4/15/2005

Defending infertility

I ran into an old acquantaince the other day, a guy I dated briefly before I got married. He and I exchanged awkward pleasantries, and then he re-introduced me to his very pregnant wife,and introduced me to his 2 children. He has been married roughly one year longer than I. Then he said, "What about you? Do you have any children?" I smiled and said, "Yes, one. He's three." "Oh, just one?" "Yep. Just one." This conversation is not unique. I had a similar conversation when I ran into an old girlfriend last month I hadn't seen since Jacob was born. She asked me if I had 2 kids yet. "No, I just have Jacob." "Oh, just one?" "Yep, just one." These people are not bad people. They are old friends, inquiring about my life in a pleasant, friendly manner. And yet there is always an awkward pause when I tell people who know that I've been married for a while that I just have one child. I'm not sure what they are thinking, but I think their thoughts must fall into two categories: Oh, she wanted to finish graduate school and get her career going before she started having kids. That's why she only has one. Or- Maybe she had problems having children. Poor thing, and look at me with my brood of offspring. What do I say now? Do I ask her if she's having problems? What if she's not having problems and she just wants a small family? How embarrassing to ask her about infertility if she's really just putting off having kids! Hence the awkward silences when the answer comes back, "Yep, just one." Inevitably I feel like telling my whole story, that somehow that will redeem me in their eyes. I feel like they need an explanation about why I don't have the ideal Mormon family. (Not that I really know exactly what that means, but ideally, it means more than one.) Not that it's really anybody's business, and certainly stories about miscarriage almost inevitably lead to more awkward silences, but still, I feel the need to defend the fact that I only have one. DH and I were talking about a family in the ward who is struggling to have even one. The wife is a super-sharp, kick-butt attorney who is working in a high power law-firm downtown. I have to admit, my first thought when I found out that she didn't have any kids was, "She wants to get her feet wet in her career first. That's why she doesn't have kids." I also didn't think she'd been married all that long--a year, maybe, at most. Turns out she's been married close to 4 years, and they've been trying desperately for over 2 years to have a baby. But they are fairly private about it, and I don't know if everybody knows their struggles. DH said, "Do you think that it would redeem her choices in the eyes of the people in the ward if they knew they were having problems? Do you think she's glad you know, because that means you can stop judging her?" I had never put it in those terms, but I think DH is on to something, this idea that we have to explain and defend ourselves for not having what other people have. Maybe it works conversely, too. I know some people who feel they have to defend their decision to have 10 kids. Somebody said to them something like, "Don't you know anything about birth control?" When this family assured her that yes, they not only knew about birth control but used it regularly, and chose to have this many kids, she rudely said, "All this time, I thought you were just ignorant. Now I know you're just stupid." Well, people can be rude and harsh, and I know that's the exception, not the rule. But I wish that we could all rejoice in the blessings that the Lord has chosen to bestow on all of us, rather than trying to figure out why we're not all the same. We just have one child, but oh, such a one! He's currently actively killing the monstors with the help of Superman, doing his part to keep the living room safe. Maybe I should start answering the question, "oh, just one?" with "Yes, one super hero who has saved the world many times over with his super cute powers." Of course, with a description like that, who needs more than one?

25 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

Try defending having no kids at all, Heather. At least you've got one.

4/15/2005 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Steve,

Heather also doesn't, to my knowledge, have a large pet rat. I suspect that the rodent is much of what really raises eyebrows about yours and Sumer's clearly apostate life choices.

Well, that and the cross dressing, of course.

4/15/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

huh? Kaimi, you are confusing at times.

4/15/2005 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We stuggled for a few years. If people felt the need to enquire, I'd let them know we were trying, but nothing to report. This would either shut them up or open a discussion on fertility issues depending upon their personal experiences.

4/15/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

Don't forget the ever popular "Nate's penis was cut off in a motorcycle accident" response. Gets 'em every time.

4/15/2005 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Let's see. Here are the one's I've heard have shut people up....and according to who told me, they were actually used.

To a MIL asking about when they'd give her a grandchild: "Get pregnant, what a great idea. **Husband's name***! Let's go try right now." They then disappeared into a bedroom for 20 minutes.

To a room full of ward people at someone's party answering the question when are you going to have kids. "Oh, didn't you know? **Husband's name** is impotent."

4/15/2005 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate these questions, too. But, now that I think of it, NOT ONE PERSON in our ward over the last five years has asked me why we don't have children. Although, people at my work have asked me at least three or four times (and they aren't Mormon).

I've probably asked a few nosy questions in my life that I regret having asked (i.e., so, when are you two getting married?), so I try to remember that people are generally annoying and nosy. Mormons and non-Mormons.

However, this is why I generally avoid Relief Society activities, and why a few of my friends in the Ward decided not to say anything to anyone until they were six or seven months along and obviously pregnant. I'm sure that all the unsolicited advice and the patting of the stomach can make you want to scream.

4/15/2005 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

My SIL, to her family, when asked about when they would have a second, said "We're trying to follow God's will." They aren't trying yet.
All my friends who have experienced infertility seem to wait a long time before being open about it. Once people know, they have to put up with all the "advice" which they find to be very unappreciated.
I think I'd be open about it. I'm that kind of person. But since I've had so many close friends who've had issues, I don't pry and I try to be sensitive about the whole having kids issue.
35 years ago my aunt, a bishops wife at the time, had to put up with the questions and looks. There were 5 years between #1 and #2.
I think I would have said something. But back then you just didn't.
In a Mormon setting/audience, I think telling them something like, "We're trusting in the Lord." or "We'd hoped to give our son a little brother or sister by now, but I guess God knows what he's doing."
Let them try to contradict GOd's will and judge that.
I like the "we're trying but have nothing to report" response. It kind of makes it clear that you don't want more questions. Kind of a nicer no comment/none of your business type of thing. Maybe they won't bug you with "my sister couldn't get pregnant for 3 whole months until she blah,blah,blah"

4/15/2005 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

And here's my 3rd comment.
Anyone with an "awkward" situation feels what you feel. My best friend's cousin is an orphan (was orphaned at 19). Try going on a date and the guy asks about your family. She handles it differently depending on the situation and her mood.
My good friend is getting a divorce. She keeps running into people who don't know and she gets to tell them.
There is a woman dying of cancer in our ward. Try chatting with her without feeling awkward.
While it would be nice if no one said anything that was awkward, we can't quit having any conversation because if we mention an airplane it could get awkward because that person's dad died in an airplane crash, etc.
While it is tiresome, it is a fact of life. Go ahead and take control. There is NO need to apologize. NO need to explain. But you have every right to state the facts or your position on the facts.
Don't let these situations get you down. Remember that all of these people with there multiple children have their own heartaches. Gay husband, difficult children, medical problems, depression, etc.
So when they forget to be PC and are surprised when you only have one, have pity on them. They are possibly feeling sorry for you, or maybe they are thinking about their sister who is crying every month and wonder what they should say.

4/15/2005 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Steve-

Do you really have a pet rat?

4/15/2005 10:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

I must be the exception but I just don't judge people based on one sentence ("We just have one child"). But then I guess I really just don't judge people at all. Why should I care how many kids my friends decide to have? People are so weird.

But while we're on the topic of awkward moments, I have a couple to add to the list. Try having someone ask you how your niece is doing, but mistakenly referring to her as your sister, a week after your sister had unexpectedly died. Forunately, the woman asking realized maybe my niece wasn't my sister before I blurted out, "Uh...she's dead!"

And then there's the "Hey! Are you pregnant?" and the excurciatingly awkward, "No."

BTW, we have three pet rats. The kids LOVE them.

4/15/2005 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

And then there's the "Hey! Are you pregnant?" and the excurciatingly awkward, "No." Dave Barry has a great column on that theme.

I've had those questions asked as well. I'm out of the writing poetry about it stage, though I haven't gotten around to getting a pet rat.

4/16/2005 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Stephen-

Have you considered getting a pet rat? Apparantly Susan's kids love them. But according to Kaimi, rodents make people raise eyebrows about apostate life choices, so be careful.

4/16/2005 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I just got asked if I was the one who was going to have a baby soon. (I so don't look pregnant so I'm not offended--I think). I was wearing a coat, and was sitting behind a table, but she had seen me walk in...only 4 people in the room. I said, "No, you're probably thinking of Linda. She's about 6 months pregnant. The only other pregnant woman is Annette. She's about 4 months pregnant."
Woman looked confused. "I thought someone said you were going to have a baby soon."
I said "Nope. Linda is tall, like me, and has light brown hair. It's probably easy to mix us up."
She said, "Well, does she plays the piano in Relief Society because that is who I'm talking about."
I said, "That's me. I'm the Relief Society pianist. But really, I can see how maybe its easy to mistake me for Linda."
What else could I say? I'm really not pregnant. And since Christmas I've been wearing my new clothes which I look very good in since I'm at a really good weight right now.

4/17/2005 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Heather,

Steve and Sumer maintain that their little pet is actually a rat-sized canine of some sort. I'm not convinced. In my book, if it looks like a rat, walks like a rat, and barks like a rat, it clearly _is_ a rat. I mean, who ever heard of a dog that size, anyway? (Just ask your husband -- he's visited the Evans residence.)

4/18/2005 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Ana said...

If you want to avoid having to explain that you're having fertility problems, one easy way is to adopt a child of a different color. Then the fertility question is taken by most to be answered (even if it shouldn't be -- after all, fertile people COULD adopt, although they people rarely do) and you get a whole new set of questions!

We'd been married six years when we adopted our first son. Most of those years were spent in silent agony--not trying to be dramatic; that's really how I felt. But toward the end of the struggle I decided to be very open with people about our situation. I think part of it was because I was tired of feeling judged. I was building a pretty good little career by default, and I was concerned about how people thought of that.

But there's another good reason to be open about fertility issues. The taboos there are destructive. It's easy for any of us to think we're the only one with that particular problem, if no one talks about it. Then we start to think we're being punished for something, that we're not good enough, and so on. Not healthy for anyone! Sometimes a big part of the reason we have the trials we do is that we can help others by sharing our experiences. Someone did this for me. It changed the way I thought about our infertility and really became the example showing me that I could open my mouth.

If you have some selfish motives for wanting to explain, I think that's okay. You can also accomplish some very unselfish things by opening up.

4/18/2005 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

You know, Heather, I think you're making too much out of the question. The answer--well, there is some sorrow in your infertility, I sort of understand. But mostly, I think it's just making conversation. It's just a question, not an accusation. When I ask that question, I'm not judging, I'm interested in that person.

A lot of people ask me how many children my stepdaughter has--the answer--none. I feel threatened by the question because I'm assuming they think she's a slut and probably was pregnant when she got married to the ex-felon biker.

Really, I don't think offense is meant by that question, most of the time. Perhaps the offense is in the fact that most of us take fertility for granted, never even realizing somebody is struggling. But that can apply to a lot of life's situations and if we try to over-analyze or be careful not to offend, hell, where are we? A bunch of careful people who don't really know each other.

Although I like the penis cut off by the power saw (or whatever that was) or the impotent. I think I will try to think of something equally clever when people ask me how many kids Jessie has now. Any suggestions for smart alecky answers to people who think your child is a slut?

4/18/2005 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

Heather, we had an LDS neighbor offer to lend us the VHS of a particular conference talk in which we were admonished not to put off having children, when we had been trying desperately for over a year (and married about 2.5 years). Argh. I had two children three years apart, and it looks like they will be 6 and 9 when our third child is born (I'm 13.5 weeks pregnant after three years of secondary infertility, including two miscarriages). We've been asked countless times when we were having more, mostly by LDS, and if we were having more, by others. I know how hard it is to smile and say not yet, or we'd love to, three days after having a miscarriage at 12 weeks. Now that we've started telling people, they are mostly really shocked and say, "oh, I thought you were done!" or "oh, you changed your mind about having just two" or even, "was this planned?" !!!!!

4/18/2005 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Claire-

I sat next to a nice, friendly, recently returned missionary on a plane, who asked me Jacob was my only child. When I answered,"Yep, just one," he said, "Are you going to have any more?" What he couldn't have possibly known is that I literally had had a D&C the day before I got on that plane, and had been 14.5 weeks pregnant. I just shrugged and said, "I don't know. I'd like to."

Then he said, "Well, how many are you going to have?"

This is a stranger, talking to me about my family when I had just suffered a huge loss the day before. I just told him we would have as many as the Lord would give us. I know he's just being friendly, and just making conversation, but it was all I could do not to burst into tears right then and there. Sometimes I think people just don't realize how insensitive they are being, or how hurtful some things they say can be.

4/18/2005 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

The last two stories really are appalling. I've never experienced that sort of interaction, either on the receiving or giving end.

I thought about this as I went about my day--the tone of the conversations I have in this regard now are usually to the parents of adults who I knew as children, or perhaps, as I asked a lady on the plane,when she said she didn't get to sit near her kids, how many did she have, how old. "Oh, those are fun ages," or "oh, I remember 14." Or, "when is their birthday?" which is personal, but I find an intriguing insight into personalities. Astrology and all.

It seems like when I was you guys' age (assuming here), we didn't worry about that as much as paying the bills. I did struggle with getting pregnant, but it was my third marriage and I had had two children, so I don't think I can empathize as well as I should with infertility.

This thread will make me more careful. You know, that question, "when is your baby due" is a nuclear one, I asked my neighbor once, she really looked pregnant, and she wasn't. I felt just terrible, but what do you say that is in any way graceful, except skulk away or change the subject.

I'm wondering if I'm on the cusp of something, though, because I do wish my 26 year old stepdaughter would change her mind about having children (she vows not to),and maybe I will long for my 19 year old to get pregnant when she gets married. Maybe it's life.

4/19/2005 02:11:00 AM  
Blogger annegb said...

JKS, you are wise.

4/19/2005 02:16:00 AM  
Anonymous claire said...

Heather, that is the WORST. Wow. I almost wish you'd told him the ugly truth, just to make him reconsider quizzing strange women about their childbearing plans, but you start feeling sorry for their naivety. Truly, most people don't even think about infertility unless they've dealt with it themselves.

4/19/2005 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Heather Oman said...

Claire-

You're experience sounds pretty awful, too. Somebody gave you a video--what is up with that?

4/19/2005 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Allanna said...

My favorite response to tell people who asked "When are you two going to start your family?"(before my husband and I got pregnant with the twins during our fourth year of marriage) was "Oh, I don't know. Whenever Michael knocks me up."

Yeah. My home ward must really love me, to still talk to me and not have a string of heart attacks over that.

Of course, the funniest question I was asked when we announced that we're having twins was "How did THAT happen??"
Since these were women with children asking that, I just slyly said "Do you really want to know?" (Although I totally admit to wanting to make up some kinky story about their conception ... just so that people realize what a silly question that is!)

Yeah, I'm a Saint with too much spunk.

Of course, talking about people commenting on the number of children -- one lady I volunteer with is for zero population. She and I both respect that we don't see eye to eye on this issue. However, she about fainted when I told her about a family I knew that had thirteen kids. (I am amazed since I don't think I'd have the patience to handle all that ... let alone homeschool them, too!)

10/11/2005 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't imagine having friends be so nosy or judgemental (though I've run into strangers and family members who were).

Honestly, I think the best thing to tell people who ask too many questions about when/how many kids you'll have is "that's a peronsal question." If they can't figure out to knock it off after that, the "that is really none of your busines" suffices.

12/31/2006 10:12:00 PM  

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