Claire Harmeyer
October 21, 2019 2:26 pm
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“When are you getting pregnant?” Women everywhere are far too familiar with getting asked this problematic question by family, friends, and strangers alike. It’s a question with lots of layers, given the endless individual situations a woman may be dealing with.

Consider a few facts before asking a woman this personal question: One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. One in eight couples experience infertility. Chances are, you know someone who has experienced one or both of these experiences, and bringing up the topic, although it isn’t meant to be hurtful, can be extremely painful and personal.

Getting pregnant is not something every woman wants or has the ability to do. Everyone has a different story, and it isn’t anyone’s place to question that story.

We asked five women how being asked, “When are you getting pregnant?” affects them emotionally, and what they think the prevalence of this problematic question says about our society.

1Rachel Sanoff, 29

After I survived an illness that nearly killed me at 23 years old, a group of doctors at an appointment told me that pregnancy would likely be dangerous for me due to the amount of estrogen my body would produce during those nine months, and because of a medication that I had to start taking. When my immediate reaction was, “That’s totally fine. I don’t even know when I’ll wants kids, and I’ve always thought about adopting anyway,” all of the doctors in the room paused.

“Are you sure? Do you need to talk to someone about this?” one of them said.

“No, I’ve always been very comfortable with the idea of adoption,” I replied. “And I’ve also never been certain about motherhood being for me.”

One of the middle-aged male doctors in the room responded, “Oh, okay. Well, that’s not usually the answer we expect from a young woman, but we’ll trust you for now.”

It was offensive: A group of people in white coats spoke to me as if the great tragedy of my life would be not giving birth to biological children—when the great tragedy of my life could have been dying unexpectedly at 23. Even on dates or in relationships in the years since then, I’ve had conversations with men who simply can’t believe it could be that easy for me—that I am fine not having biological children if it means I can be healthy and alive. Why does a woman have to provide evidence for why she prioritizes her own life over a life that does not exist, and that could potentially kill her if it ever did exist in her womb? I shouldn’t have to defend my comfort with being child-free (or at least biological child-free) to anyone.

2Emily Wasnock, 40

I have so many emotions tied to this question at this point in my life. I am childless, and not by choice. I am nearly 41 years old, and I have been a professional nanny (with a degree) for 19 years. I am literally a baby and toddler expert.

I have been married to my husband for six years, and plenty of people who don’t know my story, as well as a few who do (like my mother-in-law) all want to know when it will be “my turn.” I have been left out of pregnancy announcements because my mother-in-law wanted to “spare my feelings” while I was still going through fertility treatments. Instead, I was blindsided when I ran into an obviously pregnant cousin of my husband’s. Now when people ask, I just tell them that it wasn’t in the cards for me. I accept congratulations from strangers when they see me out with my nanny babies, though on occasion I get sassy when pressed for information about the kids.

I guess that it really says as a society that we don’t value the contributions women make to the world unless we are having and raising children. That for most people a “family” only exists if there are children. People really don’t understand that what they think of as a harmless passing comment can tear into the most vulnerable place in a person who may never be able to forget the words flung carelessly at them.

3Jessica Buettner, 25

My husband and I got married almost 3 years ago, and I can’t count how many times we have been asked when we are having children. We got married as 22- and 23-year-olds and are in no rush. I find it so rude and inconsiderate when people ask others when they’re having children, implying that they will have children. Not everyone wants them or can have them.

I remember I was at a baby shower and the pregnant woman being celebrated asked if I had anything to tell her while simultaneously rubbing her belly. I couldn’t believe she asked me like that. I came home from her baby shower and cried, because I’m trying to lose weight I gained on anxiety medicine and this made me feel horrible. You never know where people are, so let them tell you if they’re pregnant or want to have children.

4Beth Siller, 36

I work with young children as a teacher, nanny, and tutor, so the question usually asked is if I’m a mommy, followed by why I am not a mommy. My answer is always, “Not yet,” or “Because I haven’t found the right person.” When I’m asked by adults if I have children or when I’m going to have children and I give them the same answers, I’ll get responses like, “Just freeze your eggs,” “Just get pregnant by anyone,” “You can always adopt,” “You’ve never been pregnant and you’ve never been on birth control—maybe you can’t even get pregnant,” and “You’ll only be able to have one child, if any, with your circumstances.”

Every first date is affected by wanting children. Every family gathering and get-together with friends who have children is affected. I’ve had to come to the realization that my dream of having children may not come true, and I have to somehow be okay with that. I can barely afford my rent, let alone freeze my eggs or pay for child care.  I know people mean well when they ask when I’m going to get pregnant or if I’m a mom, but I just wish they realized how sensitive a subject it is for some women.

5Jessica Burger, 21

When I get asked this or similar questions, I feel really uncomfortable. Even more so, when they hear my answer. My family says things like, “Have you thought about the fact that I want grandchildren?” “Your life will only be successful if you have children.” When these comments are made constantly, it puts a lot of pressure on me. Having children doesn’t feel like a choice, but more like a strict order.

In my case, a pregnancy could influence my health in a negative way. I have really strong scoliosis and all my doctors have told me there is a pretty high risk that it will get worse through pregnancy. When I told my mother that this is one of the reasons I’m probably not going to have children she said, “Wow, that is pretty selfish of you. You can’t only think about yourself all the time.” I mean, who [will] care and think about myself, if not me?

I might change my mind and have children after all, or maybe I’ll adopt, or maybe I won’t have children. It doesn’t matter what I choose—the important thing is that it’s my choice. What’s the point in pleasing your family or the people around you and having children if you’re deeply unsatisfied with that decision?

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