Why it’s not OK to ask about babies

In a few days time I will be 41 and I don’t have children yet. I am childless. Or childfree depending on your view.

There is, depressingly, a clumsy and at times insensitive approach towards women like me and it is this: ‘How do you feel about having babies?’ ‘Do you even want children?’

I am struck by how frequently these deeply personal questions are posed; dressed up as airy-fairy small talk.

Interestingly it’s never men who enquire; it’s other women. My answers inevitably vary from ‘oh, erm, I don’t know’ through to ‘mmm.. not sure’.

I feel so stupid and invaded by having to answer these questions. What I really want to say is ‘How do I feel? How about utterly confused and now suicidal? Thanks for the trigger! Byeee!’

I didn’t grow up with visions of tots frolicking around my feet. I didn’t draw pictures of myself as a ‘mummy’. Instead, I wrote stories for school about the day my parents split up and tales of a little girl who went to faraway lands for adventures.

Growing up, we are told women have choices. Freedom. Independence. So much to choose from! Yet when you get to 40, there’s a societal fascination with a female’s reproductive organs.

People think it’s OK to broach the subject in the most innocuous places. You have to learn to navigate these situations with the outward grace of a moving swan while paddling frantically underneath against the swirling currents of emotion. Will I? Won’t I? Do I? Don’t I?

It’s a topic fraught with sensitivity and isn’t helpfully explored in the right circumstances. While most well-intended people enquire as sensitively as they can, does it mean I am happy to be asked? No.

Yes my mind drifts now and again. It usually happens when a friend announces they’re pregnant or a study shows childless and unmarried women are the ‘happiest and healthiest’ population subgroup.

But it’s so much more complicated than that. Some of us may be grappling with whether motherhood is for us or not. Maybe we are trying. Maybe we are happy as we are. Maybe we are miserable. Maybe we are busy pursuing goals and adventures. Maybe we are unsure. Maybe it’s too painful to talk about.

At our age we should all know that anything can happen – and if it does, you’ll probably be among the first to know.

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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