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

Comments on How can I ask non-intrusive family planning questions?

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?”

  4. 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 🙂

    Anyway, that response shut people up FAST! Lol

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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!

  13. 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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