Experimenting With More Than ‘No’ to That Question


answerThose of us with infertility simply dread the inevitable “do you have kids?” question.  I don’t know about you but for me the ‘ice breaker’ normally elicits one of several instinctive responses:

1) makes me want to run and hide under the nearest rock
2) leaves me sadder than sad  … or
3) sends me chewing nails and spitting tacks

While I mull over which of the three reactions has the upper hand, I typically answer with a simple: “no.”

You’d think after a dozen years of TTC and four years after we hopped off the infertility treatment merry go-round I’d be immune, numb or duck-like in letting the query roll over me. While the question fits in the small talk category for those with kids, it has always been, not surprisingly, humongous talk to me.

Today I got the question from a newer neighbor. I know he meant no harm by it but when you’ve been through what we’ve been through the question almost borders on fighting words. Imagine, for instance, asking a lung cancer survivor, “have you got any cigarettes?” Asking someone who suffers with multiple sclerosis, “care to go for a hike?” Asking a person who is blind: “so what’s your favorite color?” You get my drift.

My response this time around: “No, we’re not able to have kids.”

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His response: “You’re not that old, are you?”

Something of a non sequitur wouldn’t you say? As is the case in 99.9% of the circumstances the environment didn’t lend itself to a tutorial on reproductive inhibitors so I just let it go.  It was a big step for me to acknowledge that we can’t actually produce kids (without losing it in the process), but I still don’t have a satisfactory answer since “we’re trying” just doesn’t work any more. I’m open to ideas. What are your thoughts?


24 Responses

  1. Kami

    August 19, 2007 5:18 am

    I think your answer was perfect. As we attempt to raise awareness about infertility, I think those honest, personal interactions can go a long way.

    Good for you!

  2. Kareno

    August 19, 2007 10:04 am

    In the past the diplomatic, well-mannered angel on my shoulder has managed to answer before the good-for-nothing-evil-mouthed devil on the other shoulder shouted out some obscenity like Farah mentioned above. Looks like your angel is in control. 🙂

    At the moment I think my angel is deflated without an ounce of energy, and the devil would probably reply with something like: “Why? You a pedophile?” I know that sounds a bit extreme, but goodness me, it’s high time ignorance about infertility is declared a punishable crime – maybe not quite in the same category as murder, but culpable homicide sounds good enough to me! (PS – suffering from PMS, sorry if that sounded too harsh!)

  3. Tigger

    August 19, 2007 4:21 pm

    I often have a hard time with this. I find that saying “No, but we’ve been trying for 3 1/2 years now” usually works. Sometimes it backfires and I get assvice, but it’s also led me to other stirrup queens…or those who are headed in that direction. If they persist with the assvice, I tell them I’ve already been through treatments…and if they continue, I tell them what’s wrong. Not many people want to hear about that, oddly enough. 🙂

  4. Ellen K

    August 19, 2007 4:36 pm

    My responses:

    “Uh, no, we don’t,” with a tone of surprise that implies I am taken aback or find it an impolite question.

    “No, we can’t,” said with a small shrug and sad smile, followed by a quick change of subject.

    “No, we don’t. What about you?”

  5. May

    August 19, 2007 5:03 pm

    My answer is to look them in the eye and say, very calmly, ‘Why do you ask?’

    Usually the subject is changed and I get the satisfaction of knowing I have shown someone that they can’t go round asking personal questions without good reason.

    When they DO have a good reason for asking, then I have a reason for taking the time to explain infertility.

    In Britain, however, it’s not something I’ve run into very often. Most people seem not to want to ask personal questions at first. So possibly my answer isn’t very helpful in other less reserved cultures.

  6. Kim

    August 19, 2007 8:18 pm

    I always give the “no, not yet” song and dance.

    But I have often thought about saying something else. Especially if I don’t care for the person asking, I’d like to say “No, I don’t want them if they’re like yours.” Or if I’m just angry something along the lines of Farah’s.

    But I really like May’s suggestion. Makes them think…..

  7. Schatzi

    August 19, 2007 10:09 pm

    Sounds like you have received some good suggestions. Actually, I think your response was great. It was direct, to the point, honest and didn’t welcome a lot of even MORE personal questions. At the same time, it wasn’t rude, since you were clear he was just making small talk (while unknowingly making humongous talk) and trying to get to know you a bit. I’m all for the more rude answers when the person is annoying or downright out of line.

  8. Bea

    August 19, 2007 11:53 pm

    Sometimes it all seems to lead to too many complications. There’s still a lot to be said for monosyllabic answers and changing the subject at the earliest opportunity.


  9. Sunny

    August 20, 2007 2:34 am

    All I can say is WOW he really replied with that? He needed a BIG kick.

    I usually say, God hasn’t blessed us yet OR I teach 2nd grade and have enough kids. My husband says, It isn’t because we haven’t tried enough.

    We really shouldn’t have to explain. People should just nod their heads and move on with the answer NOPE.


  10. Geohde

    August 20, 2007 11:06 am

    Jeez. I *loathe* that question. Until infertility became a personal experience, I never realised just how invasive and fraught it was.

    I alternate between a plain ‘no’, and an overly detailed explanation about how much it sucks to have a pregnancy with a lethal anomoly. Sometimes, if I don’t know the asker, I simply smile and remark that it’s a little personal.

    I can’t think of a single good way to answer that question.

  11. Foreverhopeful

    August 20, 2007 7:24 pm

    I wish everyone in the world knew “NOT” to ask that question. I think there is no really good answer to that question but I think the answer you gave was the right one. Its really nobody’s business anyways.

  12. Irish Girl

    August 20, 2007 9:47 pm

    We either say:

    “No kids” and smile an untelling smile


    “We tried for a while but it didn’t work out for us”

    Both answers work pretty effectively.

  13. Zee

    August 20, 2007 10:30 pm

    I used to play the perky angle, and chirp, “Not yet!” But now, at 41, that response gets some odd looks. I recently began using the response I inherited from a former good friend (who had her miracle baby earlier this year). Now I just say, “No. Unfortunately.” And smile ruefully. I no longer feel the need to elaborate any further than that.

  14. Summer

    August 21, 2007 12:13 am

    That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? That for infertiles, it’s not a yes/no question even though the people who ask it, ask it as such.

    I’d like to have the presence of mind, next time I’m asked, to say something like, “You know, the simple answer is no. But, things aren’t really all that simple.”

  15. chicklet

    August 21, 2007 3:26 am

    I like to answer with something just as personal, like ‘how big’s your penis’, or ‘what position do you like to have sex in most’. Cuz it’s as personal to me as that is to them.

  16. Ann

    August 21, 2007 1:59 pm

    I don’t find it nearly as offensive of a question as some of the commenters above. A more offensive question? “When are you going to have kids?” or “Why–don’t you want kids?” Like it or not, the answer to “Do you have kids?” can tell a newcomer a lot about a person. Same thing with “Are you married?” I thought your response was perfect. While his question wasn’t rude, his response to your answer was–incredibly.

    I used to be a newspaper reporter, which meant I HAD to gather this type of info about people. Usually, I would ask a very vague question to get this information, like, “So, do you live in Anytown alone, or do you have family nearby?” Usually, the person who was married with three kids would express surprise that I asked the question in this way, but he wouldn’t be offended.

  17. Iota

    August 21, 2007 3:40 pm

    I think Ann has put it very well. The first “do you have kids?” question is usually no more than a polite attempt to explore potential avenues of conversation, or find areas of common interest. As Ann says “Are you married?” can seem equally hurtful to the single, widowed or divorced. “What’s your job?” is dreadful to the unemployed person.

    It’s the follow-up questions that are intrusive. Those really are trespassing on private property, as far as I’m concerned.

    I like Bea’s monosyllables, Ellen K’s gentle approach, and Summer’s thought-provoking one. If I asked the question and got some kind of “none of your business” response, I’m
    not sure I’d feel very confident in pursuing the conversation. After all, what is my business? “Have you lived here long?” – none of my business. “Where are you from originally?” – none of my business. “Do you have hobbies?” – none of my business. The weather? – my business, but it’s not going to help us get to know each other very well.

    Having said all that, the “do you have kids?” question does come up very often, more often than the other “ice-breakers”. I have stopped asking it myself. I very much liked Ann’s roundabout question, which is tactful, and gives the other person a very open choice as to how much information to impart.

  18. Deathstar

    August 21, 2007 4:17 pm

    Ohmigod, that is so rude – so rude. I dread that question, cause I get it just about every time I meet someone new. From care aids at my mum’s care home, to manicurists to people at bus stops. Baby showers are not on my list of things to do for that reason. I just say no and change the subject. Now I dread saying we’re adopting because that opens a whole other can of ohmigodyoudidnotjustsaythat.

  19. Dianne

    August 22, 2007 6:27 pm

    Most of the time, I too just say no. But ask me about 20 times within two days, and my answers are:

    1. I’ve been seeing many a doctor on that topic.
    2. When the medical community figures out how to fix me.

  20. Kathy

    August 28, 2007 4:00 am

    I just found this website from a youtube video you made (very touching, by the way) and I’d like to put in my two cents even though this entry has been a while back…

    I find it refreshing that you found the strength to say what you did. For your own sake, if its someone very young or a man, I’d stick with no, but if its a woman closer to your own age I’d stick with what you did. You never know, she may have had a difficult time having a baby as well, and you might discover a close kinship.

    I know its difficult, but my last miscarriage was farther into my pregnancy (17 weeks) so by the time it happened EVERYONE knew. I couldn’t hide it. It was embarassing, I felt ashamed, but when I realized how many people still cared about me, still saw me for ME, and (more importantly) were willing to stand by me and listen to my story, it made me want to share my story all the more.

    I commend you.

  21. Amanda

    August 29, 2007 7:01 pm

    Thank you. That’s not my response to the question, just my response to your blog. Until reading your blog I was not aware of how personal and invasive that question is. Although I was aware of my issues with IF 14 years ago I’ve only had to deal with it off and on until recently. Thank you for the awakening. Thank you for your insight.

  22. MotherOfNone

    September 9, 2007 1:40 am

    This is a great topic – thanks. I have begun to have fun with this. After years of giving out my personal business and putting my feelings on the line, I now feel absolutely no need to be sincere or thorough when answering this question. Depending who is asking, I might say, “No, that’s not for me.” What can I say – it feels more empowered to me. After all, not having adopted, I am choosing not to have kids, right? Anyway, try it sometime. It feels very different.

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