherapy patients and still spending hours having to lie absolutely still with my eyes closed because any movement or bright colours or particular shapes would trigger it getting worse again, and reassuring myself with the thought that at least in a few months this would be over and I'd have my baby and nobody would be suggesting fucking ginger to me any more. But SURPRISE!

I'm sure it's all well meaning. That doesn't stop it being inconsiderate, idiotic and unkind, though. I mean, I have already made it clear to you that this is a painful and difficult decision to make! And yet you are still talking! Just... don't.
posted by Catseye at 11:37 PM on September 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is it just me, or is fertility-questioning another kind of microaggression?
posted by mikurski at 12:00 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Let me tell you, even having a baby isn't enough to stop the questions. My son was an hour old and I was still bleeding and doped up from drugs from having him CUT OUT OF ME when my father in law stopped by to see the new addition. After asking his name (and making sure he'd been named after him!) he asked me when we were having another. I was pretty sure I was hallucinating on all the drugs and misheard so I got him to repeat the question. I mean, I literally couldn't move my legs from the epidural and was he actually asking when I was having the next one?! "You need to get onto it!" He said. "And children need siblings!" All I can say is, thanks god for him I couldn't get out of that hospital bed.
posted by Jubey at 12:24 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I really need to work on my deadpan delivery for when this topic comes up. So many useful alternate phrasings above to work with.

A recent one of mine, when someone was going on about the inevitability of breeding instinct and 'genetic programming giggling at your independence": There's not a whole lot "Gene survival urges" can do about 2 pellets of appropriately placed titanium and some surgical knives.

+1 for it being an aggravation, to say the least. At least right now I can still get away with being young enough that when I point out that I self-selected out they're surprised enough to be stunned-in-place for a bit. When they start dragging my partner into it I'm probably going to have to get a bit growly. And I don't really do that ever.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:38 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great article, great discussion. Here's my anecdata: I still have pretty bad PTSD from my son's birth. He's two now. People ask me all the time when we're going to have another one. When I say never, they often push back. "Aww, why not? Only children are spoiled/everybody needs siblings/won't he be lonely/etc etc." And when people push even farther than that (not infrequently), I can't help myself, I start to cry talking about how I had A REALLY HARD TIME with pregnancy and birth.

THAT'S NOT FUCKING SMALL TALK.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 12:40 AM on September 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


This shit is fucking brutal in Korea. My wife is basically an outcast because we're child-free (by choice). Literally nobody around her can even begin to understand that as a life choice or possibility.

For me, no biggy, but fuck, I feel for her. Buncha fucking judgy bullshit. Motherfuckers, all of 'em.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:53 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to thank this thread. I'm updating my standard go-to answer to 'My husband's had a vasectomy.'
'But you aren't married or even da...'
'I mean my future husband. '
posted by Trivia Newton John at 1:12 AM on September 29, 2015 [41 favorites]


The defense of prying questions and comments about fertility sound exactly like people trying to defend catcalling.

"Sometimes people ask about your fertility out of ignorance not malice, and you should be informed on that issue and do the emotional labor of figuring out if your response is going to be hurtful to them, because golly, we can't expect them to have done exactly that same sort of work before commenting on your fertility!" :: "But it was intended as a compliment!" See also: "Maybe he's just socially awkward!"

"But how will we ever make it so that talking about miscarriage or similar more painful fertility-related topics isn't harmfully taboo if we shut down pushy and highly norm-enforcing questions or comments about near-strangers' fertility?" :: "So how am I ever supposed to flirt and let a woman know that I'm interested in her if I can't catcall?"

Socially awkward or clueless but well-intentioned person asking about fertility:
"So, when are you two going to pop one out?"
"When we decide to." / "Never." / "That's a really personal question."
"Oh, ok. How 'bout that summer blockbuster everyone's been talking about?"

Thoughtful person who knows you well enough that the topic is reasonable, but not well enough to know the answer yet:
"Are you thinking of having any kids?"
[Further responses keyed to initial answer]
Option A:
"Yes" / "Maybe someday"
"Let me know if you need babysitting help when you do! I love picking out cute infant outfits/childrens books too!"
Option B:
"No, not for us."
"Ah, cool. Did you see that summer blockbuster everyone's been talking about?"
Option C:
"That's not a great topic for me at this time."
"Oh, I'm sorry to have made things awkward! Have you seen that summer blockbuster everyone's been talking about?/I have a painful fertility story too; let me know if you ever want to sit down and share details over coffee or something. Btw, did you see that movie everyone's been talking about?"

What we are actually talking about in this thread:
"When are you having kids?"
"We're not."
"Oh, but why not?"
"None of your damn business."
"Everyone wants kids! What about your legacy?"
"None of your damn business."
"You'll feel differently about it when...."
"Still none of your damn business."
"Person X story blah blah blah."
"I'm happy for them. How 'bout that summer blockbuster?"
[Ignores subject change] "You would make such a great parent!"
...ad infinitum....

What we are actually talking about in this thread is rude, invasive behavior with the intention or effect to ensure compliance with certain social norms. It's also behavior that women are differentially on the receiving end of, that treats womens' bodies as public property and diminishes womens' value and role to their reproductive capabilities. In other words, it's sexist.

There are lots of non-sexist, polite ways to discuss children and reproductive choices, sometimes even in a small talk setting! They involve asking open-ended questions that are not imbued with judgement or agenda, and paying attention to the content and tone of the response. People manage this balance all the time in other small talk subjects. This post is about how "small talk" about fertility issues is most often the equivalent of catcalling.
posted by eviemath at 5:01 AM on September 29, 2015 [40 favorites]


i have a thing where i always get hot while teaching, either because i'm moving around a lot, or the temperature's off because in Philly it's sixty-five one day and eighty-four the next. Yesterday I took my jacket off while teaching because it was too much and was all 'is it hot? are you guys hot?'

So one student was all, 'hot flashes?'

i felt like saying "ACTUALLY I STILL MENSTRUATE BUT BOY I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY BLOOD NO LONGER COMES FROM MY VAGINA AND I FEEL LIKE SHIT A FEW DAYS ONCE A MONTH"
posted by angrycat at 5:08 AM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


The one that really throws me off is, "Are you trying?" Complete strangers have asked me that one after 5 or 10 minutes of conversation, and I can mostly only stare at them in slack-jawed amazement.
posted by colfax at 5:45 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


TC: Wait till you accidentally have one and then you'll want to have six!

Ugh, this shit. The veneer of not knowing any better or just making small talk kind of falls apart when people express that they hope your birth control fails.
posted by almostmanda at 6:17 AM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


The question is bad enough on its own, but people really double down when they phrase it as "when are you going to start a family?" As if my husband and I didn't become a family the day we were married, and we are in some kind of limbo until we have kids (which is to say, forever). I don't think people think through the implications of that question, but I find it so fucking insulting.
posted by mama casserole at 6:41 AM on September 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


If the person who hurt you doesn't seem otherwise malicious, maybe consider that they may not be irredeemable, and that people in general may not be irredeemable. You don't have to like them, or forgive them. Just maybe don't put them in the "jerk" box.

I give everyone here my word: If someone says these sorts of things to me and they are wearing the tag around their neck that indicates they were only decanted from their growth chamber in the last week then I will be super patient and calm and be willing to explain to them at length why this sort of topic is uncool and a sizable possibility of pain for the people they're talking to.

The rest of them, who I assume have interacted with other humans, maybe used facebook, maybe seen a television, maybe a newspaper, maybe been to a doctor or had life experiences of their own? I'm going to hold them to the standard of being a person in society who should give a marginal damn about the experiences and feelings of others and who should not use idle encounters with other humans as an opportunity to forward their own social agenda and project their issues on to other people.

I'm going to trust in my one true master, statistics, and recognize that there is effectively zero chance that they could both be so willing to have this conversation with people and also be having it for the first time right now.

For your own self, maybe you might want to extend a little of this commitment to openness in another direction. Maybe give all of us here credit for not being screaming banshees and capable of recognizing the huge variety in human contact. We know there's a lot of different kinds of conversations and ways topics come up and we can recognize those outlier situations where we might have seemed to give tacit approval for a conversation topic. We're capable of seeing that there's a lot of times where someone might make a poor word choice that's just a flub and not indicative of an offensive underlying assumption. We can tell the difference between someone who seems to be interested in our feelings versus someone who is just dropping their edicts on us because they think they have power and right and a desire to show their moral superiority.
posted by phearlez at 7:35 AM on September 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


A person, no longer my friend for many reasons, whinged on at me once about not having children.

"But who will care for you when you get old?" he asked.
"Whoever gets paid to," I answered.
"But who will bury you?"
"Whoever has the backhoe."


My favorite response to this -
when someone tells me they want a family just so they don't die alone, i make sure to ask "hey why you want someone to watch you die so bad"
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


For your own self, maybe you might want to extend a little of this commitment to openness in another direction. Maybe give all of us here credit for not being screaming banshees and capable of recognizing the huge variety in human contact.

Well, that's a good point. Once again I am clueless about things that are obvious to you.
posted by amtho at 8:14 AM on September 29, 2015


I am lucky enough to have had few of these conversations. The rare times someone has asked if I'm having another kid, I've laughed loudly and said, "As if!" And have had thoughtful enough people that they moved on them.

One nice thing about not grilling other people on their choices is that I've found people do just ask for advice when they want it. I was really flattered when friends asked if they could talk about how we decided to have kids, as they wanted to think about it and talk over what it would mean for them. I did also bring up pregnancy with a friend, but that was less a question and more of a, "We take meds for the same condition, if you ever want to talk about that in relation to pregnancy let me know," and we talked briefly about it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


phearlez: Everything I wanted to say, only better phrased.

amtho: Not clueless, just thoughtless. You expended a whole bunch of energy exhorting commenters to give ignorant folk the benefit of the doubt, while failing to give the commenters the benefit of the doubt.
posted by XtinaS at 8:59 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am pretty damn childfree and I don't think it's a rude question. I think most people are just being nice and making small talk.

Small talk includes big subjects like jobs, families and hobbies. One doesn't need to engage in it if one doesn't want to.


You may think its harmless and you're just asking a question, but even without fertility/miscarraige baggage, YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE ASKING!

It got to a point at work that I couldn't call in sick without at least 3-4 people (including my boss, who was otherwise awesome) asking if I was pregnant when I was back in the office the next day.

My parents are divorced so I get double the questions about grandbabies. Not to mention that my husband's family was asking when we were going to have kids as soon as a graduated high school and my reaction was 1) I would like to finish college first and 2) we're not even married and you people are super religious so WTF?


I finally put my foot down with my parents, so I don't get those questions anymore. My husband put his foot down with his family. And at work I asked that everyone please stop asking and they did.

If it was only one person, I probably would have just brushed it off. But when its everyone you know, it gets really fucking annoying.
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:06 AM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Do you have kids?"
"Oh, how many?"
"Oh, me, that's a lot, isn't it?"
"Do you not practice birth control, or...?"


it's probably not surprising, but this is totally a thing that happens. i come from a pretty big extended family and multiple cousins of mine have 4+ kids. they are stopped in stores, at parks, shouted at in traffic, stage whispered about at the dmv because people think they've crossed some imaginary threshold into "too many." people ask about fertility treatments, and money, and if they're all "yours" (instead of adopted) - they lecture about the environment and overpopulation, they assume my relatives must be on welfare, they inquire about birth control, they make snide jokes about my relatives religion - some of it is wrapped in faux concern, some of it jovial, and some of it outright hostile. and of course, the women get it worse than the men (although the men get it pretty bad especially if they ~gasp~ take all their kids out at a time by themselves).

and really it just goes to show is once again there is no proper answer, no right thing that can be done with regards to fertility/kids/etc that is acceptable to the "just asking questions" crowd who get off on policing what's going on with our uterus. no kids - selfish! one kid - selfish! "too many" kids - selfish!
posted by nadawi at 9:25 AM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


My MIL and SIL both told me at several points they were praying for my birth control to fail. (This was prior to my husband's vasectomy). They finally stopped when we left in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. I highly recommend quietly leaving in the middle of Big Holiday Dinner as a way to cut this shit out from family.

Telling people your husband has had a vasectomy doesn't always stop things. Sometimes they want to know all about it. So I explain to them how a vasectomy works - and the fact that the anesthetic didn't fully kick in for my husband before the doctor started. (To be fair the doctor didn't get FAR, but still. Every. Single. Guy. will stop asking at that point. At least his pain helped in SOME way).

I've gotten old enough that I've stopped being polite. My usual answers are now:

"No."
"That's not an appropriate topic of conversation."
"I'm not going to answer that question, please move on."
"What makes you think I want to discuss this with you?"
"That's a horrible thing to ask."
"That's a horrible thing to say."
"Please don't make assumptions about me based on your own choices."
"Were you raised in a barn?"
"Who asks that?"
"Wow."

And my favorite: "OK."
posted by RogueTech at 9:30 AM on September 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


I consider myself lucky that my own parents waited 10 years before they had children. That a) means that they will never ask me about my own plans and b) trained most of my relatives that it is rude to ask. My mom had to deal with so much passive aggressive 'oh you'd be such a good mother.' or '[My father] has always wanted kids' from her own mother in law. For me, there are still some questions that slip through, but most of them are easily shrugged off with a 'we'll see.'

The attention getting more and more painful though as I get older. I'm very sensitive to people asking me if I'm drinking or watching me with a knowing look if I play with a baby. The worst, worst, worst of it is that we've been trying to conceive for a year and are now looking at infertility treatments. So I went straight from 'don't ask me because it's not in the plans and it's none of your business' to 'I would love to but my body won't and it's none of your business.'

I can't think of any of my friends (early 30s, women) for whom this is not a bad topic because they are either having fertility issues, relationship issues, or just aren't interested.
posted by oryelle at 9:46 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am so late seeing this but holy shit, I was discussing this exact thing with friends last night.

I always think of my former dentist, who was a longtime family friend of my husband's. she was a sweet woman. but every time I went in over the years, she'd ask when I was going to have kids. before we'd gotten married. after we were married, but long before we were ready. when we were actively trying, but failing. when we learned we both had reproductive difficulties -- but I was relieved, and beginning to work through that. when our marriage hit the rocks, hard. when I knew I had to leave him, and was overcome with grief not only for my 12-year relationship, but for our babies, who'd lived in my mind for so many years and now, would never exist.

well-meaning, sure. but it isn't small talk. the possibilities on the other side are way too fucking large.
posted by changeling at 9:47 AM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


"How often are you fucking? Is it good?"

More like "How often are you fucking? Is it working?"
posted by brand-gnu at 10:05 AM on September 29, 2015


Not clueless, just thoughtless.

It may seem like I wasn't thinking of all points of view, but I didn't and can't represent all my thinking in my writing. You point out that you differentiate between well-intentioned and more obnoxious interrogators; I also do differentiate between thoughtless reactionaries and those who show patience until it's clearly not warranted. I'm not accusing all people of always accusing all people all the time. We both seem to be dealing with a difference between a necessarily narrow text representation and a more nuanced reality.

This medium is tricky, to be sure. A comment that may be spot on to one quick-tempered person is completely unwarranted if it's felt to be targeting by another more considered reader. I'm imagining the personalities and life experiences of a virtual reader, informed by my life experiences of memorable people I've met, but I only know anyone here from a tiny sliver of text, and experiences which are very different from mine -- just like you only know me that way.

I often approach discussions as an opportunity to solve problems, especially discussions with intelligent people which are going to be archived. I wasn't approaching this thread as solely an outlet for venting. Venting is important, and sharing experiences with others is wonderful, of course.

Thank you sincerely for responding. I have learned a lot in this discussion.
posted by amtho at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"But how will we ever make it so that talking about miscarriage or similar more painful fertility-related topics isn't harmfully taboo if we shut down pushy and highly norm-enforcing questions or comments about near-strangers' fertility?" :: "So how am I ever supposed to flirt and let a woman know that I'm interested in her if I can't catcall?"

Um, no. That's an incredibly rude and disrespectful way to dismiss what I said. I never once said it's an easy topic and I spoke about it from my actual personal experience - and I have experienced both sides of this, the pressure from strangers to discuss my choices and options as well as the secrecy from everyone about a difficult journey.

If my experience is different from yours and others, so be it, but this sort of comment is really preposterous. The issue of secrecy around miscarriage and related issues is not something I just made up out of the blue, and many people have complained of the loneliness of feeling like it's not an acceptable mode of conversation. It is completely unrelated to your pained analogy and I find the comparison dismissive and disrespectful in a way that I was not when making my own point.

And my point was not that there are no intrusive and rude people out there, but that the original scolding facebook tone of the post contributes, in my opinion, to the sense that miscarriage and fertility issues are a non-normative experience.
posted by vunder at 10:47 AM on September 29, 2015


Yeah this shit is the worst. I'm not sure why random people feel the need to chat/ask about one's pretty intense personal life? If we knew each other well enough you'd already know the answers to those questions. If we don't it's not an appropriate question to be asking.
posted by Carillon at 10:52 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your position, vunder, is predicated on this idea that there's some sort of absolutist nobody-never-ever can have a conversation of depth about these things. The truth is that in 99% of the occasions where someone decides to shove their nose in this stuff it's unwelcome and inappropriate. It is the "if my cousin had been wearing his seatbelt he would have died" of conversational contributions - possibly true in some sort of black swan condition, but not representative of most everyone's reality and nothing to base normal choices on.

Multiple people above talked about the ways in which this represents a power imbalance in the conversation, which should give you a pretty clear idea of what everyone except the apologists is saying: there's nothing wrong with this topic, but there is something wrong with backing someone into having to talk about this topic.

Nobody says you shouldn't talk about your miscarriage, abortion, adoption, fertility struggles, etc. I firmly agree that we should let people share those stories and help normalize these things.

Letting people share their own stories is a world away from putting them on the spot and demanding that they share their stories Someone who takes it upon themselves to share their pain is not putting someone ln a position where they have to either push back or share something they might not want to. Asking them about their personal issues is putting them in that situation.

You are doing good in the world when you go out and talk about your challenges to help open up conversation about them. You are doing bad in the world when you go out and ask other people to talk about their challenges whether they want to or not.
posted by phearlez at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


Miscarriage and infant loss is a topic which is painfully taboo, and which hurts people in the social pressure to keep it secret. This is a bad thing. People should be able to feel comfortable talking about these things, to their friends and confidantes, and frankly to anyone they want to talk to about it.

"People should be able to feel comfortable talking about these things," however, is a very different statement from "People should feel comfortable ASKING about these things." I mean, would you consider it an appropriate conversation opener at a party to say "So, is this your first spouse, or did your last one die?" No, of course you wouldn't, because that's creepy and weird. You wouldn't even ask someone "So is this your first marriage?" at all. You wouldn't ask someone "How many people did you date before this one?" or "When you broke up with your last partner, was it amiable or a lot of screaming and delicious gossip fodder?" Not because we can't talk about these things -- we can, and we DO -- but because that is gross, invasive stuff to ask someone you don't even know.
posted by KathrynT at 12:12 PM on September 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


Your position, vunder, is predicated on this idea that there's some sort of absolutist nobody-never-ever can have a conversation of depth about these things.

No, it's not. It's predicated on the idea that if you tell people they can't say this or that in this shaming, never-say-this tone, then conscientious people will shut the hell up about it and then say they "don't know they're supposed to say." I'm saying the hyped up outrage machine isn't helpful for promoting real conversations between people, which are already difficult because of the sense that you're going to offend on one side or bring down the mood on the other.

I recognize that this is a topic that rude people press too far when they shouldn't. I'm just saying that, to me, the facebook post that went viral is simplistic, scolding and shuts people down. For me, people shutting down and pretending shit doesn't happen, and NOT responding appropriately when I did open up, was more painful than people asking rude questions.

Which is exactly what I said, so I resent my comments being characterized as defending rude people, particularly in that catcall analogy.
posted by vunder at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


One example of the effects of "just asking":

A few years back, I was at a work Christmas party. I was sitting on a couch with two other women - all three of us in our 30s, and married for a few years. I happen to be friends with these women, so I knew that all three of us were infertile and currently undergoing fertility treatments. None of us had been pregnant yet at that time. We were all drinking alcohol so it was clear that none of us were currently pregnant. We were having a good time, laughing, telling stories.

A nice older guy, mid-40s, who we were all friendly with but not friends - out of nowhere - randomly asks us if we wanted to have kids. All of a sudden the conversation stops.... no more laughing and good times. It just got super quiet. Finally I said "yes, I hope to". And then he still doesn't really get that everyone is now uncomfortable and thinking about the fact that we don't yet have babies, and proceeds to directly ask the other two women if they wanted kids. Very quietly they each just said "yes". And then he still doesn't get it, and has to add: "well, you'd better get on that" with a smile.

Gee....thanks, mister! As women in our 30s, we had NO IDEA we should be thinking about trying to have babies if we planned on having them someday!

He is actually a really nice guy, and I'm sure he was just curious about our plans for a family. But that doesn't change the fact that there is no way we wanted to have a conversation about infertility at a fucking Christmas party. It really ruined the party for me and made me feel like a total failure. So I think we still need to communicate to people that it's inappropriate to "just ask".
posted by barnoley at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Maybe you might consider that you're projecting your experiences onto this post rather than reading what the original post and almost everyone else here is saying. No one is saying that someone "can't say this or that." They - including KathrynT in the comment immediately above the one you just wrote - are saying that it's very different to ask.

There were some fantastic folks posting their own abortion stories on twitter recently and it was a fantastic way to create some visibility. I was so happy to read them. I believe they help make things better. That does not in any way preclude me from thinking that it would be an evil, horrible thing for someone to have tweeted "Hey @XYZfakehandle, you had an abortion - you should tell your story."

It. Is. Not. The. SAME.
posted by phearlez at 1:39 PM on September 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


No, I am not projecting my experiences, I am just telling about them. You have a hundred other posts here that tell theirs. While I'm not sure why it's important to you that I fall into near-consensus that already exists in this thread, I also don't take offense that you and other people disagree with me about what I think helps and hurts this conversation. But I didn't try to reframe anyone else's concerns or experiences or arguments, so I don't take kindly to anyone making those kinds of assertions about mine.

So you understand that I have heard what you and other people have said: Many have said, basically, "saying people shouldn't ask isn't saying that the topic as a whole should be taboo." I never once asserted that those were two mutually exclusive options. I only said that I thought the tone of the facebook post was unhelpful in improving the atmosphere of taboo, which I find to be harmful.

I also hear, "listen to people's experiences, but don't ask about them." I have had a more nuanced experience of that, where there is a problem when telling people what is going on with you is ALSO not welcome and people don't respond well, but yes, I hear the overall point. I just don't think the facebook post is going to help with that; I think it makes it worse.

You don't agree with me, and you think that the balance of the facebook viral post is on-balance and should be applauded. Fine. But there's really no need to twist what I am saying, again, about my own experiences, into something it's not. I didn't like the catcalling analogy because it was unfair and inaccurate. I didn't like being told what my statements based on personal experience were "predicated upon" because they weren't predicated on what was said. I don't like being told that I am projecting my experiences onto other people when I am sharing them and they are different than yours. And I don't like being told two different things are "Not. The. SAME." when I didn't say they were the same.

Please, please, stop trying to create straw-man arguments about my experiences just because you don't like them. It's unkind and I don't deserve it.
posted by vunder at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


"The defense of prying questions and comments about fertility sound exactly like people trying to defend catcalling."

Not to my ears. The author of the linked piece wrote: “Whether you are a wannabe grandparent or a well-intentioned friend or family member or a nosy neighbor, it's absolutely none of your business.”

I think Vunder says (and I agree) that friends and family might be treated differently than nosy neighbors. Maybe friends and family asking would be welcome for some people. But they often don't because they fear saying the wrong thing. My partner went through incredible pain dealing with infertility and felt she could tell nobody--not her parents and not her friends. And, since people are being nice, nobody asked--except the aforementioned uncle, who asked in the wrong way. I think thoughtful people are so scared of saying the wrong thing, only the people with no filters and an ax to grind asked. That's not good maybe.
posted by Cassford at 3:33 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are all kinds of thoughtful ways to talk about infertility and pregnancy loss to women who have experienced them. But it isn't small talk, and shouldn't be treated as though it is small talk.

prettypretty said something really smart earlier in the thread about the whole phenomenon being symptomatic about how outliers are treated, and I think it's right on the money. In many social situations, what passes for small talk is actually a method of repeating and reinforcing social norms. This is particularly painful when the norm in question is tied to something so personal and so painful and when not being able or willing to participate is so tied into big questions of gender and identity and family.
posted by frumiousb at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


way back, so very much this:
What we are actually talking about in this thread is rude, invasive behavior with the intention or effect to ensure compliance with certain social norms. It's also behavior that women are differentially on the receiving end of, that treats womens' bodies as public property and diminishes womens' value and role to their reproductive capabilities. In other words, it's sexist.

I'm sure we've all had conversations that started with "So, got any kids?" that did not end in the equivalent of "Is your vagina broken or are you just lazy and selfish?". Of course, I don't mind if people go on about your kids; I've had many casual chats about how big families were in my old hood, etc, and I never even thought of being offended, because the speakers in question were not nosy, preachy MFs. Of course it can be done, depending upon your experiences and vulnerabilities. What I found interesting is that this is invasiveness is not only common, from people's comments, but that it's actually worse than conversations I've had with my mother's friends- all 1950's Christian Midwestern housewives. If anyone should be obsessed with motherhood as an ideal social role, you'd think it would be them, not the young guys in California who queried me about my defects at the reception desk where we worked, where the public could come up at any time and just chime in.

Nope, these women knew how to steer a conversation from 'Got any kids?' out of any painful territory probably because they, of all people, knew what that pressure felt like and how achieving the social ideal of motherhood was a hell of a lot easier said than done. Maybe it's the Minnesota-nice thing and old-fashioned manners, but there just was none of this presumptuous, condescending health & lifestyle guru crap about achieving fulfillment, not being selfish, etc, (much less fucking in the right position!) that people are describing here. The stuff people are sharing is pretty mind-blowingly rude and sexist, and very far away from "Got kids? I have 2- Here's my pictures of little Bobby practicing violin etc etc". I expect parents to shower me with kid stories and photos, but I don't expect them to give me a gynecological interview.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:23 PM on September 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've got a 4 year old and I occasionally get commentary, mainly from my mum, about having another one. I'm not convinced I want to do it again, purely because kids are tiring and i'm not sure I could cope with even less sleep. It's annoying, but then I don't (as far as I know) have any reproductive issues to deal with, so it's not soul crushing.

On a slightly related note, I'm not married, and I don't want to be, even though we've been together for 15 years. The amount of questions I get about THAT is incredible, and it really annoys me every time I have to explain my ideological opposition to marriage.

I'm not saying I fully empathise the full gamut of issues here, but it's definitely on my radar, and it's definitely not small talk.
posted by trif at 3:33 AM on September 30, 2015


I'm unmarried and in my late 20s. My family is awesome and they know not to ask about this any longer but I've gotten these questions enough from complete strangers that my threshold for this stuff is now zero.

A year or two ago I was at some big party with many people I knew I'd never see again. Some dude a decade or so older than me decided to start up a conversation about work. Upon learning I'm getting my Ph.D, the conversation proceeded thusly:

Dude: "Wow, isn't it hard to start a family that way?"
Me: *blink: "I suppose so, based on what I've heard."
Dude: "Well when are you gonna start making some smart kids? Ha ha!"
Me: *SICK OF THIS omfg*
Me: *scrunches face to appear close to tears* "There's just no way I can have a baby."
Dude: "Oh no I'm so sorry --"
Me: "Yeah, I just... I really fucking hate babies."
Dude:
Me: "Can't stand 'em."

Which tbh is not a recommended way to do things generally because women are NOT ALLOWED to dislike babies and there will be Social Consequences for expressing such things, but it felt really satisfying, and it succeeded in my goal which was to laugh at my own jokes and make this guy not talk to me for the rest of the party.
posted by nicodine at 12:28 PM on September 30, 2015 [34 favorites]


There are new places cropping up for people to share experiences of infertility and pregnancy loss, though. Indeed, this very discussion and the Facebook posts I've seen on this are some excellent examples of people saying "this has been hard for us in the following ways" and unlikely suspects saying "oh gosh, us too!"

We are on our 8th cycle of trying. A couple weeks ago I was at a wedding. During the reception, I got my period and flushed that month's hopes down the toilet. And then took a deep breath and put on a strong face and went back to celebrate with a lump in my throat.

I have people I can talk to about it. Not my parents, and certainly not Facebook. I would love my in-laws to feel very very nervous about asking us about this. Lord, how I would love that.

But I didn't share that post, because it would have triggered them to ask yet again and I cannot fucking deal with having to have a polite conversation about the most painful possibility in my life right now. My emotional energy is all going towards steeling myself for when these hopes bleed out yet again in a couple weeks.
posted by sadmadglad at 4:55 PM on October 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


That sounds incredibly difficult and I wish you all the luck in the world, sadmadglad.
posted by nicodine at 8:54 AM on October 8, 2015


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