At the morning-after brunch of a wedding I recently attended, I was sitting at a table with family members and two of their friends, a couple in their mid-fifties who I'd never met before. This is the conversation that followed our initial meeting -- although actually, we were never even formally introduced:
"Is this your first?" the man asked my husband and I, as my mother-in-law took our crying son from the room.
"Yes," we said.
"So, what's the game plan?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, confused.
"How many more?"
"We'll see," my husband and I both answered, hoping that would bring an end to this line of questioning.
But the man pressed the point. "Are you going for a baseball team? A football team?"
Dumbfounded, we repeated, "We'll see," with some nervous laughter as the man made more sports metaphors in reference to our reproductive plans.
As he left the table a few minutes later, he brought it up again. "Five," he said. "That's the number."
Five. This man had no idea that I had five miscarriages. Five miscarriages, six years and seven IVFs. That's what it took to have our son. We'll be lucky if we have a second child. Five children is not in the cards for us.
I continued to think on this bizarre conversation all day. As I fumed over the offense I had taken against this man, who unknowingly made feelings of inadequacy and hurt about my infertility and losses come to the forefront of my mind yet again, I wondered: Is what he asked inappropriate? Or was I just being overly sensitive?
I recalled a conversation along the same lines that I had with the colorist at my hair salon a week before. I had just met her. We were talking about our kids, and she also asked me if I had only one. When I replied that yes, I did, she said, "Do you think you'll have more?"
Same question, but I was not offended at the way she put it. Instead, I replied, "I'd like to, but we had a lot of trouble having our son." She then commiserated with me on that point -- she'd also experienced some issues with polycystic ovaries.
Maybe it's basic human curiosity to ask about someone's family planning. If my son does end up an only child, I see a lifetime of such questions in my future. I don't know why having one isn't a valid choice. In my situation it's not really a choice anyway, but is that really anyone's business? And why is it so weird to have only one? Are only children missing out on something because they don't have siblings? No only child who I've ever known as an adult has said so -- they all seem to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy.
But it's not the norm, so we question it, just like we question anything that's unusual or different. I wish, for my son's sake, that we could accept "one and done" as something that's just fine, that's normal, that has its own advantages.
And asking the question presumes a lot. It presumes that the woman is not currently pregnant. It presumes that she is not currently experiencing a miscarriage. It presumes that she's not experiencing postpartum depression and is emotionally ready for more children. It presumes that if the woman is considering future children, she's not wondering how on earth to accomplish that -- another IVF or two? Adoption? Which option will be less emotionally and financially taxing? These are questions that run through my mind whenever anyone brings up having another.
In short, it presumes that the woman is able and willing to have more children.
I am still analyzing, however, the differences in those two conversations. Why is it that one offended me and one did not? Well, one was asked in a less confrontational manner. "Do you think you'll have more?" comes across as born out of curiosity, whereas, "What's the game plan?" is in-your-face and demands a satisfactory answer.
Also, the non-offensive conversation occurred in the privacy of a one-on-one interaction, and hair salons are traditionally a place where women go for girl talk. We spill our secrets in that chair. The other felt like an interrogation shouted across a table filled with other people. It assumed that we would, in fact, be having more -- it was just a question of how many. I could have answered the man's question the way I answered the stylist's -- with a brief history of our difficulties -- but it wasn't a place where I felt comfortable getting into that.
So, if you're going to ask the question, a question which is really none of your business, but is somewhat human nature to wonder about, please make sure it's phrased in the right way and asked in the proper venue. Please do not shout it across a table.
And please, don't use sports metaphors.