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Can We Please Stop Asking People When They Are Going to Have Children?

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You could adopt.

You could use a surrogate.

You could just “try and see how it goes.”

Or my personal favorite from a gynecologist many years ago, “To bear children is your God-given right as a woman, and if that is what you desire, you will do or go through anything to have them.”

Hmmm. Interesting.

No malice behind the comments.

Just a distinct lack of relatability, because, if you haven’t lived with a chronic illness, how can you possibly understand?

Global chronic nerve pain. Neuropathy. Intermittent paralysis. Chronic fatigue. Mobility limitations.

These are just some of the residual health complications I have struggled with over the years after Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Throw in the addition of the somewhat more “common” hormonal issues that affect women, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and you can start to get a picture of the pregnancy mountain that existed in my world.

And that’s just the physical. What about the emotional side of things?

Helplessness. When one of the most fundamental decisions you can ask yourself as a person, like “Do I want kids?” isn’t remotely on the table for you because of your medical circumstances, you can feel helpless. Needless to say, the follow-up question of “Can I have kids?” is completely redundant. This was me for many years, despite the opinion of that one gynecologist.

Fear. I could write an entire book on this one. Even if you get to a stage where it is medically possible, the fears that rise up, they can stop a person in their tracks. It’s one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome.

Will a pregnancy adversely affect my condition?

If I did get pregnant, what if things get so bad health wise that I have to make a decision whether to continue or not?

How will I hold the baby when the nerves in my arms burn so badly after 30 seconds?

What if, what if, what if?

The topic of having children is a minefield for many people, able-bodied or not, and while I do believe there are additional challenges that arise as someone living with a chronic illness, I feel it’s a topic we need to approach with more respect in general.

You hear it all too often:

Engaged? Fabulous! When are you getting married?

Married? Congratulations! When are you having kids?

You’ve been married for a few years. Seriously. When are you having kids? 

You’re a 35-year-old woman. Woah, you do realize that your fertility has just taken a journey down the slippery slide? You might want to get on that ‘kid’ thing.

And so it continues.

What is actually achieved by this line of questioning? What are those asking hoping to hear?

Do you know the person really well? Is there a genuine concern or need to ask? Or does it fall into the category of “innate curiosity” that compels us to probe people for some of the most personal details of their lives, seemingly without a second thought?

Is it a conversation starter, or filler, what we might term “polite chit chat,” that we use to pass the time, kind of like when asking about the weather?

Chronic illness aside, the person we are speaking could be struggling with infertility, suffering a miscarriage, or experiencing another devastating loss. What wounds are we at risk of opening up with such questions?

This is what I mean about approaching this topic with more respect, to really check in with ourselves as to what is motivating us to ask the questions in the first place.

For me, it got to the point where I point blank told anyone who asked the kid question that my husband and I had made the decision not to have any.

Case closed.

Of course, not really, because that comment in and of itself raised other questions and of course, the customary platitudes.

Which I still fail to understand. Why is “sorry” a default response?

To not want children is a legitimate thing for a number of people and isn’t to be pitied.

And even if it’s a lie, a way of protecting oneself like it was for me, “I’m sorry” and other similar platitudes simply serve to drive that knife in just a little bit more, each and every time.

Solution? Just stop asking.

Can we please just stop asking people when they are going to have children, or offering up platitudes and half-baked solutions for their “situation” that we have zero authority on?

If someone wants to talk about kids with you, they will bring it up in their own time.

There are plenty of other safer, yet still interesting, conversation prompts you can roll with.

Ask someone what they are excited about right now. That’s a pretty good place to start.

Author’s note: At the time of writing this article, I am 38.5 years old and 15 weeks pregnant with our miracle baby. The baby we planned for years, despite what I outwardly told people, but never dared to believe we would actually be blessed with. I’ve worked exceedingly hard to get to this point, from making the decision over six years ago to transition off all pain medication, enduring three rounds of stem cell procedures to regain my mobility, committing to major dietary and lifestyle changes, you name it, I’ve likely done it. Remembering that despite all these health advances, which I am eternally grateful for, I still live with ongoing residual symptoms that present everyday challenges, many of which present a heightened risk in pregnancy. As the old saying by Socrates goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”

Originally published: January 7, 2020
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