"Do you have children?" is one of the most painful questions you can ask someone facing involuntary childlessness, yet, I am asked this question by strangers and new people that I meet pretty much on a weekly basis. Whilst I appreciate this question can be an innocent conversation starter, for those dealing with not being able to have children, it can often strike up a range of painful feelings, emotions and is a deeply personal question.
For years, I dreaded these four words and was constantly seeking a perfect response, asking other childless people "how do I respond when people ask me if I have children?"
Over the years, I have come to realise that there is no easy and simple answer. Early on in my fertility journey, I would brush the question aside and say, "no, not yet", which was accepted by people when we had only been married a couple of years. As the time went on and we started fertility investigations and treatment, the questions started to get more intrusive and people began asking "don't you want children?" and "why don't you JUST adopt?" My heart would sink and I'd say, "We have 2 cats" and try to change the subject.
After many conversations with people, I now recognise that our response to this question is largely determined by how we're feeling at that particular moment and may vary depending on who is asking and the circumstances we are in.
So how can we deal with and prepare for the question?
•Remember, you don't have to justify yourself. For years, I felt the need to explain our situation to people, who in most cases, I didn't even know. This is a deeply personal issue which you shouldn't be forced to talk about. Changing the subject or deflecting the question back on the person can help ease the awkward feelings.
•Consider setting boundaries about what you feel comfortable discussing. Depending where you are in your journey, you may decide to be open about your situation. Just remember that this is your story and to only talk about it if you want to. It's amazing how many people are in the same situation and can relate, but be prepared as people like to tell us about miracle stories and about people that they know who got pregnant when they stopped trying.
•Don't worry about appearing rude or direct. For years, I felt the need to protect people from feeling awkward or bad when I said we couldn't have children. Now that I am further along in the journey, I say "unfortunately not" or "no, we can't have them". Our tone of voice plays an important part in how we communicate so it's worth practicing our responses.
•Give yourself space. If you're feeling particularly anxious about attending an event or meeting new people for the first time, give yourself permission to find a quiet space and take a few deep breaths and re-engage when you feel ready.
Finally, as much as we can try to prepare ourselves for the "Do you have children?" question, it will still often prompt uncomfortable feelings. Remember to be kind yourself and say what feels right at the time.
Kelly Da Silva