It’s not that I don’t care about your family. I do.
If I know you, your family is super important to me. I absolutely love hearing your stories and swapping tales of bliss, humor, and frustration.
If I don’t know you, I know your family is important to you, and I’d love to chat about it.
So, what’s stopping me from asking you about your family plan?
Experience—my own, and that of people around me.
The past few years have brought a lot to my life regarding family planning: mostly joy and relief, eventually, but also confusion and more heartbreak than I care to think about.
I’m going to share with you some of the things I learned from others, and then some of the things I learned from my own experience, that led me to the conclusion that prodding about family planning—while most likely well intentioned—is not actually the coolest thing to do.
What I Learned from Others About Family Planning Heartbreak
First, let me be clear: I am not going to go into any great detail about any of this, because I want to protect the privacy of those whose stories have provided me with this insight.
That said, over the last few years, I have learned more than I ever thought possible about the unspeakable heartbreak and time-consuming, sometimes expensive processes that people go through when trying to expand their families. While I learned some of these things from friends, many of them I learned about through online parenting forums. The following list outlines some of the reasons a family may have no kids, or may have fewer kids than you expect them to (whatever number that is—everyone has their own ideas of the “right” number):
Please be warned that some of these points might be disturbing, especially if you have experienced loss.
• Medical conditions can cause pregnancy to be extremely dangerous to the mother’s wellbeing. In some cases, a past or chronic illness makes it difficult or impossible for a woman to become pregnant.
• 10–15% of couples trying to get pregnant experience infertility (the inability to get pregnant after one year). This could be due to troubles the woman is having, troubles the man is having, or a combination. Lest you think it’s mostly a female problem, infertility affects each gender equally.
• Miscarriage (fetal death prior to 20 weeks) occurs in 15–20% of pregnancies in which the mothers are aware they are pregnant.
• Stillbirth (fetal death from 20 weeks through delivery) occurs in 1% of pregnancies.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that postpartum depression affects about 10% of women. Some of these women are so unnerved by their experience with PPD that they decide it’s not worth the risk to try for other children.
• Some families just choose not to have any or many children. According to Gallup, in 2013 about 5% of adults in America had no children and had no desire for any. Stephanie Watson of WebMD notes that 58% of American adults think two or fewer is an ideal number of children.
What I Learned About Family Planning from My Own Experience
I always knew I wanted children.
Make that a child. I knew I wanted a child. I thought I wanted more than one. And fewer than three. Ha.
What I didn’t know was how difficult it would be to decide whether or not to have a second. I guess I should have known that the decision would send me into wave after wave of anxiety, given my natural (and documented) inclination to be overly analytical and anxious about pretty much everything.
Now, first things first: I ADORE my son.
He makes every day unique and exciting, and generally so happy. He is all of the things I wish I could be: unabashedly joyful, outgoing and friendly, artistic, and knows just what he wants at all times.
But he’s a lot of work. A. Lot.
And he always has been!
The kid did not sleep for three years. We tried everything. He just wanted to hang with me all the time, even at night. That’s what I told myself in my sleep-deprived delirium to make myself feel better about it.
As early as 18 months old, he was very willful. If he wants something he can’t have (or has to do something he doesn’t want to do, for that matter), he doesn’t just “drop it.” He will throw a fit for 45 minutes. Josh and I are pretty consistent, and don’t cave—ESPECIALLY when he’s throwing a fit. But that does not deter little whirlwind Z. He screams and hits and kicks and slams doors until he’s burnt out. Then he comes back down and is his normal silly self, as though nothing happened.
Between the lack of sleep, power struggles, and constant second-guessing of our decisions, Josh and I were exhausted for three years.
I couldn’t imagine handling two little monkeys!! That, and about a million other considerations, kept us perched on that proverbial fence for quite a long while.
But I got opinions from everyone in the universe—except my friends and family, thankfully… and oddly!!
Strangers just thought it was cool to tell me what a disservice I was doing to my son, not providing him with a sibling.
After a while, and I remember the specific day this switch flipped, I started getting pissed about this. A lady on BART (the “subway” in the California Bay Area) talked to me for quite a while about why we should give him a sibling. When we got off the train, Josh and I talked at length about how inappropriate that was.
This lady (and anyone who didn’t know us) had NO idea why Z was, at that point, an only child. It could have been any one of those reasons I listed above, most of which are super heartbreaking!
The fact that we had, so far, chosen to be a single-child family didn’t matter. She had no idea. And even if she did, that should be okay!
If we didn’t think a second child was the right choice for our family, why would anyone want to pressure us into it?? Who is that serving? That would only be detrimental.
If I know you well, I probably already know your family plan because we’ve talked about it at length over time.
If you’re one of my best friends and I know that another kid is in your plan, you can be pretty sure I’ll harass you. That’s what best friends are for, you know!
But if I’m not sure and you don’t bring it up, I won’t ask you.
And I will never ask why you don’t have children, or why you don’t have more children.
Please don’t mistake my caution for disinterest!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic—leave them in the comments, if you have any!