“When are you planning to have children?”
“Are you trying to start a family soon?”
While these might seem like innocent questions, family planning, fertility and pregnancy are not easy paths for everyone. Having coached many remarkable women and having been on the receiving end of these questions myself, I can attest to how these questions can trigger extreme shame, guilt and trauma for women.
Unlike, let’s say… eating a donut, you can’t just wake up one day and say, “Yep I’m going to have a kid today.”
This misconception that getting pregnant is ‘easy’ has been perpetuated by all the sex education lessons we receive in middle and high school. Should teenagers be careful? Yes. Should you wear a condom to protect yourself from STDs? Most definitely. But can you get pregnant on a whim? Not unless you’re a super fertile 17-year old. And even then, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to pregnancy.
While motherhood can be a beautiful thing, what we don’t talk about enough of are the not-so-glamorous parts of fertility, pregnancy and motherhood.
Social media is plastered with photos of a new mothers, lovingly holding her beautiful child with admiration and care. We hear about the ‘mother’s glow’ and how glorious, wonderful and beautiful motherhood is.
This only paints part of the picture. Motherhood can be beautiful, but there’s a whole other side to fertility, pregnancy and motherhood. And it’s these unspoken truths that leave many women feeling inadequate and filled with both shame and guilt.
Did you know?
Infertility affects many couples and it isn’t just a women’s problem.
- 1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility in the US
- That’s 6.7 million people each year who have trouble conceiving
- Fertility is a not just a women’s problem. Only 30% of the infertility cases are attributed solely to the female. The remaining 70% of infertility cases are attributed to:
- 30% solely to the male
- 30% a combination of both partners
- 10% of cases the cause is unknown
Resource: Fertility Answers
Miscarriages are more prevalent than most people realize.
- About 30-40% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage
- We don’t know the exact number because a miscarriage may happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant
- Of known pregnancies, 15-20% end in miscarriage
Postpartum depression (PPD) might make the ‘beauty’ of parenthood feel a little less beautiful. And it affects both women AND men.
- In the US
- Approximately 70-80% of women will experience some form of ‘baby blues’ after giving birth
- 1 out of 7 women may experience PPD in the first year after birth
- This doesn’t include PPD among women who have miscarried or had a stillbirth
- In Asian countries these numbers are higher at 65%+ women experiencing PPD
- Men experience PPD too
- 10% of fathers will experience depression during the postpartum period
- 50% of men who have partners with PPD will also go into depression themselves
This is the other side of fertility and pregnancy; the part we don’t bring to the forefront because they don’t paint as ‘beautiful’ of a story.
We need to change that. We need to more openly talk about these realities rather than make them taboo topics that are only whispered about and dealt with behind closed doors.
The unintended consequence has been that women are blaming themselves for not being able to conceive or having complications. Women feel as if something is wrong because they feel depressed rather than feeling the touted ‘beautifulness’ of motherhood. Women feel alone, like they’re the only one going through this, when the reality is that infertility, miscarriage and PPD are more normal than what they might realize.
Let me tell you my fertility story.
For as long as I can remember, I have had dreams of volunteering and traveling the world. But as I got older, the questions and comments increased around my motherhood choices.
“Where are my grandchildren?”
“You’d be a great mom! Don’t you want to be one?”
“When do you plan on starting a family?”
“You’ll regret it if you don’t have kids while you’re still young and can play with them.”
“Don’t wait until it’s too late. Your eggs are starting to rot and that’ll impact your kids health too.”
Each question came like a little pin prick in my side. Over time, the little injuries festered into larger and more painful stabs. Deep down, I knew what my own dreams were, but it seemed like nobody really cared what I wanted. To them, my role as a women in her 30’s was to become a mother and the time was ticking for me to manifest that.
Luckily, my husband and I were aligned on traveling the world before starting a family.
We decided to freeze embryos.
This would give us a ‘security blanket’ of sorts allowing us to pursue our dreams of travel and still have a family after. Or so we thought.
On a warm Sunday morning, just a year after going through the invasive, expensive and painful process of having hormones pumped into my body for 2 weeks followed by having 19 eggs removed, I awoke up to an email from the fertility center. Apparently, a mishap occurred. The status of our embryos? Unknown. Until we were ready to use the embryos, their viability would be in question.
For some women, the IVF process isn’t too bad. For me, it was one of the most emotionally and physically trying experiences.
Despite having a high tolerance for discomfort, my body didn’t take well to hormones being pumped in day-after-day for 2 weeks straight. I bloated, hurt all over, and could barely sleep. And that’s the easy part of the experience.
I had said with decisiveness, “I’m NEVER doing that again.”
But after receiving news that our ‘security blanket’ was no longer so secure, I felt tremendous guilt as if I was not upholding my role as a woman. So I made the decision to go through the experience again. But this time, we only had one embryo out of the miserable ordeal.
I felt massive amounts of shame and like something was wrong with me. Like I was a failure as a woman. Like I was letting everyone else down.
“Maybe my eggs are already rotten.” I thought.
Out of shame, I didn’t share the news with my family or friends. I believed that if I did, the comments would just get stronger. They would tell me that it was a sign that I should forgo my travels. That I should just settle down and do the ‘normal thing’: have a family.
It was an emotional roller coaster.
Fast forward, my husband and I decided to follow our hearts. In January 2020, we quit our jobs to volunteer in Ghana at a breast cancer non-profit and travel the world. COVID changed our plans slightly and though we’re still abroad, we aren’t traveling the way we had thought we would.
The gift is that we have come to terms with where we’re at and are ok with whatever happens.
We recognize that even if we had listened to everyone there was no guarantee of having children. I know so many women who have been going through years of failed IVF attempts. And then there are those who don’t want kids and are getting pregnant.
There are some things we just don’t have control over. Like the mishap with our embryos, or COVID thwarting our travel plans and keeping us ‘stuck’ in Ghana, we only have control of so much. And we’re at peace with our decision to follow our hearts.
Perhaps we’ll be able to have our own children. Perhaps we’ll adopt if we can’t have our own. Perhaps we’ll do a mix of both. We made our decision based on what felt right in our own hearts. And we’re ok with the consequences and choices we have made.
Why asking people when they plan to have kids is just not cool.
During all of the shots and hormones and bloating, I couldn’t emotionally take another person asking me when we were planning to just settle down and have kids. There was a lot of unseen pain and shame for me.
There are many reasons why it isn’t such a good idea to ask someone about their plans for children. Here are a few.
1. The individual or couple have bigger dreams and passions they want to pursue before starting a family (and that’s ok!).
It might be career. It might be to travel the world. Bottom line: It’s just as ok to have kids at 25 as it is to have kids at 35.
Yes it becomes harder and there are greater risks when you become older, but at the end of the day, we should help people stay informed and give them the freedom to make their own choices.
I know people who gave up on their personal dreams to have kids because they were ‘supposed to’. Unintentionally, they hold a bit of resentment towards their children. To say the least, that’s not good for the parent and certainly not for the child. Follow what your heart says. If it says to go live your dream, then go live your dreams first.
2. You don’t know the story and pain that they might be going through.
They might be trying already. And perhaps have been trying for quite some time, but are facing difficulty. It might be infertility, frequent miscarriages or other health issues. I know a number of women who have had cancer and can no longer have children.
Going through these challenges is already emotionally trying. To be asked about your plans for kids on top of what you’re facing is not only a painful conversation, but it adds unnecessary pressure and stress. It’s like taking the knife that’s already in someone’s gut and giving it a few more twists. Let’s not do that!
3. There might be other obstacle not even related to fertility and pregnancy.
It might be a financial challenge. Or the couple might have relationship issues. You just never know what is happening behind closed doors. Would it be better to bring a child into the world where domestic violence is happening in the household just because ‘her clock is ticking’?
4. Some people just don’t want kids.
Some couples just don’t want kids and that’s ok! There isn’t a life book that says everyone is required to have kids. It’s a choice. You can choose to have children. You can choose not to. Let’s all respect how people choose to live their lives whether it includes children or not. After all, they’re the ones that have to parent the child, not you.
We all need to become more sensitive about this topic.
Having been on the side of IVF and wanting to pursue my own dreams and passions to volunteer and travel the world while everyone around me kept telling me to just settle down and have a family, I truly believe we all need to be more sensitive on this topic.
And rather than only talking about a woman’s biological clock, perhaps we should be talking about the full picture of fertility and pregnancy:
- How common miscarriage is
- How postpartum depression is a real thing
- That it’s ok for women to pursue their dreams and passions first
- That it’s ok to not want kids
If we can openly talk about the full reality of motherhood and what it entails, it would help the individual’s asking the questions to be more informed and the individual’s going through the journey of fertility and pregnancy to better cope and not feel so alone.