Trigger warning: child loss
There’s just no appropriate time, no good reason to initiate such a discussion.
Just the other day I was chatting with a woman, and as it so often does, the conversation turned to our kids.
We discovered that we both have toddlers around the same age and she expressed her frustration at constantly being asked when she’s going to have another baby.
I offered some combination of a sigh and my go-to response of “UGH,” because don’t even get me started on that question.
“I don’t know if I want another one—I’m already so tired,” she said. “They say I shouldn’t wait too long because my kids will be too far apart—but I’m okay with an age gap. Because I know I’m not ready for another right now. But they tell me I’m going to be too old before long.”
And then she whispered, “I mean, I don’t even know if I can HAVE another.”
She’s lucky that time constraints kept me from carrying on about it all, because boy, could I have carried on.
I didn’t tell her about my own experience with such comments.
I didn’t tell her that unlike her, I wanted the kids I’m raising to be closer in age.
I didn’t tell her that loss was part of my story and for a time, I didn’t know if I could have another either.
I didn’t tell her that I was asked when I was going to have another at a baby shower that was already triggering strong emotions from my first loss months earlier. That I would have been having a baby shower around the same time, except the baby didn’t make it that far.
I didn’t tell her that someone told me I was running out of time to have another on the due date of my baby who was born still. Or how hard it was to brush off the comment with a fake smile before getting the heck out of there. Or how, based on that comment, I wondered if I was failing my living child by not yet producing a living sibling for her.
I didn’t tell her that I’m in a phase where I feel like I do want another, but that the card for that is no longer in the deck.
Because she didn’t need to be told all those things.
But it turns out some people still do. And maybe it comes out of a good place. Or it’s just plain ol’, seemingly harmless small talk. But not only does that question create discomfort and frustration, it can also create real, actual pain.
Instead I told her that it’s okay if she only wants one. And that my kids are five years apart and how the age difference has been a blessing in so many ways. And that whatever decision she makes will be the right one. And that sometimes we don’t even have control over how these things turn out.
And that she’ll know when the time is right to stop with one child or go in the direction of another. And that what “they” say doesn’t have to be a factor in what she does, nor is it a reflection of how well she’s doing as a mom or woman.
Because one or none or some, we are all worthy as mothers, as women. Regardless of how many children we have, or how many children other people THINK we should have.
Questions and comments around the issue of a woman’s fertility are personal questions that shouldn’t be asked. They can sting. They can cause feelings of doubt and inadequacy. They can feel like a judgment, as if we’re not measuring up—when we shouldn’t have to measure up to someone else’s standards of what they assume our motherhood should look like.
So, please. Keep these questions and comments to yourself. Because the story surrounding any woman’s motherhood is probably more complicated than you realize.