“Are you pregnant?”
In the past two weeks, for some reason I have had four people ask me this question and variations on it: “Are you and Kristen expecting another?” “Are you going to have another baby?” “When is the next baby coming?” The questions were idle conversation; they were earnest inquiries into our family planning. Two of the questions were from people who saw my nearly two year-old son for the first time since he was a baby; one was from someone asking after Kristen, who didn’t make it to church last Sunday, and one was out of the blue, from an acquaintance at school whom I hadn’t talked to in a couple of months.
While I appreciate these people’s interest in my life and their concern for me and my family, I don’t particularly like answering the question “Are you and Kristen expecting?” Unless you’re someone with a medical reason to know the answer to that question, there’s really not a good answer.
If we’re not expecting, and not planning on having another baby anytime soon, the question can feel like an accusation: Why aren’t you multiplying and replenishing the earth. If we’re trying to conceive and not succeeding, the question serves as a reminder of our failure and our pain. The questioner is asking unwittingly to be a party to that anguish, but casual inquiries do not merit having so much emotional trauma being shared fully. If we are pregnant, but are not public yet, the question may force me to choose between lying and breaking a trust with my wife. Any family that has gone through the pain of a miscarriage understands there are reasons for not wanting to burden many others with the knowledge that they are expecting very early in the pregnancy. The question also carries with it a bit of reproach: Aren’t we close enough for you to share the good news with me?
An even more problematic question is “Why haven’t you had any kids yet?” For some reason, members of the Church (at least in my experience) seem to feel unusually entitled to an answer to this question. Perhaps this attitude is common outside of the Church as well, but I’ve noticed it more within our community of believers, or at least I’ve heard more horror stories originating inside the Church. Again, there are plenty of reasons for families not to have children, and many of them are painful and heart-wrenching. Most of the time, a refusal to answer the question is more of a favor than a rebuff.
My favorite reply to this question came from a sister who was late in her child-bearing years recounting the difficulties she had had over the years with well-meaning (and plain nosy) people who had asked her why she didn’t have any kids yet. She said she got so tired of strangers giving unsolicited advice and unwarranted criticism of her family situation that she finally decided that she would answer any question as to why she didn’t have any kids, “If you must know, my husband’s penis was cut off in a motorcycle accident.”
Be careful what you ask. You just might get an answer.