A friend of mine recently shared a photo of herself and her partner; he was drinking from a flute of what was, clearly, champagne (or, fine, Prosecco). She, however, was sipping on a Buck’s Fizz – which a surprising number of people a) mistook for orange juice, and b) felt this gave them the OK to ask her if she’s pregnant.
“I knew it was coming,” she said ruefully as she recalled the encounter to me. As if it were her fault, somehow. As if choosing to mix your alcohol with OJ is an invitation to the world at large to inquire after the contents of your womb.
But here’s the thing; I completely understood where she’s coming from, because I’ve been there myself. Many, many, many times.
Because, despite the fact that there’s a lot going on in the world right now, people remain rabidly obsessed over the reproductive status of the women around them.
Some prefer to tiptoe around the subject, asking loaded questions about your “plans for the future.” Others exchange knowing looks if you mention feeling unwell, or order a non-alcoholic drink, or use the word ‘craving’ in any context whatsoever (despite the fact it’s perfectly valid to want, need, crave a slab of cheesy pizza, no matter what).
Ruder individuals will scan your body for ‘signs’ that you’re carrying a baby in secret, passing comment on your “glowing” skin, or your “fuller face”, or your decision to stop dyeing your hair (fully inspired by lockdown, I hasten to add), or even your weight in general.
They’ll analyse your every life decision, too, in a bid to glean something, anything baby-related from them. Indeed, when a good friend of mine recently announced her plans to move into a bigger property, several individuals felt prompted to quiz her, oh-so-carefully about how she plans to use the spare bedroom (apparently “yellow is a nice, neutral colour,” so that’s fun).
Then there are those who feel the need to point-blank ask you if you want a baby. Say yes, and you’re doomed to face an unwanted monologue about how you should “start trying now because it can take up to a year” and how “you’re not getting any younger” (I was once informed that my biological clock is tick-tick-ticking by some asshole I’d had the misfortune of finding myself seated opposite at a wedding). Say no, and you’ll be met with a look of shock and horror, before being informed that “you’ll change your mind.” Opt for something evasive and… well, you’ll get a stomach-churning blend of the above.
Because here’s a fun fact for you: it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your own head, there’s never a good time to be grilled about your reproductive plans.
Speaking as a “woman of childbearing age” (a horrifying term, as I’m sure you’ll agree!), there are so many reasons why people like myself may not have had children yet. Maybe we don’t want them, or can’t have them, or haven’t found the right person to have them with. Maybe we’re focusing on our career right now. Maybe we can’t afford to have a child right now. Or maybe we’re grieving a miscarriage, or having relationship problems, or under a lot of stress.
The list goes on. Because maybe we’re trying, have been trying for bloody ages, and nothing is happening. Maybe we’re still on the fence about whether we want to bring another human being into the world. Maybe we’ve read that the best way to help the environment is not to have children. Maybe we love our lifestyle too much to share it with another, smaller (and more demanding) person. Maybe the very idea of a baby literally forces us to come out in a cold sweat.
Or maybe – and this one seems particularly accurate right now – there’s an actual plague tearing its way through the world, and we have other, much more pressing things on our minds.
The list still goes on, because the list is endless. Every reason is as valid as the last. Yet, despite all of this, I never know how to respond when someone starts grilling me about my “dwindling supply” of unfertilised eggs.
A fun fact about me: I’m the sort of person who takes a wee while to think of an answer IRL. Whose initial reaction to rudeness is… well, one of stunned silence, I guess.
And, because I’m a ‘people pleaser’, I find it increasingly impossible to call these womb-botherers out on their invasive bullshit. Instead, I try not to rock the boat; I shrug, I tilt my head apologetically to the side (think Princess Diana in The Crown), and I do my best to change the subject.
Then, I walk away seething and spend all night long stewing over the things I shoulda, coulda, woulda said if only my brain had engaged with my mouth more quickly. (To quote Tehyi Hsieh, when we “lean too much on other people’s approval, life becomes a bed of thorns.”)
Thank goodness, then, that Destiny’s Child superstar Michelle Williams has shown me the way.
When someone recently commented on her Instagram that she “needs some children” because she’s “too bored,” Williams responded with a string of laughing emojis and a beautifully blunt response: “You’re an idiot.”
Then, when the original commenter suggested that her reaction was uncalled for, Williams really let them have it.
“No, what’s uncalled for is you telling a woman that she needs to have children,” she said simply. “What if that woman can’t have children? What if that woman doesn’t want to have children?”
Williams continued: “Watch your mouth and fingers… don’t you ever let that come out of your mouth or fingers on a comment section again to anybody. I would have ignored [you], but too many people need to stay out of a woman’s uterus.
“Now scram and be blessed!”
The best thing about all of this? Why, that the original commenter immediately backed the fuck down and said sorry, of course!
“My apologies, Ms Williams,” they wrote. “I will never forget that.”
It just goes to show that the internal battle I go through whenever someone gets a bit too curious about my ovaries is null and void. I don’t need to worry about being rude to these people; maybe they don’t even realise that they’re being incredibly rude to me. Maybe channeling my inner Michelle Williams and giving them a (polite, succinct) piece of my mind to chew on is the best and only way to change this tired old narrative around women. Maybe reminding them that my worth is not determined by the contents of my womb will leave them feeling suitably chastised and apologetic for their actions.
And maybe not. But hey, it’s surely worth a try, right? Because anything, truly anything, is better than simpering my way through another one-sided conversation about my bloody biological clock.