Just don’t ask

4 Mar

“Are you planning to have kids?” 
“When are you planning to have another?”

Do these seem like a highly personal questions to you?  They didn’t seem so to me a few years ago, but now I have a different perspective.

Now, y’all know that I’m not the most secretive gal.  It’s not just the blogging, I’m like this in person, too; when I meet another chatty extrovert like me, we can have our life stories out within 20 minutes of meeting (and yet keep gabbing for days).  So a question like this, meant to encourage small-talk, would not have given me a second thought in the past.

Since the miscarriage, though, I have a dilemma.  Do I simply say, “Yes, we’d like more children,” and feel that I am lying by not telling you the pertinent fact that by rights I ought to be pregnant this very moment?  Or do I say, “Actually, I had a miscarriage recently” and make you feel terrible for asking the question, which you suddenly realize must be one that is pretty emotional for me.  I’ve gone both ways on this one, depending on how charitable I’m feeling.  (Or just because I felt like sharing.  Or not.)

But it’s not just about me.

Some time ago, I was in a restaurant with a couple of friends who had been trying to get pregnant for years.  They were in the throes of deciding whether to attempt the physically and financially demanding process of IVF.  An acquaintance they hadn’t seen in years wandered in and they briefly caught up on each others’ lives, before the guy dropped the bomb.  “So, you guys don’t have any kids yet?” he boomed.  “You ought to have some by now!”

It’s unfortunate that he was particularly insensitive in how he put it, but even if he’d asked simply, still I would have the same reaction, which was to cringe inwardly, knowing the bitterness and pain the question no doubt induced in my friends.

So, no matter if I am burning with curiosity, I would never ask this question of anyone unless I was starting to get to know them pretty well.  (And with a chatty extrovert, that can happen pretty fast.  Well, a chatty girl extrovert, anyway.)

What do you think?  Have you been in this situation?  Are there any other seemingly innocent questions you would add to the “Just don’t ask” list?

18 Responses to “Just don’t ask”

  1. Meandering Michael March 4, 2008 at 8:58 pm #

    “So, when are you getting married?”

  2. Lindsay March 5, 2008 at 5:11 am #

    Hmmmm….food for thought. Thanks Fawn.

  3. IndyComp0T1 March 5, 2008 at 6:08 am #

    I totally know what you mean. The day after I’d had my miscarriage last fall, I got an e-mail from a friend saying that he and his wife were expecting. Up until then, I’d been coping relatively well, and then that e-mail just sent me over the edge and I started sobbing uncontrollably.

    The following week, I was chatting with him over IM. We started talking about his baby on the way, and he coyly asked me how I knew so much about pregnancy and if I was expecting a child of my own. I ended up telling him that I’d just had a miscarriage the previous week, which totally caught him off guard. I still feel really guilty for having said that, but at the time it felt satisfying.

    For a little while after the miscarriage, I kept thinking: “If I hadn’t miscarried, the baby would be at X weeks.” It was really hard to get over, even when the miscarriage happened 6 weeks into the pregnancy. It was even more depressing to find out that at 6 weeks in, my HCG level was at 20, which meant that the little embryo had no chance of ever surviving.

    I’m sure you’ll agree that even several years down the road, you’ll never forget the experience – it’ll always be permanently etched in your mind. But, I’m sure as you’ve found out, support from loved ones helps to ease the pain – and you definitely seem to have an awesome support group! 🙂

  4. Malva March 5, 2008 at 6:30 am #

    I’m not sure it should be a no-no to ask. It can’t be worse than “was it planned?” once you’re actually pregnant. That one so gets me.

    I think it’s all about how it’s asked. I tend to phrase it in a pretty open ended fashion. For the childless crowd it’s: “Would you like to have kids one day?” For those with at least one I’ll normally ask: “Do you feel your family is complete or would you like to have more?”

    Maybe it’s because I feel there is a difference between asking if someone WILL have more or if someone WANTS to have more? Hmmm, but then again, I would never ask that unless I knew someone somewhat well, or they brought up the topic themselves. I never thought I was being insensitive before… Am I?

    One thing for sure is that I don’t share with anyone if I’m trying to get pregnant because I don’t want them asking every month if I’m pregnant yet and having them remind me every four weeks that I’m not. One of my office friend made that mistake, so about every four weeks, all these people in the office would ask her if she was pregnant yet. Took her 7 months to get pregnant. I learned from that and didn’t tell anyone with my second, it took us 9 months to finally conceive, so I feel it was a good move.

  5. Janet March 5, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    I am nearing 50 years old and I still think about my first pregnancy, when I miscarried. I wonder about the sex of that baby, what he or she would have been like, how old they would be now, and what sorts of hopes, dreams and talents they would have had. I think it was after that miscarriage that I stopped asking people if they would like to have children. Maybe it takes something like that for people to become sensitized to just how loaded a question that can be.

    By the way, while it felt like forever before I got pregnant again, I did go on to have three beautiful children, so keep the faith.


  6. shannon March 5, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    well, when people used to ask me when i was having kids, i would say “ask me again when i’m married and am living in a house”. so when that time finally came, and people asked me i said “ask phil”. because he was stalling us. the question never bothered me though.

    in the meantime, my best friend tried to get pregnant for years before finally doing IVF, and for those 5 years, the “when are you having kids” question DROVE HER INSANE and didn’t want to share ANY of their troubles with distant relatives at xmas, or coworkers, etc…

    seeing what she went through, i now try not to ask that question. BUT I FIND IT REALLY HARD and must admit that i’ve asked it to people MANY times since deciding i wouldn’t! i don’t know how to explain. i see my friends and family and want to know “so are you gonna have kids? when?” and as soon as its out of my mouth, i regret it… mostly…..

    the last time i asked someone “when are you gonna have some kids?” she said “i don’t know” and had a distant look, which could have meant ANYTHING and it took every ounce of my being to not ask “what do you mean you don’t know; here, let me help you figure it out”! ha ha! that’s so me! (i later found out that she was waiting to become permanent at work so that she could have really great job security. and i think she felt bad to tell people that, like it made her shallow or something. but actually, i’m 99% sure that if/when phil becomes permanent at work, he’s finally going to give into have a 2nd baby – so i can relate! she ended up deciding to NOT wait, and then tried and is now pregnant and right when she got pregnant she was made permanent at work!)

    i don’t think people will EVER NOT ask that question….

    PS: i’d like to had “have you lost weight?” to the list of questions you shouldn’t ask. maybe i’m crazy, but i F#@%ING HATE that question!!!! okay, i’m calming down now…. easy tiger…

  7. shannon March 5, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    oh yes, and of course there’s the old “are you pregnant?” though i think most people know that’s a faux-pas, especially once they’ve been wrong once…

    a friend of a friend on facebook is pregnant now and i was looking through the 1st friend’s photos on facebook and saw this 2nd friend and she was wearing a big sweatshirt and i made some dumb-ass comment about her being pregnant and rubbing her belly through the screen. lots of other people were commenting on the photos in his album. the next day, the 1st friend commented that he was surprised that “so many people are commenting on a photo album that’s over a year old” and only a full 24 hours later did i realize “omigod, if the photo album is a year old then she’s NOT pregnant in that photo”. ha! so i’m officially in that group of people that accuses non-pregnant people of being pregnant. and this is a club i never wanted to be in!!!! :/

  8. Chris March 5, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    I read your post this morning and have been thinking about it ever since. I have to say, I have mixed emotions about this.

    I do agree that people should think twice before throwing around comments like: “So, you guys don’t have any kids yet?” like the guy you were mentioning. You never know what someone’s story is and should never assume.

    But I think that, although it can be quite a sensitive subject for some, questions like “do you want children?” are ok. The reason I feel like this is that there are so many topics that have a potential to be sensitive, that if we didn’t approach these subjects ever, conversations would be quite restricted.

    For example, not too long ago, a friend of mine (whom I’ve known for only a couple of years) asked me how my mother was doing. I have to admit, I’m not an open kind of person. There are very few people that know everything about me. As innocent as this question was, it got ackward pretty fast when I told him she had passed away a few years ago. But although its a very sensitive subject for me, I wasn’t upset that he asked, because how could he have known?

    In the end, I think that people who know you, will know (or at least should know) that its a sensitive subject. And the ones who don’t, only need a yes or no answer and then on to the next topic.

    Although questions don’t bother me, here is something that does. When people complain for the world to hear about what they do have. Whether it be about children, parents, in-laws, etc. Because you never know who is standing beside you, that doesn’t have those things and wish they did.

  9. Lindsay March 5, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m so conflicted on this subject. I can see all points of view and yes, it matters how you are asked. Pregnancy is so personal. But I agree that we can’t tip toe around the subject. I know that I still have a hard time mentioning anything about my pregnancy to you, Fawn, for fear of upsetting you. Not because you have ever made me feel that way but because I know it’s hard for you and I don’t want to hurt you more. At the same time I am eager to share new about the pregnancy with you because you are my family and I love you.

    When I found out I was pregnant this time it was a shock. And admittedly I was not so thrilled at first. Although we wanted a 3rd child we were hoping to wait at least until my 2nd child was a year old before trying again and my baby was so little and still being breastfed. To let my body heal from the last two pregnancies. I was with a group of friends and mentioned that I wished the pregnancy had come at least a few months later. And this really upset her because it’s not easy for her to get pregnant and she said so. But at the same time I was equally upset because of my own situation and how exhausted I was (am). Pregnant and/or breastfeeding since 2004 and about to have 3 kids under 3, I have problems too.

    So I personally don’t think we should censor ourselves because like other have said before we ask because we care. But we should take care how we ask.

    P.S. Now that’s I’ve had time for the pregnancy to sink in. I’m thrilled to be pregnant again and yes, I do know how lucky I am.

  10. fawnahareo March 5, 2008 at 2:28 pm #

    Wow, thanks for all your thoughts, everyone! I’m liking the additions to the “Do not ask” list, too.

    I think my main point was that it’s important to be mindful, not necessarily to censor ourselves. I just think this is not a casual question to be asked for the purpose of making small talk with a stranger; it’s the kind of question you ask when you really want to know someone. I like the way Malva phrases it – she sounds caring rather than nosy.

    At the same time, there are people (I’m thinking of one guy in particular) I have refrained from asking because I don’t know them well enough to know how they would react if this happens to be a sensitive topic… and perhaps because of age, length of marriage, or whatever I figure it could be sensitive. I figure this question should wait until I know them better. By that time, I may already know the answer without ever asking.

    I appreciate the idea of not getting upset with the intent of the question is geniune and caring. The fact is, my mood has a lot to do with how I react, too, and how the heck could the other person know if I’m feeling sensitive that day? It’s not so much the person I’d be upset at, but the memories or thoughts that come up.

    Lindsay, please don’t censor yourself for my sake! The initial rawness of my miscarriage is over. Although I’ve said I don’t like finding out about pregnancies in my friends who have toddlers, that sting wears off quickly and I don’t find that I dwell on it too much.

  11. MommyTime March 5, 2008 at 6:05 pm #

    I like your sense, Fawn, that the key here is “to be mindful.” I never ask people if they want more kids or will have kids unless they are very close friends whom I know would share things like this with me happily (and vice versa). But I also think that being a careful reader of others’ feelings in any given moment is the best way to judge whether any particular question might be inappropriate or not (apart from the obviously insensitive).

  12. YukonJen March 5, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    How about adding these to the list?

    How come you’re not married?

    Do you want kids?

    You’re not getting any younger you know.



  13. fawnahareo March 5, 2008 at 8:22 pm #

    Oh, Jen ― ouch! 😦

  14. Beanie March 5, 2008 at 11:16 pm #

    When I was 20, I got engaged. Young, I know, but I was completely blown away by the sheer number of people who automatically assumed I was knocked up (which I wasn’t) and kept asking when the baby was due.

    The best part, though, was when I’d oh-so-politely inform them that I was NOT pregnant and then they’d always ask, “Oh. Are you sure?”

  15. Chris March 6, 2008 at 5:07 am #

    hahha…I like the post above. I can totally relate. I had my kids young (in my 20s) and people would (and still) ask me: “Are they from the same father?”
    Seriously…would you ask that to a thirtysome year old? It’s pretty insulting!
    (and yes by the way, they are) 🙂

  16. IndyComp0T1 March 6, 2008 at 6:42 am #

    I can relate too. I got married at 23 (okay, not as young as 20), but my husband and I met, dated, got engaged, and got married all in the span of 9 months. For us, we just knew that we were “it” for each other. Others weren’t quite so convinced, thinking that we were either insane or that I’d gotten knocked up – impossible since I made him wait to get any until we got married. 🙂

  17. Nita March 10, 2008 at 8:13 am #

    You can add “Is he adopted” to your list. When Michael was a baby, total strangers would ask me (on the street, in the grocery store, in the bank line-up) – Is he adopted? (yes)Where’s he from? (Phillipines) Can’t you have your own children? (I do have my own child – this is my own child) Can’t you conceive? (don’t know – never tried) Why? (um….) Who’s his real mother & why did she give him up? (excuse me!?!) What does he eat? (pablum – what did they think he ate? sticks?) Does he speak English? (who speaks english at 1 year old?He says mama and dada) I was always flabbergasted, and finally found a good answer – I’d say “why do you need to know that?”. Usually that shut the inquisitive busy bodys up. And sometimes the rare person would say “because we’re waiting to adopt from overseas” and that would be great and we’d go on to have a lovely conversation about the joys of overseas adoptions. But you wouldn’t believe the hurtful comments and questions we got from total strangers as we 2 white people pushed the most beautiful brown baby in the world around in his stroller.

  18. Ripplebliss March 11, 2008 at 6:02 pm #

    I figure Peter and I have about 1 year to go until people start asking “en masse” about us having another child.

    Having already decided that Evvy will be our only child and that our family is complete now, I still find it hard to tell people when they do ask. It’s like they feel that our decision is up for debate and that they can, and should change our minds.

    I get a lot of “well, she’s still young now, it will get easier and you’ll change your mind.” Not to mention the “she’ll be so sad not to have siblings close to her age.”
    But our decision has nothing to do with how difficult child rearing is, or how difficult Evvy is (she is, in fact, a delightfully easy child!) And I know that Evvy will grow up happy and loved and surrounded by friends and family. Besides, having more kids just to make the kid(s) you do have more “happy” doesn’t seem logical to me.

    Anyhow, I wish there were an easy way for us to tell people how we feel.

    The “more children” question is a difficult one for most people, I think.

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