I spent my early teens willing the years of homework, Clarks sandals and kids' menus to end so I could be a grown up. I was especially sick of the inane questions routinely wheeled out by elders with glazed eyes; questions like "What's your favourite colour?" and "My, haven't you grown?"
Later, I dodged the "Have you got a boyfriend?" bullet until I could smugly present one, and a round-robin email from my mother put everyone off asking after him when he dumped me. But worse was to come as soon as I'd got married: "So, when are we to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet, then?"
This is the most inappropriate question I have ever been asked in social circles. In my mind it equates to: "How was your last smear test?"; "Are you having regular sex?"; "How's your partner's sperm count?"; "Does he still wear a condom?"...
From loved ones, it is a way of expressing interest in your life, a supportive concern. But what if you and your partner haven't decided yet, and it's a thorny issue? What if your relationship isn't strong enough to add a child to the equation? What if money's tight and you can't afford one? The question also assumes a choice in the matter. What if you're struggling with fertility issues, have recently miscarried a baby or discovered you can't adopt? All are very private issues, I'm sure you'll agree, and not ones I'd happily discuss with every Tom, Dick and Harry.
It's not only intrusive; it also comes with the loaded assumption that once married, this is the next logical step in a woman's life. Why can't I still prioritise bar crawls, spontaneous holidays and lazy brunches, or – God forbid – my career? It's surely more appropriate to ask, 'if' rather than 'when'?
But anyway, the question has been posed, and you're feeling around for a socially appropriate answer. What kind of reply will get you off the hook quickly, without having to discuss the inner workings of your nether regions? How about a vague, 'sometime soon, perhaps'? Think of the pressure! Every time you look a bit flushed your Aunt/neighbour/colleague is going to think you've been hard at it trying to make a baby, and then speculate on whether or not you're 'doing it right' if a bump doesn't swell forthwith.
You could try a non-committal (though somewhat defensive) 'why do you ask?' but you might not enjoy the answer. You could just nip it in the bud by saying you don't want kids, but to be honest, I have yet to find a way of expressing that sentiment that isn't countered with the cunning retort: "Don't worry, that maternal instinct will kick in one day. Just don't leave it too long." To whoever touts that one, it's a watertight theory – you can't argue without being the lady who doth protest too much.
So I've concluded that only three people need get a straight answer to that question from me: my mother, my husband and my gynaecologist. Everyone else will be answered with a shrug, and the hope that nobody asks the second most sickening question to counter when not expecting: "When are you due?"
By Grace Timothy