Dating and Relationship Advice

A few years ago, I was talking with a couple about their newborn twins at a wedding. The female partner asked me when I was getting pregnant. I politely told her that it was not the right time for me. Despite my gentle explanations, she pried and pressured me. (“Wouldn’t it just be better to do it now?” and “Just start!”)

I was raised in one of the most educated cities in America, where most women I knew felt empowered to pursue their ambitions and make choices based on their preferences. I always took care to surround myself with people who were forward-thinking, who would accept my career ambition, who would acknowledge my character traits instead of my body or gender identity, and at the very least, wouldn’t reduce me to harmful gender stereotypes.

But I was devastated when I entered my twenties and some of my closest allies subjected me to more invasive lines of questioning around the subject.

Expectations Around Parenthood

Most people I know continue to believe women have a biological and societal obligation to reproduce; that womanhood equates the ability and desire to bear an heir; that a woman’s family is her most important accomplishment; that women (trans-inclusive) cannot be trusted to make sound judgments about their health, bodies, or parental status.

I still dread the question “when are you having children?” because there are simply no good answers — unless you’re a cishet married woman with no health problems who wants children and is financially stable enough to have them. That describes very few people I know.

One in four women experience pregnancy losses, and one in eight experience fertility challenges. Other struggle with chronic diseases, financial burdens, and don’t feel like children are an option for them. And even more people have decided to live a child-free life. Parenthood is not necessarily the norm.

My Answer to Parenthood

So here’s what happens when someone asks.

If I explain that it’s not the right time or that I don’t want children, I'm told I’ll change my mind. I’m told my clock is ticking and if I want children, I have to start now. I’m told that my life will be empty without children, or that I’m selfish for not procreating. Other people tell me I am not capable, old enough, or wise enough to make choices about my life and my body. Or that my future husband will disagree with my choice, which relegates my opinion below that of a man who may or may not exist.

If I decline to answer, others answer for me. Sometimes they assume I want children and they leave me alone. They assume my body has the ability to bear children or that I haven't experienced great loss. Or they assume I dislike children or don’t want them (which are not synonymous, by the way).

If I explain losses, I’m forced to disclose something deeply personal in an environment that doesn’t feel safe. I’m either met with toxic positivity (“Just keep trying” or “It’ll happen once you stop worrying,”) or awkwardness. Most often it is dismissed because the askers cannot tolerate the simple task of acknowledging my grief.

If I truly react to how offensive the question is, I’m made to believe that I’m overreacting; that I’m “too sensitive” or that I’m odd for not wanting to talk about it. When in reality, it’s the asker who should be ashamed. It’s the asker who reduces me to a body, who ignores the other parts of my personhood, and who has no regard for what I may have been through.

So instead, I’m forced to make myself smaller, so that someone who asked me a deeply invasive question doesn’t feel uncomfortable. I take all the discomfort and pain for myself. I continue to put myself second behind social etiquette.

As you can see, this is a no-win scenario for anyone to endure.

There are an infinite number of factors that contribute to if, when, why, and how any particular woman has (or doesn’t have, or doesn’t want, or can’t have) a family. All of which are none of anyone's business, and definitely not appropriate for small talk.

Stop Asking

A woman's worth not contingent on her role as a mother. Her value does not diminish because she lives differently from societal expectations. Her personhood — her talents, interests, and potential — are not wasted if, for some reason, she doesn't perpetuate her biological family line.

We can all  start dismantling these unhelpful, patriarchal beliefs — one question at a time.

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