How can I ask non-intrusive family planning questions?

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By: Scott McLeodCC BY 2.0
There have been several posts about how people don't respect the privacy of individuals when they are deciding if they want children, when that could be, if they are currently trying, if they are pregnant or dealing with infertility, what sex the baby is, what the name will be, etc. I have a confession to make: I used to ask those questions. I was one of those people.

Now that I'm older and recently married, I GET IT. THEY SUCK.

Before, I didn't get it. I didn't think it was a big deal to ask if or when a couple was having kids. I didn't realize the impact that merely being asked questions along these lines can have on someone dealing with personal decisions. I've actually apologized to a couple of people for my past ignorance. But now I have a new problem: since these questions are off-limits, I have no idea what to say!

So I am calling on Offbeat Families to help with my reformation. Posters and readers of this site defy cliches and provide sound reasoning for topics like this, so I know you will be able to help me and hopefully many other people with this.

When a casual friend/coworker/acquaintance mentions something about trying to conceive, being pregnant, or being a new parent, how can you show that you care about them and are interested in their situation? What did you wish people would ask you instead? — Dolphin

  1. What about making interested comments that invite them to share more rather than asking questions?

    Them: "Oh, I'm pregnant, found out 12 weeks ago and I can finally share!"
    You: "Oh how lovely, I'm so happy for you!!" *excited face*

    Invites a person who is already excited and wanting to share to share more without you having to probe with questions. I think if they're at a point where they're volunteering info they're probably quite happy and want an excuse to say more.

    Obviously, this is different for people volunteering info about having trouble conceiving and such, but they'd probably want a shoulder to cry on or just a vent rather than a bunch of questions anyway, I would think??

    • I agree with this comment and would add: Pay attention to their emotional tone and let that be your guide. If someone announces that they are pregnant "Congratulations!" may not be the best response if they are stressed or scared or conflicted about the pregnancy, but if they sound excited when they tell you, then by all means, be excited back.

      And, when in doubt, encouraging conversational phrases or noises can be very useful. A "Yeah?" "Mmm?" or "Mmmhmm" can show interest and encourage people to keep talking if they want to without being pushy or imposing opinions.

      • Yeah, I've been known to say "oh wow, how are you feeling about it?" in, what I think, to be a positive-yet-neutral way to invite sharing in their feelings. Cause lord knows I was excited, which also meant TERRIFIED when I found out I was having an unplanned pregnancy.

  2. "Can I make you dinner?" was a personal favorite after I just had a kid, haha

    I think it depends a great deal how close you are to a person. Questions that are likely to offend me from a stranger I take much more kindly if it comes from a close friend like "was it planned?" makes me want to punch strangers in the face but I only laugh awkwardly. After I got pregnant my best friend's reaction was priceless, before getting all happy and excited for me she paused to be like "this….is a happy thing right?" That might have bothered someone else, but I know she didn't want to jump to conclusions about it and I appreciated it.

    If someone mentions wanting to get pregnant or that they are pregnant, my sort of go-to comment would be along the lines of "you'll be a great parent!". With new parents, again it depends on our relationship, sometimes its just a boring "congrats" or offer to bring food . Other sort of easy, non-offensive questions might be along the lines of "How are you doing/feeling?" and then once usually someone starts talking you'll get a better idea of their attitude and what they are comfortable talking about.
    It sounds like you know this already, but I just try to avoid saying anything that might come off as judgemental – Oh are you breastfeeding? Seems like it might be pretty innocent, but if they had trouble or quit it might make them feel bad, so I don't ask about it unless its something they bring up). Questions that also started to annoy me eventually were about my sleep, or lack thereof – it was well meaning but pretty soon I wanted to be like "of course I'm not sleeping, thanks for reminding me, dick!"

    • Haha. When I told people at school that I'm pregnant, I had several ask "This is a good thing, right? We're excited?" This came mostly from my professors. I just giggled and said yes. I decided to leave out the part that we planned for this, even though I'm a second year law student and may or may not be a little crazy.

  3. I second the 'how are you doing/feeling?' it invites the other person to offer more details if they want.

    We have been trying to conceive for 18 months. I`ve had all sorts of awkward questions from well meaning friends. My favorite is my gentle, soft-spoken friend who just asks 'how are you doing? Anything you'd like to talk about?' – clue me sometimes bursting into tears and confiding how freaking HARD this is. MUCH better question than 'are you preggers yet??' ugh.

  4. A co-worker once said to me, "I hope the path you are on is the one you want." And started a more in depth conversation by just making her statement. It then allowed me to steer the convo to where I wanted to take it. I stole her phrasing.

  5. For me, the offense comes from people assuming that it was going to happen and it was just a question of when. Non-offensive questions asked me if it's something I wanted

    The bad questions are things like, When are you going to have kids? Have you started trying for kids yet? What no babies yet? Time to get to work on a kid. All of these assume the questioner somehow knows me or my life.

    Instead questions that opened a discussion about my greater plans were always welcome. Things like What are your plans for the next few years? Are you thinking of expanding your family at all? With 2 or 4 legged kids?

    That way I understood and appreciated their interest in where my life was headed without prescribing my path with no knowledge of my life.

    • So with 2 legged or 4 legged do you mean birds and dogs, hehe?

      I like the "are you thinking of expanding your family" phrasing. That is fantastic. Two people can be a family to each other (whether or not they are married, also have pets or kids, etc.)

      Related: I hate the insinuation that my dog is our "practice" child. My dog is my dog, though I might treat her like a child at times. I will always have dogs in my life because I love them and am great at caring for them. We could also one day have kids, but that will be a separate decision and preparation process. (Can you tell that I've worked with rescue dogs and have seen numerous couples give up their "practice kid" when their real one comes? They shouldn't have had a dog in the first place.)

      • Yes to the "practice" child thing! I hate that… my cat is not your "grandkitty" nor is he my "furbaby" he's a loveable ball of fluff that annoys the crap out of us sometimes and makes up for it by being cute and all the wonderful things that a cat is to our little family – but he is not a child, nor is he a substitute or practice for a child. He is a cat. Taking care of a cat (or a dog) is entirely not taking care of a small human. :cue vague memories of anthropology class discussing the dog-hood or cat-hood of a pet versus a human needing to learn person-hood:

    • The open ended questions don't bother me at all, it's really a conversation starter when you say, "So how do you feel about kids?" Rather than "Why haven't you had kids yet?" It almost comes out as accusatory.

      • I agree, and as a chronic foot-in-moutherer, a more neutral question like "is having children something you see in your future?" actually prevents me from being stupid later on, like the time my boss answered that question in a way that implied she wasn't able to have kids, or like the time my friends were all like "Yeah, totally babies!" and 4 years later do not have any children.

        The way someone answers that initial question (often just asked during conversation, not like an interrogation!) helps me to censor my own comments in the future and be mindful of circumstances that might have lead them on a different path.

    • The worst situation I've had with the "What no babies yet?" thing is just after my miscarriage. We had told certain people but not a lot of people and when people would ask that question, it would just set me off.

      I understand how they didn't mean anything, but you really never know what someone is going through and asking such leading questions can be so emotionally damaging.

      I like your responses like "Are you thinking of expanding your family?" I think that it may have still spurred an emotional issue early on but it's not as harsh as "what, no babies?!?!"

  6. When I was pregnant I was irritated by the constant stream of, "Do you know what it is?" (To which we would reply, "a baby"), but I liked it whenever anyone asked me what I was craving. Then I could happily talk about my newfound obsession with tomato juice.

    • Ooo, good one. I will ask about cravings!

      I also love your "a baby" response. I think too much emphasis is placed on the sex of the baby. (Which might mainly be because you are making a person, and you have no information about what they look like or who they'll become, etc, so that is the first tangible piece of information you can get. But a whole set of gender stereotypes based on what chromosomes the kid happens to have is a bit much for me.)

      • Exactly! That's why we didn't find out. We know that sex does not equal gender, and we didn't care either way. People would usually follow that question up with, "No, I mean a boy or a girl?" and we would reply, "Probably one of those two." We did have an intersex name picked out though, just in case.

    • I've heard of people saying "it's a secret, lean in and I'll tell you," and then quietly whisper "a baby" in their ear. I think that would be ballsy and super funny to do.

    • While we knew what we were having and didn't mind telling people, sometimes my partner would answer 'a dinosaur' or some other random thing just for the hell of it. I did find most people asked 'Do you know what you are having?' which I thought was more of a nicer way of putting it. It opens up for people to say no, we are keeping it a surprise or answer if they want.

      • I once got an email from a friend, just after her ultrasound, that included the line "we don't know what we're having (a baby!)." I sent her sincere congratulations that she was not having a turtle or a puppy, and we proceeded to refer to her son as a turtle for the remainder of the pregnancy πŸ™‚

      • One of my friends said she was having a T-Rex. And then it became a running joke / womb-occupant's nickname.

  7. The only questions I really didn't like when we announced we were pregnant were "Was is planned?" and "When did you conceive?". Quietly do the math yourself – don't ask! It's not something I was comfortable discussing with anyone, even immediate family. I didn't mind people asking me when we were going to have a baby, and I don't mind now when they bring up when we might have a second. I could always make a vague response if I wanted. I realise it is a sensitive subject for some people though, so I never bring it up with others unless they do first. I laughed when I read the comment above about not asking a new parent how they're sleeping! I would add that you should never mention the harder parts of being a parent to anyone expecting- let them enjoy the wait and look forward to the good stuff. And once the baby arrives, don't start harping on about how much harder it's going to be when the baby starts walking, or is in the terrible twos, or is an awkward teenager – or when the family has another baby, or two or three more. Let the new parents enjoy the good parts of each phase and tell them it gets even better.

    • Oh my gosh, I can't believe people asked you when you conceived! Why on earth would anyone want to know that?

      • I know right? So you answer "May 25th" – what difference does that make anyway?? Are they going to write it on their calendar? "May 25 – Tiffany and Sam conceived."

      • I tried to figure out my hubby's one friend's conception time on my own math because I thought someone conceived the night of our wedding. That would have just made me giggle that well someone had a wedding day baby on our behalf.

        Only time I ever wondered when a baby was conceived for my own amusement as I find weird things funny, but even if it was a wedding baby I wouldn't be all ohhhh you got knocked up drunkenly after my reception. My husband and I would just have a small giggle about it here and there privately.

          • Same here! Two babies came about 9 months after our wedding. And roughly a year and nine months, mine should come!

        • I conceived the week of my husband's cousin's wedding, which also happened to be Thanksgiving week. I hope they did the math and had themselves a giggle now!

    • I totally sympathize with being curious about whether a baby was planned or not (I tend to be extremely curious about a lot of things that are not any of my business), but I don't ask because it seems like a rude question, unhelpful and possibly judgmental question.

      So I just have to live with my unsatisfied curiosity unless the person chooses to volunteer an answer.

      • I never understood the significance of that question until I became pregnant. I've come to feel that the DECISION to start a family is scarier than actually starting a family, because it's as though if the baby were "planned" then we are fully responsible for anything that comes next since we CHOSE this. It makes the whole big, life-changing experience open to judgment.

        I can't believe how many times I was asked if my pregnancy was planned or if we were trying. I'm sure no one meant anything by it, or even gave the answer ("happy accident"– a half-truth) much thought, but I always felt inwardly that it was prying or a sort of accusation. I did not expect to feel that way until I faced the situation.

        But I understand the curiosity because it's certainly something worth wondering to the person on the other side of the table! My husband and I had a situation once where a friend told us she and her husband were expecting– but the way she said it we had no idea how to react (I'm sorry? Congratulations? Oh my?) until they mentioned they'd been trying for years.

  8. I have been noticing this phenomenon that my husband can somehow ask child-choice questions without the questioned getting upset. Maybe it's his demeanor, or that his voice comes across as totally non-judgmental and caring, with an air of "I will support whatever your response is", but I carefully watch the face of the people he is speaking to, and there is no hesitation or flinching or eye aversion, and the person always answers honestly and with a smile. He generally asks these questions when he meets anyone who is paired and/or of child-producing age: "So, do you think you guys would like to have kids?" and "So, do you think you guys would like to have more kids?" I think the word "like" leaves a lot of wiggle room in an answer, if needed.

    I don't know how he does it, but I admire it. I have also noticed that men seem to be able to have these convos with other men with essentially no fallout.

    • I don't mind when people ask me in a generally curious but non-gawky kind of way. I am a married woman who is of child bearing age who happens to have lots of 'markers' for it to be time to have children of my own. People are curious. And so, when somebody is polite and non-confrontational or judgmental about it, I don't mind sharing the very basics. I've been asked "So, when are you having kids?" and I have been asked "Do you think you'd like to have kids, someday?" Almost the same question but very, very different.

      Very often I find that the questioning comes from people who are less curious about my personal life and more curious about navigating their own. I'm asked more about our plans by people who are still trying to figure out their own than by people who have already settled comfortably into their own choices and paths. The same way high schoolers talk about college, or college kids talk about various jobs or avenues. Maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of care, and maybe just to validate their own feelings and choices.

      I think for me, too, it's less about the questions and more about the assumptions. Half my friends/family assume we will be having babies, all the babies, lots of babies. The other have is pretty adamantly child-free (even anti-child) for us. We are firmly in the undecided (and not any time soon!) camp, which nobody really seems to get. I don't feel particular need to sway anybody either way.

  9. When my friends were adopting their daughter, they had met the birth mother several times out for meals and such. One time, the birth mother was asked by a stranger – "when are you due? You must be so excited." To which she tactfully replied, "no, but they are. They are the parents."

    Just a gentle reminder, not every pregnant woman will be the mother. πŸ™‚

    • #1 reason why I do not make that kind of small idol chit chat with a stranger who is pregnant: I have no idea on how this woman became pregnant. For all I know she could have been raped and is giving it up for adoption. It isn't my business to know and from what I see from women online who have gone through the pregnancy experience, they tend to appreciate not always having to talk about an impending baby.

      Also on the you must be so excited question, for all anyone knows unless you personally know someone, this might be terrifying for various reasons like the woman has had a late pregnancy loss or a stillborn in the past. I would be scared out of my mind until I would know the baby was out and healthy in the situation.

      (complete side note….whenever I get on the road to motherhood I will probably have to wear a warning saying try to touch my stomach and I will bite you to try to keep the intrusive strangers away.)

      • As a pregnant person, but also a very private person, I HATE strangers commenting about my pregnancy to me, now that it's more visually obvious. (Only one unwanted belly-touching has occurred so far, and it actually made me cry. In public. At work. Thanks.) Also, it turned out that one person at my academic institution–who had reason to know because I needed a particular adjustment made at a work site–spread the news, which then spread more widely, so random acquaintances knew very early. I'm thrilled to be pregnant, this baby was planned SO hard, I'm obsessing about everything, etc. I've never had a late loss, and at 16 weeks I feel as un-worried as I think a mother possibly could. I've been working in maternal/child healthcare for a decade. I <3 babies and bellies. But I still hate having my body and family brought up by random acquaintances or strangers. So even if there is no sadness, trauma, or hardcore adjustment to an unplanned process happening, it STILL might mean that it's best to find something else to talk about. (I know it's hard. The belly is right there! So much more exciting than the weather for casual conversation!) But I'd say save it for close friends. And not that this was part of the question, but for goodness sake let's all keep our hands to ourselves unless we're quite sure that the touching is welcomed!

    • Oh, I haven't been reading Offbeat Families that long! Let's re-ignite the discussion on this then! There are SO MANY questions that we're used to hearing as part of small talk that we often don't think twice about them, even though they are troublesome. OR, if we ask a not-loaded question, it is likely that that same question has been asked before in by someone who was judging. So possible and/or new parents: tell us what you don't want to hear AND what you want to hear instead!

  10. I would stay positive — unless they confide that they are struggling and sympathy/empathy is appropriate. But I HATED when people would tell me, "Oh, he's easier to take care of in there! Just wait till he's out and you wish he was back in!" Besides seeming totally ridiculous (I was very, very sick for most of the nine months, and not sleeping anyway — although I know some people enjoy pregnancy), this seemed to me to comment that I wasn't going to enjoy/appreciate/care for my own baby properly once he arrived. (Possibly some pregnant hormones involved in that reaction, but still … how is that a helpful comment??)

    Also — I disliked when people told me either "It goes so fast! Enjoy every moment" (I felt like I was someone not being new-mother-glowy enough) or "Just wait till _________" (do people not love their 2/6/9/13 year olds??)

    • I hate when people tell me to enjoy every moment of my kid's babyhood. Maybe I will miss getting four hours of broken sleep or vomited on regularly or fighting my screaming baby just to change his poopy diaper…but right now it's kind of annoying and I don't enjoy it and the command to enjoy EVERY SINGLE MOMENT just makes me feel like I'm not a good enough mom for not enjoying those things.

      • I'm sorry, but if projectile vomit comes from your little bundle of joy, it's still projectile vomit. Maybe they are also reminding themselves to stay positive, or maybe their kids are older now and they miss having little ones.

        People set unrealistic expectations for parenthood. I'm not there yet, but I'm not planning on the entire experience being a picnic. Maybe "occasionally take a moment to enjoy it" would be a better way to phrase it because some moments are filled with poop. And not enjoying poop doesn't make you a shitty parents…har.

        • Exactly. I mean, sure, one can find the joy or humor in certain situations (I'm pretty sure I screamed and then laughed the first time son pooped directly onto my hands), but so much of parenting is so hard. I'll enjoy the good moments and bitch about the bad ones because I need to in order to survive with my sanity. It's not all sunshine and unicorn glitter. Sometimes thing suck and implying that those things don't suck does a disservice to all parents and parents-to-be.

      • Agreed! I adore my son, but whenever I hear people telling me to cling on to these moments of his infancy like it will be the only time I will appreciate and love my child and that I won't want him to grow up, I just cringe.
        Between the struggles with sleep and setting routines and dealing with him having a cold and not being able to communicate his frustration except by having a total break down while I scramble to figure out what the problem is, I just think "am I missing something magical about this?"
        Besides, those moments where I watch him learn to sit up on his own, or stand, and smile and laugh, or to grab food, or make a new sound and sing it for hours, THOSE are the moments I love. Seeing him growing up feels like a privilege, not a punishment.

        • I remember vividly wanting to aim my non-sleeping, acid-refluxing, vomiting baby on everyone who told me I should be enjoying Ever Single Second. Now that my son is older and more in control of his bodily functions, it can be easy to forget how difficult it was and just remember the smiles and laughs. Still, I try really hard to not glamorize or pass that kind of advice to my now pregnant friends. For me, being pregnant sucked and I felt like I really did have a parasite feeding off my energy and internal organs while happily trying to kick one of my ribs out of place. For the women I know well enough, I try to let them know that it's okay not to love every second of pregnancy, childbirth, and babyhood. It doesn't make you a bad mom, it means that no one told you exactly how hard this stuff can actually be.

        • I also cringe whenever parent-friends talk about not wanting their child to grow up or progress to various milestones that mean the kid isn`t a baby anymore…maybe, I`ve just known too many families who lost a child due to terminal illness or whose child is mentally handicapped…but it kinda makes me want to yell at them that the whole point of parenting is to turn a baby into a functional adult. Growing too big to carry or starting kindergarten are good things that not all children/parents get to celebrate.

    • Actually, someone wrote into Dear Abby a few years ago warning people off having kids and saying "if I had know how hard having a teenager was, I never would have had kids."

      So yeah, some people don't love their 13 year olds, as heartbreaking as it is.

  11. I like questions that seem to open up a conversation…not ones that are just point-blank. Like…

    "How are you doing?"

    That's a great question and I enjoy answering it. It shows the person is quizzical about not only the pregnancy, but the general well-being of myself. Plus it leaves the door open for both myself and the questioner to move onto other topics. They can ask more questions that might take me back if they had asked it first ("How are your clothes fitting?" "Did you have any nausea?"), and I can talk about how all I want to eat is noodles, chicken fingers and gelato (but not together!).

    I also think that question is good for asking people who you KNOW are trying to get pregnant but are having a hard time. It shows you're there for them and concerned about their well-being. And it gives them a chance to vent and open up.

    I would probably steer clear of questions like, "Are you breastfeeding?" "When are you going to have kids?", etc. Those kinds of questions are not only too prying, but can be controversal. At least in my opinion.

    Oh and I have been asked when we conceived, and my answer is always, "Well I'm ## weeks along" and let them figure it out. I think it's weird to ask that anyways, but if you want to know, ask instead how far along they are and then count backwards.

  12. If you are asking about a current state of being, I feel like "how are you doing?" is a question that is appropriate for so many situations, both good and not so good. Asking a new mom "how are you doing?" might bring a flood of how overwhelmed/happy/sleep deprived whatever she is, or it might elicit "fine." Same with someone who is trying to conceive, same with someone who is pregnant. It's a door opener, and then you follow cues.

    As for the questions that are really trying to figure out what path people are choosing in their life (whether to have kids, whether to adopt or foster, whether to get married, etc) those are questions that are appropriate for close friends and no one else. And hopefully your close friends won't mind the content of the question as long as it is phrased kindly.

    • As a side note to this, I HATED when people asked me "how's the baby?" while I'm pregnant. Hi! Where we live, I'm a person and the fetus is not. Please don't reverse that relationship by asking about the non-person before you as about the person-person. "How are you doing" is wonderful, because it asks about the person as a whole, not necessarily the pregnant/parenting aspects of that person.

  13. When my girlfriend who had needed ivf treatments to get pregnant with her daughter told me they had just finished their second ivf attempt and it was unsuccessful. I asked her how she was handling the disappointment, and then suggested she ask her doctor if she knew of any support groups or psychologists who counsel couples through infertility. I was unaware these types of support groups and therapists existed for this struggle, and learned of them after my fourth son was stillborn and I was struggling with depression. I contacted our insurance company, for our mental health coverage, and while they couldn't refer me to a psychologist who had counseled someone through the death of a child, there were several therapists who counseled for infertility. It didn't help me but my research helped her. She and her husband attend a group for couples struggling with infertility and she says having that community of people who experience the same difficulty is invaluable to her. So if someone mentions struggling with infertility, offer compassion and suggest researching emotional support. Or offer to find support for them if they would be interested.

  14. This one might be touchy for some, but depending on how well I know the person I'm asking, and whether or not it's a relatively non-awkward segue, I might ask, "How about you? Are you on the baby track?" Or, if we were just talking about my own child, "Are you hoping to have children one day?" And sort of leave it at that. Also, I take their answer at face-value. If someone says no, take it at that. If someone says yes, there you go. And if someone confides that they are trying but struggling, offer a sympathetic ear. Use your best judgement – asking someone you just met about their family planning might be a bit much. Sometimes, not asking is the only way to be sure. Yes, its' a bummer when you reeeeallly want to know, but that's sometimes just part of being mature – knowing when to hold back.

    • I've been asked "Are you guys thinking about kids?" and I found that to be a good form of the question because it makes no assumptions and imposes no judgements and allowed my to answer with as much or as little information as I felt comfortable sharing.

      Some people are uncomfortable with any kind of question about their reproductive plans, so I'd exercise caution when asking even such an open ended question, but if it seemed appropriate to ask, given the situation and my relationship with the person, I'd phrase it that way.

  15. Even questions that would normally be ok between good freinds can be bad simply due to timing. One of my good freinds had became pregnant and told me about it right away but didn't tell anyone else. A week later she miscarried. A week after that ,we got together with a 3rd freind who knew nothing of the pregnancy or miscarriage, and the first thing out of her mouth was "When are YOU going to have some baby news??" "Well I had a miscarriage last week." Yikes! That kind of teasing question would normally have been ok in our group of freinds, but now maybe we all learned our lesson on why it's important to be more sensitive and mature with our comments or jokes.

  16. I am an incredibly private person. I also hate cliches. I was never fond of people asking questions about whether or not I would have children. Since getting pregnant, I have really struggled with people asking me questions, especially because I feel like I don't exist anymore and everything is about "the baby." As a genderqueer/queer parent, I am also really struggling with the gender roles that suddenly cling to my body now that I am expecting.

    I really appreciate people that ask questions that are open ended, and allow me to talk about being pregnant or not. "How are you?" "What have you been up to?" and "Need anything?" are some of my favorites. Sometimes I am more likely to have a conversation about the pregnancy when people let me talk about the rest of me and my life.

    Things that (I feel) should not be asked:
    1. When/How/Why people will or will not get pregnant. I get asked "How did you get pregnant?" a lot and I cannot even pretend to be nice.
    2. Questions about birth plans/breastfeeding/etc. These details will come if they are meant to be shared and can be impacted by a lot of things.
    3. "What is it?" This question is triggering and absolutely outrages me.
    4. Questions/remarks about someone's body. Yes, my body is changing. It is growing a baby. If I want to talk about it, I will.

    Also, I have found most questions lead to the person providing unsolicited advice about what I need (a back up plan for home birth disaster! a doula! a therapist! a 10 gallon bucket of protein powder and green smoothies! an epidural! episiotomy!). I really appreciate genuine questions that do not have some hidden agenda.

    Less private people will probably feel differently. I would say that the best advice I can offer is to think "Do I know this person well enough to know if they are introverted, extroverted, private, or in to sharing?" If you are not sure, give the person lots of space and privacy.

  17. After two long years of trying to concieve, I was ready to hang people by their thumbs if they asked "so when are you having kids?" Or said anything to imply that we should move it along. I nearly lost it at Thanksgiving dinner when a much younger woman who was pregnant with her 2nd insisted that "it isn't that hard".
    All of that said, if someone approched me with the understanding that there are complexities, doubts, difficulties and fears – I was generally willing to open up. People that were able to make themselves available to me without pushing themselves into my life got to know anything they wanted.
    I would have cried tears of gratitude if anyone had said, "You know I'm always here if you want to talk about this stuff." Or, "I know these things are way more complicated than people let on. If you ever need an ear to bend, let me know."

    • Thank you for sharing this. I think acknowledging that "these things are way more complicated than people let on" is a fabulous idea. Fertility problems and also maintaining pregnancies are way more common than most people realize.

  18. I encountered something like this recently actually. My fiance and I are not quiet about the fact that we want kids in the next year or so. But not all of our friends know this. I was talking to a woman who is on the outer circle of our friends the other day. She has an 8 month old daughter so we naturally steered the conversation to babies. When it came time to ask about my baby making plans she said "Do you guys have any interest in having kids?" I answered an enthusiastic affirmative and thought this was a great way to phrase the question without being rude.

  19. Firstly, I would never straight out mention or ask about conception. When they have news to share they will share it at their own pace. I pretty much assume that women who are of child bearing age are trying to make a baby or trying not to make a baby and it's really none of anyones business.

    Second, if a person IS generous with such information I make a quick comment such as "Oh what an exciting time for you! I hope all goes well." and drop it. If they keep talking about it then great but don't nose around for details. If it is a close relationship you could mention that you are here to listen if she needs someone.

    I lived under a microscope for many years while trying NOT to make a baby and I received some of the most uncomfortable questions imaginable. What if I had actually been trying to make a baby for all those years and wasn't having success? I probably would have gone home and cried every time someone had asked insensitive questions.

  20. A stranger ask my new husband on a flight during our recent honeymoon if "she is getting 'broody' yet"……I was disgusted and spat back I am not a farm animal!!!!
    I put the earphones back on and ignored the rest of the conversation …..husband the pacifist he is had to carry on making light of it….

  21. I guess I would say one other thing is that if someone does say, "I don't want to talk about it," or "That is inappropriate," the best thing to do is apologize and move on. The worst thing in the world is hearing, "Ooh, pregnancy hormones!!" That is dismissive, patriarchal, and disrespectful to boundaries.

    • Oh, totally. They are trying to cover up their rudeness by saying something is wrong with you, and that is not okay. And besides, the only person who can claim the pregnancy hormones might be influencing their mood is the person who has them. The rest of us don't know anything. And since pregnancy affects everyone's body differently, even people who have been pregnant before shouldn't assume that you are feeling the same way they did.

  22. Being pregnant right now, I get really uncomfortable when people start asking questions, specially because my partner and I are not exactly together, he's gonna be an awesome dad but we still have issues as a couple.

    I had neighbors (i live in an apartment building) asking questions about him "does he live here?" "why he doesn't live here?" "are you getting married?" "was it planned?"… I mean… why anyone would ask that? Why is it so important?

    I really don't mind to talk about my baby, I feel so proud to talk about him… "is it a boy or a girl?" will get me going for hours about how I'm having a boy and how excited I am even when for the first 6 months I was sure he was a she. I love to get questions about my baby, name, gender… because I can answer them with a huge smile and I LOVE to talk about my little baby pio.

    Now, when they ask about my boobs, my birth plan, where I'm going to give birth or when I'm going to get married, and/or my underwear I just want to kill people. Or when they say "you look huge" … well no sh*t Sherlock, I'm carryng a 2kg baby, of course I look big.

    I think the rules should be:
    * Do you know the person/couple? Yes. Then ask away, you should know the boundaries. No. Go with the nice "How are you?" and let them decide how much they want you to know.
    *Never assume… as said before by someone else, you don't know if this baby comes with a pretty story, if the family has had bad experiences, if the baby is wanted or not, if the mom is keeping him, if the baby might be in danger… you need to be careful not to assume anything about anyone in any case.
    *Don't judge… if you ask don't expect the answers to fit your ideas or beliefs… respect or don't ask.
    *Is very nice to hear "I'm here if you need me" support is always apreciated.
    *But PLEASE, don't give advice unless the mom and/or dad asked, it is very annoying to get advice when you haven't asked. What if your baby liked to sleep upside down? What if your boobs felt better after rubbing peanut butter and jelly? What if eating tomatos helped you with nausea? My baby and my body might be different and if I want advice I will ask you, trust me.
    *Pregnancy is not always pretty, I hated the first 5 months because I couldn't stop throwing up, I felt like hell and even looked like hell… the fact that I hated part of my pregnancy doesn't mean I don't love my baby, it just mean that I am human and no one likes to feel bad, even if it is for a good cause… it does suck.
    *And is nobody business if a couple or woman wants or not kids… no one should ask that.

    I don't know, I can't think of anything else but at least this should help a little to avoid being an ass.

  23. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all for this. Do what feels natural for your relationship and your conversation. If the topic comes up, it may be okay to ask these questions. Or talk about your own decisions/dilemmas and see whether the other person is willing to sahre.

    For me, the main problem usually is how EVERY FRIGGIN' BODY is asking the same questions over and over again. With altogether 7 parent-like people in our lives and 7 siblings plus their families, repeating the same answer ("None of your business, but we'll invite you to our kids' weddings.") over and over is tiring. And just when you think everybody got it, the first person thinks that enough time has passed to make it okay to ask AGAIN. And AGAIN.

  24. When someone tells me that they're pregnant I ask web they're due, where they're delivering, if they know the sex. I have yet to meet anyone who didnt seem excited to answer those questions. From there the conversation can go a lot of places, I guess I let them lead.

    • It seems like this has worked for you and your relationships, and that is great! I have to say, though, I hate being asked where I am delivering. I live in a state where a legal home birth is not possible, so I am psyching myself up to travel far away from home at 35 weeks–potentially without my partner. And delivering in a place that's not my home is a pretty big loss for me. It makes me angry and sad to think about, even when I try to remember how much harder others have it, and how grateful I am to be able to travel to get what I need. It's a complicated and kind of painful thing to talk about, so I either have to lie and say "I don't know/haven't decided yet" (which gets weirder the more pregnant I get–what, I don't have a plan yet?) or tell the truth and open myself up to a whole pile of controversy that I don't want to talk about all the time. That or say "I don't want to talk about it" which is awkward and can risk making the asker feel bad.

      • I would genuinely not even think that there are laws like that, and if I'm asking 'where' it's probably research for my own future self, so would want to be told. If you're comfortable about talking about it, please do. Laws can't change unless people know they're an issue and you might be helping future mums get the home birth's they want.

  25. I generally just open up to friends about how we were handling the baby pressure and that generally left an opening for them to jump in. But, if they didn't feel like sharing at the time, I left it alone. Usually just bringing up what you are doing will give people a little opening, even in a future conversation, to feel comfortable sharing their own stories. Whether they are trying, don't want kids, or have something a little more complicated going on.
    Setting the tone that you are a "safe" person to share with, that isn't pushy, seems to work best for me.

  26. My husband and I have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for years, and pretty much everyone we know knows this. I'm fine with that, I don't care to hide our struggle, but the questions that bother me are the ones like, "How's it going with the doctor/trying/insert polite reference pregnancy here?" We've been so open about our trying that when I *do* get pregnant everyone will know it almost instantly, even if I don't say anything (I've been on the receiving end of "is that beer or WATER?!" for years). So when people ask "How's it going?" I want to say, "Well, I'm clearly not pregnant right now, so how do you think?"

    What I prefer is when people ask how I'm doing. Then I'm open to share about the latest fertility crap if I feel like it, or just talk about whatever else is going on in life. It's the same question you'd ask any friend, and it's nice to be inquired about generally — because I'm more than just my infertility. I think "How have you been" could also easily apply to women who are pregnant – I'm sure at least some of you out there want to talk about something other than pregnancy sometimes too!

  27. When a friend was pregnant, she used this one:
    "So what is it?" "I hope it's yoda. Or maybe a basketball; ours is flat."

    Husband and I are getting another whole set of inappropriate questions now that we are undergoing the certification process to become foster parents. Sometimes, I want to reply, "Are you really asking about how my internal organs are working? They're good. How's your spleen?"

    Actually though, I don't think any questions are totally off limits. Questioners should just be aware of what's appropriate for the level of relationship that they have with the expectant parent. Additionally, tone and word choice matter a lot. From the examples above, see "How's the baby?" versus "How are you feeling?"

  28. For me, the most often asked question when people found out I was pregnant was… "Are you feeling bad? How's the pregnancy going?" It was said with the interest of knowing about how miserable, tired, sickness, etc. I was having.

    Instead, I could (honestly) say, "I feel great!" Which was true, I was very fortunate during the pregnancy – had lots of happy hormones πŸ™‚

    Anyway, that response shut people up FAST! Lol

  29. It's a subject I avoid bringing up myself, but if someone were to tell me that they were pregnant or trying to become that way I'd basically let them set the tone. If a friend opens the conversation I'll take that as a cue that they want to talk about the subject. It's the unsolicited questions and invasions that get super frustrating.

  30. I'd like to know a little more about why someone would get upset when people ask if they are having a boy or a girl or if they have any names picked out. I can see how a barrage of questions might be annoying, but people are just trying to connect with you. I know sometimes (especially when we're sweaty and tired with swollen ankles – I've been there!) we just want to operate in our own personal bubbles, but it's nice to recognize and participate in the connections all around us.

    I definitely understand how offensive questions about when someone is having children can be, but questions about a baby's name or sex seem benign to me. I can't help but feel that the original post proves that if we continue to get annoyed by more and more of other people's actions, we will run out of ways to connect with one another.

    • For me personally, questions about my unborn baby's sex often became a launch pad for a barrage of gender assumptions my kid. ("Oh, you're having a boy? You know he'll be a looker and all the little girls will be circling" etc etc.) For more thoughts on why this might be bothersome for folks, check this archive of posts:

      THAT SAID! I am totally with you that ultimately people are just looking for a way to connect. Instead of bitching about what people SHOULDN'T say, we need to focus on finding ways to connect. I get why gender identity can be incredibly thorny for some folks, so let's find less heated topics to talk about!

    • Also, it`s become pretty common to not share potential names…people tend to share some pretty rude thoughts about name choices before the baby is born..but generally wont do that if the baby is already here and the name is official.

  31. Thanks for the insight. I know that sex and gender are complex issues (I even paused to think about which one people are asking about when they ask about a baby :), so it makes sense that they shouldn't be considered small talk. I think it really depends on your relationship with the person.

    I LOVE the idea of asking about cravings! Food is always an awesome way to connect with people πŸ™‚

  32. As someone who has recently had a very public miscarriage but desperately wants children, the following comments/questions really have started to piss me off:

    1) Oh well, you know… you can just try again!
    2) Have you gotten your period yet? (Seriously? Jeez. I'm mad enough when my husband asks me this, like… I'll let you know!)
    3) I wish my pregnancy was done (yeah, I get it, you're tired of being pregnant, but maybe don't complain)
    4) I know exactly how you feel, waiting on my genetic test results felt like that. (I get what you're trying to say, but no, waiting on your genetic test results did not feel like losing your child)
    5) Soooo when are you trying again?
    6) You didn't have a drink, are you pregnant??? (No. Sometimes I don't want alcohol. Shocking.)

    On the other hand, if someone comes to me in private and just simply asks questions (because I get it, we're all curious), I'm more than willing to share my story and answer any questions at all. I just can't stand people thinking they know me, or thinking it's magically ok to ask me about my period.

    • I can't believe people were so insensitive, I'm so sorry. When I was pregnant I had some bleeding and was told there was a 50% chance I would lose the baby. During a doctor's appointment I burst into tears and the doctor asked, "why are you crying? You're young, you can have other children." I couldn't believe he said that. I wish you healing on your path to parenthood.

      • Thank-you for your response. My experience was actually opposite with the doctors. They told me that they were absolutely sure everything would be fine… I was assured all week (now I understand that there was nothing they could do, but it would've helped me to be realistic).

        I'm sorry the doctor was so rude to you. It's unbelievable what people will say.

  33. I think it's also important how you respond to what they say after your question. I had a lot of people ask me when I was pregnant (at sixteen) if I was keeping it. I think that's way too intrusive as it is, but what really got me is that after I'd say yes, they'd respond with something like, "Well maybe you'll change your mind," or congratulate me for not aborting (What?!).

    I have one childfree friend who asks me the most sensitive questions and truly supports me. She says things like, " How are you feeling?", "Do you want me to come over?", and my favourite, "I'm taking you to lunch next week and we can talk". But, as much as I totally support her in not having kids, it bothers me when she feels the need to affirm this mid-conversation about my son, or my infertility. Like after my latest miscarriage, she said something like "I know if I got pregnant I'd abort, but I can see how that would make you upset". I completely support her choice to terminate a pregnancy and I don't think it has anything to do with me. Hell, I'd go and hold her hand. But it's upsetting and unnecessary in a conversation about me losing yet another child.

    She meant well, but a better way would be to say, "I know my experience is different, but I've lost loved ones too and I'm here for you right now". Focus on the shared experience (even if its a little different) instead of the difference.

  34. There have been so many great replies here. I'm wondering about what everyone thinks about the "are you going to have a second kid?" question. Do we ask, or keep our mouths shut? Is there a good way to ask? I get this question all the time, and it drives me nuts. I always feel like I have to justify why we haven't made a decision and may not want a second child. But I'm wondering how to ask others in a way that might open up a conversation where it's understood that not wanting another kid is OK. Also, any ideas on how to reply to this question without getting into whether we are or aren't going to have another baby?

    • I don't think there's a perfect way to ask someone if they want more without it feeling too personal or annoying. As you mentioned, you get the question a lot and it annoys you. Perhaps it's best to focus on yourself if you're that curious; "So, we've thought a bit about having another child… but you know we're so busy/tired/etc." That opens up as a conversation more than a query and the other person may feel compelled to share with you rather than you asking point blank.

      I have a friend who just says "we're just loving the 1:1 time with our son/daughter at the moment" or "we're really enjoying our current situation too much to think too much about more." Usually that's enough to nicely tell the person that you're not going to talk about it.

  35. There are things to avoid- I believe Offbeat Families touched on the idea of avoiding the phrase "when are you going to start a family?" But the truth is, you know your friends. You know what's more or less appropriate. If it's a coworker or acquaintance, allow her to steer the conversation and offer congratulations and benign comments.

    For instance, my best friend never wanted kids until he met the perfect woman, the smart gal who goes on all his adventures with him. They got married and about eight months later discovered that they will be taking a little one on their adventures. This is a man who I'm extremely close to and we have spent most of our friendship being snarky and sarcastic (with love, always with love) towards one another. So, I bought them a hiking carrier for the child (like a backpack that she will fit in), and gifted it with the words "so… congratulations or condolences?" He laughed and said "I don't know yet." Then we discussed the utter awesomeness that is instilling a love for hiking before the child can even walk. That was appropriate for us, not so much for a random acquaintance.

    Alternatively, my boss is currently pregnant with a boy. We work in a perinatologist office where a good portion of her prenatal care is being handled, so this is pretty common talk, but she mentioned circumcision (which actually was applicable to the conversation we were having) and she is going for it. If it was my decision, I wouldn't. But it's not, so I made some supportive comments (more supporting her right to make the decision) and left it. And the truth as I realized when I was writing this, is that if the best friend was having a boy and opting for circumcision, I would support his right to choose it as well.

    Understand that no one wants to feel judged on their parenting, their attempts to become parents, or their desire to not be parents (either forever or just right now). So simply take into consideration how you would feel if you were in their situation and someone said what you were thinking about to you. Would you want the floor to be open to more conversation? Would you want a simple congratulations? Would you want the person you're confiding in to open up their arms and let you cry?

  36. Thank you everyone for all your comments! Keeping in mind that everyone is different, I think I safely say the following:

    1. As I mentioned in the original question, only ask if they bring it (fertility, conception, pregnancy, parenthood) up first. Start with general questions like "How are you doing?"
    2. Phrasing is important. Even if you have no opinion on the matter, if you ask a question a certain way, it can imply you are judging someone. So the phrases "Are you planning.." or "Do you think you'll…" are good. Phrases like "When are you…" or "You have to…" or "Are you ________ yet?" are bad; they sound like you are making assumptions or telling people what they should do. (And most of us have those "bad" phrases in our heads because we've been hearing people ask them for years, even if they aren't how we actually feel.)
    3. Ask about smaller things, keeping in mind the phrasing. Like "Are you having new food cravings?" or "Are you picking out fun outfits?" (Be vague and say outfits, not dresses or suits.)
    4. Don't forget to talk about other stuff. Even if you talked about it the last time you saw that person, you don't have to talk about it every time you see them… let them bring it up. It may be a huge life-changing event in their lives, but it's probably not the ONLY thing going on. (Some people will like to talk about it all the time and get offended if you don't ask, but other people are sick of getting the same questions over and over again, so be perceptive.)
    5. You will inadvertently offend someone, somewhere. Don't beat yourself up about it, just apologize and move on!

    Hopefully this can serve as a guide not just for me, but for all the other people prone to unintentionally saying the wrong thing!

  37. I haven't seen anyone comment about this yet, but my husband and I are in the early stages of the baby process, but things aren't that simple. It's frustrating, and I find it helpful to vent to good friends, but it seems like people keep asking me questions about this very personal subject in public places: coffee shops, parties, crowded restaurants. I'd love to talk, but I'm deeply uncomfortable discussing these things where strangers can overhear. Please try not to start these conversations where people might not feel comfortable talking. Give your friend a call or email later.

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