Why I Won’t Ask About Your Family Plan

Pregnant woman

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

Crying woman

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

My family as it currently is: just three of us.

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.

Z with a huge smile.
Seriously. This is like his default face. We are SO lucky.

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

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17 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Ask About Your Family Plan”

  1. We had very few, if any, people judge our decision to have only you… at least not to our faces. I wonder if times have changed that much.

    I do think you are right-on on your thoughts. I guess it is the same as judging someone over their body size or anything else thought to be totally controllable… there is a good chance the critiquer doesn’t know just how hard that person has been struggling with the “problem.”

    1. Yes, that’s a great analogy! It’s so easy to pass judgment, but none of us truly knows what is happening with anyone, unless you’ve been invited into that person’s confidence.

  2. As you know, I am completely with you on this! Before my own experience, I was one of those who asked my good friends (including you!) but with the best intentions. And when I stopped asking, it was partly because I did not know what they might be going through, and partly because I did not want to know for my own sake. Bottom line, though, is it’s none of my business.

    I think for the most part, people are well-meaning and just trying to make conversation. But it amazes me how comfortable some people are offering unsolicited advice or insensitive comments. These are the types of people I would not want to share my plans or struggles with anyway.

    1. I totally agree with you, that it’s usually done with good intentions! I think a lot of people just don’t really think about it. I know I hadn’t really thought about it until so many people I knew had such a difficult time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! <3

  3. We constantly get questions about having more kids, especially when people find out that we have two boys (as though our life isn’t complete without a girl). It’s so frustrating that strangers feel like they can comment on our lives! For many of the reasons you outlined above – absolute lack of sleep for the past 18 months, strongly opinionated children, anxiety I experienced while pregnant and postpartum, and the crazy high odds of having twins again (1 in 12!!), we’ve decided we’re done. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I feel a twinge of sadness whenever we pass a milestone, but we’ve made up our minds based on things that I don’t really want to share with strangers! Thanks for this thoughtful post!

    1. Wow! I had no idea your odds of having another set of twins was so high! And I totally understand how difficult a decision you had, and completely, 100% understand why you have chosen to be done. We would have been done for sure if we had had twins first. If I thought I was exhausted, I can only imagine how you and Mike have felt. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!!

  4. Well, obviously considering our 2 years of infertility, and then three consecutive miscarriages, “family plans” seem like a joke, in the sense that it’s all soooo out of our hands. And, I totally agree about not asking, because at times, asking me could have resulted in a total melt down (and it probably did, I just don’t remember). But, I feel like I was able to navigate people’s intentions, and probably wouldn’t have been hurt/mad when someone genuinely cared in asking. You were witness to mutual friends completely & obliviously ignoring my experiences and talking aimlessly about their children, and in the throes of my personal dispair. In that moment, I would have given anything for that person to think before speaking. And you sat there with the most compassionate eyes, slyly and apologetically cradling my spirit silently (which I will never forget). In total, all the highs and lows make this blog post really important for people to read. Because not everyone just gets pregnant. And not every body just keeps and grows babies. I got lucky. I got my miracle. But only God knows if I’ll get lucky again. So, I’m cautious in asking others now. Because I know exactly how painfully isolating it can feel to be in a room full of buzzing kids and dotting parents and be the couple without children. It’s hard. It’s really hard. And my heart breaks for people who don’t get a miracle. Love your beautiful, growing family! And your friendship, compassion and understanding have blessed my life immeasurable, as has this blog! Thanks you for this and so many gifts over the years!!!

    1. You make such an amazing point, that calling it a plan is almost silly. I mean, it is a “plan,” but as you say it is completely uncontrollable. Most plans we make, we have some say in their completion. And yes, your pain was one of the things on my mind as I thought about writing this post. Your openness and honesty with me as you struggled and went through so much heartache really opened my eyes, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that you felt safe enough to talk to me about it. And I also can’t tell you how much it makes my heart swell with joy to see you and J enjoy every second with O! Thank you for sharing, both in person and here in the comment. <3

  5. Pat and I have been together for 36 yrs and people are still asking why we did not have children. And some are asking why we do not foster children (now).
    Not that I would EVER compare having another child to us getting another dog, but we hear it all the time. Zaheer “needs” a sibling.
    Over the years people have asked me when X, Y, Z (my nieces and nephews) were going to have children. My response always was “when they tell you, you will know.” Being very close to my nieces and nephews (and now their children), I always knew/know their plans. But they are not for me to repeat.

    1. Wow! People are so interesting. I can’t believe they even tell you your dog needs a sibling! And that they still ask why you didn’t have children… really. Wow. Sheesh! I don’t even know what to say, that completely baffles me!

  6. Very true. After I got married, I was immediately bombarded with “so when are you going to have kids?” The best thing is that I couldn’t drink alcohol because of a urinary tract disorder (which turned out to be Lyme disease) and so whenever I passed down a drink I would hear, “oh, you must be pregnant!” I would just shoot back, “No, I have a painful urinary tract disorder.” They’d be all embarrassed….as they ought to be!

    Then I got diagnosed with Lyme, and the treatment for that is going to be years long. No baby until that is over. So when people ask me (still) when I’m planning on getting pregnant, well, they get an earful!

    1. Wow! I’m sorry you are dealing with Lyme disease. And I can’t imagine how irritating it must be to constantly be fielding the pregnancy comments and questions! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Melina!

  7. I quit asking too. I’ve talked to some of mothers and some have struggled with infertility. I realized that it can be a very sensitive topic, so I quit asking.

  8. I love this post! People ask this question to my husband and I all the time. When will you have another? I say something polite but I really want to say that actually we are trying and it’s costing us thousands of dollars and repeated loses. I think people generally have good intentions and are ignorant of why this question could be painful. Hopefully more posts like this one can raise some awareness for us struggling couples!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jessica! I’m so, so sorry that you are experiencing such hardship in your struggle to have a baby. I hope that you and your husband have a good support system around you to help you through it!

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