THE QUESTION

Well, we made it. We have moved to St. Louis. There have been a few bumps (primarily in the form of a slightly flooded basement), but nothing terrible. It’s a relief to finally be living in the same home as my sweet husband after several months apart.

Shortly before leaving Woodstock, two precious sisters in Christ and I were meeting together for fellowship and prayer. I don’t recall the exact manner in which we arrived at the topic, but at one point, I shared with my friends that one part of moving that I was dreading most was The Question, the one that has been asked of me every place I’ve lived as an adult woman, and nearly every time I meet someone for the first time.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question. I would wager you’ve probably asked it yourself, and have had it posed to you. I’ve even spoken it myself, but not for many, many years.

Turns out, I didn’t even make it to Missouri before The Question reared its ugly head. I had called a haul-away service to remove a few large items we didn’t want to take with us. The gentlemen sent to help me was named Ron. After I explained to him what I needed, he began to tackle the job, but not before turning to me. Bam, there it came.

“Where are your kids?”
Uhm, we don’t have any.
“Really? Why not?”
They never came to us.
“Oh, you didn’t want any.”
(Sigh). Oh, we did. We just never had any.
“Huh, but you look so much like a mom. I mean that as a compliment!”

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was sitting in an attorney’s office to sign the closing settlement on our house. The atmosphere was jovial. The buyers were excited to be purchasing our home. I was relieved that the last detail left on the Georgia end of the move was just about complete. The attorney was a personal friend of the buyers; at one point, the husband of the couple mentioned enjoying having seen one of the attorney’s children recently. The attorney chuckled, and then turned to me.

“Do you have kids?”
No, we don’t.
“Boy, are you lucky!”

He then went on to complain about his children’s sports schedules.

That’s it, in a nutshell: Do we have kids? It comes with slightly different wording options. It’s usually followed by a variety of follow-up questions. Beyond those already mentioned, we frequently hear:

“Why don’t you have kids?”
“Was it you or your husband?”
“Why didn’t you adopt?”
“Did you see a doctor?”
“Don’t you know how to make that happen?” (Usually followed by a snicker, if not an outright guffaw.)

You may be thinking, geez, what’s the big deal? You may be thinking that I am overly sensitive. Perhaps I am. I will tell you that The Question still feels like having a scab suddenly ripped off of an old wound. To you, it’s just making conversation, just being friendly. Please hear that I get that. I really, really do. I. Get. It. As I mentioned, I have innocently asked that question of others many times before.

Before IF.

IF? Why am I capitalizing “if”? Well, to a fairly substantial number of us (research suggests as much as one in ten couples), IF means infertility. It is an all-too familiar acronym, amongst all the others.

ARTS, FSH, AI, HSG, IVF, ICSI, PI, SI, PAI, SA, POAS, TTC…

There are probably a hundred more.

When I am asked The Question, my heart cries that the answer is more complicated than Yes or No. In the microseconds before you hear me answer, I am gripped with traumatic memories, both physical and spiritual. I don’t need to tell you the details. Just take my word for it. Please.

I know that I am not alone in the experience of walking through this life without children. I know many others who are on their own IF journeys. I also know lots of people who don’t have children because they don’t want to parent. Some of them have shared with me that they dread The Question, too. Nothing like having to defend one of the most personal decisions a person will ever have to make right off the bat when meeting someone new (and if you are confused by that statement, God bless you, but there are plenty of others who feel free to press their deeply held conviction that being childless by choice can’t possibly be an acceptable way to live). My heart hurts for these friends just as much as it does for those of us who are childless, but not by choice. Likewise, I hurt for the friends who have living children, but whose arms ache for the ones they won’t see this side of Heaven, and for all those whose family-building dreams have not come to fruition, for whatever reason.

Psychologists sometimes call it “complicated” or “chronic” grief. Unresolved. Without end. It’s common for people who have experienced infertility. For me, it’s a raw place in my psyche that never heals. Maybe I will share more about that sometime. Maybe not. In any case, my journey through it has convinced me that I never, ever want to ask another person The Question. If someone has children, he or she will probably tell me sooner rather than later, without my needing to ask.

I know I will likely hear The Question many times in the coming months. I’m expecting it. I have grown to be able to answer briefly, and to move on. I don’t hold anyone who asks The Question in low regard. I know the intention is not to hurt, but to make conversation. That being said, a few nights ago, Paul and I met an old friend and his girlfriend for dinner, along with three others whom we had never met before. Over time, it naturally became clear that the others are all parents, while we are not. The setting was beautiful, the food delicious, and the conversation stimulating and filled with laughter. A toast was made, “To friends, new and old.” The Question was never raised.

I could not have asked for a better gift.

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8 thoughts on “THE QUESTION

  1. Susan Green says:

    Hello my friend. Your article was an open and honest bearing of a little piece of your soul. It brought tears to my eyes to think that such a “simple” question (to many) can hurt you…adding salt to a wound that no one can see or imagine is there. I’m sending a hug across the miles, and please know that I try never to ask that question. I wait and listen until the new conversation partner reveals any information about him- or herself. Before our first child was born, during our short yet terrifying, depressing and humiliating stint in the IF world, we experienced exactly what you continue to. A father of two small ones, who was trying to be humorous, told us that we should “reconsider trying to have kids…because you really may not want any….” Well, that was the end of that friendship, because the hurt which that one off-handed comment produced was like being slapped in the face and cut by a knife. I couldn’t get over the man’s unawareness of his own cruelty. People are just uninformed, and if they’ve never been through it, they just don’t get it. Your grace in managing the pain and stress caused by these conversations with new people asking “the question” is humbling. I am proud that you are my friend!

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  2. Lisa says:

    Hi Julie
    my husband and I also have this problem often as we too do not have children however I have come to learn to deal with this question with……..Do you have any children. If Jay is with me I always point to Jay and Jay always points to himself …..I immediately follow up with yah….the biggest kid of all. And he immediately follows up with the kid the most toys wins right. It us ally throws them off track. Occasionally we have a follow up question and my standard answer is it just wasn’t gods plan for us. We have found that people usually don’t press for more answers.

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    • What a great example of using humor to deflect and redirect! We do the same sometimes (but with responses not nearly as clever as yours!). I never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable for asking. It continues to amaze me, though, how often well-intentioned others feel free to ask for the details! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here.

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