It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a woman with a husband or partner will soon be asked ‘when are you starting a family’?
Whether it’s the well-meaning auntie, the nosy neighbour or the random stranger in a supermarket, for some reason people feel they have a right to know intimate information about a woman’s body and her family plans.
At best it’s annoying or vaguely embarrassing, but for some couples who may be struggling to conceive a much-wanted baby, the question can be hurtful and distressing.
Fending these questions off is a whole new skillset you never knew you needed. Do you try to be tactful? Should you be honest and deal with the awkward replies? Craft a snippy response and risk seeming rude (but maybe encourage them to think twice next time)?
One thing’s for sure is that we rise up to protect our own, so we asked some fabulous and witty women to share their best responses to the dreaded question, and they didn’t disappoint.
The women we spoke to crossed a broad spectrum. Some had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for years, others were only recently married like Dani, who said, “It hasn't happened to me yet, but I just find it so odd how much people are obsessed with whether or not you want to reproduce! It's absolutely nobody's business.”
The replies we received ranged from the simple reverse, like Alex who said she counters with the simple, “Why do you ask?”, to the hilarious “I just tell them my vagina is inhospitable to alien life forms,” that Rozi favours.
Roz said, “I've never wanted kids, but people often interpret that as ‘I hate children’, which just isn't true. So now I say - with drama and Lady Diana eyes to camera – ‘I can't have them; I'm infant intolerant.’ By the time they've worked it out, I'm off!”
Christy has spent years dealing with this unwanted inquiry. She said, “I hate this question. For years I would say something like ‘When we're ready’, and just smile politely whilst inwardly seething. We did finally conceive after 10 years and a lot of struggle, and then people were like, ‘Glad you decided to settle down!’ whilst knowing nothing of my situation.
“Now we have one and I can't have any more kids safely, so my husband had a vasectomy and when people ask, ‘when is he getting a little brother or sister?’ I say, ‘My husband's had the snip so when I find a toyboy I guess!’ He's fine with people knowing so it works out, but still so annoying we have to say anything at all.”
A lot of women weren’t at all afraid of shocking their nosy examiners with a jolt of blunt honesty. Like Clio who said, “When they do ask I say, 'well I had an ectopic pregnancy which had to be surgically removed, so we're still working on it.' I'm sure they don't mean to be hurtful, but we all need to be a bit more thoughtful about how we ask these things, or if we even should.”
There were plenty of light-hearted replies which helped women side-step the question. Like Susan who said, “I always used to say, ‘I like kids, but I can never decide which vegetable to serve with them’ and just walk off quite abruptly.”
Or Rachel who had a great response: “I used to whip out my period tracking app and point out my next ovulation date. Two kids down the line and people have stopped being so blooming nosy!”
Sarah had dealt with this before and said she’d told one guy, ‘We don't have children. We are the children!’ Which she said, “weirded him out and pleased me very much!” And she added, “Previously, a man I didn't know well asked if I had kids as we were walking to a pub. I said I didn't. ‘And are you working on that?’ he asked, ‘Erm... not right this second, no!’”
Or you could try Katrina’s approach: “People sometimes ask, ‘Do you have family?’ and I say, ‘Yes I’ve got two sisters and my father,’ and when say they say, ‘No, I meant of your own’, I look puzzled and say, ‘My sisters and father are my own!’”
But of course, whilst many of us can laugh it off, for some, it’s not that easy and is a painful reminder of what they’ve been through. Elisa said, “I hate the question. It makes me so sad. I wish I had met someone decent and had children. I wish I hadn't had cervical cancer. For me, it wasn't a choice. I tell people who ask me to consider how it might make some women feel and to please not do it again.”
Julia told us, “I’m a nun or I’m celibate usually works quite well. It’s got naff-all to do with other people. I kept getting asked but was having miscarriages behind closed doors. As soon as I was open about it, they stopped asking.”
Hopefully, the people who know us well know better than to ask but we could all follow Isabel’s lead: “I do find it bizarre that this still happens and I'm really sorry that it does. I have two kids and can be pretty insensitive as well as extremely nosy but I would never ask outright why someone didn't have kids. There are people in my life who I'm fairly sure have struggled to conceive but it's up to them if they want to talk about it.”
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