Whose business is it anyway?

When does our private life become public property?

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Or to put it another way: are there some questions we should avoid asking of each other or for that matter, answering?

I’m amazed at how many people want to know if and when I’m going to provide my four-year-old son with a sibling. Perhaps those who ask are just showing an interest but I can’t help wondering whether their seemingly innocent question is just another way of asking are you and your husband having enough sex, do your ovaries still work, can you cope with any more children at your age or is your fat tummy really a pregnancy that you are just not admitting to yet?

The truth is that I’m as guilty as the next person for asking about baby plans. But why do we do it? I think probably most of us are just curious and if there is a secret - we like to be in on it. But do we stop to think that the friend or acquaintance in question might not want to tell us that they are pregnant, trying for a baby or struggling with infertility. Because surely if they did they would have mentioned something? Our probing forces them to lie, fob us off with a polite but non-committal answer or reveal the truth.

When it comes to answering the question myself – I know my response varies depending on my mood and on who is doing the asking. I remember two years ago feeling particularly sensitive when I discovered that the last frozen embryo transfer we had, didn’t work. We’re now at the stage where it would take a miracle for us to have have any more children.

That’s quite a story to spring on someone making a casual inquiry so if I think explaining the truth might embarrass them or upset me; I normally manage to mutter something like, “yes, more would be nice.”

Friends tend to get a more detailed answer especially if they seem genuinely concerned. But even with people I know well I sometimes tailor the truth. For example, to a friend who can’t conceive, I found myself downplaying my disappointment - aware that that we were skirting around painful territory for her. I needn’t have worried - she welcomed an opportunity to discuss her own struggles. Often people avoid talking to her about babies and it makes her feel even more isolated and different.

So, should we steer clear of asking about fertility? Perhaps instead of asking a direct question, we should try bringing the topic up generally. That way we give the other person an opportunity to discuss their story if that’s what they want. As for answering other people’s inquiries: honesty is going to be my new approach. I realise the truth might be difficult for some people to handle but if that is the case – maybe they’ll think twice before asking a question to which they don’t really want to hear the answer.

Sarah Abell is a transformative coach and the author of Inside Out – How to have authentic relationships with everyone in your life (Hodder and Stoughton).

Sarah Abell

How to live, love and lead authentically, www.nakedhedgehogs.com

My passion for authentic relationships came out of my own failure to relate well in my early twenties and what I’ve been learning about true connection ever since. What do I do? Good question and one I always find a bit tricky to answer. In a nutshell I help people to live, love and lead authentically. You can find out more at www.nakedhedgehogs.com I have written, coached and spoken on relationships and authentic living to thousands of people. I was the Agony Aunt for The Daily Telegraph and I'm the author of "Inside Out - How to have authentic relationships with everyone in your life" (Hodder 2011). I have given two TEDx talks on authentic relationships and I write the Life Lab experiment on Love for Psychologies. I have been married to David for twelve years and we have one son, who is six. We live in Bristol.


Go to the profile of Suzy Walker
over 7 years ago
I agree, Sarah, it's a mine-field sometimes. I often swing between 'too much information' and 'I'm fine'. I have an only child and people often ask me why I didn't have another. What's the authentic approach? x
Go to the profile of Sarah Abell
over 7 years ago
Suzy - I wish I knew! As I mentioned it is a trap I fall into myself. If I am curious my current take is to start by sharing vulnerably about my own situation. This has a dual purpose. It serves as a check on me to make sure I am not just being nosy and am building connection. It also allows the other person to open up if they want to...and if they don't I leave the topic alone. What do you tend to do?