Why are people’s reproductive choices or family situations considered open game for small talk? As a fertility doctor, patients talk to me about this all the time: While they are struggling to complete their family with fertility treatments, they are bombarded with questions from family, friends, and even strangers about their reproductive plans and choices. As a woman, I have been asked inappropriate questions from well-meaning strangers (assume best intentions!) ― but enough!
Just in case you can’t figure this out on your own or you know someone who just doesn’t get it, here are five things you should never say to someone else as small talk:
1. “When are you having kids?”
None of your business. The person you just asked that question could be on round three of IVF treatments, could have premature menopause (no more eggs left) or shooting blanks (no sperm). That person could have just gotten her period after the two-week wait from their fifth intrauterine insemination that morning. That person could have just gotten notice that their adoption process that was going smoothly just failed. Or that person could have decided that a child-free life is the right choice for them, and that’s okay. No matter what, it’s none of your business.
2. “When are you having another child?”
None of your business. I struggled to try to conceive my second child, and the questions about when I was going to give my daughter a sibling started at her first birthday party. I felt like I could not enjoy her for a moment and needed to plan for a sibling. As the months and years went by and the second child was getting out of the “siblings should be two years apart” ideal, the questions intensified, and so did my stress. The person you are talking to could be struggling to conceive another child, and you are rubbing it in and reminding them of their failure when you ask this question.
3. “It is selfish to have one child. You should give your child a sibling.”
This statement can follow question #2, and it’s just awful. I have absolutely had several people who I hope were trying to be helpful (assume best intentions!) but I wanted to punch them in the face when they said this to me. By the way, there is an excellent book on the benefits of having one child called One and Only by Lauren Sandler for anyone that want to learn more about having an only child.
4. “You should be happy you have one child. So many people are struggling to have just one.”
This is the opposite of question #3 but still happens. If someone does share with you that they are struggling to have more than one child, they do not need to hear from you that they should be content with what they have. Maybe they are happy with their current family but also want to have a larger family ― it does not help to make they feel guilty for wanting more children. Just drop it and wish them well.
5. “That biological clock is ticking – better get started having kids.”
Believe me, women know this and do not need to be reminded. Women are blasted from every social media site, TV, movies, and more about aging and egg quality and egg freezing parties. Women know what their choices are and do not need a lecture from you at a party.
Instead of asking about someone’s reproductive choices and decisions at a party – ask them more interesting questions like: ”Where are you from?” ”Any upcoming travel plans?” ”What was the last book you read?” Learn more about the person you’re talking to and what interests them ― not about their reproductive situation, since it is a painful topic for many.