Sarah Gandy: Is it ever OK to ask if a woman wants to have children?

I think I might be a chronic over-sharer. I was at a wedding recently chatting to the lovely lady sitting next to me at our table. We'd never met but were having the obligatory 'get to know you' chat.

Kids came up, as they often do and after we spoke about hers she asked if I had any. I said no, then as I often do, I felt this overwhelming niggle to explain myself.

I went down the rabbit hole of whys and excuses "it’s not that we don't like kids, it's just that we don’t know if want our own just yet ... or ever". 

Telling a stranger all of this is potentially too much information to unload on someone. 

The fear is that by saying it out loud you instantly look like a child-hating miserable banshee. Selfish. Coldhearted even. Ready to build a cage in the woods with bars just wide enough for children to slip a finger through. I promise you I have no such plans.

But here I was throwing myself under the wicked witch bus before dinner had even been served. 

Why do we feel the need to explain ourselves when it comes to kids? Why is it such an awkward question to answer? For some people having kids is an absolute and that's a wonderful thing, but it's not that way for everyone.

For others, kids aren't such a simple and obvious next step. The pangs aren't slapping them in the face saying "oh dear lord have a baby now before my ovaries explode!". 

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Even with the pangs, it's not always that easy. Most people will know someone facing fertility struggles - it's agonising and heartbreaking and every time that they get asked "when are you going to pop out some babies" there's a heat that rises from below as they try to figure out the best way to say "we’re bloody well trying, it doesn’t just magically happen for everyone" without making anyone feel awkward. 

Then there are the less obvious factors. For us, one of those was a potential genetic disorder. My husband had to go through a long counselling process (over a year) to find out if he was carrying the gene that could see him develop life-changing and life-shortening symptoms.

If it had come back positive, we had to decide how that might shape our future - if we wanted to risk passing that on to our kids. The test came back negative and we feel like the luckiest people that walked the earth - it also made us decide to revel in what we have for a bit longer. 

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I explained this to my new table mate at the wedding (see, over-sharing) and she apologised for asking the question in the first place. Not because I’d bored her (from what I can tell at least, poor woman) but because she realised the answer to her question wasn't necessarily an easy one.

I then apologised for making it awkward. Here we were, two grown women apologising for having a conversation and reaching for another rosé.

Maybe I could have just said "Nah, we don't" but for some reason that didn't cut it. It’s brilliant that our friends are having kids, and I guess we feel that it can be equally brilliant to choose not to - maybe. Who knows. We haven't figured that out yet.

So why is it so hard to just say that out loud?