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The one question you shouldn’t ask a childless couple

Quinn Dombrowski | Flickr
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It's rarely about "when"; most times they just "can't."

More and more couples have difficulties having children. How can you help them? If you’re not a specialist but a close friend who listens to their struggles and worries, or family who supports them, there is really only one thing you can do: Don’t ask them when they’re going to start a family.

Do you want to tell us something?

When two people get married, the natural progression is that a child, a product of that love, will follow in a fairly reasonable manner, in anywhere from a few months to possibly a year. As soon as the wedding thank-yous are put neatly into the recycling bin, all the aunts and grandmothers, uncles, and cousins, become focused on the belly of the new wife. The question “Do you want to tell us something …?” becomes standard in most conversations. 

Family gatherings with small children open the door for comments like, “Look at this baby, maybe you will catch the bug” or “Oh, you look so good holding the baby, time for your own! Don’t wait, get to work!”

After consecutive months without the expected news, they gently nudge: “So, when are you going to have kids? It’s better to be young parents, you know.”

Sure, sometimes the couple just wants to be a couple for a while longer, or there’s family planning involved to juggle longer term plans for career and financial stability. But the problem rarely has anything to do with lack of desire (especially for newlyweds!) or selfishness. The problem is usually trouble conceiving.

Sometimes there just isn’t a child …

The couple otherwise looks happy. They don’t fight, there’s no drama. They’ve said they want to have kids. Why is it we always feel compelled to ask an awkward question or offer a tactless opinion?

There are already well-worn formulas woven into our family, neighborhoods, and social life that we repeat depending on the situation. Sometimes we just want to start a conversation, other times we are simply curious why a couple, two, three, four years after the wedding (still) has no children. We have to assume it’s a matter of not wanting to, right? We fail to see the real story, one of waiting, hope, broken hope, tears, starting all over.

An awkward silence

Understanding what a couple that has trouble conceiving feels can help us avoid saying the wrong things. What do they feel?

“My biological clock is ticking, my desire and longing for a child churns inside me, and on top of all that, the world keeps asking WHEN. I would like to know when. I curl up in a ball, and every day I try to have the strength to continue to wait.”

“Sometimes I feel as if we were judged in advance. We have no children because our careers are probably more important. We have no children because we think of our bank accounts. No, we don’t have children because we cannot have them. We are waiting.”

“Every month is the same. First tears that our attempts failed again. Then a moment of quiet and another moment of hope that this time … Until now, only hope, not reality. I have been married for four years, and I keep hearing ‘So when will there be more of you?’ What do I say? Sometimes I joke, sometimes I smile, talk a while, and then I hide my tears in the bathroom.”

We all need to pay attention to our words to save someone tears.

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Parenting
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