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“When are you having kids?”

“When are you having kids?”

I have written in a previous blog about what not to say to a cancer patient and I want to point out a common question.

Anyone who has been married for more than an hour has heard the common question “So, when are you having kids?”

Well that question becomes even more annoying when you’re a breast cancer survivor.

Of course my family and friends are very well aware that this is not a possibility for us at this time and rarely ask. Believe it or not, I’m referring to a stranger.

This is a person who doesn’t know my husband or me—or anything about our story. We were recently on vacation and met a very nice couple with their two children. I have a decent size tattoo that is clearly a breast cancer ribbon with the word “survivor” below it.

This was visible when the inevitable question was asked, “Do you have kids?” Let me clarify, the question does not bother me. I completely understand the curiosity when you know a couple is married whether or not they have kids. I get it.

However, what bothers me is the response to my answer. “No, we do not,” I said. “Ohhhh, really, why not?” she asked clearly confused by my response.

To me, this is where the line has been crossed. No longer was she being curious, now she was being intrusive. She has no idea what I have been through. For all she knows, we have been trying for years and have not been able to get pregnant. Or maybe we have suffered multiple miscarriages. Or maybe we don’t want kids (I know, very hard for some people to imagine, but guess what, those people do exist and it’s ok to choose not to have kids.) None of these things are true for us, but my point is, this woman did not know that.

I figured my next response would end this conversation. “I’m a breast cancer survivor, and unfortunately, cannot have kids right now,” I said pretty convinced she would move on to the next subject. Of course she was a little taken back. I could see her trying to calculate my age in her mind, compared to her age. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea that breast cancer could prevent you from having kids.”

I’m silent for a minute because I’m trying to think before I speak. I’m offended and because I’m offended, I can often say things that might not be nice. “I’m on a certain medication that prevents us from having children at this time,” I said hoping the interrogation would stop. She was satisfied with that, and moved onto something else.

I have a confession; I was this woman at one time. Asking invasive questions thinking there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. I just wanted to know, what’s wrong with that? Well, I learned there is a lot wrong with that. It took me getting cancer to understand that just because someone wants to know doesn’t mean they HAVE to know, or have the right to know. Boundaries; we all need them and we all should respect them.

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  1. More great insight and advice from Jeannine!

  2. Lisa Parro

    Often well-meaning people think they’re just making conversation but I agree that these are very personal questions that are none of anyone’s business. When my son was just a baby we got, “So, when are you having another one?” more times than I can count. I wonder if the age of sharing via social media has erased boundaries and made people OK with asking intrusive questions.

  3. Regardless of the status of one’s health, the questions is unnecessary. So, too, are “Why don’t you wear a seat belt?” or “When are you going to quit smoking?” or “Why are you still single?” Lisa is right on the mark, well-intentioned conversation. Unfortunately, it really shows that not only are far too many people in each other’s business; but that many folks simply don’t know how to “just make conversation.” Questions become some form of personal attack.

  4. I always love hearing your honesty, Jeannine! I think this is a question that people can take too far and I love that you are sharing this with us and really gives some people another perspective on this question.

  5. Leslie DeFrisco
    Leslie DeFrisco May 13, 2014 at 11:34 am · Reply

    You are dead on. Rocco and I admire your strength through all of this. You are ine strong woman!

  6. Lynn Hutley

    After watching a loved one struggle with infertility, I know to never ask someone when they are having kids. I think that these kinds of questions often come from individuals whose world might be smaller than your own. Maybe they have never met someone who had difficulty conceiving or didn’t want children so the idea of not having children is foreign to them. By providing honest answers to probing questions even if it is that “I don’t talk about such personal issues with strangers” you might be broadening their horizons and helping them understand others better. Or in this case, maybe she just swam up to the next person and asked another inappropriate question 🙂 Keep fighting, Jeannine.

  7. Unfortunately, you will be dealing with this question for the rest of your life. Not taking anything away from motherhood, but not having children is an incomprehensible path in this day and age to most people with children, men included. There is a competitiveness among some women regarding their children and sadly they don’t know how to relate to childless women as fellow humans without their children to fall back on. You handled this beautifully.

  8. I just want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment, and or share this blog. I’m humbled by all of the support, by not only people I know, but people I don’t. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

  9. My mother always told me not to ask probing questions like that. She always said ” If someone wants you to know something, they will tell you. If they don’t, then it’s none of your business.”
    I do have to say that as a mom of a child with a heart defect, and a mom of a child with Down syndrome, those lines are pretty much erased when I meet someone who has similar experiences. I imagine it’s much like the author might feel when she meets another breast cancer survivor.
    It would have been one thing if the person would have said “I didn’t know that having breast cancer would mean that you couldn’t have kids.” but to make it a personal interrogation instead of a learning experience is just rude. She could have just Googled it later ;>)

  10. Kelly Jo Golson

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Jeannine. You have inspired so many with your willingness to be open and honest.

  11. Jeannine-Once again, I have so enjoyed your words of wisdom.. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. A good reminder for all to be sensitive and kind to others…

  12. Jennifer L. Vaughn May 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm · Reply

    People need to realize kids are not everything in life. There are people who do not want to have children and that is okay…these people are not freaks, just have different goals in life. Kids are a perk for some and not for others. People who are so obsessed with kids need to stop badgering those who choose to live without.

  13. People have been asking these questions since the first child was born. Stop taking everything so freaking personally. I don’t know how many times my wife and I were asked the same thing during the time we had fertility problems. Should I get all upset every time? Nope. Just said some stock answer and moved on with me life. You are the one who is choosing to become upset.

    FYI: I had no idea that breast cancer survivors couldn’t have children. I didn’t know that you needed to take medication that prevented you from having children. Your answer to that person both spread breast cancer awareness AND educated them–and me! Maybe focus on that aspect of life as opposed to getting all upset anytime an innocent question is asked of you.

  14. Jim K- what do you think this blog is about? It is about educating. Just because you don’t mind the questions doesn’t mean other people agree with you. Believe me, I have been educating people since I got diagnosed. As I pointed out, I don’t mind the question, it’s the response that bothers me. Have you ever had cancer, Jim? Because if you have, please feel free to speak on this subject as much as you want, but I’m going to go out on a limb here & say you probably have not. Having cancer has stolen a lot from me & the one thing that I have tried to hold on to is normalcy. When someone looks at you & says “ohhh why don’t you have kids? You don’t want them??” At that moment you don’t feel “normal”, well I don’t feel normal & that is what is upsetting. That’s awesome that you don’t mind strangers asking you invasive questions, good for you.
    Also, I would like to educate you a bit more, breast cancer survivors CAN have children, however I’m on a medication called tamoxifen (google it for more education) for 5 years to help prevent my BC from coming back. During this 5 years I cannot have a baby because the medication would hurt the baby & possibly me. I hope you learned something. How about you don’t tell me how I should feel & I will not tell you should feel. What’s hard for you might not be hard for me, & what’s easy for you might not be easy for me.

    • Nikki Hopewell May 19, 2014 at 11:16 am · Reply

      Well played, Jeannine! By the way, I feel like it’s important to point out that you have every right to (politely) shut people down and respectfully tell them it’s none of their business if they breach your comfort zone with intrusive questions. There’s an educational aspect in that too! Onward, young lady! Keep your head up and please keep continuing to inspire us all!

  15. You seem to handle this challenge with grace. I have a very good friend who chooses not to have kids and the questions she gets are really ridiculous. Having children (or not!) is so personal and I simply don’t understand why people think it’s okay as casual conversation. Thank you for sharing your story and stay strong!

    • Thank you, Erin, I really do appreciate it. I just think some people cannot fathom the idea that some people CHOOSE to not have kids. Like you said, it’s personal and it needs to stay that way! Thanks again for the kind words!

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About the Author

Jeannine Canino Bieda
Jeannine Canino Bieda

Jeannine Canino Bieda has worked in the Options industry for the last 14 years and cannot imagine doing anything else; she enjoys all the craziness, the good, the bad & the ugly! She is a breast cancer survivor. She is married to the love of her life and does not have any children but hopefully that will change one day. She is a proud Southsider but lives in Evanston now because it’s where her husband is from; she learned quickly, you can take the girl out of the Southside but you can’t take the Southside out of the girl! She is highly addicted to reality shows & gossip magazines and is not ashamed of it.