I’m certain I got married the first time because I wanted to prove to the world that I was a “closer” when it came to relationships. If I were still that concerned about what other people think, do you know what I would be doing right now? Trying desperately to have a baby.
I despise society’s entitlement to discuss women’s decisions to have kids for the same reason that I hate being told to “smile.” To quote the pop singer Robyn, “Don’t fucking tell me what to do.” And that’s exactly what you are doing when you demand a woman outline her entire business plan when it comes to sex, coupling off, legally binding institutions like marriage and the many intricacies involved in bringing a human being into this world.
“When are you having kids?” a professional acquaintance asked me recently, as if she were trying to upsell me from the no-frills-marriage floor model to the five-year extended-warranty version in the form of a crying human baby.
What I would tell her if I wanted to let her walk all over my boundaries: Honestly, I’ve never felt a strong desire one way or the other, and I love giving love in non-maternal ways to children who are in my life. I wish I were one of those women who despises kids because that sounds so badass, but I don’t! I’ve felt this way since I was in my 20s, and now that I’m 40, it’s working out.
What I did tell her was: “I’m not having kids.” End of story.
“You never know,” she said.
“No,” I repeated, “I actually do know.”
I realized that if I’d taken the bait, I would’ve given her permission to conduct an open audit of everything in my life — from financials to fertility to relationship health to my personal views on how to achieve the pursuit of happiness.
Do not feed the baby-small-talk trolls.
Instead, I flashed her a cold smile and excused myself to the bathroom, thinking about several of my girlfriends for whom this is not a casual question and who have struggled with fertility, miscarriages, childhood trauma, and other issues that no one would dare ask a stranger about.
But these questions come all the time, these sneaky little passive-aggressive mind-fucks masqueraded as innocuous observations. Like, “You just don’t know until you have your own kids. You realize how everything in life doesn’t matter until you have them. Trust me. I’m telling you, don’t rule it out, okay?”
So I brainstormed with several girlfriends, and we came up with shut-it-down responses to the question “When are you having kids?”
No. 1: “I have a question for you first. How many times a day do you masturbate?” Why not, as long as we’re playing the game of Totally Invasive Questions Related to Your Sexual Health and Well-Being? This suggestion comes courtesy of my friend Jessica Delfino, a comedian who just performed a show while eight months pregnant, in which she talked about her miscarriage.
“Would you ask someone you barely knew other personal questions about their health?” Jessica asks. “‘What’s it like to have diabetes?’ ‘How did your parents die?’ ‘What’s your health-insurance policy?’”
No. 2: “Here’s my gynecologist’s phone number. HIPAA is going to be a bitch, but do what you need to do to get the answers you need, okay?” Inger, a friend who recently became a mom, went through hell and high water with fertility issues (which she told real friends about, not frenemies, randos or relatives with motives). “It was horrifying when people did ask,” she says. “I always felt very unprepared. It was like they were sticking their hands into an open wound.”
No. 3: “I don’t want kids, and your questions are making me feel even more confident in that choice.” My friend Chelsea (who says she gets asked this question more the older she gets) suggests this, or the opposite: “We can’t always have what we want.” Sometimes “obviously everyone wants what you have!” is an easier piccolo to play.
No. 4: “I’ll have kids — if you pay for them.” My friend Jenn used this line on her relatives whenever she was nagged, but says when possible, she simply avoids activities where this kind of small talk is considered appropriate.
No. 5: “I’m concerned about why you’re asking me this. Are you getting everything you need at home?” This is from my friend Anna, who is a genius at shutting things down. She notes that it is best not to practice on, say, that guy you’re hoping will give you a home loan, but have fun telling it to some jackoff at your high-school reunion. Why do you care what that guy thinks? He hasn’t talked to you in 20 years, and he’s suddenly wanting to plot your life trajectory out for you?
No. 6: “I’m actually in therapy to figure out if I do want to be a mother. It’s painful, but I would love to invite you to the next session if it’s that important to you.” This is from my friend Melissa, who had a traumatic childhood and has complicated feelings about becoming a mother. “Every time someone asks me this, I want to grab their arm and make them go back in time with me to see where I come from. They would never dare ask me this if they knew the Pandora’s Box they were opening.”
No. 7: “When are you getting your own life together?” My friend Sofia, who now has a little boy, found that after she had a child, questions became even more relentless about when she would have another. This led to an epiphany of sorts.
“Wait, here I am, I’ve had a kid, but no? This is not to your liking? You’d like it to be different somehow, a little more to the left?” she asks. “It just made me realize that it’s less about the life stage itself and more about people’s desire to see women packed into a little box with a neat label.”
I repeated this opinion to my husband as I continued my own gripe-fest on the subject, then asked what he thought I should say.
He thought about it for a moment and said, “You should just respond, ‘You know what? You are right. I don’t know what I want. So why don’t you just tell me how many kids you want me to have, and I’ll get on it right away.’”
It reminds me why I married him in the first place — instead of following someone else’s idea about what marriage should be.