Can we all just agree that fertility is not small talk?
April 22, 2015
Today I’m grateful to invite Mandi Richards into this space to share a little about her personal experience with infertility. Mandi and her husband have one sweet daughter on earth, 4 babies in heaven, and are currently pregnant with number 6. Her new site, A Blog About Miscarriage, is full of beauty, wisdom, and yes, hard stuff. She has some advice for us all today, so pull up a chair
I’m sure you’re all with me on this one if you think I’m talking about menstrual cycles or the nitty gritty of Natural Family planning or sex. No one wants cervical mucus to be the topic of a casual conversation with acquaintances or any conversation that’s public. It’s just not appropriate.
But what about some of these common questions that seem to often come up in public, caual conversations and often between complete strangers?
“When are you going to start trying to have a baby?”
“Was this pregnancy planned?”
“When are you going to give (your child) a sibling?”
“Are you done (having children) yet?”
Are these questions appropriate? Unless they’re part of a (private) conversation with close friends or family, I would say these (and related questions) aren’t appropriate. Because these questions are about fertility. They are about sex. They are about cervical mucus and life and death.
And they aren’t small talk.
I totally get it. You’re curious. I’m curious too. When I see a young couple who has been married a few years and there aren’t any babies, I also wonder when they are going to have children. I used to also think some kind of judgy thoughts, like the couple must be too selfish to welcome children. Not any more folks.
Now I wonder if they are having fertility problems. Perhaps they have gotten pregnant and lost the baby. Maybe that’s happened many times. Maybe they are actively postponing pregnancy for valid reasons that I know nothing about. Employment or financial issues. Health problems. Or a million other things. And the truth is, as much as I want to know, I know it’s none of my business.
There might be a lot of hidden pain behind that couple and that question might be publicly opening a wound.
And also think about what you are conveying about fertility: That you think it’s easy. That it’s a commodity. That people can control it.
When a baby is desired, all they have to do is “try.” That, for some reason, it’s significant whether a baby was “tried for” or an “accident”. That the intention somehow makes a difference in the baby’s inherent goodness. But what’s the difference? Is a “planned” baby is more loved, more wanted, more important?
Even if you think your words are innocent, they have a deeper meaning. And even if you greatly value life, you might not realize that your “small talk” is not just a harmless repetition of the questions that you’ve heard others ask a million times, but a reflection of some deep societal ills.
So before you ask something about fertility, think not about your intention, but about the message you are actually conveying with your words.
And if it’s not consistent with your beliefs, take that out of your “small talk” repertoire.
You know what is terrible? That I had to experience these questions with my own hidden pain in order for me to understand what they can do. I couldn’t get outside of my own little box and into the lives of other people on my own, I couldn’t imagine their pain. I had to experience it.
So I’m saying this on the behalf of the ignorant, like I once was: I know you don’t want to hurt the people you encounter, but if you ask these questions, you just might.
I was especially blissfully unaware of secondary (in)fertility issues. I naively assumed that once a couple has a healthy pregnancy and baby, that’s it. They’re always going to have healthy pregnancies. But sometimes they can’t get pregnant again. Ever. Sometimes it’s a struggle or they have miscarriages. Or serious economic or health or other reasons crop up that put off another child, perhaps forever.
Unless you’re comfortable hearing the answers, don’t ask the questions.
“Actually, we’ve been trying to get pregnant for years, but can’t.”
“We did give our child a sibling, but then miscarried.”
“We are done because of a serious health issue (that’s none of your business).”
I know that anytime I’ve been asked an insensitive questions about giving Lucia a sibling and have responded about our miscarriage, it’s made the conversation mighty uncomfortable. Because the question was asked as small talk, a cute little question where the questioner doesn’t even care about the answer either way. It’s just what you ask when there is a lull in conversation, right?
but I’m asking, can we all just agree that issues of fertility are never small talk?