I was just chatting on facebook with my late elementary/junior high school best friend. Our lives have diverged a lot over the years, but every once in awhile we catch up on facebook. A little back story: by the time we finished grade 9 (she was 15 at the time), she found out she was pregnant. Her boyfriend also had a child from when he was 13 (so his child was about 3 years old at the time). My friend had her daughter, went on to finish high school (evening winning a monetary award for being the student parent with the highest average who planned to go on to post-secondary), and started university. Shortly into her university career, she became pregnant again. Last summer, she and the father of her children got married and they raise their 3 kids (the husband has had full custody of his son since his son was just a baby). None of their kids were planned.
Here’s how the convo went:
Friend: How are things with you? No kids yet? (ouch)
Me: No, we’re trying to make that happen, but it doesn’t always work out so easy.
Friend: I didn’t seem to have any problems. Mine came without trying. (frig! another zinger)
I know that these comments are borne from ignorance and not meant maliciously, but I’d like to take a minute to dissect them. First off, I think you have to be careful with a question like “no kids yet?” – it’s so leading. A) It implies that you want kids and B) if you’re TTC and unsuccesful that kind of question rubs salt in the wound. My reply was as it was because I do not personally agree with keeping struggles with infertility a secret. As I said before, I’m a sharer. I overshare most likely. But to simply say, “no, not yet” tends to have people believing that we haven’t started trying or we don’t want kids yet (again “yet” is a tricky word because it implies that you must want kids eventually). So I said something semi-generic that implies that we’re having difficulty. Now onto her response – holy hell! Someone tells you that they are trying to conceive but it’s not working and you follow up with a cavelier comment about how easy it was for you?! I mean, she was a teen mom and has beat some pretty staggering odds against her so I don’t know that I would have chosen to be in her situation, but that kind of comment seems so inconsiderate to me.
This facebook conversation sparked a live conversation with a coworker/friend. She and her husband suspect they will try for one kid eventually, but she is not 100% sold on the idea of having kids. I have several other friends who aren’t baby crazy either and another friend who absolutely does not want children. Despite the fact that there are many people in the world who do not want kids, questions and comments like “When you are going to start trying?”, “Are you trying for kids yet?”, and “Better get a move on; you’re not getting any younger” abound. I think these questions are rude and inappropriate. First off, they imply that everyone wants children. This simply isn’t the case and to each their own. Second, depending on who is asking, this is pretty invasive, yet it seems that once you’re engaged, married, or in a long-term committed relationship that these questions are to be expected (once our wedding date approached questions about babies came from anyone and everyone). I remember a friend recounting to me about how when she and her husband moved into a nice, family-oriented neighborhood with rather sizeable, new, beautiful homes, a neighbor introduced herself and asked how many kids they have (again, stop making assumptions people!). My friend (who has no plans of trying for a baby until at least 30) said they didn’t have any. The woman then said, “Oh, just the two of you alone in that big house?!” with a look of disapproval on her face.
I have always wanted children, but if you don’t, I think that’s fine. However, as a societal norm, I think people generally expect all women of child bearing age to be rearing to go and the thought that they might never want to be a mother seems inconceivable. Many people (especially those who are not sensitized to issues with fertility) might see the above comments and questions as harmless, but in my opinion the choice of words matters. The words we use have both explicit and implicit meaning (I could get into a whole other conversation on language choice and the implications for feminism) and, despite the old adage, words can hurt me.