Whose business is it anyway?
When does our private life become public property?
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).