It’s one of the most personal decisions a person could make, so why won’t people stop asking about it? Here, freelance journalist Deborah Cicurel questions why people just can’t stop asking the dreaded question: when are you going to have a baby?
Would you go up to someone you barely know and ask them about their sex life or how their relationship is going? Not really, right? But somehow, this all goes out of the window after a few years of marriage.
Let me explain. In March, my husband Andrew and I will celebrate three years of marriage. We live in a tight-knit community, which is mostly a positive thing, but it has its negatives, too.
The main negative is the staggering way in which we are constantly questioned about having children.
In the last month alone, I’ve had the following comments from a collection of good friends, parents of people I vaguely know and downright strangers, coming up to me and rubbing my stomach or criticising my career as a travel journalist, our sausage dog Pickles and even our sex life.
“Anything on the way yet?”
“I think you two should put down your dog and try for a baby. What’s a dog compared to a baby?”
“You should really try when you’re young to avoid any medical issues with the baby.”
“You should focus a bit less on the travelling and a bit more on making babies.”
“Andrew, what’s going on? Do you want me to come into your bedroom and show you how to make a baby?”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure most of these comments are said in jest, and no one means any harm by them. These well-meaning friends and acquaintances probably say similar things to all married couples who haven’t had children within a few years. But I’m finding it more and more intrusive, as well as shockingly rude. They seem like questions from another century.
It’s no secret that we’re having babies much later than our parents’ generation, and the generation before that. Statistics released in 2016 showed that there are now more women over 40 having babies than those under the age of 20 for the first time since World War II.
While unfortunately it is true that the “biological clock” we’re all warned about does exist, there are so many reasons why people are waiting longer to have babies. The cost of childcare, the difficulties of getting on the property ladder, the pay penalties faced by women once they become a mother… it’s hardly a snap decision to be made.
In fact, there’s plenty to suggest it’s better to wait until later: a recent study found that women who have their first baby aged between 35 and 40 make happier parents than their younger counterparts. Those in the public eye are also waiting to have children, achieving career goals before settling down: actress Eva Longoria is currently pregnant with her first child at the age of 42, while Janet Jackson had her first child earlier this year at the age of 50.
I understand that older generations might look at my husband and I, working until the early hours of the morning, travelling all the time and walking our dog in the park, and think we’re missing valuable time to try when we’re still young.
But many of my friends are struggling with their fertility, and it takes all of their strength not to burst into tears every time another vague acquaintance says: “Married for four years? No babies yet?” There seems to be a distinct lack of sensitivity around the topic, as well as little understanding that even if you are trying, there’s no guarantee you will conceive.
It’s not just us mere mortals who are faced with constant questioning. Celebrities such as Tyra Banks and Chrissy Teigen have also spoken out about intrusive questioning. As Teigen said: “I can’t imagine being that nosy to be like ‘So, when are the kids coming?’ because who knows what somebody is going through. Who knows if somebody is struggling to have children?”
Relationship expert Suzie Parkus says being questioned about children can be upsetting whether you are trying to conceive or not.
“Not everyone knows what’s going on in the background: by someone asking a person about babies, you could be reminding a couple of fertility issues they may be battling,” she tells stylist.co.uk. “You could be compounding their upset and distress because your questions are now serving as a reminder of something that they want, yet can’t have.”
It’s also distressing if you’re not sure you want children, or have decided to wait a while before trying.
“Certain questions can make you feel as though there is a time pressure, or that being an older parent could spell trouble for you, your body and your baby,” Parkus says. “Other people’s input on something that is so personal adds pressure to a couple who should be allowed to enjoy themselves and make their own choices in their own time.”
At the moment, when people ask me the dreaded question - or, worse, pat my stomach or offer me a glass of wine to see if I’ll pretend to sip it - my responses vary from giving death stares, making jokes about how they’ll be the first to know, or rolling my eyes and saying “Why, do you want to babysit?”
But maybe I should think more about why they’re asking. Psychotherapist Hilda Burke argues that it could have more to do with those asking than with those being asked, believing the questions could be rooted in envy or an attempt at validation.
“What might be going on at play here is a very human drive to validate our own choices by getting the people who are close to us to make the same or similar ones,” she says.
“Perhaps there is even some envy triggered in them by seeing you continuing to lead an ‘unfettered’ existence without the compromises associated with parenthood. Many of my clients who have had children quite quickly sometimes look back with longing at their childless days. While they definitely enjoy having children, there are times when they look back on how their life and their relationship was without children in the mix.”
Even if I smile smugly and imagine that people are only asking out of a need to validate their own decisions, the worst part of it all is that I know that if we do have a baby one day, it won’t stop there. When we were dating, people couldn’t stop asking us when we were getting engaged. The minute we got engaged, everyone demanded to know the wedding date. Now we’re married, it’s babies. Once the first baby is around, I’m sure people will tell us to have another so our children can be close in age.
We don’t need to justify our decision to anyone, but if and when we do decide we’re ready to try for a baby, it will be because we want to and we’re ready for it, not because our well-meaning but nosy community wants us to.
Main image background: Jeffrey Betts, other images courtesy of Deborah