A woman on Twitter has shared an upsetting conversation she had recently, to show how invasive it can be to ask why someone doesn’t have children.
There’s a scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary that captures the pressure put on women to become mothers, especially by their 30s, absolutely perfectly.
Sitting around a table at an awkward dinner party, Bridget looks embarrassed and vulnerable as a smarmy, male friend-of-a-friend leans over and questions: “So, how’s your love life?”
He continues, “You really ought to hurry up and get sprogged up, you know, old girl. Time’s a-running out. Tick, tock.”
The invasiveness and insensitivity of his comments judder through many of us as we watch that scene play out. Because, although it’s a work of fiction on a television screen, it’s a spot-on rendition of the conversations a lot of us will have been subjected to.
As well as it being no one’s business but the woman herself, these intrusive questions can be upsetting for a spectrum of reasons, which have been highlighted by social media user Lisa Marie, after she tweeted an uncomfortable conversation she had on this subject.
Describing the back-and-fourth between her and an unidentified person, Marie wrote: “Them: How old are you? Me: 33. Them: And you don’t have kids? Wow, time to get on that. Me: I’ve had 7 miscarriages. Them: *Looking incredibly uncomfortable* Me: Annnnnnnnnd I hope we’ve learned a lesson in asking inappropriate personal questions.”
She continued with several more tweets, explaining how painful these conversations can be and, sadly, how often they happen.
Many of Marie’s followers agreed, with one woman tweeting: “Word. I hate being asked this question and feeling that I have to justify myself.”
Another said: “As you get older, people start saying you choose to focus on career rather than have kids (like an excuse) - without knowing anything about the real reason!”
For some bizarre reason it’s still deemed appropriate to ask a woman about this very private aspect of her life, and what’s more, for many people (mostly men) it’s seems okay to reference her age when doing so.
But as Marie points out, not only is this rude and inappropriate, there may be upsetting reasons as to why someone hasn’t become pregnant, for example having suffered a miscarriage.
Of course, it makes sense to simply not ask women who haven’t offered information regarding their stance on having children. But if a difficult conversation like Marie’s occurs, it can be hard to know what to say.
We asked writer Amy Swales, who has had five miscarriages, about the most comforting things that you can say to someone who reveals they have been in that position. According to her, a simple “I’m sorry” is a good place to start.
“For some, ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough, of course it’s not. But it’s not about it being enough. It’s about opening up the conversation across the silence.
“I’m sorry says you acknowledge this as a loss, as a pain, as a reason to be so unhappy. If you don’t feel you can say anything else, don’t. But it’s a far better route into being there for someone than saying nothing at all,” Swales says.
We think it’s amazing that Marie has been open enough to share this conversation on Twitter, and hope that it will make some people think twice before joking about why a woman in her 30s might not have children yet.
If you would like more guidance on what to say, and what not to say, to someone who has been through a miscarriage, you can read Swales’s full article here.