Monday, December 09, 2013

Kids, pregnancy and "When are you going start?"

We're all aware that it's risky to bring up the following topics: politics and religion. We also tend to avoid, by silent agreement, topics like money and how much weight someone has gained. How about we add another red flagged subject to our don't-even-bring-it-up list: when/if someone is going to start a family. It's past time for us to assume that everyone who doesn't have kids wants them, and it's definitely time to stop assuming that women who want children can just pop them out on cue. Please don't raise the topic of having children to someone who hasn't volunteered the information and don't make the assumption that we're all equally able to have the children we want.

Approximately one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage (source). Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. The number of women who are unable to have children combined with the number whose children have passed away, plus the number of women who just don’t want kids, make it increasingly inappropriate to say anything about when or if someone’s going to start a family.

I didn't have kids because I didn't want them. You can criticize me all day about this and it won't matter to me. But the most loving, well-meaning comments like -

"So when are you going to give Olivia a little brother or sister?" 
"Now that you own a house, you can start your family!" 

-can be extremely painful for people who’ve been through hell trying to have a baby. Miscarriages, newborn deaths and infertility can leave a woman feeling emotionally raw and defenseless against a world that never lets women forget that we're all supposed to be moms. Most women don't want to share this kind of pain, which leaves them vulnerable to your unsolicited inquiries such as:

"Do you have kids?" 
"Are you thinking of starting a family?" 
"Do you want kids?" 
"Do you want to see a picture of my sister's newborn?" 

The women for whom this topic is sensitive probably won't warn you to avoid it, so if someone hasn't started talking about children on her own, just don't bring it up. 

I can hear the protest: Stop talking about babies? That's un-American! No, it's inhuman. How can we stop talking about babies when it's the best, happiest, most fun subject ever?

Here's my suggestion: when you want to ask someone about having kids, say the question to yourself in your head first, changing the "want/have kids" part to "earn over $100,000." That turns it into-

"Do you earn over $100,000?"
"Do you want to earn over $100,000?"
"Now that you've bought a house, when are you going to start earning over $100,000?"

Sounds kinda rude, right? I believe this is how we need to start treating the topic of children and pregnancy. It's all the more important to keep in mind because you never know who might be struggling to have a family. Women who go through miscarriages or fertility problems often don't tell anyone, even close family members and best friends. Someone who you think tells you everything, might keep this one to herself, so you really can't know who will be hurt by idle how-many-children-do-you-want talk.

Sometimes even when a couple wants a family very much and truly believes they’re going to have one, things just don't go that way. Let's confine the baby talk to the people who you absolutely know like to talk about babies. If a woman has children, she'll most likely tell you all about them (and don't I know that!). If someone doesn't bring up the subject of children, just let it go.

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