Friday, February 25, 2011

The Question That Shouldn't Be Asked

I know this is very personal and off-topic for a blog about reading and writing, but with the impending births of both a niece and a nephew, this subject has been weighing heavily on my mind.

I mentioned it once before, under the protection of knowing no one was really reading this blog at that point, but now I want people to know.  I want people to hear this. 

I may never have a child of my own to read a bedtime story to.  I might never hold a tiny hand and marvel at how much it looks like my own.  I am childless, but it is not by choice - and I wish people would not assume the contrary. 

My husband and I have been trying for two years to have a baby. Two years, two specialists, two surgeries, and two miscarriages later, we are still childless.  I realize four years of marriage and thirty years of age is not a lot in this day and age, but apparently to some people (especially old Italian ladies), it's an eternity.  Believe me, it feels like it sometimes. 

But no matter how old someone is, or how long they have been married, I don't feel it is ever appropriate to go up to that person in the middle of a baby shower, put your hand on their belly, and ask, "Where's your baby?"

Yes, this actually happened to me.  And the best part?  The question came from a woman who'd never had children of her own.  I could understand if it had come from a Fertile Myrtle who could, as my co-worker put it, "look at 'it' and get pregnant", because it's more difficult to understand a struggle you've never encountered.  But for someone who'd never produced a child herself to be so insensitive was incomprehensible.

Not one to disrespect my elders, I swallowed the very rude response lingering in my throat, and went with one of the generic, polite answers I've come to master: We're working on it, Eventually, It Happens When it Happens.  But let me tell you what bothers me about these answers: they're designed to prevent the person who asked the question - the question that's really none of their business in the first place - from becoming uncomfortable.  Because let's face it.  When people come up and give you the wink-wink-nudge-nudge- when-are-the-babies-coming question, the last thing they're expecting in response is, "Well, I was pregnant about a year ago, but the baby's heart stopped at nine weeks.  Then, this December, I had another miscarriage eight days before Christmas."

No one knows what to say to that, and then they may feel guilty for asking what they thought was an innocent question.  It is an innocent question, because if everything is working correctly, getting pregnant is what your body is supposed to do.  But it's unfair to assume everyone's body works the same way.  It's not as simple as merely having all the right parts.  And common sense, even in someone who has never experienced infertility, should still dictate that if someone is thirty and married four years with no children, there is probably a reason for it.

Even if that reason is "I'm not ready", or in some cases, "I don't want children", no one should be put on the spot to publicize that information.  I am very open to talking about my journey through infertility, and my miscarriages- that is, when people aren't randomly groping my stomach.  I believe that if my experience or my knowlege can help someone, I'm all for discussion.  Some women, however, would rather sever a limb than talk about what is still a rather taboo subject.  That's their choice, and they have a right to feel that way.

I didn't discuss what I was going through for the entire first year.  My husband and I didn't breathe a word to even our own mothers.  But when I went for my ultrasound and was forced to watch my child's heart struggling to beat until it stopped altogether, I couldn't take it anymore.  I was tired of feeling alone, tired of being tired and never being able to say the real reason.  I called my mother from the car right after that ultrasound, and everything came pouring out of me.  And you know what?  I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my chest.  I wish more women would understand that it's ok to talk about it.  Once you do, you find that so many others have been in your shoes.  And, you realize how unfair it is that you're expected to come up with polite answers to bold questions just to safeguard someone else's comfort.

I get that people want to see me reproduce.  I get that it excites them.  Yet, I urge people who are guilty of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink-when-are-you-going-to-have-babies attack to rethink asking this question.  Or at least give serious thought to how you phrase it, because no one should feel like they're being called to the carpet for being childless.  You may get a polite answer and a polite smile, but that smile may be masking months or even years of physical and emotional pain.  The real answer may very well be "I don't know."

Some day I would love to post a picture of my newborn baby on this blog, just as I would love to announce that I'm getting published.  Realistically, I know I may never have the opportunity to do either.  But I'm not giving up, and if I've helped or encouraged or inspired even one person by sharing my stories, then at least I've done that much.


  1. *hugs* Girlfriend, you're a brave soul to bear your thoughts & feelings like this. Just know, I'll be over here sending some good vibes your way. (Not that I know how much my good vibes are worth, they haven't done much for I'm hoping you'll have better luck)

    On a much less painful level, I know what you mean about the well-intended-yet-terribly-rude questions people ask. For me, there's nothing quite like hearing "Now why's a pretty girl like you still not married?" I can't win no matter how I choose to answer that one. I'll either look like I'm way too picky, or that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that I managed to wander into my thirties without snagging a man. Either way, it never comes across as a question as much as a judgement.

    Maybe people just need to shut up sometimes! lol

  2. oh my god, gina, if i could hug you right now, i so would. but since i cant, ill settle with a virtual one. you know, i find it somewhat strange that i just finished a book (sing you home by jodi picoult) whose whole focus is on infertility issues women go through, and the book was actually pretty good, and i really can get what you're going through.
    basically what i learned from all this is that people are stupid dimwits who cant mind their own business. heres me wishing one day youll write TWO blog posts, one with that picture of your baby, and one with the announcement of your book getting sold. :)

  3. I am very touched by your post, and I am very sorry about your losses.

    I don't think you should hold back an honest response when someone says something. I realize that is easier said that done--but a short "none of your business" works wonders. I used it a few times for that very same question.

    It took my husband and me about three years to conceive--it was a long process that always seemed to be filled with waiting and hoping--and with extreme highs and lows. My heart goes out to you. I hope this journey leads you to happiness.

    I wish you the best of luck with conceiving.

  4. This brought tears to my eyes, Gina.

    I've been struggling with this for 11 years now, so I can understand everything you are going through. I'm at the expensive part of the process - failed IUI, saving up for IVF. Just last week when I accompanied a friend to pick up her daughter from gymnastics, another parent struck up a conversation with us. As always, it ended up with the inevitable "do you have kids" question. All I said back was "no". Strangely, she looked at me and said, "I know that look" and we had a long conversation about her infertility issues and mine as well. After all this time, I am still not able to hide the pain behind my simple vague answer. This explains my lack of an Academy Award, I guess. Even though we had some of the same issues, it still amazes me today the audacity of some people that they think it's their business at all on what does or does not go on inside of my body.

    I've had in-laws pester me for years, accuse me of withholding grandchildren, rude doctors, the whole nine. My own mother doesn't understand why I have such a need to carry my own child. I keep thinking I was meant for something else, and I'm just waiting for this big plan to be laid out for me but so far, nothing.

    It's a tough road, and it sucks, but I am hopeful and I am sure someday soon we will see the post of your new baby. If you ever need to vent about the infertility stuff, you know where to find me!

  5. Thanks everyone, I'm so touched by your comments.

    Tracy- it's amazing how people don't even realize they're making you feel like a leper, isn't it?! I'm sending good vibes right back at you, though mine have always been kind of useless too!

    Aleeza- yes, people suck! Though I don't always think they suck intentionally, which is the whole purpose of this post. Maybe now they can be a little more aware of when they're sucking. And thanks for the wish, it means a lot : )

    Heidi and Heather- you guys are exactly the reason I chose to open up about this. Too many people suffer in silence. Heather, I haven't gotten to the point of IUI or IVF yet. My last pregnancy happened right after a laparoscopy to remove some endometriosis, so my doctor is pretty sure that was the main reason I wasn't getting pregnant. Now, if only I could STAY pregnant, I'd be all set. Best of luck to you and if you ever need to talk, you know where to find me as well! Or you can e-mail me at gina(dot)ciocca(at)

  6. I'm heatherdeetz at gmail dot com, so feel free anytime.

  7. I've had this conversations so many times with people. We had tried for years too and now have one beautiful child.

    We've come to finally accept that there won't be anymore and we are grateful for what we have. So we thought the questions were over--yeah right!

    People are very curious about families with only children too. One women had the nerve to bend down to my son and say, "When will your mommy finally give you a playmate?"

    *sigh* ((big hugs to you)) Thanks for sharing your story!!! You are not alone!

  8. First, no one has the right to put their hand on anyone's stomach without permission. I hated this when I was pregnant. And if someone would even try that if I wasn't, I would probably say something they wouldn't have appreciated. But to have someone make that comment you got is unexcusable.

    One of my sister-in-laws kept asking me when am I going to make her an aunt when I was single. What did she want? For me to get knock up like she did and trap some poor unsuspecting guy into marriage? And after the birth of my first child (who was 3 months premature), she kept asking me when am I going to have another child. I quit answering the phone whenever she phoned. Thank goodness for caller id. ;)

    *hugs* to you for all those idiot questions you've had to field.

  9. Thank you Stina and Christina!

    The nurse at my doctors office has been trying to push me to take fertility drugs, but I refuse since I've gotten pregnant twice and know it can happen on its own. Being "estrogen dominant", as it's called, I know the drugs multiply my risk of breast cancer and I want nothing to do with them. Her response to that was, "But you want more than one baby, don't you?"

    In other words, "You're not getting any younger". But honestly, what's wrong with one? Nothing, that's what!

  10. I truly hate it when people say things like that - where's YOUR baby??? Gah...just like one should never look at another person and ASSUME they're pregnant, unless they know for sure.