#1215: “So, about your private reproductive decisions…” and other “small” talk.

Hello Captain.

I’m of an age where people are starting to ask if we do/are thinking about having kids. In truth, we’ve been trying, and failing. I’m not ready to give up at all, but every time someone asks me this, it’s a sucker punch. I usually spin it with something like “I have a dog and a cat, does that count?” in a lighthearted kind of way, but every once in a while, I hit them with “We’ve been trying for a while, and it just hasn’t happened.” That leaves the conversation awkward, and I hate it. How else could I handle this?

Maybe Mom

Dear Maybe Mom:

People are never going to stop asking this. We can rail against it, we can explain how it makes us feel [pressured][sad][put on the spot][annoyed][intruded upon][reminded of our biggest source of grief and anxiety][pregnant…with assumptions about gender and acceptable participation in society][paranoid about revealing reproductive health info in an age of surveillance and criminalization of reproductive choice][about to be illegally discriminated-against in a job interview], and people who love asking this question can always explain why it’s a “normal” routine question [just curious/making conversation][asking questions is a way of showing care][looking for common ground] that “shouldn’t” make anyone feel bad, but it’s not going away. Probably advice columnists in the year 3,000 are still going to be generating scripts about if there are any genetic additions stored in the suspended animation level of the EarthBarge3000 and if not, why not, when it’s so easy to incubate and harvest them nowadays and has Specialist Organa-Vorkosigan tried this ancient practice called ‘yoga’.

There are many possible ways to reply: Miss Manners’-style “Why do you ask?” or Carolyn Hax’s “Wow” or Captain Awkward’s “My what a personal question, I didn’t realize we were sharing personal medical histories today, let me tell you all about my giant uterine fibroid tumor, Guillame, the only son I will ever bear!” but the crux of it is, people are going to keep asking about this, even if we refuse to answer, redirect them, punish them, lecture them, laugh and dodge the question, tell them about all the miscarriages and abortions and tumors and hormone injections and exactly how much each round of in vitro cost (one of my grad school mentors saved all her needles and sculpted a life-sized child statue out of them) or how it was never in the cards for us simply because we wanted other things. I don’t see the question going away, even though I wish people would try out a “If you meet someone new who is a parent and they want to tell you about their kids, THEY WILL. IT. WILL. COME. UP. JUST WAIT. And if you want to know because you are a parent, mention YOUR kids and see if they respond,” practice for the next year and see how everyone feels. All the times we peed on sticks and hoped and dreaded and prayed, those stories are OURS to tell if we want to tell but they are not OWED. To anyone. Ever.

My general advice is: 1) Find the thing that you are comfortable saying about this and say that 2) Do not worry so much about how the other person feels (about the answer to a question they should never have asked you). If it gets awkward? So awkward that the person stops asking people that question from now on? Or akward because there’s a presumption that one can possibly give a “wrong” answer about one’s own procreative plans and impulses? Maybe the awkward silence needed to grow and grow and grow until it swallows the entire topic. Who made it awkward? Not you for existing. 

To that end, “We’ve been trying for a while and it just hasn’t happened,” is a perfectly reasonable answer if it’s a true answer and you think the person cares about you and is coming from a mostly good place. You’re allowed to be honest and not sugarcoat things and to let people in on your real feelings about how it’s not going as easily as you hoped. You’re not doing anything wrong or weird! And the person doesn’t want to know the real answer, why the fuck are they asking?  

Letter Writer, probably not everyone who asks you this question is trying to scrape your feelings raw but also not everybody has a right know about your plans, so answer with whatever you feel comfortable with given the context. You can tell people “Not so far!” or “No but if it changes you’ll be the first to know” or “What? Why? Let’s go back to talking about work!” or “Ha, people never stop asking that, do they!” or “Yikes, why would you ask people that? You don’t ask other people that, do you?” or “Well, we fuck day and night, just, nonstop carnal procreative boning, we copulate on every surface of our living space, we make tender sweet love in the car, we were definitely having divine intimate congress this morning right where you’re sitting, so, probably any day now!” or “Yes we have thousands. Oh, did you say children? I thought you said spiders.” Find what feels right for you, and please know that you don’t have to answer this question in a way that people are expecting or in a way that’s designed to reassure them that it was okay to ask.

In my day to day interactions I do not in fact try to land the wittiest comeback or sickest burn in response to routine social questions, and I bet most people reading this are the same way, so let’s talk about de-escalation. I feel better when I can control my responses somewhat and not be quite so reactive or defensive (esp. about things I don’t feel guilty about or have a reason to have to defend) and I also feel better and have more positive results when I don’t equate this specific person with the worst person who has ever asked these questions. Even if I do have a rough history or a lot of feelings about A Thing, maybe this person doesn’t know that (or need to know that) and isn’t probing my defenses with the same subtext that emotionally abusive people I’ve known are doing, so I don’t need to bite their head off in the name of justice. Does that make sense?

With that in mind, I think there are some useful life skills to practice with this and other So, about those stages of life?” questions [what do you do for work][how are you spending the holidays][when are you going to finish your dissertation][when are you going to get married][when are you going to find someone][when are you going to graduate][don’t you want a drink, why not][when are you going to be a success in the way I understand it] that hit all our sensitive spots.

If one of these “where are you going in life” questions is smashing your sensitive places a whole bunch, I recommend the following process for coming up with a couple of measured responses. First, take a deep breath, be quiet, and think before you speak. Some things to think about and ask yourself:

  • People are probably going to ask this kind of stuff forever.
  • We don’t have to answer every question someone asks just because they want to know.
  • We can’t stop/prevent/control questions like this, so can we maybe help ourselves not be surprised by them and prepare a few responses in advance?
  • We do not owe people a happy history, a happy situation, or a performance of same. We also don’t owe them our whole life story in response to a drive-by inquiry.
  • Most people aren’t asking stuff like this in order to freak us out, they are trying to take an interest in our lives,  most of them don’t know they’ve potentially hit a sore spot.
  • People who continue to poke & pry when it’s clear they’ve hit a sore spot and who try to use our sore spots against us are called jerks and we don’t have to defer to jerks at the expense of our well-being.
  • The more evasive we are, the more curious it makes people, so if we actually want the conversation to stop/or change topic, SOME answer is better than NO answer. What if the person is just asking and not assuming anything about our answer? What completes the circuit quickly and gets us onto a more pleasant topic of conversation?
  •  If most people are asking in good faith and don’t mean to hurt us, what can we say that is both true and has a chance of de-escalating the situation?

The Letter Writer’s script “We’ve been trying for a while and it just hasn’t happened” is  good. The right answer to that is some version of  “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, I hope it all works out!” and then a change in subject.

But for some people this might be too much information not because you’re oversharing (you can’t control what other people do and it’s not your fault if they behave like jerks) but because the other person sees an opportunity to get more details or offer unasked for fertility advice. If this is the case, it’s okay to interrupt them with a big “WOW, I was NOT asking for ADVICE so let’s STOP” reprimand and an enforced subject change or quick end to the conversation. If you’re running into this a lot, and/or when you sense that you’re dealing with this kind of person, try giving less information, maybe something like “Fingers crossed!” or “Here’s hoping!” or another platitude which might get across the part where you do want children but without inviting more commentary. I’ve had good luck with “You had no way of knowing but that’s a very sore topic, can we not?” when people are well-meaning and didn’t intend to pry. With the other kind of person, nothing will really deter them anyway, so I’m pretty comfortable ending conversations as gracefully as I can or as ungracefully as they force me to do it if it becomes necessary to (usually metaphorically) flip a table and bail.

I don’t tell everyone all about “Guillame” and the past year of invasive tests and surgeries (just you lucky, lucky people), but I’ve found myself being asked if I have kids or want kids a whole bunch lately by passing acquaintances (pre-menopause extinction burst?) and it sometimes brings up unexpected pockets of sadness. I’ve found myself saying “I wasn’t really planning on having kids, which is good because it turns out my body *really* wasn’t planning on it” and being surprised that came out of my mouth. So far people are receptive, most seem to get it and either back off or say, “The same thing happened to me” and then we share a little moment of relief and grief and connection and move on with our day.

Before this past year, when I found out not having children was both a medical impossibility AND a choice, I had some luck with laughing it off and asking “Did my family send you? How much did they bribe you with?”  See also:

  • “None for me, do you have kids?” + Get them talking about themselves!  Neutral, non-combative, this works well when I sense the person means well and the question is value-neutral, they are literally just asking and are not invested in any particular answer or idea of me.
  • “Oh no, I am much too selfish.” This worked well when people seemed to be setting themselves up for a big old “why don’t you have kids” discussion or judgment session, with the implication that women who don’t have children are selfish. I’d just keep laughing and saying, “Yes! I’m glad you pointed that out, you have idea how selfish I am, I love sleeping and being quiet and I hate spending money on anyone but me.” 

Letter Writer, I hope your quest to become a parent is successful and smooth and awesome and that you find the right balance between “truthful and sincere” and “STFU about my body, you nosy asshole.” You are very not alone in all this “having a body and having people want to know the details of your plans for that body” stuff.

I’m allowing comments today with the following caveats:

  • *”The story of the time I asked people if they were planning to have kids and it went fine and the person was very glad I did” is a tale you are free to tell anywhere but here, since the whole point is, this question is everywhere and some of us are drowning in it and the expectations and assumptions it carries even if sometimes it is well-meant. Thank you!
  • “Uterus” does not equal “woman” and vice versa.
  • If you (an obvious newcomer to these parts since no one who regularly hangs out here would ever do this) try to give the Letter Writer even one morsel of fertility or medical advice I will ban you so hard your grandparents will feel it and if you type the words “have you considered adoption” in a comment field and hit post I might singlehandedly crash Ancestry Dot Com as I delete your entire family tree back to the first asshole acorn of this asshole question. The Letter Writer doesn’t want advice or chitchat about this from people she knows in real life, she definitely doesn’t want it here, so let’s stick to the conversational stuff!

I think that should cover it, thanks!


304 thoughts on “#1215: “So, about your private reproductive decisions…” and other “small” talk.

  1. I had ten miscarriages and then my marriage fell apart. I give myself a gold star and a trip to the fancy chocolate shop every time everyone asks me about babies and I respond in sentences rather than howling like a pinioned wolf.

    1. Gold stars and chocolate more than deserved.
      And if you howled down the ceiling in the room where people asked you that question like it was a matter of their passing curiosity? You’d still fucken deserve ’em.

    2. I mean, I see why you might not want to, but howling seems like a perfectly reasonable response to me.

    3. My sympathies and condolences. My marriage hasn’t fallen apart, but I have a similar tally of miscarriages. I am also rather fat now, which means usually the question is “When is it due?” To which I usually reply “After the tenth miscarriage two years ago we gave up trying.” Then I let the awkward pause just stretch out… and afterwards I buy myself a big bar of chocolate and a bottle of wine as a prize for not snapping their insensitive heads off.

      1. As a fellow fat lady who has also been insensitively asked when I’m due and had no answer other than a teary “I’m not”, I’m happy to hear that you return the awkwardness to sender (and then some!) but also so very sorry that happened to you.

      2. I have a fat belly and get the pregnancy assumptions, too. “What makes you think I”m pregnant?” with a very puzzled look. Then yeeeessss – I just let that awkward silence stretch out into sweet deliciousness as I watch them squirm in their own rudeness.

        1. Me too! I usually answer “I’m not pregnant, just fat” very matter of fact, which tends to make them really uncomfortable and unfortunately too often start apologizing copiously. It returns awkward to sender with interest. Yeah, I enjoy the squirming too.

          Sometimes I’m in a completely different headspace and it takes me a moment to parse the question. “When is what due? Oh. Yeah. Not actually pregnant…”

        2. I’m not even fat, I just have really bad posture so the little belly I do have sticks out and I get asked sometimes. Once at a party when I was 20 I made a game of it, I told every other person who asked that yes I am pregnant but it’s a secret so don’t talk about it. And the rest I said that I’m not but I just tricked their friends and then I just let them go at it with eachother. It was fun.
          Not as fun now though, 33 and starting to realise I might never get pregnant.

    4. I’m so sorry. Offers all the hugs you want and all the chocolate in the world.

    5. Thank you very much everyone for your kind words. That was lovely to come back to. Hugs!

      Letter Writer – while I’m off at the extreme end of WTactualF, reproductively, (hello fellow WTactualF-ers!), and statistically you won’t necessarily be, and I wish you all the best and happiest outcomes and the most peaceful heart, what I did realise, looking back on the whole ten year saga was… how you respond doesn’t matter too much in the long run. I’ve done the rushing-from-the-room-in-tears. I’ve done the ‘HAHAHAHA I DON’T EVEN WANT KIDS!’ (lies!). I’ve done the ‘none of your business!’ and the ‘why do you ask?’ and the ‘oh, you know, whenever it happens it happens’ and the ‘do YOU have kids?’ and the ‘OH LOOK A SQUIRREL!’ tactics. I have ended up in Uncomfortable Overshare territory on more than one occasion. I have howled and cried and raged and made a total spectacle of myself in public, and I have cut people dead (Regency style), and I have refused to go to baby-showers, and I have waded in to EDUMACATE the ignorant masses, and I have gone to other baby-showers and bitten my tongue. And, you know, it was all good. It was all fine. There were awkward and painful moments but my whole LIFE was an awkward and painful moment. People who wanted to gossip and be crappy gossiped and were crappy. People who were kind and supportive sprang up in the unlikeliest of places. And these people’s reactions were absolutely not in my control, and The Awkward happened when I howled and The Awkward happened when I politely deflected. And the kindness happened too – the person who came after me with tissues and just kissed the top of my head and said nothing, the person who noticed the tiny tiny hesitation before I spoke cheerfully and whispered to me that she hated that question too, the person who thanked me for speaking up when I had a rant, and the person who told me she admired my courage and composure when I said nothing.

      So please, you have enough to trouble your good heart without worrying about this. React how you react. Do or say what feels right in the moment. Treat yourself with extra kindness and sweetness after One Of Those Encounters, whether you screamed or raged or deflected or explained or ran away. It’s all hard, and there’s no right way to do it, which, liberatingly, means there is ABSOLUTELY no wrong way to do it.

      1. Now that I am very divorced and extremely single and well into my 40s and have taken to wearing dungarees and cat-hair, people have stopped asking me, which is a relief.

        On the other hand, they can’t think of a single damn other thing to ask me instead, which is… disappointing.

  2. I had relatives who asked me this every time we visited home, until one year, I’d had a little bit too much wine (it was a wedding!) and replied, “Uncle Neil, we’re working on it every night!”
    Nobody ever asked me again.

    1. A relative asked me this. I patted my stomach and said, “Watch this space for further development! ” and laughed. “Watch this space” is common on billboards here on land cleared for future construction projects.

    2. … OMG dying.

      (My relatives are far more likely to ask if there’s a wedding in the future because I’m both part of the “youngest” set and there’s no man in my life, so the 30-somethings are cornering the market on baby news.)

    3. I used a variation of that phrase! Mine was “We practice often.” Once or twice I added “With no success yet. Gotta keep practicing, I guess.” I once used that line on my boss, who laughed, but continued to ask when he say. Win some, lose some.

      LW, I’m sorry that you are going through this experience. I put off having kids for a really long time. More than anything I wasn’t ready to put in the work of being a parent. I answered honestly when people asked. Even if I would make the conversation awkward. My feeling was that feminism doesn’t mean black and white lines; they’re very much gray. My answers were another data point to advanced feminism along. It made me feel better thinking about it in those term.

    4. I tried this on my mil and I got back “yeah, but have you gone off birth control” so uh, whee?

  3. LW, I think your response is great. Some variation of “We hope to one day” plus a “How about you?”subject change might work if you don’t want to tell people you are trying, which could lead to unwanted advice. I know “Do you have kids?” is one of those ice-breaker, get-to-know-you questions at parties or from a new co-worker, in which case I think a simple “No” is all you need to say before asking “Do you?” or changing the subject.

    I think redirecting the conversation to let the asker know the subject is closed is worth a try to prevent awkwardness (which isn’t your fault, but I understand why you dislike it) and hopefully minimize the effect of that sucker punch.

    1. Especially in professional settings where I do not want to discuss this AT ALL, I’ve had good luck with just a smile and “Nope! You?” It seems to immediately complete the social circuit while simultaneously taking the focus off me & giving the other permission to go ahead & talk about their kids. (Because it does seem to me that virtually everyone who asks this question does have kids & is more than happy to talk about them.)

      1. yeah, I’ve had success with that too. And while they’re answering I’ve got time to get my internal grief back under control. It’s not good for my sense of connection to them but it’s the least painful approach I’ve come up with.

      2. This is exactly what I said the other day in response to that question. This colleague asked the question because she and another colleague had just been chatting about their respective children when I joined them, and it was not just a ‘getting to know you’ question but also a ‘do join our conversation’ question, so good intentions all around. The reply worked as intended and we had a nice chat about their children.

        (I am actually happy that I don’t have kids, so YMMV.)

    2. For LW’s situation, “I hope to one day” + subject change sounds great. It’s true, it gives the person the sort of yes answer that they’re probably hoping for, and it they try to push you can counter with “I’d prefer to keep that private” or words to that effect.

  4. Hi LW, I’m mostly in the same boat. I was really lucky, my first pregnancy went without a hitch, and I have a great preschooler running around.

    But I also have 2 years of trying for a sequel, and 2 miscarriages last year. The first one was ectopic and had the OB saying “I have never seen so much blood,” the second was the normal, early, horrible kind, but I had all that fun PTSD now.

    I work in a library, with lots of friendly grandparent age folks, and so they ask often. It never not hurts, but I’ve gotten lots of chances to answer in lots of different flavors. Cap’s advice here is good, give these scripts a try, and see which one helps you not fume or rage or weep.

    One of the things that surprised me was how many “yeah? me too.” conversations I have had. Dozens. Getting the chance to find your elders or uteri-comrades in this can be, if not soothing, at least less isolating.

  5. 1. On a recent post, we were discussing how to deal with the “How was your weekend?” question in cases where honest answers would be painful, and one commenter described using the approach of ‘Complete Social Circle Without Actually Answering Question’ (in that context, going straight to “How was yours?”) so I just wonder if that could work? “Ah, kids! Do you have any?” A lot of the time, people will be so caught up in the ‘This Social Circle Has Been Completed, I Must Move On To Another’ vibe that they’ll just answer your question and continue.
    2. Alternatively, I’d keep it vague; “If it happens, it happens” followed by a redirect. (Other piece of useful advice in life; Wherever possible, have redirects ready to use.)

    Best of luck with everything.

    1. Seconding this – I have actually had some success with this tactic! Not in this exact situation, but just sort of chuckling/smiling at the question, saying something vague, and moving on with the conversation works pretty well for me when I need it.

    2. And I mean, optimistically, some people may have noticed, but correctly interpret it as “don’t want to talk about that” and not bring it up again. Even if they didn’t have the tact to avoid asking at all. Lots of people DO recognise soft nos, even though lots of people continually fail to 😦

  6. Feel free to borrow my grandmother’s recommended answer (admittedly from pre-pill and fertility treatment days): “My grandmother said never to answer that! If you say you want kids, it will end up taking a while. Saying you are waiting a bit guarantees a surprise.”

    Maybe not the best answer, in many ways, but it served to shut folks up. I think the incorrectness of it even helped. Got the question recently and glad to have been able to answer it – “I’m 56.” They were very surprised.

  7. I had two miscarriages and wasn’t sure that I wanted children to begin with. I told my spouse that if my in-laws so much as ever breathed a word about kids before I was actively sending out “BABY IS HERE!” messages, I would be booking an appointment to get my tubes tied that next hour.

    I don’t know what spouse said to them, but they never said a thing. They’ve also never asked why we only have the one child.

    For me, flat answers work best: “no” “Fuck off” “I don’t discuss that.” (Ask me about the person who wanted to touch my pregnant belly sometime; it did not go well for her.) But you need to figure out what works right for you and your In the Moment response process. Good luck.

    1. My MIL, FIL, SIL and BIL have also been strangely silent on the topic of kids with me (and I know it’s something they feel strongly about). I asked my husband how he’d accomplished this miracle.

      He told me he said something to the effect of, “If you ask Sofar one single question about us having kids after we get married, we will never visit you again, and I will never, ever forgive you.”

      With my in-laws, obscene bluntness is the only thing that works.

  8. “My what a personal question, I didn’t realize we were sharing personal medical histories today, let me tell you all about my giant uterine fibroid tumor, Guillame, the only son I will ever bear!” just made me flash back to the time I went to tour a condo for rent and the owner kept me for 60(!) MINUTES(!!!) telling me in detail about her uterine health, which included a lot of fibroids.

    It was 10 years and I was a pushover, I definitely should have extracted myself 5 minutes in when she told me tenants were not permitted to wear shoes in the condo they were renting the entirety of.

  9. When this happened to me, I just lied and said I wasn’t ready yet — because I just could NOT deal with “helpful advice” or pity or really any reaction at all. So I went with variations of, “We just want to enjoy married life right now.” I felt a bit guilty for lying, but I was afraid that if I even hinted that I wanted to be pregnant I wouldn’t be able to escape the follow-up questions.

    1. I’ve long submitted that omitting “that’s need to know—and you don’t need to know” details does not constitute a “lie.” It’s the truth. Not inaccurate, just incomplete.

      1. Exactly. When something that is no one else’s business, and this is definitely that, not telling all is not lying. This isn’t a court room. There is no obligation yo tell “the whole truth.”

    2. When people ask if we have kids I go, “No, but we do have cats! Here, let me show you how cute they are! Lots of great pictures on my phone!” That ends the discussion immediately & lightheartedly & earns the right to force people to look at pictures of our cats whether they want to or not. I consider it the price they pay for not minding their own business.

  10. When I was 28 and single, my grandmother (whom I love and can’t believe actually asked this) asked me when I was planning to have children. I looked her dead int he eye and said, “If you really want me to, I live in a military town and it will take approximately 9 months.”

    Nobody ever asked me that question again, though I did, ironically, end up marrying a military guy within the year though no children have arrived yet.

    1. My grandmother, who has never had ANY tact, started asking me when I was going to “give her great grandbabies” when I was single and IN HIGH SCHOOL. The first time she asked me this I was so stunned by it that I said what I was actually thinking, which was “Well I was planning on finishing high school and actually dating someone first???”

      1. We had a similar confrontation with extremely religious conservative family *immediately* after we got married, (like a week!) and I batted my eyes and told them with perfect innocence that we had just gotten married 8 days ago and we babies usually require sex and were they implying that we had had SEX before MARRIAGE??

      2. Are we related? At the age of 14, I got “Are you dating anyone? Any boys you’re interested in?” “…No.” “Well, you should find someone! I want to see my great-grandbabies before I die!”

        Thanks, grandma. Not like I was still a child myself or anything.

    2. I had a similar experience with an aunt. She asked me why I wasn’t married yet. I said “I’ve had a couple offers but neither was right for me. But if you feel that strongly about it, I could call them up and see if they’re still free.”

      Not another word from her on the subject.

      1. My grandma, God bless her, started the whole “boyfriend/marriage” stuff once all my cousins were hitched and producing babies while I remained resolutely single. Her way of broaching the subject was to say, cheerily, “So – how’s your boyfriend?” I’d smile back and say “Still invisible!”

    3. I’ve said that to my mother every time she’s ever asked – “I can go out to the bar TONIGHT and get the job done!” – with feigned but unflagging enthusiasm. She has mostly backed down (although I haven’t spoken to her in 4+ years, let’s see if she picks the thread back up when/if we ever re-establish contact).

    4. My father in law asked about grandkids immediately after we entered our wedding reception, I said “I think I’ll take my wedding dress off first!”

    5. this is a great response and I will borrow it from now on!
      And yes, let’s please keep pushing back on people asking this questions. I do not understand how asking women about their reproductive choices is a thing in small talk.

    6. I’m a single asexual cis female, so I’ve literally never been in a position to conceive and I never will be. I also live in the Bible Belt of the American South, where Certain Things are expected of uterine-bearers. So my stock reply to the depressingly common question of ‘When are you going to have kids?’ is ‘When it’s time for the next religious miracle.’ This always gets an awkward laugh, and no more questions from anyone listening :).

  11. LW, I’m sorry. I saw one of my best friends struggle through infertility and the number of questions that get asked about peoples fertility/sex life/reproductive choices in daily conversation actually astounds me (and I say this as somebody already aware of it as a single woman in my 30s).

    While it doesn’t trigger the same feelings for me as it does for you (I am not trying, nor do I ever intend on having children), I’ve found that either going into FAR too much detail in a way that isn’t honest – akin to the “actually we had sex exactly where you’re standing about 3 minutes before you walked in” when your partner is obviously somewhere completely different, though obviously my version is different – or a simple “You know that’s a really loaded question, right?” has shut people up. (I also like “I don’t talk about my sex life or my doctor’s visits with anybody who wasn’t in the room with me,” but YMMV.)

    Jedi hugs if you want them, and I’ll be out making those conversations awkward for people in the hopes that I change the way people interact with people in their fertile years so these questions slow down. (Personally, I usually wait for them to get really awkward – usually a few questions deep into my sex life and medical history – and say, “Wow, thank goodness none of this upsets me! Can you IMAGINE if you asked something like that and it hurt and you just kept pushing for answers? Dang.”)

    1. I fully support the approach of making things awkward (if you want to, of course) to hopefully save others from the same questions. But my experience is that some people fail to feel at all awkward way past the point I personally would be hiding under the table for the next week in their position.

    2. Jedi hugs from me too, if acceptable. And solidarity from another one who isn’t having kids and is happy with that, but is rude to anybody who asks just in the hope it’ll teach them better manners before they hurt somebody.

      It’s something I learned from my old colleague C, who long before I knew her had suffered a late miscarriage of a baby. By the time we were colleagues she had two teenage sons and nobody asked her if she was having any more, but she had never forgotten the crass crap she had had to deal with from the when-are-you-going-to-start-a-family crowd who didn’t know about the miscarriage*. Any time she overheard anyone at work asking stuff like that, she would wait until the victim was out of earshot and then she would Take. That. Person. Apart. She was an elder of the Presbyterian Church, so she never swore or raised her voice: but she was an elder of the Presbyterian Church, so she didn’t need to. I try to emulate her style, if not her theology.

      Though I must admit, I’ve never thought of introducing anybody to my fibroid by name. Filing that for future use.

      *Not to mention the it’s-god’s-will/it’s-for-the-best crowd, who did know. What is wrong with some people, honestly?

    3. As someone childless–and now infertile–by choice (but who has sisters and good friends with long, fertility histories), I too have gotten a lot of mileage out of your “Wow, thank GOODNESS this isn’t painful for me!” approach.

      After my salpingetchomy, I got a LOT of joy out of either flatly or cheerfully responding “I don’t have fallopian tubes!” and letting them squirm a little before explaining that was not a painful question for me personally but.

      Now I presently aggressively queer enough that no one *ever* asks me that question, ha. Well, except good friends in appropriate “was that ever something you wanted?’ ways and medical personal, for whom ‘I don’t have fallopian tubes” is the actual medically relevant information they need.

    4. I love the idea of just avoiding the question itself and switching completely over to the topic of “their asking the question.”
      I’ve done the “ooh, that’s not a good question to ask people–you just never know when the other person is struggling with infertility, or maybe fighting with their parents over the pressure to have kids when they don’t want to, or struggling over the topic in their marriage. It’s just so loaded, it’s really not a safe conversation. Do YOU have kids?”

    5. That’s another great reply, and thank you for helping return the awkward to the sender! I’m gonna start trying to do that!

  12. It took us 5.5 years to have our first child (with two miscarriages on the way) and then we had two more miscarriages and needed a surrogate for our second and third. And even knowing this, my mom asked after each one if we were having another. People say stupid things. (Also despite my experience, my mom still doesn’t accept this is an inappropriate question…)

    Depending on my state of mind, I’d say something like “No kids yet”, “It’s turned out to be harder than we expected”, to “Yes, I’d love to have a sister for my son and I miscarried her yesterday.” Seriously. 95% of the time I could give a neutral, truthful response and 5% of the time I figured asking an inappropriate question meant you might get more answer than you expected, hopefully teaching that person not to ask it again.

    I have gotten enormous value out of being open generally about our infertility journey. It’s such a secret, painful subject that I take pride in making it something I’m open about. And I’ve talked to literally dozens of friends, coworkers, friends of friends, etc who wanted to talk to someone who’d been through it.

    1. I cried for a week after my miscarriage, and flinched every time a small child wandered by for about six months. And I really like small children. I was really open about the miscarriage, and (situation and person dependent) would tell people about it when they just asked how I was doing. One of the few things I cherished about those months was the number of people who said something like ‘welcome to the club no one wants to be a member of’. I was /not alone/, and learning that and then knowing that made a huge difference.
      My male partner said the second worst part for him was that there wasn’t a cultural narrative for him to mourn our loss. I was expected to be sad, but he was supposed to just move on, even though he had lost as much emotionally as I had and was grieving as hard. Navigating that was way more interesting than either of us really wanted to be dealing with at the time.
      Good luck, LW. I hope things work out.

      1. At work I kept getting this,. I was NOT trying. But I would gently hold my belly, blink like I was trying not to cry, and softly say Im going to get a tea. That stopped it.

      2. After my fourth miscarriage, I saw a different GP from my usual one for the follow-up appointment a week after the D&C. After checking me over and talking me through how I was feeling, he actually turned to my partner and asked him how *he* was feeling and coping. Afterwards, my partner (for whom this was his first experience of miscarriage – sadly was not to be our last) asked if it was normal for the GP to check up on the male partner and I had to tell him “No, it really isn’t.”

      3. When a co-worker’s DIL miscarried I asked how her son was doing. She started crying because I was the only person who asked about *him.* I now always ask about the father.

    2. Ah, yes, “Are you having another?” I’ve been pretty open about our desire for 2 to 3 kids, but the adoption journey took 3 years for our first, so who knows if/when that will come to pass?

      The last person to ask was the MA who brought us into the doctor’s office for her 2-month visit. “Is she your first baby?” (Affirmative; that’s medically relevant whether or not I birthed her.) IMMEDIATELY followed by, “When’s your second?” Whaaaaaaaa?

      1. My response every time to that follow up is “we’re going to decide if we like this one first”

      2. Yup- I got told “See you next year!” by the folks at the hospital on my way home, 2 days after giving birth. No. Just no, you don’t say that.
        (I mean, I happen to hope to have further children, but not within a year of the birth of that one.)

  13. This is a version of deflection, and kind of like the pet answer, but as a 30-something year old teacher, I get asked if I have kids a lot, including by the only people I call my kids: my students. I almost always say: “yes, 156 of them!” (or whatever my student roster is at the time). I then use the energy of my bizarre answer to judo the conversation into things that gets me worked up in a more positive way, like education. People still have tons of (sometimes boneheaded) questions they can ask to keep the conversation going, if they want, but I don’t have the same touchiness about the subject and I still have a lot of energy to talk about it. If anyone has that version of a topic, that might be a great place to find an answer. Doing that move allows me to, instead of crying like I might about the actual complexity of the “kids?” question, get righteously Hermione at people are stupid and nerdily fun with the people who awesome. Everyone’s mileage may vary, but that’s really worked for me.

    1. Also, as a teacher, I say “Nope! Don’t like babies! I love working with kids! Can’t stand babies!” I say this with a big smile and happy, bubbly voice and it confuses people enough to drop it.

      1. My ex-husband and I liked the OB-GYN I had when my son was born so much that my ex jokingly asked him, “Could you be our pediatrician, too?” Doc just looked at us and said, totally deadpan, “No, I hate children.”

        Probably would have thrown some patients off, but it made us love him all the more!

      2. I do a variation on this– when someone asks me if we’re having another kid, I give a giant smile and an extremely cheery “NOPE!”, sometimes with an added “Not doing THAT again!” and that usually ends whatever they were going to say afterward.

      3. I know a lot of teachers and other kid-care workers who feel this way though. Nothing weird about specializing in an age range!

      4. This was really similar to my go-to response. I’d cheerfully respond, “I hate babies!” when people asked me when we were going to have kids. They’d be like, “but you’d love your own!” and I’d say, “What if I don’t?”

    2. Before my mom (also a teacher)’s hair went grey she answered this with “Two at home, and I get to send the other 25 back at the end of the day, thank god.”

    3. Yes!

      I’m a youth worker, and I was in a training the other day with a well-intended but veeeery middle-age cisdude trainer who kept giving us all these “with your own children–you all have children, right?” examples and finally noticed our laughs/good-natured eyerolls/etc and was like “What? You work with young people all day and NONE of you have kids????” and I called out “Uh, that’s WHY obviously!”

      It was a joke, but also true! a) This work demands a lot of you, and I am not sure I could give this much emotional energy to struggling young people and still have some leftover to take home to my own kids and also wait you can’t leave them at the end of shift if you need a break??? and b) loving up and helping fix all the kids straight people broke IS how I parent. That’s where I invest whatever innate ‘caretaking’ energy I have, and it is a valuable community ‘parenting’ role also.

      1. No kidding. I’m a librarian. I enjoy working with children. I don’t want some that I’m legally responsible for 24/7/365.

  14. Not so very long ago I had some very well-meaning co-workers who happen to be grandmothers say to me, fairly frequently, that I’d change my mind about having kids once I met “the one.” I ultimately asked them why they thought that I didn’t know my own mind and they haven’t asked again.

    LW, I can’t imagine the outside pressure to have babies is helping you to actually make the babies that you want. I wish you the best of luck!

  15. All my life I’ve fielded the same repetitive questions, in my case about my name. (“Is it your real name? Were your parents hippies? Do you want to hear about a dog/rabbit/goat I know with the same name as you? Isn’t it funny how it rhymes with __________? Want to hear this song I know with your name in it? Do you get tired of questions like these, ha ha?”)

    One day, in a fit of pique, I typed up a one-page FAQ about my name. It’s witty and honest and not too mean. I carry copies. I hand them to people who ask. They seem to find it weird but funny. And honestly, I don’t care what they think, because now we have “you’re a good writer” conversations instead of “you have a weird name” conversations.

    This won’t work for everything, of course, but it is an available option.

    1. I made a FAQ about my PhD. I should probably make one about my name (which is less common in Australia than in North America). It would probably fit on a business card.

      Thankfully, I am finally reaching an age (late 40s) when people stop asking about kids. So I don’t need to write a FAQ about why I had an ovary removed and the other one went into overdrive making as many cysts as it could.

    2. As someone who’s been trying to get pregnant for 4 years and am so far 2 rounds of failed IVF in, I LOVE THIS IDEA. Will be typing up my Infertility Journey FAQ cards to stash in my purse later today. I’m a sarcastic PITA about answering procreation questions now because I wish everyone would just STFU about it. What do you think, that I’m 39 years old and married for 2 years and it hasn’t even occurred to me that I should be working on it if I want kids? Mind your own beeswax, everyone. But if you won’t, then I will overshare and you will wish you didn’t ask…

  16. “… and if you type the words “have you considered adoption” in a comment field and hit post I might singlehandedly crash Ancestry Dot Com as I delete your entire family tree back to the first asshole acorn of this asshole question.”

    I may have whispered “yessssss thissssss” to myself while reading. A dear friend of mine is in the midst of an infertility nightmare scenario. And the number of times she’s gotten this question makes me ever more willing to go to prison for my response to the next person who asks her it.

    In any case, I plan on NOT having kids and have taken precautions to ensure I do not have them. My go-to response these days is, “Oh, it would be a failure of modern medicine if I were to become pregnant!” Extra fun, considering I have a large Traditional Catholic branch of the family tree that thinks birth control is a sin!

    At large family gatherings, I also get myself a big ol’ glass of walking-around wine. Because if I’m walking around with water, I get all the curious looks and, “Is there some news you’re hiding *wink wink*” questions. Again, because there are a lot of religions Fruitful Multipliers in my/my husband’s family, the wine helps me cope in other ways, too.

    1. To be honest, my response to any Fruitful Multiplication folks claiming I’m thwarting god by trying to prevent pregnancy would be along the lines of pointing out that if She wanted me to spawn that badly, well, She could certainly force the odds into getting Her way.
      And while the details of the response would be different if I were trying unsuccessfully, if someone tried to bring god into it, the bit about divine capacity to force the odds would very likely still be involved. Can’t offer any experience based advice on responses when trying isn’t working out, though, or anything other than sympathy and a willingness to be snarky about telling people it’s not a safe small talk question when I get those questions myself.

      1. I’m not shy about dropping deadpan quips about human parthenogenesis and male gestation when people throw religion into the mix. Either or both of those plus a scriptural reference seems to be like hitting “tilt” on a pinball machine, or at least buys enough time to escape.

        Oh, I also get a LOT of the especially annoying subcategory of questioners who are men who are hoping I will bear their children, starting, say, tomorrow, or maybe tonight because why wait? I’m not nice to those anymore. I ask them flat-out how many diapers they’ve changed and other babycare-experience questions. When their answers come up short (haven’t run into one of these yet who has adequate answers on those) I tell them flatly that they’re unfit to breed until they fix their skills gap. Sadly, this only seems to get them to back off slightly instead of completely. It’s like they’re hoping it’s a form of flirting, not, “I’m trying to insult you so completely you’ll never mention this to me ever again.”

        1. That’s pretty brilliant, Helen, asking them about their babycare skillz. They’re a pretty gross subcategory of men, IMHO.

        2. There is a certain subset of men for whom telling them exactly how you feel about them – the more negative and extreme, the better – reads as flirting. I once told a dude to get the f*** away from me, and that he needed to leave because he was taking oxygen that could be better used by the spiders in the corner. I yelled at him after he JUMPED OUT AT ME WITH A MACHETE to “surprise” me and he left even more confident in the fact that he had a chance with me. When somebody is determined to misunderstand everything you say unless it directly agrees with their perspective, nothing can make them stop.

          1. One of these asked me to marry him every day for a year. Every time, I replied flatly, perfectly literally and without the faintest shred of exaggeration, “I’d rather be shot.” And he would walk off with a dippy smile convinced this was some little special fun flirting game.

            What finally stopped him was that after pestering anyone who would listen about his fantasies about me marrying him someday, finally some other guys decided to drive it home to him how deluded he was. Apparently they had a hard time ramming it through his skull.

            None of you will be shocked to hear he went through a mean and angry phase after that.

      2. Ha! Yes, we threw that one out a few times in the many years before Older Child was born. “Look, you keep telling us no birth control is 100% reliable, we’re doing the sex, if God wants to make our birth control fail, that’s God’s problem”

      3. Casually referring to god as “she” is also one of my favorite things to do whenever one of the religious members of my family brings god into the conversation.

    2. I punched the air when I read this part and immediately read it out loud to my husband.

    3. Same @ “yessssss thisssssss” — I am a friend in the midst of an infertility nightmare (gay, BRCA2+, infertile, only pregnancy was a miscarriage) and I swear to god the next person who asks me about adoption is going to be punted into the sun, courtesy of my medical boot.

      OP, solidarity and jedi internet hugs if you’d like them. I am holding space for you, your pain, and your experiences.

    4. I agree so hard with you sofar on your level of delight at the Captain’s response to the “have you considered adoption” angle. I personally absolutely DETEST “why don’t you just adopt” — people who say that clearly have no idea how hard it is to adopt! Also, there is always this icky subtext to that response to infertility treatment — like a weird combo of religious natural law stuff and eugenics.

    5. When I read that statement about banning the “adoption” crowd, I had one of those “moments” not unlike the thrill one gets when the school bully is knocked onto their backside by the nerd who finally had enough.

      Cancer made biological parenting impossible for DH and myself many years ago. I’ve maintained that if I had $5 for each “why don’t you adopt” then DH and I could buy a lovely private island to escape from it all!!!

    6. I recently went on a medication for my panic attacks that (for me) means I can’t drink alcohol. I’m having great fun giving everyone who gives me the “oh, water is it? Something to share?” look super-detailed medical history about my panic attacks and miracle drug. Watching the shock and then their eyes glaze over can be fun sometimes.

      I also hate the “have you considered adoption” question for so many reasons. As though the person it’s being said to isn’t already walking a hard enough path.

  17. Dear LW, I’m so sorry. I have been in your boat, and am on the other side where my ovaries rebelled against my body and I will never give birth to a kiddo which brings me both relief and agony in finally knowing. I work with 18 year olds, so the kid question gets asked a lot, and I find that a quiet “Ah, no” or “no, I don’t” with a slight head shake doesn’t typically broker follow up questions. If there is a follow up of “why not?” and I have any semblance of spoons left, I just say quietly, “You never know for whom that question is going to be extremely painful.” (I think I saw it in Hax’s column, and it almost always works.) If anyone wants to ask questions beyond that, I just excuse myself to the bathroom or walk away. If it’s a social situation, you can always just walk away (let them hold that awkwardness for a while). It’s really hard to do; we’ve been trained to answer all questions to Not Be Rude, but when you realize that the other person started the Rudeness, it’s a kindness to not continue for them – either they don’t get social cues (in which case, clear boundaries are a good thing and very helpful) or they’re a jerk (and jerks don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt). Many Jedi hugs if you want.

    1. I’ve had great success with NOT walking away. Just remaining there, not answering, not saying a word, with my head slightly tilted and eyes just blinking. The pleasure I get watching them squirm is indescribably good. It’s just a silent signal that “you’ve said something wrong here….now think about it until you get it.”

    2. I am also in this boat — I’ll never have a biological child. The answer I give is either “no, I don’t” if I don’t want to get into it (“No” is a complete sentence) or “We tried but it didn’t work out for us” if I think the other person is open to conversation and I’m feeling strong and positive. It took me a few years post-failed-IVF to get to this point, though. It’s so raw when you’re in the shit of infertility. I remember in the midst of my last IVF cycle I was at a work thing and someone asked if I had kids, I said “no” and he said “Good for you!” (I guess assuming I was childfree by choice?) and I snapped back at him “No, not really good for me” and he slunk away so fast he looked like a cartoon. So there’s something to just letting it be shitty and weird if someone is asking shitty and weird questions.

      LW, I’m so sorry you have to feel this pain.

  18. I see nothing wrong with either of the LW’s stock responses, but in her shoes I would probably go with spinning it to the dog and cat (in fact, I do exactly that, although substitute two dogs).

    Benefits being:

    – Absolutely true.
    – Averts potential unwanted medical advice. (/dating advice)
    – Avoids potential sad/awkward feels (Although Cap’s absolutely right that it’s not her burden to ‘save’ her conversational partner from that shit)
    – Handy new subject change (DOGGOS! What kind, please tell me of the latest cute thing they did.)

  19. We tried, did a round of fertility treatments that didn’t work, and I then spiraled into a horrible bout of depression. Those sorts of questions are so loaded, and you never really know where someone is at. I’m sure people will continue to ask me (or us, but mostly me), and I will continue to say, “We tried, and I’m infertile.” Personally, that response works for me because I have no problem making things awkward if you’re going to do the conversational equivalent of pressing on a bruise. That said, some variation of “No, not yet, but we’re hopeful” might be the way to go.

    But I second the good Captain. Don’t be afraid to make it awkward for them. Infertility is no longer something that people Do Not Talk About, which means folks should probably be aware that they’re stepping into an emotional minefield with that question.

    1. So my grandmother is a dear sweet woman. But she has opinions. She referred to my first husband as “that man she married” and after meeting my current husband the first time as “my grandson”. She never asked baby questions with the first marriage. With the second, she kept asking and I kept trying to explain all the complex reasons and that WAS NOT Working. And then it finally hit me I was using the wrong language and trying to explain all the things. So I sat her down at the kitchen table where all important conversations must be had and said the following: “Grandmommy, I’m barren.” And just waited. I got tears and apologies and a promise to never bring it up again. And she never has. If I have a friend’s baby in my arms or an older one hanging on me, I get a bittersweet meeting of eyes across the room and that’s it. For some people, there is a certain way you have to say it and it takes a few tries. But honestly, my grandmother and only a few other people on the planet feel worth doing the work to figure it out.

      However, that brings up one of my favorite deflections: Do you have kids? No, none of my own. However I make an EXCELLENT “Eccentric Aunty”. or Nope, not in God’s plan/the Universe’s Plan. Clearly my job is to be the Eccentric Aunty.

      It’s amazing how well that works and it can deflect into conversations about the questioner’s kids, their favorite EA from childhood or if they really want to talk about my family I can tell them about the brilliant aunts-by-choice and uncles-by-choice that were so important to me as a kid and that real families are almost always a combination of family-by-birth and family-by-choice.

      And yeah, I didn’t really want kids and I can’t have them anyway. 95% of the time I am perfectly clear, happy and serene in my decision not to find a way to be a parent. But that 5%? It still hurts sometimes and it’s really not up for discussion with strangers.

  20. This one stings. My partner’s kids live with us half the time, and some of them sure don’t like me, so I’m not that involved in the day-to-day business of raising them, so… Do I have kids? I honestly don’t know! I wish “I don’t know” was an acceptable answer. And there’s a whole other level of challenge to answering the question when the asker is someone you’re going to see again a bunch (for ex a coworker at my very traditional-life-stages corporate job) rather than a stranger trying to make conversation. I want kids. I have no idea if or when I’ll be able to grow some. I have no idea if or when the kids in my house will claim me as their own. And yeah that gives me all kinds of feelings about my partner and our relationship I’d rather not air out with someone I just met who’s only looking for an easy way to connect with me. There are a million reasons this question is fraught, it’s different for everyone just like snowflakes, and the last time I got asked it was by someone I trust and still I just froze and clammed up.
    I appreciate everyone who’s sharing the responses that work for them. Sometimes it’s rough out there.

    1. I’m wondering if, “I have step-kids” + a redirect would work for you. Or, if you’re not married and see that as an issue (I think it’s fine to call them step kids even if you’re no married, but some people get upset about that), just, “my partner’s kids are with us part-time” + subject change? Especially with coworkers in a traditional office, I wouldn’t want to lie/mislead, so it seems like the easiest way to close the social circle and move on.

      Also, really hope things get easier with the kids. That’s a tough spot to be in. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    2. Fistbump from another person who stumbles and answers, “um, I don’t know” to “Do you have kids?” I have a generally good relationship with my partners’ children, thankfully. Very much sympathy to you on finding yourself an alloparent to children who don’t like you. But even though I’m talking about a happy arrangement, explaining that my husband and I are in a serious relationship with another couple, who have children, and we love them and they’re part of our life, but we’re not co-parents or step-parents… leads to a massive pile of awkward questions at best, quite often active disapproval of our Scandalous! Polyamorous! Lifestyle! with kids involved!!!!!!! and it’s just not a simple small talk question any more.

      1. This! I will probably never make a person with my uterus even though I’d really like to, however AwesomePolyBonusKiddo is an important part of my life. Like, I found out about the pregnancy before one of the actual dads, we are in a “learn about nature and eat pinecones”-group together and he consistently prioritises “see auntie Tjoffex” above cookies (I’m not sure what I have done in my life to be worthy of such love). But I’m not his parent, and I don’t live with him or any of his parents, so the question always makes me stumble. Like, I want to talk about how I happen to have the objectively best two year old as a part of my life, but there is no good social shorthand as my partners kid” has the assumption I’m in the process of becoming APBKs stepmom. (When I’m short of spoons I refer to him as my godson – factually untrue, but “enthusiastically involved godmother” gives the right kind of general idea of my role in his life).

        So, you end up with a nice mix of “lack of small, genetically Tjoffex-adjacent people in my future makes me sad” and “how do I get the conversation to APBKs above-his-age-group skills in imitation and mockery without having to a) lie, b) bring out the relationship flowcharts or (worst case) c) cause some rando to call social services on APBKs parents because scary orgy-cult.” So sad/happy with adjacent fears and concerns. Tiring.

        (slightly sleepdeprived, so probably rambling a bit, but I’m realising I really needed to write that down)

        1. I definitely went with “godchild” in order to babble on about my non-nesting partner’s fabulous progeny without TMI. Close enough!

          Then again I have also told my new GYN (I’m cis female) “None I know about!”

        2. OP, Jedi hugs to you if useful. Seconding/thirding the suggestions above: try out a few to see what works, don’t feel obliged to be in any way polite, use “barren” as a weapon if needed.

          @tjoffex: I use terms like “sparent” and “the smalls”, which seem to go down well in most of my circles. And the smalls still love being referred to in that way, even though they’re independent teens and much taller than me!

          1. Loving “sparent”! It doesn’t work in my native language, but I’ll definitely keep it for english speaking contexts^^

    3. Oh hey, fellow stepparent here. If you/your friends are gamers, you might have some luck with “Stepkids! I obviously like playing on the ‘difficult’ setting!”

  21. Yeah, this is what I don’t get – everyone I know that has been trying to have kids / is planning to have kids has and wants other people to know definitely Made It Known really quickly.

  22. I immediately start going on about my two adopted beautiful girls that are 8 and 3, and they are just so wonderful and actually they’ve already had children of their own, which really makes me a grandma when you think about it, and here are roughly 1,000 pictures on my phone of them from various angles and let me tell you all the amusing anecdotes about their quirks!* and people cannot get away from me fast enough.

    *Two rescue bubbins, a big old pittie mix and little zippy terrier mix that are just the two best girls in the world

    1. My darling sister traded her ex husband in for a pittie mix rescue. It was definitely an upgrade! Myself, anything with four legs and dog breath turns me into a puddle of marshmallow goo!!!🌞

    1. I do like this. “Why do you need to know?” Doesn’t deflect nosy relatives though, unfortunately.

    2. I’ve been cultivating a practice of asking “Is that medically relevant?” in response to medical staff asking questions that make me uncomfortable (I’m fat and has sterilisation surgeries young and am nb trans, it’s often hard to tell what’s an uncomfortable question I *need* to answer, what is routine/not really inappropriate question but also not a big deal if I decline to answer, and what is mEdICAl cUrIOsiTY they’re being nosy/judgmental about). Usually in a neutrally-cheerful tone.

      It has been SUPER helpful to navigating medical stuff with less angst and I’m trying to figure out how to bring that practice to other contexts.

  23. I am a big fan of the distraction re-direct; i.e. “No, but my sister just adopted a dog and I’m OBSESSED” -> pet discussions -> airline restrictions for pet travel -> favorite suitcase brands -> what industry is going to be ~*d i s r u p t e d*~ next, etc etc. Basically a quick, totally neutral ‘no’ followed by something I’d be up for talking about passionately. For the most part, people aren’t REALLY interested in your response to their specific question, they are just looking for something to discuss, and reproduction is (bafflingly) seen as a neutral conversation topic (especially to / at female presenting people), so if you can pivot them away to something else, they’ll barely notice you didn’t talk about X, Y or Z.

    1. Your point about them not caring gives me another thought from Miss Manners, which is to answer a more polite question. It this case you could hear, “tell me about your family,” and then tell them about the members of yours household that you want to talk about, then ask them about their family.

    2. I’ve seen this used well when the subtext of the question is “who are the members of your family, and do any of them have life stages in common with members of my family?”.

      Since I’m in a visibly gay relationship, people usually assume that I don’t want kids or can’t have kids – I’ve had people who were close enough to ask prying questions ask us if we would need a surrogate when I’m in a double-uterus household! Oh well – but when I was taken by strangers as straight the “are you planning to have kids” question would always bowl me over with its rudeness. My family has a heritable and serious medical condition that makes this a really heavy topic, with a lot of complex implications. I know people in a similar boat who HAVE chosen to disclose that kind of fact – and are promptly hit with a faceful of ableism about conditions that they themselves share. It’s never good! Yikes.

      I’ve seen a rueful little grimace and a quick headshake, followed by “do you have any?” taken well, by some people. “Health stuff”, with a warding-off gesture, has also worked – but only with tactful people. The untactful will respond “what kind of health stuff?”, and then the onus to say “I don’t like to talk about this” is back on the askee. I know we’re on the Captain Awkward blog, not the Captain Tactful And Great At Social Signals blog, but sometimes in life everybody winds up being the most tactful person in the conversation, with someone who doesn’t pick up soft no’s determined to just charge forward until they’re practically in full possession of your obgyn chart.

      1. I’m in an apparently double-uterus relationship, but that is only true about one of us, and if children could have happened for that one of us, they would have already. They are also past 40 and have medical issues that make pregnancy and birth particularly dangerous to them.
        I would probably have taken that question a little differently 😁
        The answer here would be “not legal”, however.
        Neither of us is into babies, but we have considered fostering as a possibility. I have been in foster care myself and would like to contribute.
        Since then, health issues have made us very happy that we decided children were not for us (and no accidents happened). It’s hard enough holding down jobs let alone adding children into the mix.

  24. How timely! Just yesterday my SO and I and some friends were discussing how to handle this question from a particularly crass and nosy person we know. I suggested just singing the song from the 80’s PSA on VD. (If you’re not familiar with it, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpWrFA9vP9w)

    Obvs. a bad idea, but wow just imagining that scene dissipates any stress I might have had about the situation!

  25. LW, I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. I agree with all that the Captain has written. I was in your place several years ago and my two standard replies, depending on the asker were “You realize that’s a really sensitive question for some people who might be having trouble conceiving” or if I wanted to make it awkward “you realize you’re asking about my husband and me having sex.” And I’d just let that hang out there. Clammed people up right away. Infertility is a shitty, shitty thing to go through and most people don’t realize the emotional impact it can take on a person is equivalent to a cancer diagnosis. People understand cancer as a “very bad thing”. People don’t understand infertility the same way.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  26. I have found “oh no, I figure why buy the cow when I get the milk for free?” to be an excellent non-sequitur when deployed with a wink and a smile and redirect.

    YMMV but nobody’s ever followed that up with advice, suggestions or probing questions.

    (I used that answer a lot when I was single and asked when I would marry. It makes more sense in that context, of course. Then one day I blurted it out to a baby-making query and the reaction was so priceless I’ve carried on. It’s like a social experiment!)

    1. Oh, my, gosh. That in response to a baby making query….gosh, I’m keeping that one.

    2. My favorite- back when I was still in the newly married and being asked when we would have kids phase of life… was to place my hand over my uterus and say, with all sincerity, “well, at this point, we’re leaving it up to god”

      Which it was, because it would have taken an act of the god I don’t believe in to get through all the birth control given that I take a medication that isn’t recommended for pregnancy and don’t want to stop taking.

      I found that if I held it one extra beat, those who wanted to talk about pregnancy would proceed with their own stories and those who looked incredulous became my friends.

    3. I came up with a corollary to that: why put up with the bull if the stud will preform for free.

  27. Yes to all friendly redirect answers from the captain and the commentariat. I also think of the John Irving character’s rule to “be nice twice”. This is a good reminder that after two attempts to lightly say “nope” and redirect, you can be assured that you are dealing with a certified Nosy Jerk, not just a careless conversationalist, and you can then feel completely justified in starting in with “Why on earth are you so interested in this?” Or just feeling a sudden inexplicable compulsion to leave the room.

    1. In 2019, I don’t even do that with anyone younger than 80–like, if you’re a working adult, you should know better, and merit zero pity. If I actively like you or diplomacy demands, I might give a milder snarky answer,* but otherwise…no, these people don’t mean well. They mean lazily, at best, and often preachily, and they merit any awkwardness I have the presence of mind to give them.

      *Cousin-in-law recently asked if I’d “met anyone special”: “Everyone’s *special*. Mister Rogers said so,” said in a very innocent voice, did not keep him from asking “but I mean really special” but did at least make him cough and look embarrassed, which, much as I normally like the dude: good.

  28. So, under the major caveats that you shouldn’t have to worry about this, you are under no obligation to try to head off these questions, and the effort required to do so might outweigh the benefits, I have some ideas on preventing this question.

    I have an ex-boyfriend who maintained close friendships with people for *years* before they realized they knew literally nothing personal about him. (I mean nothing. He could have had 8 siblings or have been raised in an orphanage for all they knew. He knew everything about them.) He may have had some issues, but it was a real talent he had developed. As far as I could see, he wasn’t good at dodging questions, so much as controlling the conversation so that they never came up. He was always very friendly and enthusiastic about their life and quick to ask questions of his own. They were mostly grad-school friends, so he would talk about grad school stuff with them and redirect there, if necessary. If someone asked what his plans over break were, he’d say he was hoping to get some work done on project X, and then ask about their plans. (Thereby avoiding mentioning the existence of his mom, whom he would be visiting. As I said, he may have had a few issues.)

    To apply this to small talk conversations, start by asking about what you have in common and then keep following-up. “Boy, that was a killer yoga class, what did you think of the new instructor?”

    Or, introduce something you are excited to talk about early on and direct the conversation there. “Hey, I haven’t seen you in so long, I have to tell you allll about my new career in knife throwing.”

    My third thought, is to try to casually work it in early on in conversations, “My husband and I are going on vacation next month. We don’t have kids, so it’s nice be able to go to lots of museums. I’ve never been to the Louvre before, so I’m very excited. What do you like to do on vacation?” When I lived in Oklahoma, I managed to work in the facts that I didn’t care for football, believe in God, or want to ever get married/have kids into the first five minutes of talking to anyone. (Many people found these deal breakers for, uh, making small talk with me. It was helpful to weed them out early.)

    Or, failing all else, do a really quick redirect, so that they almost miss the answer. “No, do you?” Is probably the quickest way to redirect, but anything that includes a topic change will keep the conversation going. So, “Nope, hasn’t happened for us, which gives us lots of time to knit hats for our cats. Look at this picture of fluffy in her watermelon hat!” is going to avoid an awkward pause as it sinks in that they’re probably an asshole for asking their question. Instead, they’re probably either delighted by your hats for cats hobby, or inching away from you to avoid looking at any more cat pictures. Either way, it works out well for you.

    Again, all of the Captain’s ideas/scripts are great. You’re under no obligation to manage conversations like this, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea for anyone. I’m just putting this out there as another option.

    1. Ha – my first manager was like that! We worked together for three years, got on really well, spent a lot of time chatting. By the time she quit, I knew the general area where she lived, her fiance’s first name, that her fiance had been adopted as a child, and that she did triathlons in her spare time. That’s it.

      I struggle to imagine anyone asking her rude personal questions, I’m not sure how she would have responded but it certainly wouldn’t be with information.

  29. I’ve given up on trying to give reasons and have begun going right to “no, we are not talking about this”-type responses. They range from a friendly “haha that’s not something I like to talk about, thanks, so about that subject change…” all the way to a flat “that’s none of your concern” plus pointed silence. I find this kind of response works for me because there’s not much a person can say to continue the baby talk without looking like an ass. And if they do try to jump in with “you can’t talk about it with meeeee though*” I now know they’re being a jerk and I’m free to exit the conversation.

    It’s taken a while for me to internalize the fact that I’m not being awkward. I’m giving that awkward business back. Someone else bringing up *my* sex life and/or menstrual cycle doesn’t make me the jerkwad.

    *I could, yes. Will I? No.

  30. I once read (Miss Manners maybe?) that it’s rude to ask an unemployed friend if they’ve found a job, a single friend if they’ve started seeing anyone, or a young couple when their having children. You’re quite likely bringing up a sore subject, and if they have/ are, and they want to talk about it, they’ll bring it up.

    When I’m fully embracing my inner bitch (I really like her sometimes), I respond to such questions by telling the questioner the thing I once read about these three cases where it’s rude to ask…

    1. I totally agree with this. If you have to ask, they haven’t acquired one.

  31. As someone who had her kids through IVF after 6+ years of trying, I feel you. I’ll never forget the coworker who said, “Why’d you get a dog? Why didn’t you just have a baby?” like it was SO EASY (also, dogs are GREAT!). I try to be super open about our own issues and have been rewarded by people referring others to me, like “She did IVF! You can talk to her!” I also defend my friends/coworkers who don’t want kids. I’ll never understand people who try to pressure others into having kids. How is that okay for kids OR parents??

    Anyway, when I was in your shoes, I did a lot of what CA suggested. If I knew they were asking from a kind place, I’d say, “We’d love to, but it isn’t happening easily.” If they were just being nosy/annoying, I’d say, “OH GOD KIDS??” and make a vomiting noise. Either way, people stopped asking.

      1. And as though the one that’s physically inside one party’s body making demands on that body for 9 months and that’s going to be worried over for like…50+ years (give or take lifespan variation) is actually the easier option, even accepting assumptions regarding the ease of obtaining each. Kids are even less accessories than pets are!

      2. Yes, and it works both ways. A pet is a poor substitute for a child, but a child actually isn’t a substitute for the experience of having a friend of a different species either! I remember at one point in my life when I was talking about getting a pet after having an empty house for a few years, my Mom asked me why I didn’t just go visit my baby nephew instead (!?).

        Because amazingly, human babies are quite different from other species, and vice versa.

    1. My aunt who never had children was told (more than once!) to, “just get it over with.” I have never been more horrified by anything in my life. I do feel that attitude explains a lot of the parenting choices I read about here.

    2. Um, what??? There is quite a big difference between a dog and a baby, strange coworker. Geez.

      1. The one thing I can think of is that in general, one cannot end up with a dog by accident, but you can get pregnant by accident. Other than that, I got nothin’.

        1. Of course I immediately started thinking of ways one could end up with a dog by accident (box left on one’s doorstep? Adorable stray wandering into one’s house on a cold night? “Wait, what do you mean this isn’t a hamster?!”) But yes, generally speaking that’s much more unusual.

          1. I have a friend who got a cat that way–they had four cats (yes), went out for the day, and when they got back they had five, the new one presumably having followed one of the others through the open window. But the difference between zero and one is more significant than the difference between four and five.

            Come to think of it, that might be a suitably random subject-change answer: “I’m going to let the universe take care of it. Did I ever tell you how Friend got their fifth cat?”

  32. My therapist seriously recommends bursting into tears and running from the room (she used to get maritally nagged/shamed) as a way to shut up anyone on any crap topic like this.

    I can’t burst into tears myself so haven’t tried it, but I figured I’d mention it as a option.

    1. That actually did it for me when my son was a critical ill baby in the NICU. Very well meaning strangers in our small town kept asking me when he was coming home – and the honest answer was that he might not make it home. I managed to mumble something about it being a long time until he came home…until I got surprised at the local greasy spoon where I was trying to have one meal of normal life before going back to the NICU.

      I burst in to deep, racking sobs and said “I don’t know! He’s really, really, really little and his lungs are bad I just don’t know! I spend hours a day at his side watching him fight and knowing that I can’t make him better! He’s so tiny – and this is the only place I can get away from thinking about him for an hour every now and again.” *insert more racking sobs after every few words*

      Well, that stopped the dinner dead. Good news – the gossip chain got word around in seconds – probably before I got to the car – that no one should ask me about when my son was coming home without kleenex……

      That was over 2 years ago now, my son is a healthy toddler and I still cry a bit remembering that day – but it certainly did the trick.

      1. Much, much sympathy.

        I’m currently pregnant with a baby who has a congenital heart issue (fixable with surgery, but we’re still talking about handing my baby over for open-heart surgery, y’know?). And people keep being like ‘oh, when baby comes you can do X and Y while you’re on leave, and visit, and blah blah blah and I’m just like… … ……..we’ll have to see what’s possible…

        1. All my Jedi hugs. If it helps at all, I had open heart surgery as a three month old to fix a congenital defect…30 years ago, and all I have to show for it is a set of fun scars and a murmur.

          1. It does help. It helps so much. Thank you!

            From what I gather, this particular heart issue is … like, if you’re going to have a serious congenital heart issue requiring surgery, this is the one you want to have, both for ease of fix and prognosis. That doesn’t make it positive or good for my nerves or stress-free or anything, but it’s a DECENT prognosis (cardiologist says 99% chances of a perfectly normal happy life, barring risks of surgery, so that’s about as good as it gets, and we’re near one of the best hospitals in the world, so.) But dealing with comments that are pushing the emotional labor onto us is Definitely Not Helping (esp all the stories about how ‘sometimes these things just go away’ like no, it’s a structural heart defect. At this point, it’s actively impossible for it to get better. What it CAN do is get worse. Please let’s not talk about it).

  33. I wish I could put my finger on whatever it is about me that makes no one ever ask me about kids and bottle it for distribution to the LW and others who are afflicted by this weird social ritual. I’m a woman in my 30s, have been with my husband for a good ten years, and somehow can count the number of times someone has brought up our family planning on one hand. I have been called “intimidating” before, so maybe I just somehow exude “anyone who asks me an even slightly gendered question (because really, how many dude-presenting people get asked this regularly) is assumed to be an enthusiastic volunteer audience for one (1) feminist tirade of indeterminate length” energy?

    Definitely putting the Captain’s “Oh no, I’m much too selfish” response in my back pocket in case that changes, though. I think I have the wide-eyed deadpan to really pull it off.

    1. “because really, how many dude-presenting people get asked this regularly”

      FYI, in my experience, most of us. As I understand it, it’s usually not with the same degree of invasiveness – the specifics are gendered, based on my experience and conversations I’ve had – but familes, friends, random acquaintences, etc. fully expect men to be procreating by a certain age as much as they expect women to do so.

      I’m 33; I have three male friends within a year of my age who have been in stable relationships for years and have been getting these questions (marriage and babies) for about that long. Two of them are getting married this summer (one already did, another in three weeks), so I presume that, for them, the questions will shift entirely to babies; the third may well have a kid without marrying, so the opposite. We all have to routinely field these questions, too, with the added lack of logical continuity on my part, since, unlike a person with a uterus, I can’t even choose the outlier option of going to a bar, hooking up with a random person, and possibly conceiving; if I’m going to have a kid, I need a partner who wants to have something to do with me, unless people think I’m a coercive, abusive asshole – and also don’t care that I am (in their minds) or think that procreating is worth that? It’s very confusing/disturbing.

      1. I’m a guy and I have rarely been asked this question, although being so gay I can be seen from space probably helps to a certain extent. When I have been, my responses have ranged from “Oh god no, I’m amazed my plants are still alive” to “Well, my boyfriend asked me if we should have kids, and I said, ‘No, but we can keep trying.'”

    2. I’ve rarely had this question, or been asked in a way that made me uncomfortalbe; I suspect I give off some sort of non maternal vibe. When I have been asked if I have children or if I want them, I feel ok replying, “Oh, God no!” and then I ask them about kids/pets/hobbies.

    3. Ha, same. I think it’s my Lots Of Tattoos and Very Queer Haircut that puts people off. Of course, I know many people who look like me and have kids (a majority of my friends, in fact)! But the type of person who would ask is also the type of person who might think I shouldn’t reproduce. Works for me!

    4. I very, very seldom got asked this, and it’s because most of the people I’m close to have some manners. So maybe part of that is what’s going for you.

      The one time I did have someone say something, it was the daughter of the woman (my DH’s side of the family) who asked DH if he was going to marry me–in front of me–to which he replied, “It is the policy of the United States Navy to neither confirm nor deny…”

      The daughter accosted me at some other in-law cousin’s baby shower and said, “You don’t have a good enough reason to not have a baby now.” I was like, “What? What are you talking about?”
      She said, “Your MIL told me that you have a wedding in October, and that’s not a good enough reason to not having a baby.”
      I was like, “We just had our wedding reception last October, so maybe that’s what she meant? I mean, it’s only been a year.”
      So she says, “No, she said it was a wedding coming up–and anyway, if it’s a year, that’s time enough to be having a baby.”

      I said, “In my family, that’s considered a rude thing to ask people.”
      AND…the cousin sitting across the table from us (herself a mother of 4 at that point)said, quite firmly, “In ANYBODY’s family, that’s a really rude thing to say. People just shouldn’t be butting in like that.”


      1. I had a sudden image of your pulling out your phone, poking at it, and loudly saying “BLOCKED.”

    5. I routinely respond to questions about kids with “oh, I’m not. I like to sleep in, drink, and spend my money on myself”.

      When the person asking is a parent of small children, they usually get a glazed look in their eyes for a second and then tell me about the last time they got more than five hours of sleep.

  34. LW, in your boat – jedi hugs if wanted. My dream response is to say “it’s reallllly hard to get pregnant when all you do is anal” but I haven’t mustered the courage…yet. Getting there though. Especially after being cornered in a mountain gondola by a complete stranger with my partner recently and there is NO.WAY.OUT.

    1. Please, please tell us when you have used that retort! I already have kids and I still want to borrow that line next time someone asks.

      As my marriage was falling apart but before I’d told anyone, someone said “I guess you’re about ready for your third kid any time now!” I’d always hoped for a big family and really wanted more kids and it was so painful that I wasn’t going to be able to give birth or adopt again anytime soon. This was a not-close work friend who was just being funny. I burst into tears and said that it seemed that my marriage would not hold another child. She handled it kindly. Shortly after I read the Carolyn Had column where she said that you never know what type of pain that question might cause and understood so deeply how true that is.

    2. That’s hilarious! I really hope someone uses it someday and reports back.

    3. Also:
      Q – Is there something wrong with your husband’s sperm?
      A – Nope. Tastes fine to me!

    4. I mean, my dad’s favorite insult when he’s REALLY pissed at someone is to say that they’re living proof that anal sex is not an adequate method of contraception, so maaaaybe you could argue that out with him (I’ll bring popcorn, it would be fantastic.)

    5. One of these days someone’s going to ask me, “Are you and WhingePartner going to have kids soon?” and I’ll say, “Crap, is it the End Times already?” Alas, I still have patience left.

    6. I had an acquaintance who did this! I never saw it in action in response to a direct question but I saw her do it preemptively once when a convo started looking like it was going down that route. Can confirm that it was spectacular.

  35. I wonder how quickly this question would be banished from discourse if absolutely everyone who was asked it started bursting into tears and then having to go lie down in a dark room for the rest of the day.

    But for those who don’t have the social capital to do that, a way to shut it down might be “That’s up to God” or something similar. Even if you’re not religious. That suggests (although doesn’t specifically say) that you’re not trying to prevent pregnancy, which, in a world where family planning is common, leads people to believe (but doesn’t specifically say) that you’re receptive to children, which should shut down any efforts to convince you to have children.

    It also suggests (but doesn’t specifically say) that you’re not *desperate* for children and are content at this point to let nature run its course, which should reduce the likelihood of it being heard as a request for medical advice.

    If you follow it with a quick subject change (“What about you? You have any kids?” / “How about that local sportsball team?” / “OMG LOOK AT THAT DOGGO!”) you should be able to get off the topic unscathed.

    The risk in this gambit is if you’re an atheist AND the person you’re talking to knows you’re an atheist AND they call you out with “But I thought you were an atheist!”. (Although you might be able to confuse them with “That’s up to God too.”

    1. A really obnoxious coworker (who fancied himself religious) when I was in my 20’s kept asking me how many children I wanted. My response every time was “As many as God sends me” knowing the total would be 0. But it completely shut him down.

  36. Have one. Want another. Multiple difficulties. This comes up, though in our case about whether we’ll have a second–my answers generally range from “we’ll see” to “eh” to the flat-out truth (“lost a few early, major PMDD exacerbated by stress of trying to conceive means we’re taking a break right now for everyone’s sanity; not sure if break will end”). I’ll second Jenny Sessions–it is remarkable how many people have their own variation on this one.

    Some days it’s completely fine; other days it breaks me. I swap out answers depending. With people I’m close to, I’ll drop it in before it’s even asked, just to keep them up to date. I’ve also gotten good at saying “nope, just the one” with a smile and redirect.

  37. I love that you’ve named Guillame, Captain. I tend to name the “food babies” things like Banchan or Enchilada, depending on what the meal was. My gallstone was the size of a golf ball; it’s called Gandalf (“You shall not pass, bile!”).

    1. I had 2 fibroids and a polyp that caused me to mess up hugely at work due to the ongoing Great Bleed and have to write to Captain Awkward in floods of tears looking for help. I named all 3 of them after horrible bosses I had encountered.

  38. I always love the shock factor of an irreverent resonse. There is a 10 year gap between my sibling and I. When people would ask my mother (who desperately wanted to have more kids and struggled to conceive), why only two or if more were on the way, she would say “No not yet but not from lack of trying!” It successfully shut down the conversation and she ussually spun it as a joke so it came off light hearted.

  39. LW, I think all the scripts so far are great, but I wanted to add an option for people who try to give you unsolicited advice: “[Name], when I’m interested in your opinion, I will ask for it”. Shuts people right up.
    I’ve found it very versatile because you can say it a) with a big, sincere smile in a nice voice for acquaintances (or extra confusion points, or to take a bit of the sting off); b) in a serious tone without smiling (this works well for well-meaning friends whom you want to warn off); c) in an arctic cold voice (to effectively return awkward to sender); or d) with a condescending tone and a smirk (for sickest burn and maximum offense purposes).
    I hope you will have to field this question far less often, or at least with far less pain, in the future.

  40. My husband and I were married for 5 years before even trying to have kids, and then it turned out that I have PCOS which made it difficult to conceive. When we weren’t trying, it was easy to just brush the question off, no sweat. When we were actively trying, but couldn’t conceive, it used to suck when people asked that question. However, once I received my diagnosis, I found it was easier when people asked and I could give an answer, especially because PCOS is a common, but silent issue (much like miscarriages). I actually came to appreciate the opportunity to educate people…I’d love to see it more normalized and discussed. However, I also never encountered jerk people with regards to this particular issue, it was a question that mostly came from people who genuinely cared about me.
    Now that we have kids, when people ask if we’re having more, I have great luck with the response, “Only if my husband can magically grow a uterus and percolate one!” 😀

  41. I love these commenting rules. They are everything to me today. And probably every day from here on out.

  42. I’m sorry this is happening for you OP. The Captain’s advice is gold, per usual. I am here to tell you that this line of questioning never really ends. Once you are past obvious child bearing age you will get asked if you DO have children, and if not, why not. Once you are older it will be grandchildren. My mother, who has four living kids and only one grandkid gets asked “why only one, do you think there will be more?”. She is 90 and her youngest child is mid-50’s. It’s exhausting sometimes.

  43. I am also in this boat. I solve the problem by 1) not meeting new people or making new friends, so everyone I talk to knows our situation* and 2) deflecting. When I talk to people about this it makes me cry, and no one is entitled to that level of honesty from me. So I’ve got some reflexive flippant/dismissive answers that are weird enough to fit in with the humor that people expect from me and basically armor me from even hearing/feeling the question. “Oh, I don’t believe in children.” “Nah, I’m not really into pokemon.” (Thanks, xkcd!)

    *Not recommended, this also creates more problems

    1. Good call. A dear friend of mine went through years of heartbreaking infertility and every time someone asked the dreaded “SO. BABIES???” question, it hurt her to the core. People didn’t mean ill, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible all the same.

    2. “What’s new?” works well as an all-purpose opening. If they have news that they want to share, they will. If you get a “not much” , the ritual is complete and you move on.

  44. “We would have loved them but we were blessed in other ways.” Can be delivered with sad gravity to make it uncomfortable, or breezily non-committal to move the conversation along. Benefits: depending upon the asker’s personal tendencies, can be read either as fairly religious or a spiritual acceptance of life’s vagaries. Also, the use of past tense implies the subject is closed. Can leave out the “We would have loved them” if you wouldn’t have, or leave it in to forestall that part of the discussion. My partner and I have been using this for about ten years now and it’s the best succinct shut-down we’ve found.

  45. I’m a big fan of the LW’s own direct script, without apology or shame, and with whatever actual disappointment she feels. Ask awkward questions, get awkward answers, with a bonus of normalizing and destigmatizing difficulty conceiving for LW herself (I assume this is either a source of intrinsic or received extrinsic shame for LW, given that she considers the direct, factual response awkward) while not dismissing her actual disappointment.

    LW, I hope very much that however you wind up navigating your reproductive and parenting options and decisions, that works out well for you and yours. I think you’re allowed to want things, be sad if they’re not easy or possible, be happy if they do work out, and own all of that without apology or worrying about how other people are going to feel about it, especially when they’re asking direct questions about it. Best wishes from this Internet stranger!

  46. GAH, this kind of question is fraught. You just don’t know what you’re doing to the person you ask something like this.

    One of my sisters tried, “We’ll let you know when we have plans we want to announce,” but that really didn’t work for her — it seemed to make people keep asking over and over.

    I’m in the “never wanted children” camp, and like so many, I don’t mind the question — I mind that people feel obsessively compelled to have a meltdown over my answer because it JUST CANNOT BE, for whatever baggage reason they’re carrying around. Most people who are nosy enough to ask that kind of question also seem to find their entire identities threatened by my disinterest in participating. I have seen such people have similar-but-different reactions to people who are trying to have children but not succeeding fast enough for the questioner’s inner demons.

    The one response I’ve happened upon that doesn’t seem to get that kind of response: I have had good luck recently with, “Yeah, when I was in high school, we joked that the American dream was a house, a spouse, 2.7 children and a dog. But I’m not a kids and a dog kind of person. I’m a big pile of books and a cat kind of person.” –This one not only doesn’t seem to invoke the strange panic-baggage response, it also tends to get at least one person telling me quietly, “You nailed it and I wish I’d learned to say that years ago about myself.”

    So do I, folks, so do I.

  47. I am 37, and I like to drop “my grandchildren” into conversation mostly to see who reacts crazy and who rolls with it. But I had a guy strike up a conversation once and then ask how I was handling my “dirty thirties” with SUCH an older husband, and I just said “this conversation is over” and walked away. He tried to laugh it off, but I kept walking and really internalized that I could, and now do, walk away at any time.

  48. I did well with “Oh, we’re still practicing.” The stuffier the nosy old biddy asking was, the more it would shut her up. (And it was almost all nosy old biddies, for me.)

    Now I’m up to “we wanted two and we got two and I’m *done* if I have anything to say about it.”

  49. Every year without fail at least one of my middle school students will ask me, in complete seriousness, “Why don’t you have kids? Don’t you like kids?”

    I usually deflect this with a shocked “Oh, my god, you’re right! I’ve totally chosen the wrong career!” Or a deadpan “No, which is why they have to pay me so much to be here.” But I’m definitely adding “Did my mother send you? How much is she bribing you?”

    I did once have a fully grown man ask me that same question though and would not let it go. I finally just blurted out, “Because questions this stupid made my ovaries stop functioning.” It felt good in the moment to pour my rage and sadness into that answer. But it didn’t make it hurt less.

    I appreciate the advice for de-escalating. I’m finding that some of my grief is resurfacing as I move into the early stages of menopause. Adults are thankfully starting to leave me alone as I age, but my students will keep right on asking. Humor has been my go-to with them, but that’s hard when the question pulls up fresher sadness. Your advice will help, Captain. Thanks.

    1. I remember pestering a teacher who was probably late 40s/early 50s and married why she had never had kids. I don’t remember exactly what she said (probably on multiple occasions) but I remember her cheerful grace at communicating it wasn’t something that was a priority or her and it didn’t end up being in the cards. I have no idea whether it was a painful or just irritating question for her, although I regret being pushy about it. But I do know that her fielding those questions gave me space to exist in my small, conservative town as a fem-read person who didn’t want kids.

      So thanks for being that adult for some kids, although I am sorry the cost to you. xo

      1. I was touched by this. On one level — to the teacher’s experience — this was a total disconnect, probably. But on another, I hope the teacher might read this and say, part of that loss is recovered now.

  50. Over on NotAlwaysRight.com, there’s a story on this very topic, with the Best. Response. EVAR:

    “Oh, I have kids, but if I can’t find a buyer we’ll use the meat ourselves.”


    (Spoiler: they’re talking about baby goats, who eventually found a home and a career as part of a weed-eating flock.)

    1. Yes! I thought about this letter when I read it, too – so wonderfully Swiftian with such a great reveal.

  51. Around the time when family friends were eagerly awaiting their first grand children, my mother started with these questions at every opportunity. I am the oldest sibling. I was at a Prime Baby Making Age. I am the owner of a uterus. She’d only seen me date men. I was living in an area where there were more men than women… So it started as All of the Nitpicks About My Appearance… And then went into my Relationship Status… And then into my Sexuality… And then into We Need to Fix You Because You Won’t Settle Down… And then, after all of that, the real question came:

    Why Wouldn’t I Give Her Grandchildren, So She Could Compare and Compete with Her Friends, with a side order of You Are Such an Embarrassment, You Poor Thing Here’s More Unsolicited Advice and Stop Rolling Your Eyes at Me Young Lady (Spoiler Alert, I was 29).

    I give myself a Gold Star for Self Control when I finally lost my shit at her. In a calm and rather bored, gray rock kind of voice I told her (to Parapharse): Any children I decide to have are between me, my partner, and G-d, and her desire to have bragging rights over my reproductive choices really made her a Bad Feminist.

    In true, Narcissistic form, she burst out into tears, threw a tantrum, made it all about her, and didn’t speak to me for about a week.

    I share this because yes, it was amazing for good and for ill. I was scared. I was angry and frustrated. It was AWKWARD. But I did it anyway.

    But also to demonstrate how well the Gray Rock, being completely dead pan and bored about the whole thing, and being Hella Blunt at the same time can get folks acting in Bad Faith to Knock It Off (At Least for a Little While, Until They Need an Energetic Hit Again).

    Unfortunately, it didn’t stick permanently, but it did buy me a number of years where she was silent on Grandchildren.

  52. I found – inadvertently – that laughing like that was the most hilarious thing you ever heard pretty much puts the kibosh on that topic. Works for ‘are you two getting married’ and suchlike. I must be abnormally surprised and amused by questions like that.

    Miss Manners again;
    “You are under no obligation to answer personal questions from strangers, and Miss Manners finds [a] dismissive reply and refusal to engage permissible.” Refusal to engage can mean “I don’t talk about that”. Blunt words and a bored tone are perfectly polite.

  53. A somewhat overbearing person once asked me (I kid you not), “Why did you only have ONE child?”

    Some imp took over and I made my eyes moist and my voice quavery when I said, “Because that’s all that God sent us….” as though I’d wanted dozens and got just a singleton.

    That person backpedaled and made sympathetic noises and looked quickly for an exit.

    1. Oh man, this. I am the fulfilled mother of an only child, who, for various reasons, will remain so. I have explained my position to well-meaning but shittily-acting family for a while now. After the most recent volley of:
      “Only children are weird” and “You’ll change your mind,” I had enough. Because the biggest offenders, my sisters-in-law, were not accepting my rationale for stopping at one child (and WAY too much JADE-ing on my end), I embraced the passive-aggressive. My DH texted each one asking her to help spread the word to extended family that questions about more children were massively upsetting and not appreciated. Wonder of wonders, ALL the shitty behavior stopped. It is glorious! I imagine that they might feel retroactive embarrassment, but at this point, I have drunk the Awkward Kool-Aid and feel that their feelings about their shitty actions are their business, not mine.

  54. Just an “Are you?” might work – it seems from the responses that a lot of this is people wanting to talk about their own fertility struggles or their own kids. There are very few questions people ask unselfishly, and since this one is a known minefield it seems pretty clear it’s going to be almost always about the asker’s desires/baggage and not genuine interest in the activities or wellbeing of the asked.

    I’ve only been asked by small girls, which is never offensive. They are surprised and universally pleased to find out that it is possible to be an adult woman and not have kids – their only experience w/ women is as mothers.

  55. *love* the comment about spiders!

    And can confirm success with “ooh, are we swapping medical histories? Cool – you first,” but it helps to know your audience – make sure it’s not the office drone who won’t stop moaning about their own body… (!)

  56. My go to response for those who I know mean well (friends, the nice neoghbors) is “it’s a work in progress” which nicely covers all bases, including the point where hopefully I’ll be pregnant and not ready to tell them yet. It’s also vague enough that they get the point and stop asking.

  57. I’m a cis woman, and I used to get “when are you having kids” constantly, especially in the workplace from female bosses/coworkers.

    When I said mildly but firmly “I’ve never wanted children” people would always reply in a voice of absolute certainty “You’ll change your mind!”

    [this was AFTER I’d had my tubes tied! Not that I told my coworkers this.]

    The “when are you having kids” question only stopped when I became too chronically-ill to do any paid work, and started needing a power wheelchair to get around.

    Almost all people assume that wheelchair users can’t be parents [which is a whole other problem for wheelchair users who are parents or who want to be parents].

    1. Ah yes, I remember *those* days. I code too old now, but I see it happening to my youngest sister. A relative will start quizzing her about having children and when she says she doesn’t want them, they throw in the old “oh you’ll change your mind” — as if she doesn’t have five older sisters, all of whom are also related to said relative, demonstrating that it is indeed entirely possible not to change one’s mind.

  58. I think it is unfair that women have to disparage themselves with the word ‘selfish’ to justify why they don’t want children. It implies that women owe it to other people to have babies. That motherhood means losing your sense of self, and thusly not taking care of one’s own needs. Not to mention, there are so, so many more reasons to not have children beyond the disruption the cost that they imply.

    I, myself, refuse the word. It is not selfish that to live my authentic life means to live it without babies. It is not selfish that I know myself well enough to be sure of my choice, whatever the reason may be.

    1. Yes, particularly when it’s people who have children just to do so who are actually selfish — like the comment above about “just get it over with.” IT’S A PERSON, you fucking moron, not a line item on a checklist.

    2. That’s totally fair and I absolutely understand why you wouldn’t want to label yourself that way.

      For myself, selfish is a term I’ve embraced a lot, just because there’s no reason that my personal life choices shouldn’t be made with my own best interests at heart. I don’t hurt other people and I am kind. But it’s absolutely okay for me to be selfish enough to put my own desires first. It’s my life that I’m living after all.

  59. I get, I imagine, about 20% of what my mum gets/got. ‘Wow, a 15 year age gap between you and your siblings. You must have been a happy little accident when your parents thought they were all finished!’
    ‘Hm, yeah, hahaha, well actually my mum had five miscarriages between my sister and me.’ Usually kills the mood a bit.

  60. Sometimes making the conversation awkward is a feature, not a bug. I mean, yes, when a well-meaning person in the grocery line asks how many kids I have, they might get a cheerful smile and an “It’s complicated.” (Because that’s the quickest way to honor my reality without telling the whole story.)

    But when someone pushes and pushes, I actually think one of the better ways to shut them down is to be blunter and let the conversation be awkward. I just remind myself that I didn’t bring the awkward, they did; I’m just telling the truth about my life and if other people have feeling about it, well.

  61. I’m really sorry about your situation LW. One of my best friends has infertility problems, it took her three years to conceive her daughter and she started getting that question again within months of her birth! She mostly deals with it with a vague answer and subject change. I would have loved kids, but I fell in love with a guy who really didn’t want them. As I was born to parents who really would rather have not had me, I decided that I wasn’t going to do that to my kids. I used to get asked when we were having children a lot, and I mostly brushed it off with how young I still was (I’ve been with him since I was 22, and he’s 8 years older). And then when I was 28 I became a wheelchair user and everyone just stopped asking me! In fact people often seem confused when they see me in charge of small children (I have two nieces and a nephew who I adore), and really relieved when they find out I’m not actually a parent. I wish you luck with both dealing with fielding really personal questions, and with creating your family, however that happens.

    1. I just wanted to add that now I’ve accepted that kids aren’t going to happen for me, it hurts a lot less than I ever thought it would. However both my parents have recently started complaining about their lack of grandchildren which really winds me up. Back when I was in my 20s, I seriously considered going down the single parent route. Both my parents made it abundantly clear that I would receive zero support from them because they were too young to be grandparents (they were both in their 40s, but their parents became grandparents at that age). I do wonder about what my kids would have been like, but I know having a kid with someone who would have at best been ambivalent, and at worst resentful wasn’t the right thing. I can’t say I don’t get mad at him for taking that option away from me, but at the end of the day I chose to stay and he has been an absolute rock of support since I became disabled so I know it was the right choice. But it does still hurt sometimes, especially as I’ve now in my last gasp of fertility (I’m 35).

  62. Sometimes, the vaguely generic response works for me:
    Person: Why don’t you have kids?
    Me: Yeah, you know, some people have kids and others don’t. There are a lot of reasons for that and sometimes there aren’t. Things change or they don’t. We just don’t really know, do we?
    Person: Uhm, I guess so?
    Me: More tea?

  63. This is my father-in-law who always asks (usually my husband instead of me, but in my hearing), “So when are you having kids?” My husband just kind of nervously laughs or ignores the question altogether, and I try to laugh it off (“Oh, not finished with my dissertation yet”). Sometimes, though, it’s accompanied with “you’re not getting any younger!” (I’m 32?). The last time (on Father’s Day, no less) my response was a short “when we’re ready and not before” and that seemed to shut him up – for now. My next responses are leaning toward “when your son finally learns how to manage money” and “when we finally are able to have sex” (a series of physical problems on my side). I think I’m stealing a few ideas from this post to try before I snap too badly at him.

    1. I sometimes wonder whether it wouldn’t be more effective–with someone you see regularly, especially family–to sit them down to say, “I really need you to stop asking this question, and to stop bringing the topic up. It’s really hurtful to have you prying into our reproductive lives like that, and the pressure you’re putting on us is at risk of damaging our relationship. We like coming over and spending time, but if it’s awkward and pressured about kids, we’re going to stop. You deserve to know that you are in danger of driving us away. Please–leave this topic alone.”

      I have done something very like this with my MIL on other topics (pushing food at the dinner table). I didn’t have to for the kids thing; she gingerly asked if it was in our plans, and then she just defended me to other people (elsewhere here I told of the person who berated me (“I have a bone to pick with you”) for not having a good enough reason to have kids. She’d told that person, I think, “they just got married, they’ll have kids when they’re ready.”

      1. I guess I’m afraid he’d mock me. He’s like that. I’ve asked hubby to say something to him, but I know the FIL noticed the shortness of my last response. I’m hoping that’s enough to keep him at bay. The list of comments is very long at this point: “you’re not getting any younger” (which started when I was 27), “when will you guys have kids?” (implied – like his other son who “provided him with a grandchild”), “doesn’t have a daycare?”, “now that is out of school, you can start having kids” (I’m still in school and he knows that – and guess who’s carrying that kid!). I would not be responded to with the same degree of patience that I have so far if I asked him that often when he was marrying his girlfriend – and he talks about doing it roughly once a year. Definitely going to let hubby handle it because I just don’t have the energy anymore.

        1. yeah, it’s all dependent on what kind of person that is. My MIL is a good person and she wants to be close to me. I could say, “the pressure you’re exerting is driving me away from you,” and she would listen.

        2. If your FIL will mock you because you’ve given him an honest answer or told him straight out to stop asking, he sounds like the kind of person who *deserves* to be on the low contact list. That’s really a conversation for your husband – the man’s son – to have with him.
          I’m sorry you have to deal with such a [insert term of choice]. You have the patience of a saint.

  64. If I was a billionaire, I would pay for a worldwide PSA to let every human being know it’s not OK to ask people about their reproduction plans.
    The question is intrusive for both childless and childfree people and devastating for those who had a child who died.

  65. “Ah, that’s not a conversation for today” + smile + “but tell me how the dog/garden/current project/literally any other topic, is doing. Did you find that fleacollar/triffid/flux capacitor you were looking for?”

    Ought to be enough to make any decent person back off. I say ought to, because people can be damn tactless, but if the aim is to avoid feeling horrible by having to think about the question, this sort of stock deflection might be helpful. Also you get all the sympathies, this sort of thing is wildly upsetting, and really it shouldn’t be good manners to be so intrusive.

  66. I just want to say I’m a huge fan of everyone who manages a sassy/rude response to rude questions or bigotry in general.

  67. I just want to send you jedi hugs. I was you once, when I was trying, and failing to get pregnant twenty-three years ago. The worst for me was when people would tell me ‘uplifting stories’ about how so-and-so tried for a billion years, and then finally she got pregnant! I wanted to be pregnant RIGHT NOW. Telling me it might take years was not helpful. So, lots of love from an internet stranger; I hope my bit of empathy helps, at least a little. I wish you all the best.

  68. “Specialist Organa-Vorkosigan” oh my heart i LOVE this. Thank you Jennifer for being onside with the Bujold wonderfulness, until I found your column i pretty much got all my ‘scripts’ from her novels 🙂

    1. Miles Vorkosigan has vastly increased my sense of being welcome in the world as a motor-skill-diverse person. Nobel Prize for Sociokinesiology to Ms. Bujold.

  69. When my husband and I were married for less than a year, we went to some work function of his and I got chatting with another woman there. When I introduced myself, I tended to say “I’m Alexis! I’m Ted’s wife!” as a way for them to place me. This person asked immediately if we had kids, and I said something about no not yet, maybe someday. And she responded, with the most confused look, “but…. you’re married?” I think I tried to follow up with more deflecting “still so much we want to do! we’re really young still, we have so much time! I want to do a master’s degree first!” but she was FIXATED on this idea of a MARRIED WOMAN not having kids. I think i eventually gave up, gave her the most exasperated/confused look I could muster and straight up walked away. It was beyond baffling. This was in British Columbia, Canada, so its not a very conservative/old fashioned/traditional place, it was so weird and I was not expecting it at all.

    Nowadays, I just say “not yet!” because that’s true for me. Sometimes people ask how old I am, but I’m going to stop answering that soon because we are edging away from “oh you’re so young! you have lots of time” ages and getting closer to “your biological clock must be ticking up a storm! blah blah health concerns for babies born in your 30s” (MASSIVE eye roll to that.)

    When people pry, I will say “you’re not my husband OR my doctor, so you’re not really involved in the decision-making process for this”. (the only people who have pried so far have been extended family who I have a rapport with, not necessarily strangers).

    With my mother and the rest of my family, I have a hard and fast rule that every time they ask me about grandchildren/nieces/nephews/spawn/whatever, I threaten to add a month to the timeline. My mother has stopped, and she was the worst culprit.

    1. A friend of mine and her then-husband moved out to a city in another province that, ultimately, my friend decided she hated and really didn’t want to settle down in. Her colleagues would ask her when (not if, but when) she and hubs were going to have babies, and she’d dodge and hem. They would, apparently, give huge knowing grins and say, “Of course! You want to buy a house first.” This was kind of flabbergasting to my friend, since where we’re from, she was already way ahead of most of our peers by being married; pregnancy and home ownership just weren’t happening for anyone in their mid-twenties (partly due to the obscene cost of living in our region).

  70. I’m sorry that your dealing with this OP.

    SIL#1 had to deal with a load of fertility issues and miscarriages in-between having 3 kids and it was awful for her everytime she went to work and people asked about babies. She found bluntness worked with those who were persistent and our family universally took the stance of never asking the dreaded question.

    We took the approach of asking about their family or anyone close in your life?

    Personally, I’m in my early 30’s and have been asked the ‘babies?’ question since I was 18.
    My Mam has finally figured out that while I love kids and good with them I don’t want my own, while her sisters range from completely against having kids and awkward as heck with them to I had one, it was hell NO MORE!

    I do however have stock answers for when people ask –
    – *laughs* H#ll no I’ve not got the patience to deal with them 24/7
    – I have 3 nephews and a niece and several godchildren that’s enough!
    – *shudder* why would you ask that!?
    – nope, don’t ask people that it’s rude

    When asked, why not?, and I get this a lot along with, you’ll change your mind.
    – I don’t want them
    – I like my life as it is
    – I’m selfish
    – pregnancy brings up a whole load of body horror issues for me so no, never

    If I’m feeling chatty I’ll happily talk about my two brothers kids, the eldest Nephew is 10 years younger than me and the youngest, from my other brother thankfully, is nearly 2. So pic’s and stories are shared then.

  71. Hi OP. Much love to you. I’ve been there. I shared this on AAM recently also: The best response in my arsenal to this, especially when people get pushy about it, is, “My spouse and I aren’t bored with each other yet,” said with a smile. It’s so funny to watch them get defensive, even if they don’t say anything else.

    DH and I have been together over 20 years, and it hasn’t happened for us. Now it never will, thanks to the hysterectomy/partial oophorectomy I needed to get a few weeks ago. I don’t need to share the state of my reproductive organs with all and sundry, so I’m fine with returning that awkwardness to sender. It does takes some getting used to. I’d suggest practicing your preferred response, even if it’s to yourself in the shower, so it’ll just snap out the next time someone is stupid.

  72. My answers fall on the spectrum from a deadpan “People like me shouldn’t have children” to a cheery “No, but if I could give my gf kittens I’d knock her up today!” (We have a running joke about this and she will back me up in the same cheery voice in literally any setting. “We’re hoping for a litter of three and at least one calico, but as long as they’re healthy, that’s the most important thing!”)
    Usually people give up in confusion at that point though in some outlying cases it leads to a discussion about the future of bioengineering. 😉
    On one memorable occasion, someone was asking me if I wanted kids and when I said no, she said “but doesn’t your gf?” And I nearly explained that we’d both been sterilized by choice and didn’t have the bits she thought we did anyhow but I pulled myself back from the brink just in time.

  73. that is absolutely BRILLIANT. my Question I Hate is about my accent* and I work in retail so I can’t resort to the blunter options. Having an Informational Brochure to hand out is entertaining enough to occupy the busybodies without making me have to bite my tongue until it falls off!

    *accents + racism being A Thing, I will clarify that I’m white and living in a majority white country, so there’s (usually) no undertone of hostility to The Question.

    1. ME TOO.

      I have officially crossed over into living in my adopted country for more of my adult life than my birth country this year, I’m a naturalised citizen here with no plans to return. I decided my gift to myself for the crossover milestone was never again answering the “So where is that accent from????” or “Where are you REALLY from?” questions ever again if I don’t feel like it. (I am usually okay being asked where I am from if it comes up naturally in conversation but NOT as the first or second question asked by a stranger.) I have been trying to figure out the best way to implement that in practice and am going to really reflect on the Captain’s excellent advice in order to this well and mostly kindly, but it has been fun to just Not. Do. It.

      I too am a white person in Australia (a white colonised land), so no racist hostility to me either. I do think there’s an edge of xenophobia to it. I know I get maybe 5% of the xenophobia bullshit of that a person of colour gets, but even that 5% puts my teeth on edge. Particularly because my to-go response for years has been to answer with something true but not what they were asking (“Oh, I’m an Australian citizen!” “Oh, I moved here from Sydney!” ) and the people who double-down on demanding you answer the original question seem really determined to make me feel like I Am Not One Of Them And Never Will Be because I talk a little funny. And I’m just not here for it anymore. (But also don’t want to be a jerk to folks just making conversation.)

  74. This morning in response to a discussion about my new car, a coworker “jokingly” asked if there was room in the backseat for a baby seat. I cheerfully said “No! And if you ask me again, I will personally rip out my uterus right here in front of you.” *BRIGHT SMILE*

    This is not the first time I’ve heard a similar “joke” from this coworker. Also I’m FORTY FUCKING TWO WHEN WILL THIS NIGHTMARE STOP.

    1. That is the best response EVER. I hope it stops all the damn questions from that annoying coworker.

  75. I’m not afraid to tell people, “Never, nope, no way no how.” But at my age thankfully, it stopped coming up. My thought is that we need a socially understood neutral response that says, “That’s such a loaded question and I don’t want to continue this conversation.”

    My suggestion is the word: Pomegranate.

    If someone asks, and the response is, pomegranate, that means that the person who asked has to stop right there,and change the subject.

    Can we agree on that?

  76. I’m grateful that I don’t get that question very often any more. When it does come up, I can usually just talk about the cats; if I tried to take it seriously, I’d cry. Maybe if someone pushed it that far, I would let myself cry and not try to stop it.

    On the other hand, I think going through something like that makes you more sensitive to questions that might possibly upset or bother someone else, too. I don’t ask other people about things like that unless they’ve brought it up themselves in the past.

  77. I mostly just get a condescending ‘you’ll understand when you have kids’ from coworkers the same age as me who know that I am almost 40 and single. I don’t know if this coworker has seriously never thought of what he’s saying, or what…

  78. I have a feeling that most people who ask you about kids are in fact trying to work through their own conflicting thoughts on whether to have kids or not. It’s on their mind… They get a sort of confirmation from others on what to do when they ask that question!

  79. I told my family that every time they asked this question, I would add another year onto the wait. They never asked again.

    Strangers have never asked me this question, because I am very lucky to have Resting Murder Face and for all they know, eat children. I’ve been saving the line, “Never – and I had the abortion to prove it,” for almost 20 years with no opportunities.

  80. {cw: some mentions of medical stuff/surgery}

    I’m a 31 year old cis woman who had a medically necessary hysterectomy about 1.5 months after getting married to a cis guy. Dear Letter Writer, it sucked. And a lot of thoughtlessly well meaning people who have met me after the surgery have asked whether I have kids. A coworker in a group setting heard someone had news and said to me, “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU PREGNANT?” and it was realllllly awkward when the other four people sitting there knew I…was not & could not be. In the first instance, I have usually just said, “No, I don’t” and left it at that, especially in a professional context. In the second instance, none of us said anything, because the other coworkers I was with wanted to let me respond however I thought was right and I did not want to dump my whole backstory on the person who said that.

    To sum up: The Captain has some great advice above and I heartily cosign. You don’t *owe* anyone your whole story if you don’t want to give it, but you also don’t owe anyone an attempt to smooth over what is really quite an intrusive question. Many people don’t understand the weight of history and grief and dashed hopes it can contain. Our culture really lacks the vocabulary to talk about this particular grief, and partly because of that and partly because of all these other cultural factors, people often bear the weight of it in silence, or speak about it in imperfect ways. There are a lot more people out there with similar stories than we realize. Personally, I’ve actually found that as I talk about it more in the right settings, with my husband, close friends, therapist, I can deal better with the casual, thoughtless comments or questions.

  81. I was pretty upset after confiding in a colleague about two miscarriages who immediately moved to “you need to do…” I interrupted and said clearly I did not want advice. She actually }^%}*ing continued talking with “I was just telling you you should try reflexology”. I lost it with her and told her that I had asked her not to provide advice because that put the failure back on me. She didn’t get it or apologise. We’re social workers. Go figure…

    1. I’m tactless, so my reply probably would have been an unhelpfully-sarcastic “Thanks, Debra, I’m sure a fucking foot massage is just what I need to kickstart the ol’ babymaker. Fuck off.”

  82. I swear no one ever asked me this question until after I was diagnosed with something where the treatment makes it so I can’t have kids (biologically). And every time it’s a jab to the gut. I’m not sure why people continue to ask this question, and especially to ask it to people that they don’t know anything about the personal lives of in the first place.

  83. Can I offer my perspective? I’m a child free woman with a partner who was keen not to procreate and pass on his genetic illness. My fertile years were spent on psych meds that meant I couldn’t get pregnant and gave me a pituitary gland lesion (lactation *is* a significant side effect after all!) My bestie has longed to be a mother since she was a kid, she married a younger guy and after much life upheaval, had her one round of NHS IVF. Luckily, she had that longer for baby we feared might never be conceived. Her odds of having another kid are low, there was no conclusive fertility problem to diagnose. My bestie and I are in very different circumstances and yet the kids question is intrusive and uncomfy for us – me who didn’t choose motherhood and she who did. I feel there is no ‘right’way to respond that takes care of the awkwardness of the asker. It took me several months into my friends pregnancy for me to feel confident to ask her about her baby news cos, I knew this stuff is attached to big emotions that child free me doesn’t experience in that way.

    I think that the people whose feelings matter will not push you for explanations. The rest? Not your problem. Remember that there are so many of us who couldn’t have kids, who never got chance to figure it out, you might feel alone but remember we are out here in polite social situations, sending you solidarity and navigating this too.

  84. Last week at a (non-work) meeting, an acquaintance said to me, “No! You’re too young to be pregnant!” I am, in fact, not pregnant, and not planning to be pregnant for years, yet. Flabbergasted, I stammered, “I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.”

    Dude then DOUBLED DOWN and said, “Oh, well, congratulations anyway!”

    Thankfully, I’ve read your blog and instead of blowing up at him, I offered him a conversational out: “On what?”

    I could literally SEE him rerunning the calculations in his head before he finally went with, “Oh, you know, life!”

    So thank you, Captain, for teaching me these skills!!!

    1. Asshole-to-English translation:
      “You’re too young to be pregnant!” = “Here’s an unwarranted assumption phrased as a mock-humorous insult.”
      “Oh well, congratulations anyway!” = “I wasn’t expecting you to challenge my rudeness.”
      “Oh, you know, life.” = “Why are you making this awkward for me?”

  85. At one point I’d say that my interlocutor should consider that sex in general was pretty fraught, and reproductive issues made it even more fraught.

    This shut people up.

    (My then husband and I did want kids. The fertility issues were with him.)

  86. I swear, no one ever asked my husband when he was having kids. It was always me. Then when I finally got pregnant those same people started asking me when I was due. As I got on in the pregnancy those same people started asking “Aren’t you ever going to have that baby?” The very first post-delivery visitor I had when I got home from the hospital asked me when I was having another baby while holding my days old infant daughter.
    I was one of the last in my friend group to have kids so I never really asked the question of others prior to that. I don’t ask now. I have found myself becoming an old curmudgeon about certain things – like the fact that there’s a whole group of people who aren’t my kids who seem to see my whole role in life as wife and mother. I am so much more than that. So I don’t ask if people have kids. If you have them, you’re going to tell me. If you don’t and are happy about this, you’re going to tell me. If you don’t and aren’t happy about this, your feelings are your own and you’ll share them if you want to, but if not no biggie. I’ll ask what your hobbies are, what shows you enjoy watching, what books you love to read, what foods you like to eat, and what places you’ve visited. You know, the same stuff people talked to my husband about before, during, and after the birth of our kids.

  87. Hugs to you, LW. I get this question all the time (as a long-married woman who does not have children). I used to be super awkward about answering, because I felt really judged and put on the spot (especially when I was still in my 20s). In my late 30s now, I find two things to be very helpful. 1) I really don’t care what other people think about my health and life choices, so if my answer makes things awkward, that’s for them to feel, not me. And 2) for the people who are really being dicks about it, the word “No” is a complete answer in and of itself. There’s a young woman who recently joined our circle of friends, and she has begun to constantly drop comments and questions about “when” my husband and I will be procreating. The only thing that shuts her down is a one-word negative. “No”, “Nope”, and “Never” are all good choices. The one time she pushed with a “But whyyyyy?”, I said “Because, No.” (At which point other folks present were starting to give her anvil-weighted stares, and she got the point and let it drop).

  88. My (actually very awesome otherwise) MIL uses my childfree husband and me as a sounding board for her constant anxieties about her other son being on the verge of a breakup with his GF – aka pushing up her chances for grandkids. And when they were not on the verge of a breakup it was constant anxiety about how long her advanced degree was going to take and where they would eventually live to accommodate her niche degree. All things in the way of grandbabies!

    I always try to change the subject or highlight that he’s living his life RIGHT NOW. Maybe not happily with a tenuous relationship, but he’s living where he wants with a degree/job/salary he wants and does the sports/hiking/city nightlife he wants. And he’s never once mentioned anything about wanting kids (to us anyway), so I try to keep on his topics.

  89. A response I like is: “You never know when that question is going to cause somebody a lot of pain.” You can deliver it kindly, or you can deliver it bluntly, depending on the context. But I feel like it does two things in one fell swoop: lets the person know they have touched something painful for you and that they should stop, and maybe gives them pause the next time they want to make small talk over such a non-small talk subject. Hang in there, dear LW.

    1. My sister likes to use a version of that. She just answers “Oh, I don’t talk about that” and just leaves it there very matter of factly. Most people look slightly shaken but seem to recover quickly and change the subject. The few that push for a reason are told “Because it’s private and I don’t want to talk about it” in a more forceful tone. It’s impressive, really.

      1. “Oh, I don’t talk about that”
        “Because it’s private and I don’t want to talk about it”

        I may have to use these the next time someone [usually a total stranger] asks me intrusive questions about my Disability/chronic illness/health.

  90. Oh man, I work in elementary schools at the front desk (“casual admin” AKA “the secretary’s equivalent of a supply teacher”) so I get asked about kids a LOT, with the assumption I’ve already had them. I went through being mentally knocked onto my heels a few times (Is it because I’m fat, and therefore somehow – urgh – ‘mother-shaped’? I’m in my twenties, do I look older? What about me screams “must be a mom”?!) and mentally rehearsing over the course of two years before I had a few I liked. For me, dry humour is usually easiest, but when I’m brave enough I plan to work “What makes you think I have kids?” back into circulation for special occasions to return the awkwardness to sender (it’s like asking why a ‘joke’ is funny: they can’t do it).

    The short and sweet: “I AM the child in my family.” (Said with my most blank, nonplussed stare.)
    The I’m Feeling Snarky (variations on a theme):
    “Ask me when a potted plant survives my custody.”
    “How many kids do I have? Let’s see … (checks school roster) 461. And 50 adults, too!”
    “Y’know, people keep asking me about my husband or kids – I’ve never met them!”
    “I have a husband?! Have you seen him, is he hot? I’d like to say he hasn’t been around for our entire marriage, but clearly I haven’t been, either!”
    The You Wouldn’t Drop It and Now You’re Trapped With A Rat Evangelist: “You mean Peanut and Pistachio? They ARE adorable! I bet you want to be inundated with pictures of them! I have video, too!” (Engage most smothering version of That Pet Mom mode that I can conjure from my imagination.)

    “I am the child” is the response I use the most, and it usually provides both parties a safe and swift exit to other topics (or blessed silence). Not necessarily the right response for the Letter Writer, or for anyone who has a fraught relationship with their parents and doesn’t want to be asked about them next. But as the Captain said, this is one of those things that unfortunately doesn’t go away, and hopefully some of these responses might be useful to somebody. Or at least good for a laugh. Jedi Hugs to all who need and want them!

  91. Argh, this is the worst question, why do people feel entitled to ask it? I have seriously only asked it once of a VERY close friend and only because she hinted strongly that she was done after one kid so I only asked to clarify. And I have many other VERY close friends who have made hints about stopping after their one or two and even then I never felt comfortable enough to ask outright. I don’t know why almost total strangers or even coworkers feel the need to ask others about their reproductive plans. And of course I particularly hate the “so-and-so I know tried for a billion years and finally got pregnant, you should try what they tried” as if you hadn’t thought of all possible methods of conception as a matter of course. Ugh.

    Anyway, LW, I totally feel you because I am actively trying to get pregnant and have been for almost a year now. I realize that that isn’t a super long time but my situation is a little different because I am 40 and also because I am single (chronically single, sadly) so I need medical intervention no matter how I try. And also my older brother is married and neither he nor his wife want kids. So we are in the really weird circumstance of people asking him and SIL when they are going to have kids (my dad is the biggest offender in this category) and people not even realizing that I am trying desperately to get pregnant. Luckily for me, since no one has any clue that I’m trying (I’ve only told my mom and aunt b/c I needed rides to appts for IVF stuff) I have not had to answer any rude questions. And even though I love my mother and aunt, even having them know what’s going on has been tough, just trying to answer their questions (and they are mostly good about being in a “need to know” basis with the situation). My brother did finally yell at my dad “We’re getting a kitten!” the last time he hinted about them having kids (and boy is she a cute kitten) but I know that’s a different answer than you’d like to give, seeing as how you do really want to have kids.

    I love some of these other suggestions, but really I think that a straightforward “Not something I would like to talk about” should suffice. Jedi hugs, hope you can come up with something that works for you.

  92. Sending some gentle internet support, OP.

    My favorite answer when I was in infertility/miscarriage hell was “Great question!” with with a high degree of cheer and just enough sarcasm to not invite any follow up. Found it very effective and also non-committal.

  93. I finally shut my coworkers up with “I will only have a child if my sister and brother-in-law die and i have to raise their son. Are you wishing for that to happen?” They fell into the meant-well we’re-all-moms camp, but years of “No, I don’t want children” didn’t get through to answer the bloody question. :p

  94. I have one child and thought I’d have another, then miscarried twice while trying and was like hey you know what, I’m so done with this, I’m not really even sure I wanted another one anyway because the one I have is hard enough! And I’ve had some feels about that but I am largely good with it, as is my husband.
    When people ask if I am planning to have more kids (which is one of those “oh just asking” questions that often comes up with parents of one kid, I notice!) I tend to be pretty honest because I genuinely believe that miscarriage should be a WAY less taboo subject for those who wish to bring it up! And it’s worth it, for all those times when the response is “oh, wow, me too.” The response I HATE MORE THAN ANYTHING THOUGH is “but don’t give up, you’re so young” and “you never know!” and I’m like, nope, actually i do know, and my age has nothing to do with it.
    What shuts them up is when I tell them that my husband was recently diagnosed with RA and that’s the real reason. “OH, of course.” He gives me permission to revert to this in the event that I start getting a “never give up” pep talk or, god forbid, a “but think of your poor only child” talk.
    People meaning well in these conversations doesn’t make it easier – it actually makes it harder.
    LW, I feel for you. Thanks for the reminder that we should all think before we ask these things casually.

  95. While I’m not particularly old (25), I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly 9 years now and live in an area where people have kids pretty young. I don’t want kids (the idea of pregnancy is kind of squicky to me) and am vocal about both not being interested in having kids or comfortable talking about the subject of kids. My boyfriend’s mother, without fail, asks me repeatedly whenever we see her if I’m going to give her grandchildren. It’s so demoralizing to realize that she doesn’t care at all about the answers I give her.

    1. “give me grandchildren” makes my brain shudder. It’s so dehumanizing, of both the potential mother and the hypothetical baby.

      I wonder if your bf’s mother would hear it if next time she asks if you’re going to give her grandchildren you say “nope, you’ll have to pay retail like everyone else.”

  96. Ugh ugh ugh.

    I have so many friends who are parents NOW after spending a long time fervently trying and being continually heartbroken when they miscarried/didn’t get pregnant. I feel really grateful that some were able to talk about their fertility struggles publicly, and that it’s getting more attention that you don’t just decide to have kids, press a button, and BOOM 9 months later: kids. It’s so painful to think of them getting pestered with these questions for years.

    (I’m childless by choice and strangely, despite having been married 3.5 years, don’t actually get these questions a lot. Maybe because we’re poor artists. Though my mom did pull me aside on Father’s Day to say “I-know-you-said-you-don’t-want-kids-but-if-you’re-pregnant-right-now-let-me-know-cuz-I-have-shingles-and-that-could-hurt-your-baby-if-you’re-pregnant.”)

  97. I am so, so sorry that y’all are dealing with these questions, it’s noxious and unfair.

    I’m currently (visibly) pregnant with my third, and oh man, the opinions don’t get BETTER when you’re visibly pregnant. I’m blunt and currently in a DGAF kind of state, so I’m perfectly willing to shut it down in a completely socially inappropriate way, but seriously, the next person who asks how I plan to give birth… Like, are you ACTUALLY consulting me about the stitches in my genitals? Really? Because unless you’re the medical professional putting them in, I’m pretty sure that they only concern me.

    Blech. People suck.

    1. This really says it all, doesn’t it? Whether you have children, don’t have children, or are visibly about to have a child very soon, people have no compunction about interrogating a woman’s bodily autonomy.

    2. > asks how I plan to give birth…

      “Well, until the second trimester, the baby hasn’t decided which opening it’s going to exit through. We’re hoping for one of the lower ones, that way it won’t be fighting gravity.”

      (credit: XKCD)

  98. I suggest finding some online support forums for sure. It is cathartic having a place to rant and grieve and commiserate with others, no matter what step of the fertility journey you are on. While i might be infertile and am childfree by choice, I have also come across lots of groups for people trying, dealing with miscarriages, and simply exausted at being asked their life plans. Like a retail position invites snotty customer interactions, being a part of society invites nosy folk who wanna know about your reproductive tendencies, and having a safe place away from those folk to share your experiences can make them leas stressful and burdensome. LW I hope you stay strong, you are doing your best and that’s all you can do. Hugs your way

  99. I shut down this question so well whilst undergoing fertility investigations and treatment that when I did get pregnant I then got lots of “oh, we thought you weren’t maternal at all” type comments… Which just goes to show you really can’t win with this stuff.

  100. ‘I’m the oldest of 6, I’ve done everything but birth them or breastfeed them. I’m good.’

  101. This may not work for everyone, but something my husband and I are doing that’s really working for us (we did this about “when are you getting engaged” too):

    Every time someone asks, “When are you having kids?” our answer is: “Probably sometime in the next 5 years.”

    Here’s the trick though, in a year, our answer is the same. In 5 years? Our answer is the same. Our nosy family knows this, so when they feel the urge to ask that question they just look at us and go, “So still 5 years?” and the answer is YES.

    I love this because it gives them zero information beyond that we want children. We can procreate in peace and no one will know when we’re having kids until we tell them.

  102. One thing that I didn’t see mentioned above is that it kind of sounds like LW *wants* the asker to know (maybe not in all cases, but at least sometimes) that they have caused her some pain. And I just want to say: I think that is heartily OK! If you’re tired of yet another pin-prick of pain and you want to give the answer of “…but it just hasn’t happened yet,” I say DO IT. I know it comes with some inherent awkwardness with most people, and I think that’s OK. You may save the next person in your situation a similar experience.

  103. One thing that I didn’t see mentioned above is that it kind of sounds like LW *wants* the asker to know (maybe not in all cases, but at least sometimes) that they have caused her some pain. And I just want to say: I think that is heartily OK! If you’re tired of yet another pin-prick of pain and you want to give the answer of “…but it just hasn’t happened yet,” I say DO IT. I know it comes with some inherent awkwardness with most people, and I think that’s OK. You may save the next person in your situation a similar experience.

  104. Hey. You’re not alone.

    What helped me was to think, “There’s no wrong way to grieve.” I didn’t go out of my way to make people uncomfortable, but I also didn’t pull my punches. My first response was usually, “It’s not in the cards for me.” Pretty mild response. But if the questioner followed up with something like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “There’s always adoption,” or the tale of how someone they knew had the exact same problem, but then had a miracle, my responses were usually, “Did you really just say that to me,” icy silence, and “How about you shove that platitude right on up your ass?” I gave myself permission to grieve and be raw. I avoided baby showers. I sent gifts off the registry and stopped making baby quilts.

    I also think of loss as an emotional wound. I don’t want to walk around with a wound, I want it to heal, to form a scar. Scars still hurt sometimes, and aren’t pretty, and have changed me, but I’m whole. So when I get hurt, I actively work on healing, which means, physical work until I was tired, counseling, medication, not watching scary movies or anything where an animal gets hurt, etc. And of course, time passing. Everyone’s process is their own.

    I hope for you good things and send love and empathy your way.

  105. I’m somebody who wanted kids at one time, but it’s a touchy subject now for medical and money reasons.

    If somebody asks if I *have* children, I find it’s usually effective to say “No, but I have pets/nephews/nieces/etc” and change the subject to those things. Or sometimes I say “No, how about you?” And then, if they’re going to ask that question, they’re usually happy to provide the answer and talk about it.

    People asking if I *want* children is a lot more touchy and sensitive for me. I don’t like lying about this subject. Not because I owe people the truth, but because it just feels bad. But the truth is also too personal to share. I just kind of shrug and say “I don’t know” which is either a half truth or a massive over simplification of complex and conflicting feelings. Luckily, I hadn’t encountered many people who take “I don’t know” as an opportunity to lecture or preach. The people who ask me are usually more than happy to turn the subject to their own plans, which I’m happy to talk about.

    1. Same with me. I maybe-wanted kids but I never met the right person and definitely cannot afford to raise a child on my own (at least, not in a way that would feel right. People raise children on less but it’s a struggle and I wouldn’t voluntarily sign a kid up for it). Now I’m rapidly closing out my childbearing years, although I still apparently seem young enough that people ask. So I’m neither happily childfree nor do I really want kids (given the circumstances). Being able to say I never met the right man is an easy out in most situations, although some of my younger and more progressive friends will insistently remind me that that’s not the requirement it once was, which is a lot more hurtful than they mean it to be. At least being single gets the older ladies off my case.

  106. I am so sorry that you (and other commenters) have experienced the pain of infertility. If I might make a suggestion, don’t do the dog and cat thing unless you are trying to be rude. I mean, people should not ask if you have kids, so you are entitled to be rude. But parenthood, like infertility (which many parents have also experienced) is filled with a thousand unique, eternal agonies and anxieties and many parents are insane and broke and have broken marriages and bodies from it, so this remark comes off as deliberately mocking. Which, again, fine if you mean it that way. But “no—do you?” is a million times nicer if you think the person has just put their foot in it. Which you have, and we all have, at one point or another.

  107. The captains response to this question is gold, and the commenting guidelines made me laugh out loud alone in my house.

    Both my mother and MIL had trouble conceiving and miscarriage(s) and have thankfully been very respectful about this topic, despite being super overbearing about other stuff. I have a real fear of fertility issues and worry about my responses to these types of questions when spouse and I are actually trying to have children. I’m glad this post is here for future reference. Jedi hugs to anyone struggling with fertility issues, especially those who have to deal with these nosy questions. Ugh.

  108. Also: every time someone asks “when are you having children?”
    in addition to the people who don’t want children; and the people who want children but can’t have them [whether for medical/fertility reasons or financial reasons]

    there is also a good chance that the person-without-children has chosen not to have children because they themselves were physically/emotionally abused as a child. So you could well be pressing on someone’s feelings about abuse they survived.

  109. For invasive questions in general, and fertility questions in particular, I’ve found a good note by invoking an absent confidante:
    “You know what? Even my sister hasn’t asked me that!” or, “Wow — my best friend has three kids, and I’ve got just the one, and she’s never brought it up as a question!”
    I start out kind of warm and bemused, and then immediately afterward change the topic, while the questioner’s still processing what just happened.

  110. I have mostly succeeded in ruthlessly training my mother out of asking hypothetical-kids questions.


    Last week she called to chat and felt the need to tell me that a friend of hers had seen a picture of my husband on her computer and said, “my, they would have very tall children.”

    This remarkably unnecessary anecdote was surrounded by several layers of “now, this isn’t me talking, I’m just repeating what my friend said!”

    I think the advantage of coming down on her hard about asking me about my reproductive choices is that she only ever tries to come at it sideways now, but in such ridiculously transparent ways that highlight how much she’s being the awkward one in these interactions, not me.

    1. My mother was still a teenager when I was born so when I started to ease into the age where having kids was something my friends were doing she never said a word. She was still in her 30’s at that time and not at all ready to be a grandmother. I think that’s why I distinctly remember the moment she first mentioned my having kids. I was 29 and had been married for about a year. She and I were out shopping when she suddenly turned to me and said “I’m ready for you to have kids now, so if you could make that happen that’d be great.” I have to admit, it made me laugh because it was so random. I honestly think that was the one and only time she bothered me about kids. My youngest sister (10 years younger than I am) has a very different experience. It’s a bit like yours.

  111. Oh letter writer, I am in the same situation right now and I HATE WHEN PEOPLE ASK THIS! It is like pressing on a bruise and it ruins my day. A friend suggested the response of “We would love to be able to have a child”. I like that idea but haven’t used it yet. My response varies based on the person and the day, but usually involves a swift subject change. Recently an aunt and uncle I’m not particularly close with started asking about it and I just said “I don’t want to talk about it” and repeated that til they dropped the subject. Sending you empathy, solidarity, and well wishes!

  112. My darling sister traded her ex husband in for a pittie mix rescue. It was definitely an upgrade! Myself, anything with four legs and dog breath turns me into a puddle of marshmallow goo!!!🌞

  113. This is like the ultimate master post for how to prepare for and react to those “stages of life” questions, and the additional suggestions and anecdotes in the comments are all good. I have nothing to add but want to express gratitude for this site, for the Captain’s excellent and empathetic writing and the kind commenters.

  114. My recent answer to the latest, extremely humiliating ‘Are you pregnant?’ question (I had made a fashion choice that involved revealing, not hiding, my belly) was a cheery ‘no, just fat!’

    My other go-to is a genuine and concerned ‘No, are you?’.

    1. Not counting the doctor’s office, I’ve been asked if I was pregnant exactly once: I was twelve at the time, wearing a high-waisted dress my step-mother had made me. To this day, I avoid dresses that put the waist above the belly, because I’m scared it looks like a maternity dress and that I look pregnant.

      1. Oh, Lord, yes. Due to, IDEK, a breast-hip ratio of some sort, if I put on a yoke-wasted dress or a peasant top, the surgeon who did my tubes starts thinking about libel suits.

  115. Blunt works for me. When asked when I’m having # 2, my standard response is along the lines of “apparently you missed the part where # 1 was born three and a half months ahead of time, spent four months in hospital and almost died several times. My mental health would not stand going through that twice so I’m quitting while I’m ahead.” (The boy’s fine, by the way.)

    Failing that, there’s a reason why “that’s none of your business” is a classic line in the social repertoire. Yes it creates an awkward moment, but *they started it*. The generous version is “with due respect, that’s none of your business”.

    As a conflict-avoidant person who hates Making a Fuss, I was never more proud of myself than the day I looked straight in the eyes of a nosy parker at church (where this type of person abounds in my experience, because of narratives about good-little-Christian families with their cohort of babies) and said “that’s a very indiscreet question”. The concept of the indiscreet question is well known to all French people. Means you’re asking something a bit rude that’s not your business. He was embarrassed and tried to say he’d never considered it that way. I replied “But it’s very personal. You can really hurt people with questions like that” and walked away with my head held high and my shoulders back feeling like a champ.

    Slightly related: I am one of those women with a Tummy. I’m of about average curviness everywhere else, but my mother has a Tummy and I have a Tummy and that’s just what my morphology is like unless I wear underwear that squeezes like me in a boa constrictor and/or stand up very very straight indeed. Hint to the world: a woman with a Tummy is not necessarily pregnant and asking her is Rude and unlikely to make her feel good about herself.

    1. If I had a kid, I’d so reply to “when are you having #2?” with “usually every morning after my coffee” with a hearty belly pat.

  116. I hear you loud and clear LW.

    I was first asked this question at the tender age of 17, by my (now Ex) boyfriend’s father, who used my answer (“One day, yes!”) as some weird misogynistic proof that I was going to force grandparenthood on to him within the next 3/4 of the year and “ruin his life.” Nothing about the impact of a pregnancy on mine or my BF’s lives, just his. Vile, vile man. I already have my dancing shoes picked out for his funeral.

    I think the scripts you’re already using are fine. And the Captain’s suggestions give you more options.

    I think worrying a lot less about the person asking you such a personal question is important. If they feel awkward after your response, that’s them. You can’t control their response, and if they do feel awkward it’s because they asked an awkward question and opened up the whole interaction to awkwardness. You’re not obligated to hide your own discomfort and give them a fig leaf for theirs.

    1. Yes! Prioritize your own comfort with your answer.

      If it’s awkward for them, that’s fine. It’s good. Life is a never-ending science experiment, and if you protect them from the awkwardness, you rob them of the feedback they need to come to the correct scientific conclusions.

  117. I say, “No, just a cat!” with a tight smile and a statement inflection, i.e. flat but polite, end of topic, same tone as I would say, “from New Jersey, and you?”. It doesn’t help with the initial twinge of sadness but it usually stops further questions, and now that it’s more or less rote it lets me go into autopilot when dealing with an uncomfortable moment.

  118. I had a friend who was like Teflon with ANY question you asked her.

    (She had a toxic-as-hell mother–my most eye-opening experience was going along to a family seder once.)

    How was your day, “Oh, you know, it was fine.”
    What did you do this weekend? “Oh, this and that.”

    In a very off-hand, “this isn’t important” singsong-y way, as if her attention was suddenly just not on you–she stopped looking at you, she turned her body away–the nonverbal language was, “I’m not in the conversation; you’re bothering me.”

    I found it mildly infuriating, until I met her mother and realized why she was so private and self-protective.
    But it was also instructive. You do NOT actually have to answer a question, no matter how hard someone pushes.

    She obviously had her scripts, and she used them. And she didn’t really deviate.
    If you dropped the topic, she’d come back.

    So I vote for maybe having one basic script that just moves the question along, and use it without a lot of thought. Aim for Teflon, aim for de-escalation.

  119. I found “it’s not in the cards” to be a great all-purpose non-answer. This covers everything from “I am lucky to keep fish alive; do you really want me to take care of a child?” To “I’m infertile so quit asking” to “how about never? Never works for me”.

  120. I live in the South and one of my former (note the “former”) workplaces was 99% women and 75% nurses. You’d think medically knowledgeable people would be considerate about these types of questions, but apparently they all missed that class in nursing school. So most of the exchanges went like this:

    Nosy Nurse: “When are you planning to have kids?”
    Me: “Never.”
    Nosy Nurse: “How can you know that?”
    Me: “Because my doctor says a pregnancy would kill me. Thanks for asking.”

    Or there was this flavor:

    Nosy Nurse: “When are planning to have kids?”
    Me: “Never.”
    Nosy Nurse: “Oh, you just haven’t met the right man yet.”
    Me: “Oh, so you’re assuming that I’m biologically capable of getting pregnant AND that I’m straight? That’s hilarious.”

    I eventually got sick of the inquiries and told one of my co-workers who was better connected to the gossip network to spread the word that I am happily infertile and the next nurse who is supposed to know better was going to a very rough re-education in bedside manners because they really have no excuse for not knowing how loaded these questions are.

  121. “‘[husband] will have his his next child with his second wife.” Nobody ever asked twice.

  122. I’d be almost tempted to have a business card with a QRC code. “Oh, we’ve been trying. Here, you can help. Donate to our IVF fund!”

    I mostly say that my sister’s done the genetic work, so I’m good.

  123. It never ends, does it? I’ve been hearing this since I was twelve. (Twelve! A child!) I can chart the progress of my milestones by the questions of nosy strangers and loved ones.

    “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”
    “Are you going to marry your boyfriend?”
    “Have you and your fiance set a date?”
    “When are you having children?”
    “I’m so sorry your husband died! You’ll find someone else!”
    “Are you ever going to date again?”
    “Are you going to marry your boyfriend?”

    I swear to god half the misery of being widowed is that the damn wheel has turned once more and they’re starting over.

    I understand your frustration, LW. I think so, so many people do, and the advice here is excellent. Also, can your partner take some of the heat? In my life at least I get this question two dozen times at every family gathering and party and my husband weirdly got none. If your partner benefits from male privilege and doesn’t know how much this bothers you, enlist their help!

  124. What about if you’re an antinatalist? We believe having kids is immoral because it’s bringing into being someone who will suffer and die and be aware of that fact. Unfortunately, most people I meet get offended by this simple, logical philosophical statement of fact. It’s so bizarre to me that having kids is considered ‘normal’ that it’s never occurred to me, and i’m 34, so most people my age do have them.

    1. I have literally nothing for you. Don’t have children yourself and find some like-minded people and hang out with them, I guess! There’s so much of this philosophy that is indistinguishable from eugenics (WHO gets to have children?) that I have zero time for it.

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