Do you have children?

A simple question with a yes or no answer right? Surely you either have children or you don’t? 

But when asked this at a work event recently I froze as I tried to find the right answer for me. 

They must have thought me strange as I struggled to formulate an answer for what was to them a straightforward question. In the end, I settled on a hesitant “No”. I didn’t know these people well enough to divulge such a personal and painful part of my life and the room was so stuffy that the sadness of it all would have lingered like a bad smell.

It’s such an innocent question. It’s someone trying to find a point of connection and it’s not as probing and rude as being asked “when are you going to have children?” or “do you want children?” I have no qualms about sharing my losses with people who ask such impertinent questions and subsequently watching the ground swallow them up.

But I do wish people would try and find another point of connection with me. I could talk about the weird lives of cats until the cows come home.

The thing is, for a lot of us it really isn’t a straightforward question. One in four women experience miscarriage therefore the path to parenthood is so much harder than we at first realise.

How do people struggling to conceive or experiencing infertility answer that question? On the surface the answer may be “no” but they have all the love, perseverance and hope for a child and that means everything. 

It’s an equally hard one to answer for those who have made the decision to stop trying. There are the years of hope and heartbreak that aren’t acknowledged in a “no” answer.

Such an innocent question but so triggering although perhaps the problem isn’t with the question, but our fears about how people will react to the answer.

I don’t think people should have to walk on eggshells all the time – I’m sure I’ve definitely asked questions that seemed innocent to me but were perhaps triggering for someone else. If we didn’t ask these questions we’d only talk about the weather (although with the climate emergency we probably should talk about the weather more). People who haven’t experienced loss or infertility will have no idea how triggering this subject can be. If you have children of course you understandably want to connect with someone on a topic that’s a big part of your life.

I think for me, what I’d like is to have a situation where we can share the sad parts of our lives and not feel shame and awkwardness. I’d like that when we hear a difficult answer, we don’t try to change the subject but instead we listen and accept that life is complicated.

I definitely didn’t help to change the narrative with my “no” response so now I’d like to say what was really in my heart:

“Yes, I have a little boy called Tadeusz who I hold in my heart everyday but sadly because he had patau syndrome I don’t get to hold him in my arms.”

Any questions?

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