As a woman in your twenties, it’s likely you’ve been asked when you want to have kids. It might be something you’re thinking about, exploring or even trying to do. It might also be something you really don’t want to do.
When I got married, I noticed people asked me one thing a little too often: “So, when are you having kids?” I’d been asked this before, but never so persistently. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of reasons this question is at best: stupid, and at worst: really damaging to ask.
It’s asking when, never if
In my experience, the question is always “When are you having kids?”. Not ‘if’. When.
This assumes the person you’re asking wants kids. Bit presumptuous. In the year of our lord 2020, motherhood is still seen as aspirational and expected for most women. This loaded question makes it harder for me to go “Actually – I don’t want kids”.
While we should’ve moved past an institutionalized desire to reduce women to walking wombs, this hasn’t happened yet, so it’s still unsettling to society when women simply don’t want children. Our reasons don’t matter because they’re not really listened to.
9/10 times I’ve told people I don’t want kids, it’s a dice roll between the following responses. Seriously.
- Is it because you’re overweight / have PCOS / have endometriosis / your husband’s infertile?
- Is it because your husband doesn’t want kids?
- You’ll change your mind. It’s different when its yours! Just wait and see
- Don’t you feel bad for your husband / parents / next door neighbor / Mark Zuckerberg who’s entire social network is now based on moms posting photos of their kids, and mom memes?
While I would love to talk about this with a trusted friend, or even a respectful stranger – the overly casual “When you make babies?” doesn’t lend itself to warm, friendly discourse on such a personal topic.
So: you shouldn’t ask when, because you’re throwing a bunch of societal expectations at someone who may well not want to stick to them.
It’s personal and invasive
Picture this. You’re at a family barbecue. You just grabbed some juicy wings fresh off the grill. There’s sunshine and good music. And then, your great aunt walks over with “Hey so, when are you getting your front butt waxed?”
Hopefully, you’re thinking “Woah, that’s really personal and invasive, Auntie! My butt waxing routine is totally not your business! Let me eat these wings in peace, damn!”
While butt waxing stands out as an invasive, rude and downright inappropriate topic for family conversation, the same scenario with the question “So, when are you having kids” really doesn’t. I’ve been in that scenario at least fifteen times. I’ve always had to justify a really personal decision that ultimately is for my partner and I to make. And really, it’s mostly mine. How. Uncomfortable!
It doesn’t affect anyone whether you decide to reproduce or not (barring your partner and other children, if they exist). The ferocious determination aunties pour into this question might make you feel like their entire happiness depends on your vagina – but it really, truly doesn’t.
The extent to which this question is so normalised (and usually well-intentioned) really belies how much of a personal decision it is to have children. I feel as uncomfortable discussing my reasons for not having children with my extended family, as I would discussing a butt-waxing routine.
It’s insensitive, and potentially triggering
I have PCOS and endometriosis. With 1 in 5 women diagnosed with PCOS in the UK, it’s really not so uncommon. Both conditions affect your fertility. Here’s the thing: I’m grateful for this because its nice to know I’m less likely to fall pregnant accidentally.
But if you’re someone in your twenties struggling to conceive – this question really rubs it in. While working in fertility telemedicine, I was lucky to speak to women from all walks of life, struggling to conceive. A huge trigger for lots of them: being asked when they’re having kids, or whether the “plumbing is faulty”.
Especially around Christmas, I’d see a spike in demand for mental health services, as women were asked invasive questions at the dinner table about why their bodies were failing them. Our service received several questions on how to cope with this triggering time, where it seemed like everyone and their mother was quite literally asking women when they’d produce children.
So. Imagine experiencing the grief of miscarriage, or sinking thousands of pounds into IVF while trying to conceive. Dealing with this incredibly, lonely and private issue. And while trying to eat your sprouts in peace, being asked why you haven’t yet accomplished what you’re so desperately trying to.
Don’t be insensitive. As with all things, you don’t know what someone is experiencing. So, don’t ask when they’re having kids because for all you know – they’re trying really hard to. With 1 in 7 couples struggling to conceive in the UK, you’re likely to really hurt someone’s feelings when they’re already low.
It’s not just infertility that could make this triggering. Reasons like being a trans woman, being gay and struggling to adopt, having too low an income, having a disability…there’s a laundry list of why this question can be so hurtful.
Normalise our power to choose what we do with our bodies
If you’re feeling bad because you’ve asked your friends when they’re having kids – don’t. Feeling bad is besides the point, just don’t do it again.
However, knowing my own group of loving friends where nothing is off limits – TALK ABOUT IT. Really, ask your friends if they’re okay to talk about wanting children. Accept it (really, accept it) when people don’t want kids, but let them talk openly about their reasons if they want to. Talk to other women about the expectation that if women want children and a career, they’d better grow 8 extra limbs and train themselves to sleep an hour a night because “men simply aren’t the primary carer”. When we talk respectfully, and really listen, good things happen.
And that’s a wrap. I hope you can kindly call out great aunt Beverly next Thanksgiving when she whips out the ol’ “When are you spawning?” over the turkey.