The question we came to dread
April 25, 2019 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Why, when people learn we have one child, do they ask whether we’re thinking about another? The Question throws you, every time. It is meant well, sometimes, of course. But in my experience, it is nearly always thoughtless. (CW: miscarriage, pregnancy loss)

Anyone who has one child and has not had a second, or any couple without children, may be going through what we were. They may be stuck at the blackjack table, playing the worst game ever: stick or twist? To be or not to be? Do we keep trying to give our child a sibling until the eggs and our sanity have all gone?
posted by stillmoving (46 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I generally say nope, one and done. The straight response seems to be as surprising to them as the question is to me, which makes me wonder why they asked in the first place.
posted by deadwax at 1:45 PM on April 25 [10 favorites]


We our daughter's twin sister died at just a few weeks old. I've been glad to be getting The Question a lot less often as our daughter gets closer to age ten. People may still think it's weird that we only have one kid, but there's less they can say about it now.

Mostly, I answer The Question with a cheery "nope!" and no further explanation. But once or twice, when drunk, I've answered with something along the lines of "nah, we tried two kids for a bit and it was pretty awful. Didn't last." and a long, pointed stare.

I'm not particularly proud of those moments, but they're still kind of fun to think back on.
posted by gurple at 1:59 PM on April 25 [49 favorites]


People are so weird and nosy. I actually don't get this question a whole lot but I think that's mainly because I give off a very powerful "Don't talk to me, about anything" vibe. (Weirdly the most I got it was like right after I had my baby. Like, days after. And the surgeon who did my c-section took the time to tell me, as I was literally being wheeled on a gurney to recovery, that I was an excellent candidate for a VBAC. Had I not been still all fucked up from the anesthesia I would have throttled him.)

My answer is a total deadpan: "I'm 44 years old." I can pull this off because I was 38 when I had my first and only kid, which is already VERY OLD BABY-HAVING according to medical science. I look a lot younger than I am so my answer usually comes as an embarrassing surprise to the person asking. I enjoy it because jesus people mind your own damn business. I consider my very tame "I'm just fucking old" answer to be training wheels for learning not to ask, because if they keep it up they are going to encounter someone who in fact does want more children (I don't) but is experiencing secondary infertility or miscarriage.

tl;dr: stop asking about people's fertility.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:10 PM on April 25 [23 favorites]


I sympathize the author's family's experience. But, starting from the premise, "of course everyone wants more children, but some of us have medical issues that make it impossible," is a bit weird.

"Why would you ever ask anyone except your spouse about their reproductive plans? What the fuck is wrong with you," seems like the appropriate response to that question.
posted by eotvos at 2:14 PM on April 25 [49 favorites]


I have pretty close friends and family, and I wonder, "Will they have another child?"

I wonder, because people are curious (and maybe I was also wondering if I could ask for their crib), but I didn't ask them because that's really rude. I'll wait until they say something, if they want to.

(We might have mentioned a potential need for a crib, and we heard back that they are still using it for guests, so that's that. And now we don't need it, so that's that.)
posted by jb at 2:31 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Huh, I didn't get that as the premise of the piece, more that that was their starting point.

I'm definitely team "don't ask people about their plans to have kids, what the hell". There's too much pressure, societal expectations, and potential pain around those questions. In the parts of the southern US where I grew up and have lived, there's also a lot of weird evangelical Christian subtext running beneath them questions. One of my friends got so tired of being asked that he took to answering, in complete deadpan, "Well, my wife and I have been praying real hard, but we just learned that that's not how you make a baby."
posted by sgranade at 2:38 PM on April 25 [35 favorites]


Yeah don't ask, but hey -- ruders gonna rude. About health, dating, marriage, diet, kids, etc. Why do your kids look like they do? is another cringey classic. But I've planned ahead. I know how callow and inconsiderate people are, in aggregate.

So next time I'm asked in such uncouth contexts, I'm ready to say "because this one nearly destroyed the mother, and every indication is another would be worse."

Kindly fuck off about prying into the reproductive choices of others, OK?
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:02 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


A Miss Manners classic answer that always comes in handy: “Why do you ask?”
posted by sallybrown at 3:10 PM on April 25 [50 favorites]


When I was younger and would get asked if I had or was going to have children, I just answered honestly because I didn’t know better than to do that. “I can’t have them... or rather, I can, but it would kill me.”

People seemed surprised or confused, so I felt obligated to explain further, “I have a heart condition.”

Then they would get upset, and I would have to comfort them, saying that I had known about the condition since seventh grade, and so I had never had gotten attached to the idea of having kids.

Now, the breezy ending has changed to one mentioning complex feelings. And if someone mentions the possibility of adoption... well, they’re often pretty ignorant about that, and about surrogacy as well.

People learn things by asking questions but it’s not always what they expect. A question mark at it’s end doesn’t make a sentence magically have no consequences.

[edited to add: this situation is not one involving miscarriage, but i hope my description has something to offer.]
posted by pickles_have_souls at 3:37 PM on April 25 [9 favorites]


Because the Little Random is a different race from Mrs. Quasi and I, we get other rude questions ahead of this one, but there have been a couple delicate probes over adopting another child. I usually manage to answer something more polite than "We're too fucking old for that shit." Usually.
posted by Quasirandom at 3:38 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I say "one and done" and I'm ready for any and all follow-up questions. Why let it bother you? It's unhealthy, like letting bad drivers get to you on the road. FIAMO, right?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:40 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


It's like rubbing the belly of a pregnant woman -- it's thoughtless, rude and invasive but also an impulse of human nature. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by y2karl at 4:24 PM on April 25


One and only one here as well due to a "1 in a million" rare condition that's made it all but impossible to have another. Well that's over stating... it could be possible if we managed to conceive and were willing to have mother in bed for the entirety of the gestation, pumped with a lot of drugs that would do damage to the body and be willing to risk the life of mother & child (all of which remarkably possible in the Canadian health care system). But no... Not going to happen. We considered adoption but no not for us and even considered surrogacy which is also not for us. It was hard at first to come to terms with not being able to have more than one but I think we're good with our choices now - thankfully none of our relatives have pushed it. When it comes up my standard answer is "one is enough for us." But it is remarkable how often having more does come up.

I had a guy in to give me a quote for a new roof and he mentioned in passing as he was leaving that "as your family grows..." It took me a couple moments to figure out what he meant. I thought at first he was talking about getting a dog. I ignored the comment and kept moving forward with the conversation. So strange.

The only time I legitimately get broken up about it is when my sensitive child gets under my feet and I get frustrated and he tells me how lonely he is without a sibling and tears up about it. Always breaks my heart.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:27 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


As a person with no children and no plans to acquire children, yeah people are really rude. The worst has been the new addition to a sibling's family and now the entire family is assuming and throwing serious shade at our interest in children in general (I don't mean having children, just assuming we don't like them!). I promise that the fact that I don't want kids of my own has no bearing on whether or not I like children in general.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 4:53 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


It is a question that should require a certain material amount of intimacy with the person being asked. It is not limited to couples with one or none. I had three in a period of three years and we got the are you having a fourth regularly. My ex would answer, "Sure, August can have his 4th with his 2nd wife, I am done." I would answer using the line at the end of Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch!"
posted by AugustWest at 4:58 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]


This fucking question haunts me. And it starts immediately after the first one is born! The worst offenders were the other moms in baby play groups, but I realized later they were asking because they were trying to talk themselves into it again after the horrors of recent pregnancy and childbirth.

My least favorite question is definitely “Are you pregnant?” asked by sly, post-menopausal women who think they’ve figured out a secret but really have just discovered the sure-fire way to make my brain explode. A quick “Are you?” shuts them up right quick, but I never found a quick response for the second child question.

Eventually I started asking the nosy bitches what they would do in my shoes: “My kid has a life-threatening genetic disorder, his medications have a retail price of $450,000 per year, and we have to go to the hospital every time he pukes. Any future sibling has a 25 percent chance of inheriting the same illness. Would you have another?” No one has given me an answer except for an occasional “God only gives you what you can handle,” which is an immediate disqualification from me having to treat that person civilly ever again.

We decided when our kid was 4 not to roll the dice again, and life is so much better than I could have ever imagined when he was first diagnosed. But I am so bitter and sad that I had to make that decision at all.
posted by Maarika at 5:08 PM on April 25 [23 favorites]


My son (age 7) recently gave me an ordered list of pets. He emphasized that dead last on the list of all possible pets was "a brother." For that reason, among others, I'm pretty okay with being "one and done."

I actually don't get asked "are you having another" too often, but when I do I'm very tempted to reply, "Nah, we're happy with THIS one!"
posted by daisystomper at 5:12 PM on April 25 [11 favorites]


I used to get so passionately and righteously enraged when people asked, and I'd give them the answer they never wanted because, well, see, the first miscarriage almost literally drained the life out of me, and the second and third one weren't all that much fun either. Plus, the pre-eclampsia from my daughter's birth -- that almost killed me, too.

But this article nails the heart-pounding and the stomach dropping and maybe I was polite the first couple times but after a while -- yeah, I stopped being polite. Because it's astounding, how many people do ask. I don't get it.

We did go on to have another because...wow, I am just so stubborn and dumb. And my second doctor, he was hyper-vigilant. He caught the pre-e before it could even almost kill me, and he hovered over me for days to make sure I didn't end up a statistic.

I love my two. I think about the three who weren't. And I still want to spit nails whenever I think about the doofuses who dared to nudge me in the ribs and say, "So, when are you going to make another, eh?" My white-hot rage was funneled through wide eyes and tight-lipped smile and a deep inhaled breath as I let them know exactly why there might never be another child in my future.
posted by offalark at 5:40 PM on April 25 [5 favorites]


I am 48. My sons are 27 and 23. PEOPLE STILL ASK ME IF I'M GOING TO TRY FOR A GIRL!

I'm perimenopausal. I've been informed by my daughter in-law that a grandchild is about 3 years out. Why the FUCK would I want to start from scratch at this late date?

I stopped even pretending to be polite many years ago. "Are you fucking HIGH?" is what people get in response.
posted by MissySedai at 7:13 PM on April 25 [19 favorites]


" Why do your kids look like they do? is another cringey classic. "

Ugggggh people asked my mother all the damn time about me, "Where did she get her red hair?" (because my mother is a very dark brunette) -- and they'd get really PUSHY about asking, repeatedly and insistently, when I was with all my siblings, who are all brunettes -- and it wasn't until I was ten that I realized when she said "from the postman!" that it was both a dirty joke and a "fuck OFF you jerk." (I was shook.) And what's funny is, my siblings and I all look exactly alike in the face -- we could have been run off a xerox machine -- except that my hair is red, 1 in 4 of us, exactly the statistical frequency you'd expect with two dark-haired parents carrying a red recessive gene each! But people want to KNOW.

"No one has given me an answer except for an occasional “God only gives you what you can handle,” which is an immediate disqualification from me having to treat that person civilly ever again."

Ugh, I quit a church over this from the children's minister, I was like, my child is not fucking here to teach me a fucking LESSON, God does not create disabled children just to MAKE THEIR PARENTS BETTER PEOPLE, what the FUCK is wrong with you? and then it rapidly devolved into me demanding she explain the Holocaust to me and whether God on purpose killed 6 million people just so we could all learn a LESSON and if so what the FUCK was wrong with her God and it's probably best that I quit because I definitely was not going to be welcome back and honestly this is the problem with 95% of American Christianity, their ministers have no fucking theological training and so say stupid-ass shit on the regular. Like, Jesus Christ, take a class in theodicy before you start informing parents their children are suffering because God wants the parents to LEARN SHIT. (And take a class in fucking disability ministry and start acting like THE DISABLED ARE REAL PEOPLE and not just PROPS in other people's lives! CHRIST ON A MOTHERFUCKING CRACKER, THIS IS LITERALLY GOSPEL 101. CHRIST LITERALLY DIED NOT TO HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU SAY FUCKING IGNORANT SHIT ABOUT HOW DISABLED PEOPLE ARE NOT COMPLETE PEOPLE WITH ACTUAL LIVES.) Anyway I made her cry but I don't actually feel all that bad about it, her theology was hurting people. Like it's one thing to be well-meaning and say stupid shit, I am pretty tolerant of that because humans say stupid shit a lot, but it's a whole different thing to be in a position of pastoral care and say incredibly ignorant and hurtful and theologically-incorrect nonsense to people you have spiritual authority over. Get. Your shit. Together.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 PM on April 25 [65 favorites]


“God only gives you what you can handle,”

Chicken soup for the moron.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:26 PM on April 25 [15 favorites]


I treat it the same as asking if my wife and i still have sex.

You can have a lot of fun with that if you get really excited as you answer.

And yeah, shitty and insensitive.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:34 PM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I'm an only child and I recommend it to all. It's fucking awesome.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:15 PM on April 25 [19 favorites]


I am surprised by the unidirectional and outraged tone of comment here. Me and my wife went through many years of effort to have kids, and eventually ended up adopting, then adopting another, and we’re happy enough with our family of four now, though more would have been fine with me.

These kinds of questions, from friends, family and acquaintances, never bothered me profoundly. Painful or difficult subjects are part of life, which is occasionally (often even, it seems) painful and difficult. Conversations I had with certain people during that period of my life were some of the most meaningful and memorable I ever had.

There’s a second strand of thinking present here which I also disagree with.

If I were to meet Rebecca Solnit (whom I greatly admire) I might well ask her about her choice not to have children, which I personally believe are in some way the meaningful axis of human existence.

Children are disappearing in the developed world for various and complex social and economic reasons. The ideologies which grow up to justify this strange and to my mind unsettling development are rationalizations that do not fill the cavernous emptiness that this leaves in our society.
posted by jackbrown at 12:59 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I usually answer this question with "Nah, I hate babies." And then people look back and forth between me and my well-adjusted, obviously well-loved 5-year-old in confusion.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 2:11 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


And what's funny is, my siblings and I all look exactly alike in the face -- we could have been run off a xerox machine -- except that my hair is red, 1 in 4 of us, exactly the statistical frequency you'd expect with two dark-haired parents carrying a red recessive gene each! But people want to KNOW.

I have dark hair and my husband is Spanish, so I started getting these questions right away, like literally as they were stitching up my episiotomy. Luckily, if somewhat surprisingly, almost no one seems to understand how genetics and recessive genes work, so I always say, "Oh, you know, my ancestors are all from Scotland and Ireland, it's definitely from my side! My great-great-grandfather had red hair!" And they nod sagely like, "Yes, of course."
posted by lollymccatburglar at 2:17 AM on April 26


Children are disappearing in the developed world for various and complex social and economic reasons

I do agree that caring for children is very important, culturally, but this is not that complex. Stop forcing women to have kids, turns out they will not have so many, or at least slow down and wait, all of which is a major solution for the whole we-are-running-out-of-space-on-earth problem. Thanks, y'all.
posted by eustatic at 5:45 AM on April 26 [24 favorites]


CHRIST ON A MOTHERFUCKING CRACKER, THIS IS LITERALLY GOSPEL 101. CHRIST LITERALLY DIED NOT TO HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU SAY FUCKING IGNORANT SHIT ABOUT HOW DISABLED PEOPLE ARE NOT COMPLETE PEOPLE WITH ACTUAL LIVES.

This is wonderful and I would tithe to your church.

We get these questions a lot less now that we are in our 40's, but there were years and years where damn but people were pushy about it. In our case we had first made a soft choice about not having children and then later there was a medical diagnosis that took having children off the table as a possibility. If you say it's a choice, people want to argue with you; if you say it is medically impossible, people tell you all about their sister in law's successful fertility treatments. Mostly it made me roll my eyes but it was extremely judgemental and hurtful to my partner, and has made me think a lot less of some people.

It's not that you can't ask about this at all -- it's a totally appropriate conversational topic in appropriate circumstances. It comes up fairly often with our close friends, where some of us have kids and some don't, and talking about each other's lives happens in a setting of mutual conversation and awareness of sensitive topics, and where no one is pushing any kind of "you should live by my values" agenda. Outside of that very intimate context, it is not at all appropriate to ask, and super inappropriate to "ask" in ways that are really telling someone how wrong their life is.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


If I were to meet Rebecca Solnit (whom I greatly admire) I might well ask her about her choice not to have children, which I personally believe are in some way the meaningful axis of human existence.

Yeah, well, that's just like, your opinion, man.

I don't know why you would feel entitled to ask Rebecca Solnit this question, particularly since you already have her answer, right in the article: Why are you asking? It's not your business. The reason that women don't like being asked this question is that it's a very deeply personal question about our bodies. Which are human bodies, and belong to us. Not to you. Not to strangers. Not "society."

This isn't theoretical or ideological. It's fucking practical and personal. Having a baby would literally kill me, and just because I happened to be born with a uterus doesn't entitle you or anyone else to theorizing about what I decide to do with it and chastising me for not being willing to put my body on the line for "society."
posted by sockermom at 6:24 AM on April 26 [33 favorites]


This fucking question haunts me. And it starts immediately after the first one is born! The worst offenders were the other moms in baby play groups, but I realized later they were asking because they were trying to talk themselves into it again after the horrors of recent pregnancy and childbirth.

I think the Question is rooted in a human need for validation. People like to hear from others who have made the same choices as they have: whether it be quantity of children, political or religious affiliation, or any of the other big questions that come up through life.

The Question gets capitalized because the Answer has a profound impact on a person's path. Deciding to be a parent, or not be a parent, is the biggest decision one can make. Houses can be sold, divorces can be finalized, but being a parent is a true fork in the road: once you commit, there's no going back.

Nobody wants to think they chose the wrong road. Hearing that other people are taking the same path placates the inner voice that wonders whether you made the right decision—the voice that's conspicuously absent when things are great, but speaking up when things are not-so-great.

Parents of singletons are by no means immune. I clicked on this post because my wife and I only have one child, and aren't planning on having more, and I also like to compare notes with other parents who decided to be one-and-done. As I wrote this, though, it occurred to me that asking why other couples are one-and-done is just as personal a question as asking whether a couple plans on having an additional child; I have to be conscious of my own human need to validate my choices in life.

My wife and I are lucky enough to say that we're on the road we decided to take. We often wonder what the other paths would have been like, we're glad we chose the way we did. It's our journey, nobody else's, and we'll go from here based on what we feel is best for the three of us.
posted by vitout at 6:26 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Painful or difficult subjects are part of life

People have all sorts of tragedies in their lives; you can't ever know what they are and what to avoid asking. Are you never supposed to ask anyone anything that could be remotely touchy? For example, should you not ask anyone about their parents in case they are recently deceased?

I get that asking about the number of children could be seen as judgement of your choices, especially for women, but its important to assess the source. In the article above, the woman was already talking about her child, which kinda opens the door to other questions about your family. Its more the reaction to your answer that will kinda determine whether that person had honest or judgmental intentions, which in the case judgment, you're allowed a little room for snark (or if its your family who KEEPS bugging you, etc)

I mean, (i'm in no way conflating pets and children) if you say "oh, my dog loves going to the park to play with other dogs" and someone says, "oh you should get another one!" are you going to say, no, not right now, or give them this long story about how you had another one, but tragically, you had to put it down...

People just make conversation... and if you have a strong reaction to a question asked in casual good faith, I think it says more about your feelings of acceptance about a decision you made (or, medically, got made for you).
posted by CPAGirl at 7:56 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


What strikes me about this convo is how parent-and-adult focused the constant pressure is of "oh, children need siblings? Another? Yes another yes when?!"

I was an only child until age 11 and can't remember adults asking me "don't you wish you had a sibling? Sibling yes now tell your mom!!" And adults ask kids all sorts of other nosy questions, which makes me think this is much more a judgment of how parents (primarily women) are or not reproducing "correctly". Compare for instance the laser focus adults have on whether/when a child has their first "boyfriend/girlfriend."
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:10 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


In San Francisco the relatively common and unsurprising cheery response is "Oh no, we're not even sure we can afford the one we have. Another one? Out of the question."
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:41 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


If I were to meet Rebecca Solnit (whom I greatly admire) I might well ask her about her choice not to have children
Based on the article, you would get a "gnomic" response if you asked her. If you asked my partner and I, on the other hand, we'd tell you to take your self-congratulatory beliefs about what is "meaningful" and fuck right off.
posted by neroli at 9:41 AM on April 26 [11 favorites]


I don't want to pile on here, but I think one of the underlying reasons that people get offended about reproductive questions is—aside from the obvious aspect that someone's reproductive choices are 0% anyone else's business—the assumptions that it makes about the purpose of life and "meaningfulness" etc.

It's totally fine if within the context of your life that's what gives life meaning, but projecting that onto others is... unlikely to go well.

Really, any statement that blindly projects one's own personal philosophy onto others, in areas where there is no consensus or objective truth, is probably unlikely to go well. It's right up there with assuming that someone else shares the same religious beliefs, and comes across just as parochial.

But as with questions of religion, that doesn't make it impossible to talk about; within the right context with people you know well, sure, there's no reason that the pros/cons of having kids can't be discussed. In the same way that there's no reason that questions about whether God exists can't be discussed. Or sex can't be discussed.

What's weird is that there are a fair number of people who I think are reasonable and polite enough to not openly question other people's religious choices or sex lives, who think it's appropriate to ask about others' reproductive choices. And that's both irritating and disingenuous. If you wouldn't ask someone if they like bottom or top, lights on or lights off, eat ass on the first date or no, don't ask them whether they're planning on having kids. It's at least the same, and arguably a much higher, level of intimacy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


I might well ask her about her choice not to have children, which I personally believe are in some way the meaningful axis of human existence.

If you don’t have a uterus, you have absolutely no right to decide for the rest of us that we must endure the gauntlet of pregnancy and childbirth—marathons that cause permanent bodily changes even in the best of circumstances—in order for our lives to have meaning. Adoption, too, has serious physical and emotional costs for us, since women still do the vast majority of childcare, housework, emotional labor, etc. on top of paid work.
posted by a strong female character at 11:59 AM on April 26 [7 favorites]


Guys, I get it, but sometimes on Metafilter I feel like a lot of general social connection and innocent attempts at closeness, comaraderie, discussion, etc., are interpreted in the ugliest of ways. We are social animals, and people have different cultures of communication (even just family cultures of communication, if not different actual cultures) that make this different for different people. Not everyone views this as prying, even if there is heartbreak in the answer. I get the feeling here that everyone wishes everyone else would just shut the fuck up and not even try to connect lest it be interpreted as rude intrusive prying. It bums me out, especially comparing it to my own non-US culture, where more seems to be shared, the good and the bad.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:27 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


There are literally millions of other things to connect socially about besides the state of a woman’s uterus. The point of the article and our stories here is to point out that it would be greatly appreciated if people chose one of the other available topics. The fact that it seems so hard for other people to understand this is why TFA exists.
posted by Maarika at 12:38 PM on April 26 [10 favorites]


Not everyone views this as prying

Obviously. But maybe they should.

I get the feeling here that everyone wishes everyone else would just shut the fuck up and not even try to connect lest it be interpreted as rude intrusive prying

Not at all. But if people want to get to know me I prefer they ask me about my hobbies or pastimes instead of inquiring about my reproductive choices/ability. Heck, ask me about what tv shows I’ve watched lately. You will learn more meaningful things about me from my opinion of The Magicians than you will from knowing the basics of why I don’t have kids, and I will like you more.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:50 PM on April 26 [3 favorites]


And I think people's frustration is not necessarily that the question exists, although it's good for people to be aware that this small talk question is really loaded for some people. The frustration IMO usually comes from the pre-bristling that the pattern of answers is usually not a polite "oh okay then, one kid is great" but rather "why not, kids need siblings, they'll be selfish, you need a son/daughter" etc etc.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:52 PM on April 26 [3 favorites]


I might well ask her about her choice not to have children, which I personally believe are in some way the meaningful axis of human existence.

But it's not always a choice, even when it might seem to be. In addition to people I know with medical fertility issues, I know several more who might be described as "socially infertile" - that is, they want to have children, but can't due to their social circumstances (income or lack thereof, lack of partner, etc.) I've even been sensitive about discussing my own fertility problems with some people, as I know that I am lucky to be even in a position to try to have children (stable job, the required bits of sperm and uterus available, etc.).

When you mean someone with kids, you just never know. Maybe they are happily childfree, like one of my friends, or maybe they are wistfully childless, like another who just broke up with their partner of 10 years. They thought they would have children by now, but it didn't work out - and they may never have children because of it.
posted by jb at 1:36 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


It bums me out, especially comparing it to my own non-US culture, where more seems to be shared, the good and the bad.

I understand - and I somewhat agree: I wish we could talk to more people about personal things.

But I think that, when it comes to these issues, Anglo-North American culture is definitely on a "don't say something unless they do" mode. If someone brings up their situation about children - mentions they'd like more, or that they don't, or whatever - that the sign that this is a conversation that they would like to have with you.

I've talked about quite serious and personal things even with not-so-close friends, but I do so by choosing what to share about myself, and then leaving open space for them to talk about themselves. If I ask questions, it's after they've opened up the topic, e.g. asking the ages of their children after they mention having them.
posted by jb at 1:40 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


I might well ask her about her choice not to have children, which I personally believe are in some way the meaningful axis of human existence.

By all means, feel free to carry and birth as many children as your uterus can handle!

Oh, wait...
posted by MissySedai at 6:56 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


The problem when someone asks that is that they keep continuing to ask questions afterwards and usually won't take any answer you give and then just move on. "Why don't you have kids?" We've already seen that literally any answer you give to that will be argued with. If you've had these arguments tons of times and you didn't go "Oh, right! I SHOULD have kids! Excuse me while I go get pregnant RIGHT NOW in front of YOU!" after any of them, why should you continue to keep having the damn conversation just because some random who won't take no for an answer wants to "just make conversation?"
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:32 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


I'm all for having honest and open human connections but for most people who ask these insensitive and intrusive questions that's the last thing they want. "This is my truth show me yours why isn't yours the same?"

As to the question I usually tell people I love my daughter so much that if anything was to happen to her I want to be able to kill myself.
posted by fullerine at 2:06 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


How I react personally to The Question honestly depends on my mood. I usually don't mind answering this question from close friends and family, provided it's the first time they're asking me. But I totally get why other people react differently. Sometimes it rubs me the wrong way too--usually because the person asking has not earned the fucking right.

At any rate, my honest answer, when I feel like giving it, is the same whether I'm annoyed by the question or not: "I got a vasectomy." Interestingly, the close friends and family who I've established strong relationships with are never bothered by the frankness of my answer, while the co-workers and other passing acquaintances are more likely to appear to take offense at an honest answer to their question.

Personally, the only people who tend to bother me beyond mild irritation (YMMV) are the ones who have (a) asked the question before and clearly just want a different answer or (b) respond to "no" with "oh, why NOT?" (When I'm feeling especially tetchy, the latter don't get the "vasectomy" answer--they get the "because a doctor sliced open my scrotum, severed my vas deferens, and cauterized the ends" answer.)
posted by duffell at 3:50 AM on May 4


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