Maybe I'm naïve or maybe it's because I went through years of infertility treatment but I'm continually stunned at how many people ask the question, "When are you going to have kids?"
It's true that there are people out there who don't plan these things or put a lot of thought into whether or not they will have kids. They get married, their husband sneezes on them and they get pregnant. (Ok, a slight exaggeration in how biology works but you get my point.) In general, when you imagine starting a family, the majority of people picture romance, music, having sex perhaps only one or two times and bam -- you're posting a picture of a positive pregnancy test on Facebook.
This is not the experience of those struggling to conceive. Our journey usually entails blood work, sonograms, injecting ourselves with hormones and not telling a soul you're pregnant (if you are even lucky enough to get pregnant) until you're well past your first trimester out of total fear.
Infertility affects 7.3 million people in the United States. So it's entirely possible that the next time you ask someone, "When are you going to have kids?" you have a one in eight chance of unintentionally being an insensitive jerk.
Through my job and my personal blog on infertility, I've connected with those who have had multiple miscarriages, male factor fertility issues, egg quality issues, PCOS, Endometriosis and/or financial strains trying to pay for their fertility treatment. To then have some well-meaning nimrod at a family function casually say, "What's the hold up? You know you're not getting any younger!" not only doesn't help, but this relative should feel lucky they don't get punched in the face.
I once knew a couple who had an extremely long and difficult time having children. Whenever anyone asked them when they were having kids, they would immediately respond with, "When do you plan on trying anal sex?" Yes, this is a blunt and graphic retort but, boy, was it effective! It made it clear that perhaps asking them about their plans to procreate is not up for an open forum.
Whether you're fertile or not, to me, asking someone when they are going to have children is personal. Even before I knew I had fertility issues, this question as well as the, "When are you getting married?" "Are you gay?" or "How much do you get paid?" inquiries were on the top of my "Don't ask, don't tell" list of questions. In all of these cases, these are topics that unless someone volunteers the information, are probably best to stay away from.
One could argue that if everyone knew that someone was having fertility issues, no one would ask when they were going to have a family. I'm here to tell you that's not the case. Instead, what ends up happening is you then open yourself to a slew of anecdotal or silly advice.
Between me and my fertility-challenged friends, we've been told that having long hair causes miscarriages (when your hair is too long, all of the nourishment goes to your hair and not a baby), if you buy a new mezuzah, you'll get pregnant without any issues, you should stop jogging, douching is the key to conceiving or the ever popular, "just relax and you'll get pregnant in no time!" line.
The fact that your friends or relatives think they can tell you why you're not getting pregnant when your reproductive endocrinologist (who specializes in infertility) can't, never ceases to astound me. I saw some of the top doctors in Manhattan and I assure you, if any of them believed that my husband wearing his socks made any difference, they would have mentioned it.
Infertility is an actual medical issue. Imagine you're speaking to someone who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. Their blood sugar levels are high and they are worried about it. Would you say to them, "Have you tried going on vacation?" or "Don't think about it so much and your sugar level will drop on its own!" You wouldn't. You know why? Because it's dumb and you're not a doctor.
If someone confides in you that they haven't been able to get pregnant, just say, "I'm so sorry. Please let me know how I can support you." I also recommend not asking them every day thereafter, "Any luck yet?" I always tell anyone who shares this information with me, "Please know that I'm not going to ask you about this as I don't want to add to the pressure. If you want to ever talk about it, just let me know."
Ultimately, I know no one out there thinks that asking when you plan to have a family can be hurtful, but the odds are that it really can be. So I'm requesting that you think before you ask or comment about someone's parental status. It will not only avoid possibly hurting someone's feelings but it might save you from provoking the wrath of a frustrated and hormonal person.