real life

Is it ever okay to ask a woman about this?

Many people just don’t get it.


“It’s such a shame you never got around to having children, isn’t it?”

“You would have made such a great mother. Why don’t you have kids?”

“You better get on with it – you’ve only got so much time left.”

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It seems like such an obvious social rule – and yet so many people just don’t get it.

There are some things you just shouldn’t say to a childless woman. Some questions you just shouldn’t ask.

More often that not it’ss strangers. Acquaintances. People in the periphery of your life. People whom frankly, don’t know (for a reason) and don’t care (and should be showing a little more empathy).

The reason you shouldn’t say these things, and the reasons there are questions you shouldn’t ask, should be fairly obvious. Because women don’t have children for a variety of reasons. Some women don’t have children because they don’t want to. Others because they can’t.

Columnist Wendy Squires recently wrote in Fairfax, about why people (yep, the all encompassing term ‘people’) need to demonstrate a little more tact.

Wendy explains how she sat down with a woman who reached over the table and, with the utmost consolation and concern, announced: “It’s a tragedy you never got around to having children. It’s the most wonderful thing a woman can do.”


Wendy explains how she – somehow – managed to restrain herself, but continues:

Wendy Squires

“But I still wanted to thump her. Hard. Not just for me, but for all childless women. I’m talking about sisters on IVF; the ones who can’t carry to term; those who’ve suffered stillbirth or the loss of a child; the infertile; those with infertile partners; the ones hoping and waiting on a committed relationship; the ambivalent; the never intended to and don’t feel the need to justify the fact.

Most of the childless women I know do find peace with their circumstances, even if it takes some time. Until, that is, someone comes along and demands their curiosity itch be scratched as to why no kids or, worse, declares you emotionally or spiritually unfulfilled with uncalled for comments such as the one I endured.

A woman’s reason for being childless is her own. It is no one else’s business to fill in the blanks.”

Wendy’s full column can be read here.

Jannette Armstrong wrote a personal story recently for Mamamia about her experience of infertility and miscarriage, and how the reactions from outsiders made her feel.

“We’re at that age now when many people around us are having babies so dinner party conversations never take long to reach the, “When are you two going to have kids?” stage (it seems a strangely personal and insensitive question to ask a relative stranger. Whether it’s a choice, a medical issue, or a matter of timing, I’m not sure why people feel I need to explain myself to them).

Then at every family gathering we’re inevitably asked, “Are you pregnant yet?” It turned into a bit of a game actually, to see how long we could be at a family do before someone would ask (the record as about two and a half minutes – that’s barely enough time to get through the polite “Hello, how are you?” bit).

“On the plus side it proves that we CAN get pregnant.”

With so much pressure from family, friends, and – lets face it – society as a whole (cue criticism of our ‘deliberately barren’ female prime minister), my inability to conceive has left me feeling like a complete and utter failure.”

Jannette continued, “I know these people aren’t trying to be insensitive but there are definitely days when it is all I can do just keep smiling politely and laugh it off, or change the topic with a casual, “Maybe one day, this chicken pate is delicious…” when what I really want to do was break down and cry, or shake the persons shoulders and scream, “We’ve been trying for two years! It’s not that I don’t WANT to, I CAN’T!” But that would be impolite and a real dinner party clanger.”

It’s an obvious social rule. But it’s one we’ll keep talking about, until people stop asking inappropriate questions.

Do you think it’s okay to ask women about their fertility?