Saturday 2 November 2013

Cluelessness abounds

How do you respond when faced with the question, "So, do you have any kids?"

I recognise that most people perceive it to be an innocuous inquiry as a mere attempt to engage in a simple conversation; but for infertiles, it's like navigating through land mines. Aubrey at Two Hearts and One Dream recently commented that after more than two years of working through infertility treatments, she still doesn't have a good answer to that question. I thought about how I reply. If it's a stranger who I'm not likely to run into again, I like to be completely blunt and reveal that I'm infertile and that I've had a miscarriage. The sadist in me enjoys watching them squirm awkwardly, and my hope is that it makes someone think twice before asking the question again. If it's a more regular acquaintance and I don't want to out my infertile status, I simply answer "not yet..." I've developed a certain tone to my voice and telling smile to convey the message; don't ask me any further questions. Some people are able to read between the lines and end the conversation with a line such as "Ah, you're still young" or "Well, you have time." At least my ego appreciates the perception that I look younger than I am. More so, I'm grateful for the person who acknowledges that I don't want to talk about this subject rather than the one who follows up by asking, "Well, what are you waiting for?"

A few weeks ago, our swim team gathered at a local microbrew after a swim meet to celebrate our second place finish. I saw sitting across from Jason, a guy who is a year younger than me; and one I would probably fancy if I were single, as he has the shy quiet type thing that I find appealing. Although I don't think we'd ever manifest anything more than a physical relationship as apart from swimming, we have nothing in common. I figured Jason was the type of guy who enjoys a beer or two every now and then, so I was a little surprised when he handed the beer menu back to the waitress and noted he'd be fine with just water. In particular, (I know this is horrible stereotyping) as Jason is originally from Vermont, I figured he might be into home brewing his own beer, and would want to at least read about the offerings at this microbrew. Maybe not, and maybe he just didn't feel like having a beer.

Just after the waitress served our first round of drinks, my friend and former lane mate, Peter arrived. As the waitress was really busy, he announced that he would be going up to the bar to get a drink. He spotted the glass of water in front of Jason and asked if he could bring him back anything. "No thanks," Jason politely declined. Peter returned a few minutes later and inquired about the beer I had selected. "That was my second choice" he commented "Do you mind if I have a sip?"
"Go ahead," I replied handing my glass to him. I then asked Jason if he wanted to sample.
"No thanks, I gave up drinking and smoking weed three and a half years ago." he announced.

Peters eyes found mine and with one look we acknowledged what we had both concluded. Jason probably had a problem with alcohol. It all clicked together. Declining to look at the beer menu, using the words gave up drinking, knowing the exact duration of sobriety, refusing even a sip. As Peter and I were frantically thinking of a way to change the conversation, the woman sitting next to Jason, who had been listening in our conversation asked, "So, what do you do for a vice?"

I tried to kick her, but the table was just too wide for me to reach, and after swimming ten events in two days, I barely had any kick left in my legs. Jason admitted to having a cheeky cigarette now and then, and Peter introjected with a question about his work before Nosy Nora could ask anything else. I dawned on me that cluelessness abounds. The same clueless people who ask annoying questions about procreation intentions and aren't receptive to your hints that you'd rather not talk about it, probably operate that way in all situations. I could only imagine that Jason probably gets bombarded with intrusive questions such as, "Why, what happened?" or "Are you an alcoholic -are you in AA?" Social graces are not always universally understood, and common sense is not actually common.


  1. This is a very good point. It is never okay to put someone on the spot, even if you assume what you are saying wouldn't make the other person uncomfortable, you just never know what could be going on behind the scenes.

    Ever since discovering our infertility, of course I have been hyper-aware of these types of situations. However, I must admit that I once asked co-worker a few years ago if she planned to have a second child. She said that yes she did, and I know I said something along the lines of "You should start now!" or "being close in age is best!" ohhh... I just cringe at the memory... Come to find out a year or so ago that she was dealing with unexplained secondary infertility.

    I guess one thing I learned over the past few years is to be much more aware of how comments made with innocent intentions can really sting.

  2. Common sense absolutely is NOT common... Honestly... People... They're quite amazingly unbelievable!

  3. Poor Jason. My one and only experience like this was before I was infertile, and I was sitting with a group at work that was all talking about their kids. I glanced at an older guy who hadn't been chatty, and stupidly asked him if he had kids. He replied (with that look I now know oh so well) that he didn't, and "it was something that never worked out" for him and his wife. Fortunately I had the good sense to change the subject, but I've never forgotten it and it's even more poignant now that I'm in the same situation myself.

    And it's funny, but I tend to have the opposite reaction you do! If it's someone I know pretty well, I have no hesitation in responding "I can't, I'm infertile" and watching them squirm. Whereas if it's a stranger, I'm just polite and say no. Wonder why the difference?

  4. It does amaze me how some people just can't catch on to things. Seems to me, most people in that circumstance would understand that he probably had a drinking problem and not to venture into such personal questions. As for asking people if they have kids, or something along those lines, I think it's a normal question, although awkward for us infertiles. Having been married for 16 years with no kids, I've been asked way too many times to count. Now that I'm pregnant, I get the awkward questions such as "are these your first?" and "do twins run in your family?" Hmmm... I think I just found a topic for a blog post!