Last week I wrote about a phrase that anyone who has survived pregnancy loss or infant death has heard, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” You can read that post here.
But there is another phrase that any human being between the ages of 18 and 100 has heard a million times. Even if we haven’t been asked this question, we have very likely asked it.
Do you have any kids?
For the longest time, my answer to this question was, “not yet.” It was a simple and brief way of answering the question before hopefully steering the conversation to a different topic. It was honest. I very much wanted kids, but my husband and I weren’t yet at a place where we both felt ready.
And then, less than a month after my son was stillborn (you can read about that here), I was asked this question again. And it nearly broke me.
My mind went whirling as I tried to quickly and simultaneously figure out what to say and how to not burst into hardcore sobbing.
Do I lie and say no just to get the conversation over with?
Do I be truthful and tell them about my baby boy? About my miscarriages?
You see, before this journey started my original answer worked just fine. I didn’t have any kids then. But now…. Now I have three baby angels in heaven. I’m a mom, I just don’t have any living kids. They all died before they were born.
But is that a conversation I want to start up at my friend’s baby shower, or at the editors’ networking event or writing group I’m attending? Not really…
So how do I answer this question now?
For me, it really depends on the situation. Talking about my angel babies usually gets pretty emotional. Grief is like that. But saying no, not talking about them, not acknowledging that they existed and grew in my belly for weeks or months, feels like lying.
When the situation feels appropriate, and if the person I’m speaking with seems to be open to a deeper conversation, I might answer with something along the lines of “only angel babies” or “I’m still waiting for the baby I get to take home.” But those instances are rare.
More often, I step into the grey area that feels a little like lying but also like a social requirement to not make things awkward when the person was just trying to make conversation. In those situations where it doesn’t feel appropriate to open up about my journey, I simply shake my head and go back to my old staple, “not yet.” It doesn’t feel totally right. But it also feels like the best I can do in that time and place.
I don’t owe anyone my story. I get to choose when and where I share it. Sometimes I want to. Other times, I really don’t want to talk about my grief journey of pregnancy and loss.
These experiences have opened my eyes to how important it is for us to think about the questions we ask and the language we use.
The problem with this question is that we all ask it in an innocent, just-making-conversation way. It’s one step up from talking about the weather when you meet someone new. And yet, in many of the situations in which we ask it, it’s not actually relevant to the conversation. When meeting someone at a party or a networking event, we don’t need to immediately know about their family situation. We forget that while it may seem innocuous to ask, it’s not. Ten percent of women in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant (CDC). So just-making-conversation questions like “do you have any kids?” or, as I discussed in a post last year, “when are you going to have kids?” can be weighty, emotional questions.
I’m quite open these days, as you can see, about my journey to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and deliver a living baby. But not all people are. I wasn’t always this open. I kept my first miscarriage a secret from my family and friends until a year after it happened. Because so few knew about my experience, the comments about “hurry up and get pregnant” and “when are you going have kids” happened a lot. And hurt a lot. But when you’ve announced a pregnancy in person and on social media and it ends in stillbirth, it’s nearly impossible to keep that to yourself. And, for me at least, it was unhealthy to do so. And now that I’ve experienced a second miscarriage and am still on this painful journey, I want to keep speaking out. I want to find some positive in this pain, and use my experiences to help others experiencing this horrendous journey that is so simple and easy for others.
Part of living in a society is thinking about how our words and actions affect those around us.
I believe that the words we choose to use and the questions we choose to ask can have a huge impact, positive or negative. I’ve started opening my eyes and ears to hear what words other people are saying help or hurt them. I’ve started evaluating the common words and phrases that I use and the just-making-conversation questions that I ask, and considering how those may impact those around me, regardless of what I may or may not know about their personal journeys.
So, I suppose after all this rambling, my request to you is to consider your words.
Just like I don’t ask a woman when’s she due unless SHE has brought up the topic of HER pregnancy, I’m trying to train myself to not ask people about their kids unless THEY bring them into the conversation first.
- “Are You Pregnant?” and other questions you need to stop asking
- 5 Questions You Need to Stop Asking Pregnant Women
- “At Least You Know You Can Get Pregnant” – and why this consolation is not helpful