Dear Society, Please Stop Asking Women When They Are Going to Have a Baby
Whether a loved one, friend, or colleague, whether single, in a relationship, or married, in their 20s or approaching menopause, there is no right time or place to ask someone when they are going to have a baby. I used to think this was a socially acceptable question for close friends and family. Someone gets married, and the next natural step that we have been told all of our lives is to have a baby or two. As a practicing OB/GYN and a mom I have met thousands of women at all stages of their journey. As I have progressed in my own personal life through being single in my thirties to married and still not having my biological clock go off to requiring estrogen supplementation to get pregnant to then being a new mom who is not sure if her marriage can even survive the transition to parenthood, I have also had this question asked of me many times over the years by well intentioned friends and loved ones. I can emphatically attest that it is one of the most intrusive, triggering, and emotionally loaded questions you can ask someone.
Some women do not know if they want to have a baby and they may feel immense outside pressure guiding their decision of id and when to procreate. Whether to have a child, or children, is one of the most important life altering decisions one makes. I have many friends who are amazing women and who have decided they never want to be moms. This is a decision that should be supported by those who love them and no woman should be judged for making this choice. They should not feel the need to explain themselves as they are living their life by their values.
Many pregnancies are unplanned and many are planned, however no woman should feel outside pressure to get pregnant or continue a pregnancy when she does not feel ready. I have seen countless women in their 20s and 30s extremely worried about their future fertility and family and friends have told them that they need to have babies right away. Not because they actually want to have babies then, or are in a place in a relationship or their career where they feel ready to have a baby, or never mind if they ever even want a baby, however loved ones are asking them when they are going to have a baby and this brings them stressed to my office questioning their ovarian reserve when there is no reason in their history that they should be worried.
Infertility is more prevalent than ever and countless women are trying to have a baby unsuccessfully, whether naturally or via fertility services. Asking them when they are going to have a baby, a question they already ask themselves every month when their unwanted period comes, makes them feel more like a failure for not being able to accomplish something that should be easy and natural. They already have to struggle with seeing friends and family members being pregnant and having children, and hear stories about women who accidentally got pregnant after having unprotected intercourse once. They do not need someone else bringing up this thought that is already ever present as they go through endless months and years of unrealized dreams of becoming pregnant and being a mom.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, and loss of infant and child are also very real and much more common than the general population realizes. I tell women multiple times every week that the baby they had so desperately wanted and had already dreamed of a future with has stopped growing. Most of these are very early pregnancy losses, when those around them did not even know they were pregnant, so they often grieve alone while everyone around them continues to go through life as usual. Some of these women are much further in their pregnancy, even days away from an expected delivery of a normal healthy baby, when the unthinkable happens. They have already prepared the nursery, washed and folded the tiny newborn clothes, packed their hospital bag, and installed the carseat. All of these women must go through the painful task of knowing they have a dead baby inside of them that they must let go of either surgically or by delivery. Fewer women yet, but still more than there should ever be, bring home a baby whom they meet and grow to love that then is taken from them. Some women have experienced tragedy multiple times and have a history of recurrent miscarriages or losses of babies later in pregnancy, or losses of multiple children due to underlying medical or hereditary conditions. I have heard stories from all of them of times when they have been asked about their plans for having babies by people who do not know their stories and this feels unfair and hurtful, bringing them back to the grief of their loss.
Some women have made the decision to terminate pregnancies, a decision never taken lightly. Some terminate a highly desired pregnancy because the baby was found to have a genetic anomaly or condition not compatible with life or a high quality of life. Other women terminate pregnancies because it is not the right time in their life for multiple reasons and then later struggle with infertility and blame themselves because they terminated a pregnancy when they were younger and not equipped to be a mom or in an abusive relationship which was not safe to bring a child into.
There are also more women than we will ever fully count who have experienced abuse and trauma in their lives which has made the thought of having a child very difficult. When your bodily autonomy has previously been taken away from you by an abuser it can be very traumatic and difficult to consider carrying a pregnancy and once again giving over your autonomy to another being. When you have trauma from childhood experiences with your mother, or never knew your mother, it can be difficult to think about taking on that role yourself. Asking these women when they are going to have a baby can bring up many dark and difficult feelings and memories.
There are numerous other scenarios I have not thought of or witnessed in which the question of when someone is going to have a baby is not appropriate, however I hope this is enough to stop anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, from asking this loaded question to loved ones who do not have children. My final request, as someone who is now in this stage of life, is that when a woman has already entered into the world of motherhood, please refrain from asking her when she is going to have another.
With love and empathy,