Handling the Loaded Question

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During a business meeting dinner (party of five) in a noisy restaurant earlier this week, a colleague who doesn’t know me very well turned to me as the conversation veered off into talk of kids and asked the loaded question on the subject of why I don’t have children.

What’s most remarkable to me is that it was the first time that I felt confident enough to actually answer the question rather than defer it with a euphism or worse yet, tear up and fight for words. Progress, I thought later. I wasn’t ashamed and I didn’t feel the need to hide the truth. Here’s how the conversation went:

Colleague (a mother of three boys): I, uh, well, I’m not sure how to ask this, but you don’t have kids, did you want them, did you try…?

Me: Want them? Try? Yes! My husband and I wanted them very much — so much that we spent the past decade trying everything available to us from spending tens of thousands of dollars and working with a world-class research hospital to yoga and acupuncture. Yes, we wanted them more than you could imagine…and I’m still pissed, more than pissed actually, that after all of our efforts, emotional ups and downs and financial investment we didn’t get so much as a positive pregancy test.

Colleague (with a curious, fascinated look on her face): Um, if you don’t mind me asking, was it you or your husband who had the problem?

Me: It was a combination of both. The medical teams could never quite crack the code…or pinpoint the exact reason behind our condition.

Colleague: Wow. Did you ever go after surrogacy or oh, I don’t know, donor something?

Me: Neither option felt right for us.  I’ve always wanted the experience of being pregnant and delivering a child who carried both of our family traits. I love my husband more than anything and he feels the same about me. We wanted what every couple wants, to create a child of our own…

Just then the waiter arrived with wine. As he delivered the individual glasses, the table banter changed to who had been to a wine-growing region on the central coast. 

There was no effort on my part or my colleagues to return to the subject of my reproductive capacity, but I felt satisfied that I had had my say. I’m curious to know how others might have handled the conversation.

 

14 Responses

  1. DD

    March 23, 2007 3:58 pm

    I actually welcome these opportunities, which always seem to present themselves when I tell them I have a 5 year old. “Oh, it’s time for another baby!” And that’s when I tell them that we’ve been pregnant 3 times since then and lost them all. Sometimes it leads to conversations of IVFs and whatnot, but what surprises me so many times is that there a surprising number of people open up about a miscarriage or troubles conceiving. If not, then I like that it gives me the chance to give just a little education to the person who asked.

    I am not at all shy about sharing our experiences with IF with strangers.

  2. Lady In Waiting

    March 23, 2007 4:05 pm

    You handled that amazingly well! My best friend spent 7 years trying to have a child, to no avail. Her marriage subsequently ended but she still has to field questions about why she is childless, so I have an idea of how hard it is to answer these questions honestly without breaking down…

  3. Ellen K.

    March 23, 2007 7:10 pm

    You handled that amazingly well. I would have lunged for the wine bottle at that point. No, I’m kidding. D. has recently taken to telling people when they ask whether we have kids, “We’re been trying for awhile. We’re barren. I don’t think it’s going to happen. We’re not sure whether we’ll try something else.” He is so cheerful yet blunt about it; it effectively silences the other speaker.

  4. Deathstar

    March 23, 2007 7:17 pm

    I guess if someone really wants to know, then I decide whether or not I really want to open up or not and to what extent. In your case, I think your response was definitely appropriate especially if they press the matter. Your colleague did bring up a personal question at a business meeting. You were being honest and straightforward. Good for you! I bet you she won’t be bringing that topic up again at a business meeting. Most people would feel awkward, I think with your reply especially if they have picked up on your anger and frustration which is why they changed the subject. They probably thought they were doing you a favour. It’s not like people can give you a secret tip that would change the situation. If I talk about it I get all pissed off and frustrated myself. Mostly I feel sad. Even if someone waved a magic wand now and I was pregnant, I don’t know if I could enjoy it for fear of miscarriage, Down’s syndrome, months of bed rest or whatever. My big lesson this year is that life is unfair. A malnourished woman in Africa can have a baby, a crackhead can have a baby, you can be paralyzed and have a baby, have no arms and no legs and have a baby, be the meanest bitch on earth and have a baby…. and I can’t. We can’t. And yet we’re still breathing.

  5. foreverhopeful

    March 23, 2007 7:18 pm

    Just found your blog and I envy your courage and honesty. I don’t know how I would have handled a question like that without breaking down. I feel the same way as you.. I wanted so much to be pregnant and to have a child that is both Dh & I… like everybody else. I don’t know how to let that go and move on sometimes. Its just so unfair.

  6. Louise

    March 24, 2007 3:44 am

    Ugg- I hate those questions! Now that we are adopting I am more comfortable tackling “infertility issues.” But in the past I would have completely deflected the question, esp. at a business meeting with a “oh, one day I am sure it will happen.”

  7. Kate

    March 24, 2007 8:07 pm

    Hiya: Thanks for the comment on my recent post called “a little chat with infertility” on the svmoms site. (FYI there’s another one). I don’t comment on infertility much. It’s too painful. What do I do? I tell EVERYONE! Now that I have actually succeeded in having my one child, my husband laughs that the people in the supermarket checkout counters must be happy that the don’t have to listen quite so much. 🙂

    I spent years writing my way through infertility. My writings are mostly on the fortility board, which is fine with me.

    We worked with a surrogate mom for 4 years, and when the fetus that she was carrying died (after 4 ivf’s), I got pg three weeks after her D and E. Struck by lightening — sort of — except that by that time I’d spent three years doing NOTHING but infertility, and had really put my body through the wringer that year.

    I have only read your more recent post – I’ll get to the rest — but I wish you and your husband luck in your journey. We would have adopted if we couldn’t have had a child, but we never had to “go there.” For everyone, it seems like a journey. Some people make it to the adoption mountain and climb it; some don’t.

    I have agonized over not having another (for some very good reasons having to do with my son that I won’t go into), but deep down I think that the original journey was so painful, so difficult, that even climbing back into those waters is something I couldn never do. So I hoped for another lightening bolt.

    As someone on the other side, I’d just suggest that you take joy wherever you can and enjoy your husband and friends, and that you talk and communicate as much as you can. Take your time. But let the positive, forward-looking stuff define who you are as much as possible. And good luck.

  8. thalia

    March 24, 2007 8:14 pm

    Just found you via a comment at DD’s – amazed I’ve never found you before. I’ve just read through the last few months and really learnt a lot, thank you.

    I answer these questions pretty straight, although I’ve never been asked anything quite this blunt in a professional setting. To be honest, her questions seem to go beyond nosey to me, so I might have blocked her when she started asking about “him or you?” but it would have depended on the tone of the conversation at the time. Good for you for pushing it probably further than she had intended when she started!

  9. marie-baguette

    March 25, 2007 7:35 pm

    I can’t believe someone would be so rude as to ask those questions. I would have killed her and I admire your strength! I felt very protective of my infertility treatments to the point that now that I am pregnant I don’t even want to talk about it at work.

  10. Bumble

    March 26, 2007 6:43 am

    I think you handled that very well. I probably would have also told her everything about it, I tend to rattle off whenever someone asks me that question, don’t quite know why that is. I don’t mind them knowing for some reason?

  11. Amy

    March 26, 2007 1:19 pm

    It always amazes me when people feel the need to question others parental status (is that even a word?). You know how the old saying goes that politics and religion are two topics to avoid? Well, I vote we add fertility to that! You handled it a lot like I would have and I’m sorry that had to happen druing a business function.

  12. Coffeegrl

    March 26, 2007 11:28 pm

    People just amaze me all the time. I just can’t imagine myself asking those kinds of questions. Your answers were so well thought out and your very calm responses hopefully gave your colleague something to ponder. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Carlynn

    March 27, 2007 9:41 am

    I admire you for being able to answer so calmly and tell your story, what courage.

    I think the woman was out of line asking you about such a personal issue and then probing about whose problem it was. I still have a way to go before I can answer this type of question without getting pissed off or teary.

  14. MLO

    March 28, 2007 7:13 pm

    Perhaps the woman was trying to relate better to someone she knows and saw an opportunity to learn. People are constantly surprising me with their motivations.

    I’ve only told a few what is going on, but of those that know, most are in the camp of “that’s great”. I’m the one who has to remind them that statistically speaking, the chance of failure is higher than the chance of success. (No “The Secret” nonsense around me, please.)

    More and more people are being confronted by this, and they want to know more. There is no known etiquette. Very little education available on what is available – except for the very motivated. There is also a lot of nonsense that people believe.

    I know I have talked about IVF abstractly at work – the stories about the 67 year old woman and ICSI with the Israeli soldier caused some uproar. Most people don’t realize ICSI has been around for about 20 years. Shoot, most people don’t know their own reproductive cycles.

    As painful as it can be for us, I think most people are just curious.

    Pax,

    MLO

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