Wednesday, 30 May 2018

How to Talk to People About Having Children

When I was running around my toddler and pregnant with my second, a neighbour said to me, ‘it’s good you’re having them close together, so you’re done quickly!’ 

That same neighbour recently asked me for any hand-me-downs I can give to her friend expecting a boy. 

When I walk around with my boys, strangers ask me jokingly ‘when’s the third coming along?’ Constantly. I usually smile and laugh along, but once, in a more irritable mood, I replied ‘soon, hopefully!’ The man stared awkwardly, unsure if he could detect sarcasm in my tone. 

I know women who have five or more children who tell me to get used to it. They have even had family ask them ‘surely, this is your last?’ with each pregnancy that followed the third. 

My friends who don’t have any other children complain of people asking them when they’re going to have a baby. Especially if they’ve been married a while. 

‘There’s no wrong or right time,’ my (male) friend said recently. 

‘Well, there is a better time than others, in terms of what’s physically viable.’ I couldn’t help but say.

‘What would you say is the best time?’ my other friend asked.

But it’s not a subjective question. It’s to do with our bodies. I don’t actually know when the average woman is least likely to face complications in pregnancy or labour. But I do know that after a certain age you are automatically ‘high risk’, so there must be a ‘better’ time, physically speaking. 

But that doesn’t mean we are free to assume anything about other couples’ experiences regarding their family. Maybe that couple who ‘still haven’t started a family’ have been trying for years. Maybe that woman with three under three is pregnant. Maybe not everyone sees pregnancy as a binary between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’. For some people, believe it or not, the answer to ‘are you trying for a baby?’ lies somewhere on a spectrum.

I don’t think we ‘shouldn’t talk about it’, I don’t believe we should compartmentalise everything profound and personal to the ultra private sphere to the point where we only secretively discuss things. But neither do I believe these are things we can talk about with a neighbour as we run out of the door to the supermarket.

There are some things you should only ask about if you’re in the mood to listen. Because otherwise you just create frustration in the other person, who feels they have to give the answer you’re looking for, the answer that validates your own choices and beliefs. And when it comes to parenting, although there might be scientific information regarding the physical side of things that we should all be aware of, there really is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. There’s only infinite stories, feelings, anxieties and hopes, in an insurmountably broad spectrum of possible experiences. 

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