The one question we shouldn"t ask Meghan: Stop asking about people"s fertility
IN A scene that will be familiar to anyone over the age of 25, newlyweds Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were bailed up this week and prodded about when they plan to have kids.
“My husband also has red hair and he gave me five children — when are you and Meghan going to get going?” onlooker Elaine Adam-Stewart asked Harry, 33, as he and Meghan, 36, (his wife of less than two months) greeted crowds on a trip to Dublin.
Harry, doubtless trained from birth to maintain a stock of appropriate answers to any question fired at him, responded cheerfully, “Five children? Too many!’”
The rest of us, by way of not being royalty and therefore not used to making small talk with crowds on a daily basis, tend to be less well-prepared when nosy relatives, colleagues and complete strangers ask us about our fertility status.
And ask they do. They ask when you meet a new guy. They ask when you reach “a certain age”. The inquiries ramp up to a fever pitch when you get married. They even keep asking after you’ve had a baby, eager to be kept informed about when the next one is coming along.
The problem is, for many women and almost as many men, the ‘kids’ question is fraught with at best embarrassment and at worst, real pain. In Australia, it’s estimated that a quarter of Australian women will never have children, and for around a third of them, it will not be a decision they chose.
A Deakin University study that interviewed nearly 800 childless women aged 25 to 44, found that 9 per cent were unable to have kids for fertility reasons and a full 24 per cent had no children because of circumstance, e.g. they hadn’t met an appropriate partner.
That means every time you ask a woman “When are you having kids?” odds are that it’s a deeply difficult question for around one in three of them.
What you may see as airy small talk can be loaded with shameful, painful overtones: No kids? That’s because no one wants you. Your body is broken. You’re not a real woman. And you will never find the sort of happiness of a blissfully fulfilled parent who is doing nature’s intended work.
Perhaps that’s not what you’re thinking. But chances are she is.
Doesn’t seem quite so airy now, does it?
Professional excellent person Chrissy Teigen struggled with fertility issues early in her marriage with John Legend, and in her trademark excellent way explained the pain of being nagged about babies.
“I will say honestly, John and I are having trouble,” she said with commendable frankness on the Tyra Banks show in 2015. She explained that for many people there is immense shame — and quite often fear — around seeking fertility treatment and that being asked about it just adds to the stress.
“So anytime somebody asks me if I’m going to have kids, I’m like, ‘One day, you’re going to ask that to the wrong girl who’s really struggling, and it’s going to be really hurtful to them’,” she added. “So I hate it (when people ask). Stop asking me!”
I admit that I’ve made the mistake myself. Part of my job when interviewing celebrities is to ask them about their baby-making plans. I don’t apologise for that entirely — because one of the trade-offs of earning gazillions of dollars for being famous is to give the public who made you famous information about your life.
But there have been times that, with bumbling insensitivity, I have handled the question badly.
I remember pushing and pushing a woman who, in hindsight, was almost certainly struggling to conceive.
And I did it with the blunt naivety of someone who had never imagined that babies weren’t something that you could just pop out when you wanted to. I remember being surprised by the flash of pain crossing her face and irritated by the sharpness to her reply.
It was only later when I became more aware of the reality of infertility that I realised what a twit I’d been. If you’re reading this, I’m really sorry.
The naysayers will groan that we’re all turning into melting, delicate snowflakes who can’t have a normal conversation without fainting from oversensitivity or reaching for the smelling salts every time we wade into a difficult topic.
It’s just small talk! What else is off-limits — asking someone what they do for a living in case they’ve just been fired? Asking someone what car they drive in case they’ve lost their licence?
Fertility is not a job or a car. It’s the most personal, private and potentially life-changing factors of a person’s life, whether they end up having children or not. We’re more coy about asking each other about our salaries or house prices than something that tugs at our very soul.
Just hold off. Ask something else. If a woman doesn’t have children let her tell you her story if and when she wants to, on her own terms.
Stuck for small something to talk about instead? Gossip about Harry and Meghan. Just maybe stick to her outfits and not their family plans.
- Alex Carlton is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @Alex_Carlton