Friday, January 24, 2014

Can we all just agree that fertility is not small talk?

I'm sure you're all with me on this one if you think I'm talking about menstrual cycles or the nitty gritty of Natural Family planning or sex.  No one wants cervical mucus to be the topic of a casual conversation with acquaintances or any conversation in public.  It's just not appropriate.  But what about some of these common questions that seem to often come up in public, casual conversations and often between complete strangers:

"When are you going to start trying to have a baby?"

"Was this pregnancy planned?"

"When are you going to give (your child) a sibling?"

"Are you done (having children) yet?"

Are these questions appropriate?  Unless they're part of a (private) conversation with close friends or family, I would say these (and related questions) just aren't appropriate.  Because these questions are about fertility.  They are about sex.  They are about cervical mucus and life and death.  And they aren't small talk.

I totally get it.  You're curious.  I'm curious too.  When I see a young couple who has been married a few years and there aren't any babies, I also wonder when they are going to have children.  I used to also think some kind of judgy thoughts, like the couple must be too selfish to welcome children.  Not any more folks.  Now I wonder if they are having fertility problems.  Perhaps they have gotten pregnant and lost the baby.  Maybe that's happened many times.  Maybe they are actively postponing pregnancy for valid reasons that I know nothing about.  Employment or financial issues.  Health problems.  Or a million other things.  And the truth is, as much as I want to know, I know it's none of my business.  There might be a lot of hidden pain behind that couple and that question might be publicly opening a wound. 

And also think about what you are conveying about fertility: That you think it's easy.  It's a commodity.  That people can control it.  When a baby is desired, all they have to do is "try".  That, for some reason, it's significant whether a baby was "tried for" or an "accident".  That that somehow makes a difference.  But what's the difference?  A "planned" baby is more loved, more wanted, more important?  Even if you think your words are innocent, they have deep meaning.  Even if you greatly value life, you might not realize that your "small talk" is not just a harmless repetition of the questions that you've heard others ask a million times, but a reflection of some deep societal ills.  So before you ask something about fertility, think not about your intention, but about what message you are really conveying.  And if it's not consistent with your beliefs, take that out of your "small talk" repertoire. 

You know what is terrible?  That I had to experience these questions with my own hidden pain in order for me to understand what they can do.  I couldn't get outside of my own little box and into the lives of other people, I couldn't imagine the pain.  I had to experience it.  So I'm saying this on the behalf of the ignorant.  I know you don't want to hurt the people you encounter, but if you ask these questions, you just might. 

I was especially blissfully unaware of secondary (in)fertility issues.  I naively assumed that once a couple has a healthy pregnancy and baby, that's it.  They're always going to have healthy pregnancies.  But sometimes they can't get pregnant again.  Ever.  Sometimes it's a struggle or they have miscarriages.  Or serious economic or health or other reasons crop up that put off another child, perhaps forever. 

Unless you're comfortable hearing the answers, don't ask the questions.

"Actually, we've been trying to get pregnant for years, but can't."

"We did give our child a sibling, but then miscarried."

"We are done because of a serious health issue (that's none of your business)."

I know that anytime I've been asked an insensitive questions about giving Lucia a sibling and have responded about our miscarriage, it's made the conversation mighty uncomfortable.  Because the question was asked as small talk, a cute little question where the questioner doesn't even care about the answer either way.  It's just what you ask when there is a lull in conversation, right? 

Can we all just agree that issues of fertility are never small talk? 


  1. Mandi this is excellent! Very well written, and so very, very true. It's amazing what sorts of things people will say when they don't understand what it's like to suffer from infertility or any number of serious things. I hope this post helps someone to understand just a little bit more.

  2. Such a great post, Mandi. We fielded many of those questions when we were trying to conceive, and it was awful. Now we have two sons by adoption and we field different questions, some just as difficult, actually. I think a good rule of thumb is not to ask anything personal about how you're creating your family.

  3. This is great, Mandi, although I'm truly sad and sorry that experiencing your loss has made this hit home more. I am very sensitive about comments from Catholics about "wonderful big Catholic families" or how open to life closely spaced kids are. Do you know what I mean? I've been married 4 and a half years and and I have 1 child ex-utero and 1 in-utero. God willing by my 5th anniversary I'll have 2. But I really struggle when people say "4 children in 4 years! Wow, that's a good Catholic family!" Ouch. No one is entitled to know the reasons why my family is the size that it is, but lets just say I always hoped for a big family. I don't know how many kids we may be blessed with ultimately. I am so so grateful for today and the blessings in my life right now and we just keep plugging away trying to do His will for us and our particular situation.

    1. I totally, totally agree with this. I've also feel that sting when people talk about 4 children in 5 years and closely spaced children in being the "badge of a good Catholic family." We always hoped for a big family as well, but for a bunch of reasons it hasnt' happened that way. It does sting a bit when people who have toddlers younger than mine are gleefully announcing their next pregnancy. I can understand their joy, but it's hard when that can't be my joy.

  4. Amen! I especially dislike the "You're not done yet? You want MORE?" mindset. Also, the next time someone jokes, "You know what's causing that [pregnancy], right?" I'm going to say, "Yes, we're really good at it." Ask an awkward question, get an awkward answer!

  5. I couldn't agree more. Believe it or not, as a single woman, I've gotten this question from CHRISTIANS. (And I believe that singleness should not be small talk, either.) I have been told I'm in sin because I'm not married, then the same pastor's wife said, "Well, God created us to be helpmeets and mothers, so really you'd be in LESS sin if you had a child." REALLY? I'd be in less sin to break a commandment and have a child outside of marriage? Know how hard waiting 40+ years is?

  6. I have been where you are walking and it taught me too. I had a seven year gap where we lost a baby, raised a foster daughter and experienced the miracle of a second child. We're walking the road of secondary infertility once again and you are one of the people I lift up most often as I offer up the wait. There is much grace to be gained on this road and I pray for your journey to be blessed with grace and new life.

  7. You're spot on with this one, Mandi. I actually have people that I avoid when I see them because they always ask me "Are you done yet?" when they see me because I exceeded their two child perfect family limit. And I can't tell you how offesive I find questions asking if the pregnancy was planned. Honestly, if it wasn't and you ask a question like that don't you run the risk of really upsetting someone? And when it took us longer than anticipated to conceive our youngest daughter I hated being asked if we were "going to try for a boy." Of course, now that we're expecting a boy we get all sorts of comments regarding that and the fact that we must be done now that we have a boy on the way after three girls. Speculating that a certain gender was desired is also pretty offensive if you ask me.

  8. Thanks for this! I too had to learn the hard way...Being on the other side of the questions is so difficult. I hope because of your post some struggling couples might be spared them.

  9. Yep yep yep! The "was it planned" question in particular bothers me. And most recently it was asked to me like this: (in a text message) "was the baby you just miscarried planned?" Ug!! I couldn't even respond!

  10. Wonderful post, Mandi! I couldn't agree more.

  11. Hi Mandi,
    It's my first time being blessed by your blog and this post says exactly what I think about fertility all the time...I just could never explain it as nicely and clear as you did here. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and I'm sorry to hear about your loss. :( After having 5 of my own, I get questions ALL.THE.TIME and the same questions ALL.THE.TIME. So are you going to have any more? is one I hear ALL.THE.TIME. My typical response is "I don't know, it depends on what hour, day, week, year you ask me and nothing is guaranteed so we will take one day at a time." It's probably not the best response, but it's the one I feel comfortable saying for now :) God bless you!

  12. Yes! Thank you for writing this. I agree 100% and you've articulated this so well.

  13. This is a GREAT post Mandi! NO ONE really knows why people are "waiting" or why they keep having more children. It really is nobody's business and I would NEVER dare to ask that question. To me it also sends a message about the life (child/ren) you already have. Are they not enough? Why do we always want more? It is a very private matter. And extremely personal.

  14. Thank you for this post. I recently became pregnant with my second child (the two children will be 20 months apart) and when telling people the news, by far the most popular response has been "so was this an accident?" or "was this planned?" Like you said: 1) referring to a baby as an "accident" is indicative of the culture in which we live, and 2) it's not your business!! Great blog, really enjoy reading :-)

  15. I find myself agreeing and yet being guilty at the same time. I've asked the questions and hadn't ever thought of the emotions they might bring, until I got married. At my wedding we had friends making bets on when we would start our family and with those bets came judgments and me saying things that just weren't true ( "we are in no hurry, maybe we will try in a year or two") knowing that we wanted children sooner rather than later. We were pregnant within 5 months. And the first question we got after our son's birth was when we planned on having another (1. I just had an emergency C-section, don't ask me that. 2. Life doesn't always go according to plan). I've had close family members try to pressure me to wait on trying for more and who openly judge our decision to use NFP. To the point that when I thought I could be pregnant a few weeks ago (I am not) I was terrified of the reactions I would get. That is so WRONG and I feel guilty about that too. I want more children and I shouldn't have to be scared if I were to have more before someone else's perfect timeline. I never want to experience that kind of fear again, because any pregnancy would be a blessing.
    So while I haven't had the experience of loss or secondary infertility (that I know of) I understand and agree.

  16. Mandi,
    loved your post and you encouraged me to finally have my say:)

  17. Beautiful truthful writing. I have six spread over 19 years-not by choice, but because of many miscarriages in between the last three children. The hardest times for me were when those questions were asked and I was still in emotional pain and recovering, or when I was pregnant and worrying if I would miscarry again. But I feel like I found peace with those questions, or comments when I came around after the pain was gone, or the strain, or the emotion. After answering truthfully about if we were having more, or if I was "done", or "why would you want another at 43?" it was amazing how many times I heard, "I'm so envious, I wish I would have been brave and tried for another.", or "I miscarried too once, and never felt like anyone cared." It usually turns into something besides nosiness or rudeness.
    But like I said, it's hurtful and maddening at certain times...and DEFINITELY as "small talk"-always.
    Great post, again. Thanks for writing about this.

  18. Thank you for writing this, Mandi. The thing about our culture is that we actually DO believe we have control over fertility. If we can suppress fertility with one little pill, then we should have no problem in achieving a pregnancy. The societal guise is that with a snap of our fingers, we can have a baby, or terminate a baby... at our convenience. And with that appearance of ease, with the concept of children as a commodity, of course it's small talk. You're right: deep societal ills at work.

    Great post! Pinning & Sharing :)

  19. thank you.... that is all I can say ... thank you

  20. I love this post. Thank you for writing it. It directly addresses a topic that needs to be addressed in our society. Many things are none of our business...yet, as a society, we seem hell-bent on making it our business and it's not a good practice.

  21. I agree it's never appropriate to ask.
    But isn't it okay just to NOT WANT children as well? Why do you have to presume they are "selfish."
    Kids aren't for everyone, nor should they be. Would you really want people to feel obligated into having children they will then treat poorly because they only did so because of societal pressure?

  22. I think you missed what I was saying there. I once assumed people didn't have kids because they were selfish but now I realize that there are many valid reasons people don't have children. I do believe that children play an important role in Christian marriage and Catholic wedding vows do include that the couple will be open to children, but it truly is none of my business why others don't have kids. Even if it is by personal preference, there are many things to play into it and it is not up to me to say whether it is selfish it not.


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