It doesn’t matter what others are doing. It matters what YOU are doing.
Ladies…tell me this, how often have you been asked some of, if not all of, these questions;
“Do you think you’d like kids?”
“Well now that you have a boy/girl, are you going to try for a boy/girl?”
“I know you work, but do you think that you would stop if you had kids? And if not…how are you going to manage?”
“Are you having a ‘natural’ birth?”
“What made you decide to have a caesarean?”
“Don’t you like kids?”
The list of shockingly inappropriate questions goes on and on.
How many events have you sat through filling your wine glass that little bit too much, as a person (usually a woman, which makes it even more infuriating) asks all about highly personal matters while you try to figure out the most polite way to tell a near stranger to mind their own fucking business?
I don’t think that I know a woman who hasn’t had experienced some kind of encounter along these lines. Friends who are pregnant and grilled in the workplace about what kind of birth they are planning (I would also like to ban the word ‘vaginal’, but thats a chat for a different time), friends who have children of the same sex who are asked when they are having another of the opposite sex (the “I’m sure your husband would like a boy” chat…), the friends who are genuinely, completely happy to not have children and blow the minds of some who just don’t get it…
And then there are women like me, who are desperate to have a child. Now is not the right time for me, and that’s something I have made peace with (most of the time), I also know that, for reasons I won’t talk about, it isn’t going to be easy for me to conceive. This line of questioning from near strangers can feel like a particularly peculiar punch in the stomach to me. It can be so hard to know what to say that I can blurt out awkward/answers which make the situation even more awkward. I shudder even thinking about the times when women have interrogated me about the situation.
My Mum and I were walking home one night and bumped into a lady she knew. I hadn’t been married long, so OBVIOUSLY it was fine for her to ask when my husband and I would be having a baby. I tried to fob her off with a “ah we are just enjoying being married for now. One thing at a time and all that”
To which she responded, “yes, but are you TRYING for a baby?”
I had enjoyed a wine or two before we met her, so my response perhaps could have been more delicate;
“Are you asking me if my husband and I are having unprotected sex?”
Prompting a coughing fit from my poor Mum and me being pulled up the road. But here’s the thing. I don’t think my answer was a bad one. Sure, I could have put it less…bluntly, but as the old saying goes: ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.
This isn’t even an isolated incident. Another chat, again with a woman, saw me say that I would be happy with one child, as long as I have one, I will be happy. I was then told that I CAN’T just have ONE…he or she will be lonely. Brilliant. Now I am a bad mother to a kid who doesn’t exist yet. I have had people ask me what names I’d like for my imaginary babies, and been told that NO, those names aren’t right. Will I have my child baptised? Have I thought about how that might impact what schools they would go to?
IT IS EXHAUSTING…and eh…as I said, this child doesn’t even exist. I can’t even imagine how my friends who are pregnant/have children cope. It’s a wonder we don’t read more about women in their 20s and 30s thumping people.
I have friends who are expecting who have been terrified by women revealing awful birth stories, who have been shamed when they’ve told women about their plans for birth, who have been condemned by women for not breastfeeding and then judged by women for breastfeeding for too long/not long enough.
It is absolutely bizarre to me that it is women who are putting women through this. It’s cruel and unnecessary to put one another under these ridiculous microscopes. To even DARE question a pregnant woman about the weight she has gained whilst she CREATES A HUMAN in her body. To tell a woman who has had two daughters that she has failed her husband in not providing him with a son. What makes people think they have the right? It is infuriating. I’m too warm and cross as I even type the words.
And to those of us who have found the strength to say “I’m not sure that’s any of your business.” or “No, I am happy as I am.” The bemused looks and raised eyebrows which follow from the near stranger who asked the question are equally bizarre. Should we tell people what they want to hear in order to make the conversation stop? Or should we answer honestly and endure the awkwardness that follows?
If I may, I’d like to offer an answer for next time someone probes you about your ‘situation’ (I call it womb watch)
You could offer the polite; “As and when I do have news, I will tell you, but I’m not comfortable talking about it at the moment”
Or perhaps; “It is sad that you don’t understand that I can be happy exactly as I am. Are YOU alright?”
The honest and upfront: “I don’t actually like children. I am not against the concept of a child. But I don’t want one in my house.”
Maybe; “You are a woman. Surely you can understand how difficult this conversation can be?”
A simple “PISS OFF” carries a lot of weight too. And, if you become known as someone who tells people to piss off, you might find that less people want to speak to you at all, much less interrogate you about the contents of your womb.
Being a woman can be hard for a multitude of reasons, and sadly other people can pile on and add new troubles. But you have to choose and create a life that feels happy for you, not one that is acceptable in the eyes of strangers.
If you are reading this, and you think you might be the kind of woman who would ask these kinds of questions of another woman…please stop. And not just because the woman you are bothering might be like me and yearning for a baby of her own and therefore your words might hurt her in ways you can’t imagine, but because regardless of her situation, unless she chooses to reveal it to you, it is absolutely none of your business.
I have been contacted by some lovely male readers who have reminded me that what I have written about in the above post is not an exclusively female experience. Plenty of men experience this pressure, and these horrible questions too. I apologise to anyone who felt excluded from this post, or thought that it leant too much on the experiences of women. It is a criticism that is more than fair and one which I will take on board.
If I may explain why this was the case with this post, and others which I have written, it is that I can only write from my experiences. I would never want to assume what it is like to be a man, that would be very presumptious of me. In making assumptions, and writing about anything other than what I know and have lived, I feel that it would mean that I was writing fiction….something I don’t think I would be very good at! Equally, the experiences and anecdotes shared with me by the men in my life are not mine to retell.