To procreate or not to procreate? It’s not polite to ask!

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“Have you ever considered starting a family?”

“Do you think you might have kids one day?

“Are you thinking about your biological clock yet?”

 Why do people think it’s okay to ask these questions?

They’re not being malicious; people don’t realize that these questions could be hurtful or bothersome, or too personal to ask. They are just curious. So, what’s wrong with a little curiosity?

One morning, during my IVF experience, I woke up to discover that I had started my period. This was after our third embryo transfer so it was pretty devastating that I wasn’t pregnant. By 4pm I was proud to have made it through my workday with no tears, and was excited to go out to meet a friend for coffee. Minutes before leaving, a co-worker who doesn’t know me that well asked, “So, uh, are you and your husband planning on starting a family?” This shocked me. I told him that was a personal question and he backed off and apologized. I went home in tears.

Within the last year a family member who was unaware of my difficulties asked me if I was planning on having kids. I shrugged, and hoped that this would end the questioning quickly. He said, “Well you are 35 you know”.

“Oh really?” I said.

He continued with “Yeah, your biological clock…”

During a discussion with a male friend recently, I tried to explain the impoliteness behind these types of questions. He understood given what I was going through, that I would be hurt by these questions, but didn’t think that there was anything inherently wrong with asking them.

I disagree. Most of the women I know who don’t have kids have been asked these questions and don’t appreciate them no matter what their situation. Not everyone asking these questions will have the same unlucky timing as my co-worker did after my failed IVF implantation. However having kids is not always a topic that people are ready to discuss.

Which brings me to another point of contention: people who ask women in their 30’s if they have “ever thought about having kids?” In our society, ALL women in their 30’s have ‘thought’ about it. They are bombarded with information about it at every turn. Women know about their biological clock, the risks of genetic diseases, and the fact that it’s harder to get pregnant as you get older. THEY KNOW. So, if they are aware of these things and still don’t have kids, there must be reasons. Think about some of the possibilities: still looking for a partner to share life with, couples disagreeing about when to have kids, fertility problems, or simply not wanting to have kids. All of these things are very private for most people.

Bottom line: I understand curiosity, but sometimes very personal questions can hit a nerve. If you are an understanding, supportive friend or family member, chances are when the person is ready to share with you they will. Until then, you’ll just have to remain curious.

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4 Comments

  • Good post, however is it possible someone will be looked at as self-centred if they don’t ask about kids, family plans etc.? Also, what other questions should then be off-limits as they might offend or make uncomfortable: are you planning on getting married (bad divorce)? Do you see your parents often (passed away)? What was your childhood like (sexual abuse)? I agree people need to be sensitive, but your point about people not being malicious is key: if someone is genuinely interested and curious, I think it’s best to ask rather than censor all lines of questioning for fear of offending.

    • Thanks for your post and questions. In my opinion, when asking any personal questions, it is best to tread lightly. You can discuss the issues in general (family, kids etc) or share your own plans on these topics and see how your friend/family member responds. If they don’t offer up the info you’re looking for during the discussion, I think it’s clear they are not ready to share. I would not consider someone self-centered if they didn’t ask me these types of questions. However, when people have asked, I have often felt put on the spot. That is why I feel it is best to be sensitive.

  • I think it is the WAY a person will ask this question that gets me more upset. If it is genuinely a “Do you have any kids?” question, I have no problems answering truthfully. However, I have been asked this question numerous times but in a way that completely irks me. Such as, “So, you’re next!” or “WHEN are you going to have children already?” My problem is that I do not want to have children. I had decided (probably when I was a teenager) that I was not a fan of having children. I am 34 (still haven’t felt my biological clock ticking), have now been happily married to my husband for five years and we are both in agreement that not having kids is not the end of the world. He respects my decision and I love him for that. It is the people around us that are disrespectful. They think that the sole purpose to get married or be on earth is to procreate and they look at me as if I am inhuman for not wanting to be a mother. I wish others would stop making me feel worthless or telling me I am “selfish” because of my decision.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Melissa! Yes, many people ASSUME that everyone wants to have kids which is certainly not the case. The decision to have kids is one that you and your partner make and it absolutely does not make you selfish! Hopefully, the more often we discuss this issue, the more people will realize that sensitivity is needed here.

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