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Before You Ask About Her Uterus, Ask Yourself These Questions

Photograph by Twenty20

Emily Bingham conjured up a storm of support when her recent Facebook post went viral. Bingham posted a random ultrasound image on her Facebook page, along with a manifesto about why we need to stop asking women about their reproductive plans:

"Hey everyone!!! Now that I got your attention with this RANDOM ULTRASOUND PHOTO I grabbed from a Google image search, this is just a friendly P.S.A. that people's reproductive and procreative plans and decisions are none of your business. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Before you ask the young married couple that has been together for seemingly forever when they are finally gonna start a family ... before you ask the parents of an only-child toddler when a Little Brother or Little Sister will be in the works ... before you ask a single 30-something if/when s/he plans on having children because, you know, clock's ticking ... just stop."

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Bingham's post comes on the heels of Tyra Banks' heartfelt on-air statement explaining that when we ask someone whether she's going to have kids, "you have no idea" what that particular woman is going through in her personal life.

When we offhandedly ask whether someone plans on having kids—or more kids if they're already parents—we risk stepping onto a landmine of sensitive issues.

When we ask questions about what's going on—or not going on—in someone else's uterus, we're treading on what could be extremely emotional, personal territory.

These questions are usually asked innocently enough, but consider what happens if you ask a question such as "Are you planning on having kids?" or "How many children do you have?"

What if:

  • She just had a miscarriage.
  • She's dealing with infertility—which can happen even if she has another child.
  • She had a child who died.
  • She's getting divorced.
  • She's in the middle of an unwanted pregnancy and facing the choice of whether to terminate.

When we ask questions about what's going on—or not going on—in someone else's uterus, we're treading on what could be extremely emotional, personal territory.

At the same time, there's another side to consider.

If we become too careful, doesn't that give the message that intense, already marginalized issues like grief and loss don't have a place in our culture? If we're hyper-vigilant about our words, don't we risk being disconnected from each other?

My point is actually not that we should never ask questions about sensitive topics, but that we become aware of what we might be bringing up in someone else by asking them.

Here are two questions to consider before we ask other women questions that could be painful to answer:

1. Do you know the other person well?

If you don't, stay away from minefield topics like "Are you planning on having children?" There are plenty of other less treacherous things to talk about—even in an election year. If you do know the other person well, or are in the process of it, there's a teensy bit more space to ask these questions. But first ask yourself the next question:

2. If he/she replies with a painful situation, like infertility or the loss of a child, are you prepared to hold space for them?

If the possibility of the other person answering with something heavy freaks you out, please don't ask them. If you're a sensitive person who can listen and say simply, "I'm so sorry," and if you know the person reasonably well, perhaps proceed—with caution.

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Truly, the more people I speak with who've had difficult experiences related to their fertility or children, the more I feel like we should keep our questions to ourselves and let the other person come to us if and when they're ready.

As Bingham says, instead of asking questions that might be difficult to answer:

"Ask someone what they're excited about right now. Ask them what the best part of their day was. If a person wants to let you in on something as personal as their plans to have or not have children, they will tell you. If you're curious, just sit back and wait and let them do so by their own choosing, if and when they are ready."

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