Written by Ashley Hunt, LCSW
“Does this mean we’re expecting?”
The dreaded question asked to every person who has announced that they are trying to conceive. The question that triggers anxiety, embarrassment, shame, exhaustion, anger, sadness, and heartbreak. It’s asked in a variety of ways… “Any updates you want to tell me?” … “When is this happening?” … “Any success yet?” … “What’s taking so long?” and this list goes on and on.
So much is assumed and projected in these questions. There is the assumption and expectation that trying to conceive should be easy. The assumption, and misunderstanding, that if someone is using assisted reproductive technology, that pregnancy is guaranteed. The projection that another person’s journey is taking too long. And perhaps the most intrusive of them all, the assumption that you’re entitled to a happy report on another person’s incredibly exhaustive and painful journey towards parenthood.
To be curious is not the offense; outside of sexual intercourse, so little is commonly understood about reproductive health, so curiosity is normal. The offense presents when questions are asked in a way that prioritizes your curiosity over the aspiring parent’s emotional well-being. Inquiring about the pregnancy and not the process conveys a desire to skip to the end. A desire to skip to the pregnancy conveys to the one trying to conceive, that their journey is too much to handle, that it’s taking too long, or that it’s not worth understanding. When questions are asked about a pregnancy and not the journey, the message is that the pregnancy is the only portion of the journey that is relevant.
Infertility is a reality no person wants to face; struggling to conceive is a journey that no person ever expected, or desired, to be on. Trying to conceive while managing infertility shapes an individual. The multiple challenges and heartbreaks experienced on the journey all influence how the inquiries about pregnancy are received. Did the individual just learn of a failed cycle? Did they just have a negative pregnancy test? Have they just miscarried? Did they just notice blood and they’re terrified to learn as to why? If you are asking about a pregnancy following any of these scenarios, you’re triggering a variety of very heavy emotions; all because you were just wondering.
When wondering about someone else’s struggle with infertility and their journey to conceive, wonder about them first. Ask how they’re feeling. Ask how the journey is going. Rather than asking if they are pregnant, ask them where they are on their journey. Acknowledge that they are not required to update you. Communicate that you understand sharing their news is entirely on their terms. Do not take offense when they choose not to answer your questions. Respect their need for space and respect their request for privacy. Choosing to be open about some aspects of their journey does not mean that they are required to be open about all aspects of their journey. Remember that this journey is not about you, your ego, or your curiosity; it’s about the aspiring parent who is struggling to navigate a reality they would rather not face.