The top 5 things to say, and not say, to someone who hasn’t got a child

Now I’m in my 30s, the topic of having children always comes up in conversation. It usually goes like this:

Aquaintance: “How about you? Have you got any children?”

Me: “No, I haven’t no”

Aquaintance: “Not yet eh?”

Me: “Well no, I can’t have them, I had a hysterectomy a few years

Aquaintance: “You can always adopt! Would you like to?”

Me: “I Would like to, but it’s not very easy and it’s a very emotional

Aquaintance: “My friend’s adopted/ had IVF blah blah blah …happy ending.”

This conversation happens time and time again. What people don’t realise, is that adopting is not as easy as it sounds, and it is far from the magical answer. No matter how many children worldwide need decent parents, it’s never going to be as easy as “just adopt!”

For more information on “just apopt” this author, La Belette Rough, explains why just and adopt should not be sat next to each other in the same sentence.

Some people also forget that I am the one living it, and I have already put a large amount of thought into adoption, fostering and surrogacy. If it was that simple, I would have done it already!
I know they mean well, but what gets me, is the way people seem compelled to find a solution to my childlessness because having a child is what life’s all about, right?

I am part of an online community called Gateway Women. This community is for ladies like me, who are childless by circumstance. It’s a place where we can talk about our situation, share our own personal stories, offer support and make friends. The other day, I asked this community what response they would like to hear after telling someone they are childless. Below, are some of their comments.

1. Just move on to a new conversation without questioning further or offering advice.

2. Saying, “I’m sorry that must be difficult.” Then moving on to a new conversation or offering emotional support.

3. Saying “Having kids isn’t the only way to lead a fulfilling life.”

4. Pointing out, “It’s hard work, and you’re not missing as much as people make out you are!”

5. Acknowledging “That effing sucks! But I am envious of the great life you must lead, not being tied down to children for 18 years.”

What not to do/say

1.Jokingly, offer them your own children to look after.

2.Offer advice about fertility treatments or adoption, unless you have been through it yourself and have experience in these matters.

3.Tell stories of miracle babies born through IVF.

4.Tell the infertile couple to “just relax and it’ll happen eventually” or recommend that the woman puts her legs up in the air after sex!

5. Make assumptions about why they are childless, e.g left it too late, focussed on career, can’t keep a man, lesbian, eat the wrong diet.

The Gateway Women were quite passionate about the things NOT to say.

It’s a difficult and awkward moment when a woman is forced through conversation to talk about her childlessness, and although some are meant well, these comments can be ignorant, hurtful and frustrating. There are so many reasons why a woman maybe childless, so to hear advice from a happily married, highly fertile, assumptious mother of three, is the last thing they want!


12 thoughts on “The top 5 things to say, and not say, to someone who hasn’t got a child

  1. I’ve been POINTED at and asked why I don’t have children (in a cemetary in Spain visiting partner’s dead aunt) and luckily partner stepped in as I restrained the urge to smash the woman’s head against a head-height bunch of plastic flowers, and stick my fingers in her eyes. I eventually replied, “porque no podemos” (because we can’t), and she apologised. Partner has learned to hug me after such encounters.

    • Wow, France Fradet, that must have been awful! I’m glad you have a supportive partner to turn to. I really don’t know why people take such an interest in whether or not we have children. What business is it of theirs anyway? And why is it perceived as being wrong to be childless? I just don’t get it.

  2. Pingback: ‘Do you have children?’ | Paula Knight Illustrator-Writer

  3. If someone asks if you have children,
    it’s ok to answer politely, but if they continue asking where you think they have crossed the line about your personal life, you should indicate they have crossed the line.
    You do not owe an explanation or justification to a closed mind. You should not reinforce their ignorance when there are thousands of reasons for not having kids.
    If you feel like it, start an education type conversation. Or ask them a question that is clearly none of your business? Ask them why they did have children. See how they react!

    • Thank you for your comment Molly. I totally agree that some people do cross the line and you should let them know when they have. I think people who have not experienced fertility problems, forget that these types of problems exist and they do not realise how common they are.
      I know since my hysterectomy a lot of my friends and family have told me they have become more aware of what questions they ask when meeting someone for the first time. My mum is experiencing a similar thing now because people keep asking grand children questions! I like to think that everybody means well, and they would probably be horrified if they thought they had caused upset.

  4. I feel I need to add to these…I do NOT want children, and never have…and the absolute worst thing people can say to me as I am battling my decision for a hysterectomy is “oh, you didn’t want kids anyway, right?”

    I am about to lose an organ, a piece of my womanhood. Although I have never wanted children, that choice is now being stripped away from me. Also, the after effects from surgery are terrifying…in addition, I’m currently planning my wedding and it sucks that I have to write out a living will alongside writing my wedding vows! Oh, but I never wanted kids anyway.

    • Hi Carol, thank you for commenting.
      I am very sorry that you have to have a hysterectomy. You are right, it is irrelevant whether you wanted children or not, you are still having surgery to remove a womanly organ which is very upsetting and scary.
      I think when friends and family are given bad news they automatically try to look on the bright side to try to make you feel better, but their can words actually be very insensitive and annoying.
      I don’t know what the reason is for your hysterectomy ( mine was fibroids) but it helps me to think that those horrible things that were causing so many problems are now gone from my body and I feel so much better for it. I know it’s a womanly organ and that can be difficult to come to terms with, but unless I choose to tell people, to look at me, nobody knows I don’t have a womb and I still feel sexy and womanly on the outside.
      It will take some time to get over your surgery, just take it one day at a time and don’t rush back to work. It’s been 7 years since my surgery ( I’m 37 now) and I am as fit as a fiddle, you will be too within a few months after surgery. I have a massive scar on my stomach ( my surgery was complicated, the scar doesn’t need to be massive) but I still wear bikinis because it is part of my history and I am proud to have got through it. Writing this blog and getting comments from others who were going through the same thing helped a lot too. So thank you for taking the time to comment.
      Have a lovely wedding day, don’t let the surgery ruin your special day.
      Good luck and let me know how everything goes.

      • Hi! Yes, mine is also due to fibroids. I am doing everything I can to push off the surgery until after the wedding though lol..thank you for responding, I completely agree. Family and close friends I feel I definitely need to tell what is going on, with my emotional rollercoaster/hormones getting whacked out, the surgery and my all around well being, but it’s still hard to hear then say those words. Like “it’s no big deal.” Ugh very frustrating. I am 31, will be 32 once I have surgery, thank you for your input! I am relieved to hear another person has gone through with this and has had a life to live after the operation…I’m terrified of the after effects that “can” happen.

      • Well, I only had my womb removed and everything else was left in place, so I haven’t been through the menopause or anything like that. I still even have a mini period every other month and I know it sounds silly, but I like it because it means my ovary is still working. I’m not going to lie, recovery after the surgery is not very easy and you’ll be shuffling around like a little old lady for a few weeks, but normality is only round the corner and every day you get a bit stronger. I was very emotional after my operation, but I was obviously devastated because my hysterectomy was an emergency, I only went in hospital to have my fibroids removed. You might be emotional too because it does mess with your hormones a bit, so I would make sure your family know that you may be a bit emotionally fragile for a while. There’s a good website which I used a lot for support, I liked to read the forums. Good luck Carol, try not to worry you’ll be in good hands.

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