‘Tis the season for people who can’t shut the fuck up about what’s in other people’s uteruses.
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?
Dear Captain Awkward,
My best friend (Willow, she/her) and her wife (Tara, she/her) are about to start a family. (I am writing to you at Willow’s request, and she has approved the contents of this letter). They are anticipating some intrusive and inappropriate questions, since this process will involve a sperm donor, and I was hoping you could help with some scripts to shut that down. Both Willow and Tara come from somewhat conservative families, who have not always been 100% supportive of their relationship, and who also tend to trample any boundaries they set. This is on top of the fact that a lot of people, even those motivated by care or innocent curiosity, seem to feel entitled to personal and medical information when a pregnancy is involved. Neither Willow nor Tara is comfortable discussing their process of creating a baby—how often are straight couples asked intimate questions about how their babies were conceived?—with family members, co-workers, acquaintances, etc., no matter how well-meaning the questioner. Having met some of their family members before, I can attest to the fact that “That is a very personal question *awkward silence*” will not work on everybody. Some of them will interpret that as an invitation to justify the question and/or ask it again in a different way. Do you have any ideas for ways to shut down this line of questioning that will make it clear that it is inappropriate without alienating the questioner?
Thank you for your help!
Concerned Friend/Future Cool Aunt (she/her)
Reading comments, I realize I sorta whiffed the question on telling parents about a pregnancy. Redo:
1. Most importantly: Tell anyone you feel comfortable telling in whatever way you feel comfortable at whatever stage you feel comfortable telling them. This was the piece missing from the original response, and it matters. It matters a lot. I am sorry.
2. Delay telling (i.e. inviting opinions) from people who are known to be judgmental and crappy until there is something more concrete to tell. Parents who don’t think you should even be married definitely don’t need to know about the “trying” stage. But a good friend or a close family member might be a great support through the “trying” stage.
3. Use the “Miss Manners rule” of announcing good news with the enthusiasm you’d like it to be received. “We’re so excited to let you know, we’re having a baby!”
4. For the LW’s judgy parents, a phone call or a greeting card sounds like a great way to do it. Postal mail-that-is-not-a-bill is exciting to receive and thoughtful to send. It takes the pressure off the parents to make the correct face or noises in the moment, and takes some anxiety off the shoulders of the expecting couple. Plus you can seed the entire family at the same time. You can’t control if the parents will call you with “LOL WUT” but you can save yourself experiencing that in person.
Thanks for all the pregnant folks and parents who set me straight in the comments section.
If anyone needs me today, I’ll be reading my friend Megan Stielstra’s new book of essays, Once I Was Cool. It is really, really good so far, if you like that sort of thing, and if you like reading this site I bet you do. She’s going to be reading at Story Club next week, if any other Chicago people want to head there with me. June 5th, The Holiday Club on Irving/Sheridan, get there by 7:00 if you want anything resembling “a seat.”
I’m pregnant – yay! It’s still pretty early, but if things go well, I’m on my way to being a big gassy pregnant lady. (Right now I am a small gassy pregnant lady).
However, I’m already dreading handsy co-workers who I know will touch my stomach, comment on my weight gain, start referring to me soley as “mamma” and judge everything I do by how good it is for the “baby” (I recently saw one of them cover the ears of a pregnant woman – and not one with whom he was particularly close – when someone used profanity.)
These people are both very sweet and well-meaning, and entitled and infuriating. I’m trying to plan my responses well before I start showing without a planned response, I know I’ll come across as rude and cold, while they’ll look like super-awesome guys who are just trying to be so cool and friendly!
Can you help me come up with some scripts that a) help these well-intentioned bozos realise why their comments and contact aren’t welcome, or appropriate and b) don’t make me sound like the mean office grump who hates good tidings?
– Not “Mamma” Read More
Normally about this time I’d be posting links to the Shameless Self Promotion Sunday thread, but it looks like that won’t be necessary this week. Welcome Feministe and Manboobz readers! I am enjoying your fine and well-spelled comments. I would love to hear more thoughts on how we socialize both men and women to say “no” and to respond to “no.” And I’m always looking for questions – email me at email@example.com.
Also, maybe some of you can help me with a doozy of a reader question. I’m especially interested in hearing from higher ed people, occupational health and safety people, lawyers, etc. Here we go:
I have a work-related question that is gnawing at me, and since you tackle those, I figured I’d give it a shot. I work in a chemistry research lab with a number of rather nasty chemicals. We have several undergrad interns who are finishing up their projects, and one of them has recently announced that she’s pregnant to the entire lab minus the people in charge. She goes on like nothing is going on, and she’s still doing experiments with the aforementioned dangerous products.
The reason she doesn’t want to tell the people in charge at the lab is that her immediate boss is also her professor, who still needs to grade one of her exams. The professor in question is a horrible woman and nobody would put it past her to fail the student for being pregnant. Please keep in mind that this is all happening in a country where women’s rights are not as well-defended as in the US, and there isn’t much of a structure to help the student with her problems with the professor. However, if the baby is born with a problem due to exposure to dangerous chemicals, the lab could still be held liable for that.
The pregnant student has made us swear that we wouldn’t tell the bosses behind her back, but considering the number of people who know, there is bound to be a slip-up soon. Furthermore, she has made the rest of the lab extremely uncomfortable with her reckless experimenting, and we’ve more of less decided to sit her down and let her know that what she’s doing is extremely dangerous for her child (we have all already told her this, but so far she hasn’t listened).
My position in this is very difficult in this. I’m a post doc, which means I’m not a student, but I’m not part of management either. I need to think about my relationship with my boss, which I want to be as good as possible (my boss is also the boss of the professor in question – I don’t really work with her, but I don’t want to be on her bad side either). She doesn’t seem to care about what impression she leaves behind once she leaves the lab in a few months, but I’m staying behind and I don’t want this to turn against me. I want to tell the student that if she doesn’t tell her boss soon, I’ll tell my boss.
I know that this is a very difficult ethical question, and I know that I’m slipping into woman-as-vessel territory (and I’m not going to even speculate on the exam problem), but I don’t think that “it goes against my political beliefs to tell pregnant women not to do something” is going to cut it as an excuse when I’m asked if I knew about this, and I don’t want to lie to my boss. Do you have any advice on how not to be a concern troll and how to handle the situation in order to minimize the drama?
Thanks for your attention,
Clever Name Here
Dear Clever Name:
A lot of this stuff is above my pay grade. I have no legal or occupational health and safety expertise. I do teach at a college, and if this were one of my students I would feel justified in telling the student “You have put me in a terrible position, and I am obligated to tell my boss about this so that we can make sure that you are served well and also to protect the school in case of complications,” and then referring the student to my boss and/or student services, etc. but I am in the U.S. and there are some clear guidelines and protections available that you and your intern might not have. I haven’t had to face this with pregnant students (though that does come up every other semester or so – Thanks, Abstinence Only Education! You Don’t Work At All And Should Be Completely De-funded and Called Out For Being A Crock of Shit!) but I have had a student with some obvious and scary health problems who needed to be referred to some services so (s)he didn’t do things like stop breathing or have fainting spells and seizures in my class. Read More