Why you need to stop asking childless couples when they are going to start having babies
This seemingly innocent sentence is usually asked with the kindest of intentions but can cause so much stress and grief.
A couple has barely said ‘I do’ and kissed each other before someone has to ask, ‘So when are you having a baby?’ And in these modern times, you don’t need to even tie the knot; any couple between the ages of 24 and 40 who have been together for more than 12 months can probably also expect this question regularly.
When does it often pop up?
This question can come from close friends, but these people usually know better. More often it is from a well-meaning older family member or people who are extended relatives or casual acquaintances. It is asked with sincere kindness and heartfelt interest usually, but often is just a way for people to make conversation.
If you are chatting with a happy couple of a certain age, resist the temptation for this easy question to pop out of your mouth.
Where you might be tempted to ask the question:
- At family reunions or gatherings
- At Christmas events
- At work, or at work-related functions, especially if partners are invited
- At a wedding
- At any celebration involving children, such as a christening, baby shower or a child’s birthday party.
But surely asking this question is just a polite way to make pleasant conversation?
For lots of couples, certainly. Many couples who are just starting out on their babymaking journey, or are very contently without kids right now will have some confident answers to this well-meaning query, and pleasant conversation can follow.
But for couples who are struggling to conceive, this simple question can provoke a torturous and painful response. For couples who are well into treatment for infertility, this could be twice as torturous to hear as well as awkward to answer.
Why is it not ok to ask someone when they are going to have a baby?
Consider if you ask this of someone who desperately wants a baby and has been trying for years to get pregnant, what difficult response and conversation is going to follow? If you are close to the person and truly care about them, then there are far better ways to phrase your caring attention.
They could start crying or be struggling to maintain composure in the mixed setting. They might already be just barely holding it together if there are lots of happy young families and bouncing babies in the room. They might have come to the gathering to get their minds off constantly stressing about trying to conceive.
They might be tense and stressed and unwillingly come back at you with an awkward response, such as ‘Well, since you ask we’ve been trying for over a year, and it seems my partner’s sperm doesn’t work.’
It is a rare and strong couple who are trying to conceive who can deal with this question easily and sensitively, and quite frankly they shouldn’t have to. You would be better not to ask it in the first place.
Even if they are forced to smile sadly and say, ‘We are trying, but no luck so far. Can we talk about something else instead?’, they are handling the conversation beautifully but you have put them and you in an uncomfortable position. And you can avoid this.
What if you just want to give advice about your own infertility journey?
You might have had your own infertility journey, or know someone else who has, and you might have some excellent advice to impart, but just be careful how you do this.
Giving broad advice such as ‘Have you tried acupuncture?’ or ‘Do you need to lose weight?’ is not really helpful, because the person already knows all about this. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often well-meaning advice can come across as inconsiderate and cruel.
I just want to be nice, how can I do that?
Chances are, they don’t want to talk about this at all, especially if they don’t know you very well. If they are close to you and you really want to check in with them, don’t start with this kind of question anyway. Ask how they are, and what they have been up to lately.
If you suspect they might be trying to get pregnant and you feel like you have advice to give, perhaps try something like, ‘I don’t know if you’re trying to have a baby at all, but we had some trouble when we tried, just in case you wanted to talk’ or ‘Do you remember my cousin? She recently has been going through IVF and it makes me feel just useless, not knowing what to say to her.’
Some alternate versions of the question which are also not ok:
- So, when is it going to be your turn? (asked while you are holding your own healthy baby)
- So why aren’t you pregnant yet?
- Have you tried it in this (alternate sexual) position? That’s how we conceived!
- Are you trying to lose weight, because that would really increase your chances of conceiving?
- I envy you not having kids, they are so exhausting!
- Have you thought about adopting? There are so many needy children out there.
See also our article on other things not to say to a couple who are struggling with conceiving. (Link below)
What about if I ask is there anything I can do?
This is another well-meaning question that can go awry, or if not awry, can be kind of useless. If you are talking to a person struggling with infertility, they probably can’t instantly think of anything you can do to help. And if they want you to be a donor of some kind this is probably not the time to have that discussion.
The person you are talking to will most likely say, ‘No,’ and then you’ll feel better that at least you asked because you were sensitive and helpful, but you could still be handling this situation better.
Do not ask open-ended questions like ‘What can I do to help?’
Think of something helpful you can do, and kindly and gently offer that instead. Take them shopping, to get some exercise, or to a Thai cooking class. Invite them to join your book club. Ask them over for dinner. Be actively helpful and help to distract them from this whole difficult process.
Some wonderful and sensitive things to say instead
- We haven’t had a good catch-up and gossip in ages! Let’s book in a day to have coffee and a proper chat next week.
- I never know what to say to people at these sorts of parties. Let’s play a game; what’s the most annoying question you get asked at gatherings like this?
- Are you planning any holidays away this year?
- How is work going?
- I’m thinking about getting my hair cut short, what do you think?
- Have you heard what Meghan Markle is apparently wearing to her wedding?
For struggling couples; how to deal with this question
I am sorry to say couples, that people will still ask you this question from time to time. We would love to tell you that heaps of your elderly relatives and your husband’s colleagues will read this article and take our sage advice, but sadly a lot of people won’t.
So it might pay to be a bit prepared for acquaintances and strangers and people you barely know or hardly ever see to ask innocently at the next gathering, ‘So, when are you going to start having babies?’
Tell yourself in advance that this might come up, and have some handy answers up your sleeve to dissuade the awkwardness for everybody. Try the following:
- We’ll get there. Now isn’t it funny weather we’ve been having?
- Why would I give up my life of nice clothing and drinking till late and sleeping soundly through the night for a life full of poop and spit-up and kids TV on permanent rotation?
- Oh, we try all the time. In fact, we just got back from a quickie in the bathroom!
- We plan to, plenty of time for that.
- I’ve just managed to get through six months without killing my houseplants. I’m working up to looking after a cat next. Then we’ll see.
- No, this year we are focusing on our careers or the home renovation.
- We wanted to save for a home deposit first.
- How do you know we are not pregnant already?
Let’s wave our magic wand and sprinkle some extra sensitivity all around
So in general, parties are awkward and you should do everything you can not to make things worse. I would love to say it’s only great-aunties who were born before the Queen took her crown who say this sort of thing, but it can come from anyone really. My sister in law asks it, and she’s in her 30s and should definitely know better!
Be kind and sensitive to couples without children because you have no idea what they are going through. This innocent question can indeed be a very loaded one with an awful lot of punch packed behind it if you are not careful.
Do struggling couples everywhere a favour, consider your words carefully a little bit first and then think of something else to say.