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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."
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?"
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
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
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."