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“When are you going to have a baby?” It’s a question I heard for years when I hadn’t yet told anyone I was struggling with infertility and recurrent miscarriage before having our son. Now, I get the next version of it: “When are you going to have another baby?”
Seriously?! Does it really never stop? Why do people feel like they have the right to ask these questions of women without knowing what they’re going through?
Why I Hate It When People Ask If You’re Going to Have A(nother) Baby
Maybe it’s something about living in the South, but I swear people started asking when I was going to have a baby the second I got married. I was 26 at the time, and I had absolutely zero interest in having kids. Yet.
I knew I wanted them someday, but a study abroad trip during graduate school had sparked a major travel bug in me. I wanted to hold off on kids to get further into my doctoral degree and see as much of the world as possible.
During that time, I shrugged the question off. “Someday,” I’d nonchalantly reply, and move on. I didn’t mind the question at this point for a few reasons:
- I did want kids eventually, so I didn’t risk facing judgment by admitting to not planning to have children. (FYI—being childfree by choice is totally cool. Let’s stop judging people for it, please).
- Because I knew I wanted children someday, I felt no ambivalence about the fact, so the question didn’t bring up any emotional struggles for me.
- Husband also wanted kids someday, so the question didn’t trigger anything difficult in our relationship, either.
- I was not yet trying to conceive (TTC), so there was no frustration about not yet having a baby hidden behind my reply.
I hope these reasons start to shed some light on why we shouldn’t ask this question, but we’ll get there later. For now, more about my journey.
When I Wanted Children But Couldn’t Have Them
Somewhere around the age of 30, things changed. I used to express concern about not wanting kids yet, asking how I would know when I was finally ready. Most people gave me the same general advice.
There’s no perfect time, they said, but when you’re ready to try, you’ll know.
And for me, that was true. It was like a switch flipped. One day, I still liked the idea of having a baby at some point. The next day, I desperately wanted to be pregnant.
I hate making it sound so simple because it is not this way for everyone, but for me, it really was that easy. The first time around, at least.
Answering “When Are You Going to Have a Baby? Caused Grief
Suddenly, I found myself in a situation I’d never imagined, and I didn’t know how to handle it. While trying to wrap my mind (and my heart) around all that was happening to my body, I was still forced to answer this damned question as if nothing was wrong.
I can’t tell you the number of times I turned my head and covered my watery eyes while taking a giant gulp of red wine as Husband squeezed my hand and replied to the well-intended asker, “Someday.” Then I’d swallow, force a smile, and politely excuse myself from the conversation.
In most cases, I’d cry the whole way home.
It’s weird to admit it, but this was actually when I became a red wine drinker. I used to drink white wine exclusively, but I learned during infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss that white wine glasses are not large enough to hide facial expressions or tears.
So I switched to red, knowing that at any function I attended with other people, there was a good chance I’d need to cover my sad face and watery eyes with a big, wide, dark-colored glass.
And I asked Husband to stay by my side as much as possible at such events. Because I knew I would inevitably be asked when we were going to have a baby. He alone never received these questions.
I Still Get This Question Today
After a horrible miscarriage journey, I finally carried a baby to term, and Jack is a maddening but fantastic little three-year-old.
Ah, three years old, the average age gap between siblings.
“When are you going to give him a sibling?” people now ask. “When are you going to have another baby?”
And the honest-to-God answer is that I have no idea if I can, will, or want to give him a sibling.
My body went through hell trying to conceive and carry Jack. When it finally happened, I developed preeclampsia in late pregnancy, followed by severe postpartum anxiety that I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy (assuming I had a lot of great enemies).
I don’t know that I want to do it again.
This question doesn’t bring up grief anymore. It brings up fear.
It reminds me that part of me feels like something is wrong with me for not really wanting a second child. Like maybe I’m a bad mother because I don’t love having a child SO much that I can’t stand the thought of not having a second.
People tell me I’m selfish for considering allowing my son to be an only child, despite having asked every adult I know who was an only child how they feel about it, and almost all of them report how much they loved it as a child and still do as an adult.
People need to stop having so many damn opinions, y’all.
None of this is Really about Me
Here’s the thing–I’m talking about social pressures that are placed on me, and women in general.
We’re “supposed” to want to have babies, “supposed” to want more than one, “supposed” to love being mothers or at least pretend it’s amazing at all times. And these “supposed tos” are going to destroy us.
We constantly judge ourselves against what we feel like we’re “supposed” to do without separating that from understanding what we want for our own lives.
So every time someone asks a woman when she’s going to have a baby, they unknowingly make 2 assumptions:
- Women are supposed to want kids
- Having a baby is something every woman can control
And because they ask a question that makes these assumptions, the questions reinforce the social norms that stifle so many of us as women and mothers.
They make us feel like we’re failing others by not wanting children, not wanting more children, or not wanting them yet.
By asking a question like this, so many women feel like they’re directly failing the person asking the question, and like they’re failing society at large. If social norms insist we should want to have children and be able to, then anyone who doesn’t want children is ambivalent about having kids, doesn’t have a partner, or is struggling to conceive or carry inherently feels like a failure.
We need to do better for these people.
And if we’re considering adoption or becoming foster parents, these questions make us feel like we’re failing by not having children biologically, because “having a baby” generally implies pregnancy and childbirth.
They make us feel like we’re failing by being unwilling or unable to have children–now, or ever.
8 Reasons You Should Stop Asking Women When They’re Going to Have A(nother) Baby
I think all the reasons I want people to stop asking this question are clear at this point, but just to be safe, let’s hammer some of them out.
I will inherently leave things off this list–both because the list is long, and because I’m human and thus flawed. So please comment with things you’d like to see included on this list.
Here are some the reasons we need to stop asking women when they’re going to have babies.
- Whether a woman attempts to grow her family is no one’s decision but hers, along with her partner (if she has one).
- Despite centuries of people believing otherwise, there is nothing inherent in being born with a vagina that leads someone to want children, or any specific number of them.
- There is no reason a woman can’t crave a non-biological child just as much as a biological one, but no one has ever popped the question to me at a party, “Are you looking into donor eggs” or “When are you going to adopt?”
- There are so many underlying emotions that can accompany the decision to have a baby. Maybe someone is afraid of reigniting past trauma, or turning into their own parent, or continuing the cycle of abuse, or developing a mental disorder or physical illness that runs in their family and can be triggered by pregnancy, or . . . or so many things that we can’t even imagine.
- Maybe the person you’re asking does not want children at all, and perhaps they feel “less than” in society’s eyes because everyone assumes they’re supposed to want children.
- Perhaps someone is struggling through infertility or miscarriage like I was, and they find this question to be completely gut wrenching.
- A lot of women desperately want children, but they have neither the partner nor the resources (financial, support system, etc.) to elect to become a single parent.
- When we ask questions that make assumptions about what people “should” want or do, we hurt people. And given our history of imposing such norms especially heavily on women, we do tremendous harm to womankind with such questions.
How to Respond When People Ask About Your Family Planning
So if you’re like me, and you’re really sick as hell of being asked when you’re going to have a(nother) baby, I hope to empower you to respond in your own way.
You may choose to be polite, hiding your face and excusing yourself from the conversation like I used to. And that’s perfectly okay.
Or you may choose to be honest, confronting the possibility that you’ll make someone uncomfortable and owning up to the truth, whatever your truth may be.
Might you make others uncomfortable? Yes.
Might you feel uncomfortable? Absolutely.
Might you be forced into defending your personal choices or listening to obnoxious platitudes? Very probably.
And not all of us are up to this challenge at all times. If you aren’t, that’s okay. Guard your heart, smile politely, and do your best to move on.
But if you are comfortable confronting these possibilities, may I encourage you to be very up-front in your answer like I eventually became?
Because it’s not our job to help others make us comfortable. And the more we dismantle the idea that it’s okay and “comfortable” to ask women when they’re going to have children, the more empowered we can help make other women in the future.
What do you say when someone asks when you’re going to have a baby?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.