Asking About My Reproductive Status Requires a Good Cheese Tray.
I’ve been pretty pissed at my uterus this year. Girl is out of control. I am almost positive she’s trying to kill me. Hey, maybe we’ll end up on Dateline! Keith Morrison will narrate it — “It was a stormy night in the Pacific Northwest. While some allowed the rain to soothe them into a deep sleep, one woman was engaged in a battle for her life, and you’ll never guess who the killer was…” Yup. That about sums up my year. So you’ll understand why even casual questions about having kids send me into fight or flight mode.
You know what I’m talking about. You’re at that work party and you’ve covered all the acceptable work related topics. Someone has had just enough booze to think “gosh, we should really get to know each other” and turns things personal. The radius of questions starts fairly wide and mostly benign: whereabouts in the city do you live? what does your partner do? Suddenly the sphere is shrinking and you realize the gateway question is upon you — for me it’s almost always: how long have you been married? The second that one drops I know exactly what’s coming next and my instincts kick in. I have several patented escape techniques that are pretty effective. The least disruptive one is to distract them by throwing questions their way before they can carry on. People generally love to talk about themselves so if you play your cards right, you can have them telling you all about their urban garden, and you’re back in the safe zone. The downside to this is that you often work your way right back around to where you were before you can vacate the conversation. My favourite, and far more disruptive tactic, is playing a quick game of “was that the cheese tray?!” I wave my arms and run off mid conversation, totally halting all getting-to-know-you progress and generally making an idiot of myself. The pro: you avoid the question and usually score some smoked gruyere. The con: people are a little freaked out by unrestrained passion for cheese — it’s sad, but it’s true. If you’re like me, it’s worth it (triple cream brie, friends) but it’s not for everyone. Sometimes, despite best efforts, none of my tactics work and I find myself facing down some variation of the dreaded reproductive status question.
So, you planning on kids any time soon?
If you know me — skip down a paragraph because I know you’re maxed on hearing about this. If you don’t, here’s the thing: I suffer from endometriosis, a condition that causes the cells of your uterus to grow where they aren’t supposed to, bleed during your cycle, and glue other parts of your body together making it painful and awkward to do a lot of normal activities. (TLDR; it sucks.) This year, my homicidal uterus also gifted me with a new diagnosis: adenomyosis. This is a condition that causes the inner layer of your uterus to become rigid with scar tissue. It’s extremely painful, and often results in infertility, miscarriages, and high risk pregnancies. (Skip this if you’re sqeaumish — Apparently the rigid part of your uterus can actually crack as a baby grows, causing your uterus to literally break apart, which can be life threatening, although this would be an extreme case and likely quite rare.) Seriously though, WTF, uteri?! This has to be the most insidious way to inflict pain. Does the FBI investigate lady parts? Mueller would totally be up that, I know it. I tell you all of this so you understand that any questions involving or adjacent to my uterus are hot button issues. Also if I have to be uncomfortable, everyone else does too.
Let’s just talk about asking women this question. My personal opinion is that you should never question a woman about her reproductive plans or status unless: she brings it up, you are her partner or someone with which she has a history of discussing this topic, or you are her physician and it’s relevant to the conversation. The thing is, I’ve done it. I know I’ve done it. We all do it. Years of social conditioning tell us that it’s an appropriate question to ask, and it often comes from a geniune desire to get to know someone. Most people classify it in the same category as asking if you have brothers and sisters. The challenge to that theory is that having brothers and sisters didn’t require an active decision from you (or working body parts.) And I’ll tell you something else: once my uterus went all Norman Bates on me, I stopped asking this question pretty quick. The pain of infertility runs deep and is untenable. Some days you feel fine, other days, you grieve. And that grief can exist completely separate from the decision to actually try for kids. Women who may never have actively tried for children are still allowed to grieve the loss of the choice they wanted to make for themselves. It may sound totally devoid of logic, but hey, so is an exploding uterus. Reproductive health and infertility are also generally considered uncomfortable subjects for casual acquaintances, colleagues, even friends, especially if they happen to be dudes you barely know, who didn’t expect to be hearing about your lady bits. Furthermore, asking a woman about her intention around children sometimes inspires further questions about sexual orientation, or relationship status, which she may not feel comfortable discussing. It’s just 100% tricky.
So back to the hot seat. The question just dropped. Fifty percent of your body tells you to run. Drop kick the inquisitive smile off your conversational partner’s face, flip a table, and get the hell out of there. Run swift, like the wind, or at least for half a block until your body revolts from cheese consumption and emits a shockwave so potent you double over and pray for the sweet release of death. The other fifty percent of you scrambles for the right thing to say. Most people are probably decent humans and quickly find something politely bland to say that will be uninteresting enough to steer the conversation elsewhere without making someone uncomfortable or calling them out for accidentally pushing your buttons. I, however, cannot seem to control myself and have said some or all of the following.
Them: So, you two thinking about kids?
Me: I hate kids.
Them: Oh. Hey, is that the cheese plate?
(Nothing offends polite company quite like saying you despise children.)
Them: No kids? Think that’ll change?
Me: Nah. My sibling spawned, so the family line is safe.
Them: …Did you say spawn?
Me: Climate Change?
Them: Are you going to have kids?
Me: I might be barren.
Them: *Horrified Silence*
Usually I do the polite thing and opt for the softer version where I smile and say something like: we’re not sure that’s in the cards for us. This leaves them to make whatever assumptions they want to, but I am left feeling awkward, like I’ve brought the conversation down since most people are smart enough to know there’s more to the story and it ain’t all sunshine and baby bjorns. The other thing about this that gets to me is that the minute you imply there’s a problem people assume you desperately wanted kids and can’t have them. In some cases that’s probably true, but I’m trying to accept my rejection of a perceived biological imparative over here, okay? Even if that assumption is correct, awkward aquiantence-level sympathy doesn’t make it better, whatever platitude is plucked from thin air will be wildly inept, and if I start crying at this party because I’m uncomfortable and the whole thing is just bloody complicated, I’m probably going to send you a glitter-gram. To be fair, you started it.
I think where I’m going with this is that no matter how casually it’s said, or how good someone’s intentions are, asking a woman if she wants kids often leaves her trying to tapdance her way off the stage, sometimes without the benefit of a dance lesson. Even if she’s perfectly healthy and everything is going swimmingly, it’s a question that involves so many subtleties. Who’s asking? If it’s your boss, are they asking for a reason? If it’s your family, do they have opinions about it? If it’s a stranger, why the hell am I even talking to them about this? (Or at all?) It also mostly leads to more questions, and often a ridiculous amount of unsolicited advice about conceiving, adopting, or why kids are the best/worst things that have ever happened to someone. By the time it’s over, you’re left wondering why you ever leave your house without your don’t ask me about my reproductive status t shirt. We all have those right?
Dudes generally do not have to answer this question. Lucky jerks. But that doesn't stop them from asking it. And boy howdy are they unprepared for the response, if you decide to tell them the truth. When men ask me if I want children, I tend to get really honest. “I have a lot of issues in that area, so that’s quite a tricky topic for me.” or someday “Actually my uterus is a total asshole so who really knows.” They get uncomfortable, make a joke, make excuses to get away, or sometimes, suprisingly, ask questions. (When that happens I am impressed that they’re not squeamish and grateful it’s not awkward, but also sort of wonder how I ended up in an exceedingly personal conversation with someone whose last name I couldn’t remember even if you paid me in cheese.) So lets make a deal — If hearing about my uterus makes you uncomfortable, please don’t ask me about having kids. In fact, before you ever ask anyone about having kids, play this little game using the word orgasm as a substitute and see if these questions/statements feel appropriate.
You know what? If you’re on the fence, just have an orgasm. You’ll definitely regret it if you don’t.
You know, they say after the age of 36 it’s a lot harder to have orgasms…
Having orgasms is the worst thing you can do. It’s so much more time consuming than I thought it would be. Don’t do it.
Well, you can always stop at one orgasm. For a lot of people, one is enough.
Okay, you get my drift. That may be extreme, but I promise you, that’s how personal it feels when someone asks me about having kids. And since one in ten women suffer from endometriosis (and that’s only one of the challenging conditions facing us these days) it’s pretty likely asking these questions will press buttons for a good percentage of the women you encounter on the daily.
With recent events, many women have vowed not to stay silent, to speak up to try and change the tide of equality out there. Sometimes that means getting uncomfortable. Sometimes it means making someone else uncomfortable. So if this made you uncomfortable, or even angry, hey — I get that, and it’s okay! I promise you I feel just as uncomfortable writing about this as you do reading it. And you don’t have to agree with me, or stop asking these questions if you feel strongly about them. But maybe before you ask, you’ll consider the perspective of whoever you’re speaking to, and find a small piece of compassion for them in your heart, whatever their reproductive status.
And if you’re still going to ask, you’d better think good and hard about your cheese tray game.