“Your biological clock is ticking!”

“Why don’t you have kids yet?”

“Well, you can’t only have one child!”

As I am sure many of us have guessed, these questions and statements refer to someone’s fertility. And what is often a very private, individual, and sometimes spiritual part of our identity often becomes the point of discussion or line of questioning. While many people who fall into this have good intentions with regards to asking us about our family plans; they may not be aware of the impact their words can have on us or the harm that can be caused by such statements and questions.

The topic of fertility and reproduction weighs more heavily within faith-based communities. Life is often seen – and unfortunately taught – as a linear set of milestones. The general narrative goes that once you become married, the next logical step nine months later or soon thereafter is pregnancy, followed by another pregnancy because (wait for it), “You can’t only have one child – what will the only child do without a sibling?”

Generally speaking, many communities – faith-based and otherwise – mistakenly associate a person’s worth with their ability to conceive and produce children. And any delay with this often means that the person with the uterus is the one who becomes the subject of scrutiny, even though we know that it takes two to tango. In addition, far too many of us are generally unaware that while conceiving seems simple enough (whether naturally or through medical means), it’s not 100% successful when sperm meets an ovum. There is a myriad of factors that can impact conception.

Fertility is a very private, nuanced, and individual topic that is meant for us to share with those whom we choose to share it with, and not to be questioned about. 

As someone who is in her late 30s and having been married for a few years, I’ve faced similar questions, insinuations, and reminders that “you’re being prayed for.” And again, while someone can not intend to cause harm, hurt feelings can indeed happen.

There are a number of reasons why questioning someone’s fertility status or family plans can cause harm:

  1. They’ve currently decided that they don’t want children
  2. They’ve decided to wait for now, for any number of reasons
  3. They are currently trying to conceive and haven’t been able successful yet
  4. They’ve had a recent pregnancy loss
  5. They are working through infertility (around 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility)
  6. They’re dealing with relationship, personal, family, or other challenges
  7. They have a health issue or diagnosis that impacts their ability to conceive or to enjoy sexual intimacy overall
  8. They are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship and are currently focused on their safety and planning for the future

As much as it would be wonderful to not face questions from other individuals, the only person we can control is ourselves. As someone who has been on the side of being questioned about my fertility, I’ve found it helpful to create and be assertive about boundaries. This is to protect my own well-being and to perhaps educate the other person about the impact of their actions. And for those who are religiously or spiritually inclined, and are indeed trying to conceive, it may help to remember that we do the best we can, seek professional support when needed, and leave the rest to God and what fate brings.

With regards to how to handle questions about your fertility, there are a few strategies that I recommend implementing, depending on your needs and what feels authentic to you:

  • If you are a spiritually inclined personchoose a few prayers that you can say to yourself, when you’re feel unnerved or ungrounded as a result of someone’s questioning. Repeat them inwardly to yourself, remembering to breathe as you ground yourself in the present moment.
  • Remember that you’re in control of how you respond to someone and how much information you offer. Practice a few responses ahead of time, and depending on the situation, assertively respond in a way that feels authentic. For example:
    • “Only God knows!”
    • “That’s a very personal question, I don’t feel comfortable answering it.”
    • “I’m sure your intentions for asking are good, and it makes me uncomfortable because my body is a private matter.”
  • Create a support network if you find yourself being asked about your fertility frequently. This network may consist of your spouse/partner, friends, a mental health professional, or an online support group. Having outlets to process your thoughts and emotions when facing questions can be helpful.
  • Self-care is a great prevention and intervention strategy! Physical activity, journaling, going for a walk, and mindfulness are all examples of how you can continue to center your well-being, and ensure that your mind, body, and soul are feeling connected and grounded.

There’s no easy way to manage questions about your fertility, and the decisions that you’re making with your body. Ultimately, the more self-awareness we gain about the impacts we feel from being prodded about this topic, the more we’ll hopefully be able to come up with strategies to respond in the moment, and cope afterwards as well.

And hopefully, through continued education, we can start to change people’s awareness about the impacts that such questions have on others.

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