“You know, I just love that AJ,” my grandmother said of my partner one Christmas when I was about 23. “He’s just so smart and ambitious.” She waited a beat before noting, “You know when I was your age, I was starting to raise your uncle.”
For many, it’s almost a rite of passage: One year, your family wants to know how school is going, the next year all anyone can talk about is what your reproductive organs are up to these days. For me, it escalated quickly from casual questions to urgent demands: When I was 26 or so, that same grandmother let me know in no uncertain terms that my ovaries were approaching their expiration date.
I’m not alone in this.
“The baby questions have increased with each passing year,” Rani, 35, tells me. “I went from ‘Oh girl, you have plenty of time!’ to ‘Oh girl, you better get on that’ in what seems like a blink of an eye.”
For me, even at 31, it still feels too early. Maybe because my current lifestyle isn’t really built for kids. Maybe because I still haven’t decided where I stand when it comes to having children, and any questions about family planning will always feel a little uncomfortable until I figure it out.
But it could be that it always feels out of place because it’s an intensely personal topic. For me, it feels intrusive because it goes to places so far outside casual discussion: Five-year plans. My mental health. My inability to stay on top of household tasks.
[I'm] tempted to say, ‘We aren’t planning one yet, but I can give you a call every time we practice!’
For others, the line of questioning cuts deeper.
When Kim, 33, got married, she knew she wanted to have kids. But as she kept trying to get pregnant with no success, the questions kept coming.
“I'd play it off with ‘Oh, when it’s right,’” she says. “The problem was that I wanted it to be right, you know?”
Katrena, 34, has had multiple miscarriages and recently found out she can’t have children; questions from strangers about her reproductive future put her in an uncomfortable place. At a recent party, she was holding a child and another party guest kept making remarks about how it’s her turn next.
“I didn’t even know them enough to explain my situation,” she says. “If I’m more comfortable with you and really know you, I have no problem talking about it,” she adds. “I’m an open book, and at this phase of my life, it’s not at a point where it’s damaging or traumatic to discuss it. But it’s too complicated of a subject for just small talk.”
Conversations about reproductive futures often steer outside the realm of small talk — whether the topic is fertility or not.
“I know that my window of opportunity is closing, but I'm very concerned about my health,” explains Rani. “Not just for the nine months of pregnancy, but the 18-plus years after that. Child-rearing is not for the weak, and as a [multiple sclerosis] patient, I have days where it is difficult to take care of myself. A lot of folks don't seem to understand that because they only see me on my good days.”
Whether and when you’re having kids incorporates all sorts of questions that often aren’t considered fair game at the Thanksgiving dinner table, including presumptions about your sex life and sexual health.
“In past years, I'd just stare blankly and then walk away, or if at the dinner table ask how their last prostate, breast, etc. exam went,” says Veronica, 36. “That's a conversation stopper.”
Alexa, 27, says that she’s “tempted to say, ‘We aren’t planning one yet, but I can give you a call every time we practice!’”
One thing that can totally cut the conversation short: a vasectomy or tubal ligation.
“My wife and I have been very vocal about us not having more kids,” says Chip, 40. “For a long time we told [our families] there was no way we could afford more kids and they [said], ‘You’d figure it out!’”
Since his vasectomy, he has a go-to conversation stopper. “[The surgery was] way easier than [having dental] surgery,” says Chip, and it “totally stopped those questions.”
But even that doesn’t always get the job done.
“I straight up got my tubes taken out — not tied — last year because I’ve known I don’t want kids since I was like 15,” says AJ (not the one that’s my partner), 31.
Usually, she confirms, that shuts the conversation down. “Still, I did just have an experience where that reveal didn’t shut the convo down and instead turned into two friends talking about me while I sat there, talking about how they’d read about how dangerous that procedure is and how many women regret it — all misinformation,” she notes.
It seems like the best response for now is whatever makes us feel like we’re setting healthy boundaries — or at least lets us take a little agency back.
Kim found it helpful to “push those conversations into productive conversations.” She started talking about fertility treatments and public policy around infertility. For example: She'll bring up her fertility treatments and what is and isn't covered by insurance as a way of segueing into a policy discussion.
“It moves the conversation to science, and not ‘right times’ that are out of my control,” Kim says.
But sometimes it’s just about what feels right.
“I asked my mom for advice,” says Kellie, 30. “We decided I should tell people I’m already expecting. And then I should take a big swig of whiskey.
“But if someone makes a gentle assumption about us having kids, I usually just side step it,” she adds.
Others bring up concrete reasons why they’re not reproducing, like their financial, career or living situation. Dayna, 32, puts it bluntly: “No babies while Trump is president.”
For me, it’s whatever can get the subject changed the fastest — but it depends on the audience. That grandmother who is fixated on my baby-making timeline is now suffering from dementia, and with her, I find it best to be straightforward and honest: a firm “maybe someday.”
Last names have been removed for privacy.