My Uterus- It's none of your business.
I stood out in my driveway on an uncharacteristically warm Oregon spring day, six weeks after moving here, having my first conversation with my new neighbors from across the street. They are a nice elderly couple, with her curled-and-set hair and his POW MIA cap, and although they were perfectly friendly I still had a knot in my stomach because I knew THE QUESTION was coming.
“So, do you guys have any kids?” he asked.
“Nope,” I smiled, “not yet.”
“Oh, how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” (I did, but how to say that without compounding the rudeness?)
“35,” I replied curtly, hoping that would be the end of it.
“Well, you better get cracking!” (Thanks, because I was previously totally unaware of that thing called my ‘biological clock.’ Not like I can’t hear it ticking… constantly… loudly.)
“Haha, yeah,” I responded noncommittally.
“I mean, that house you just bought? That’s a house meant for kids. The neighborhood really needs some more kids around here.” (Because the relative number of children in the neighborhood is a reason for me to decide to procreate? Or, bizarrely, the ‘needs’ of my new house?)
What my well-meaning neighbor couldn’t have known was that we were trying to have kids.
For almost 5 years and counting, actually. He couldn’t know about my 6 failed pregnancies. Or that one of those times I had to take chemo drugs for three months to treat an ectopic pregnancy, dragging myself out of bed every morning to go to work, exhausted but unwilling to tell my boss or coworkers what I was going through because it was so intensely personal.
He couldn’t know that I had a positive pregnancy test the very night before getting on the plane to move across the country; that I had arrived at our new house, in our new state, full of hope and joy and plans for swingsets and treehouses. Or that I woke up bleeding and distraught a couple of weeks later and landed in the hospital for my second ectopic pregnancy. He couldn’t know that as we stood there in the driveway, I had stitches in my abdomen from where a surgeon had to remove my right fallopian tube to treat that same ectopic pregnancy, cutting my already low fertility prospects neatly in half with a stroke of her scalpel.
He couldn’t know that I was having this conversation, or some version of it, with every new person I was meeting in my new hometown. I would just wait, with a clenched stomach, for it to come up.
And it did. Every. Single. Time.
He couldn’t know all of these things about me, personally, but if he had been more informed, he could have know that the odds were pretty high that I may have experienced something like this. As a matter of fact, according to data from the CDC, one in eight couples has difficulty achieving or sustaining a pregnancy, and more than one in 10 women will seek infertility treatments in her lifetime. Also, a startling 10-15% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.
So, odds are very high that any woman of childbearing age you are speaking with could have experienced some sort of baby-related heartbreak.
My story has a happy ending.
My husband and I went through IVF treatments and now have a baby boy named Felix, named both for the good fortune we wish for him and the good fortune we feel in having him. We held our breath through every minute of our pregnancy and have been slowly letting it out for every day since. And as happy as we are, we have already started getting the comments about “when you have your next kid.” Which is highly unlikely unless someone out there has an additional 25k to lend us and wants to volunteer to come over and give me shots in my rear end twice a day (because I don’t think my husband is up to it a second time). So my stomach has started clenching all over again.
I realize that this is almost always an unintentional hurt, but I promise you we feel it nonetheless. I also realize that most folks don’t really know how common pregnancy loss and infertility are because of social taboos and very real and raw emotions that prevent us from talking openly about them. But now, hopefully, after reading this article you are one of the ones who knows better.
So what I would ask, on behalf of every woman, is to rethink the level of well meaning prying and advice-giving you impose on them in conversation – casual or otherwise. Asking if someone has kids is perfectly fine… but following up with questions or recommendations based on their answer is not.