Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fertility shaming?

Over the weekend a woman named Emily Bingham wrote a post on Facebook that has now been shared approximately a gazillion times.  In the post she shared a random ultrasound picture that she found on the internet to get people's attention and then followed it by a call for people to please stop asking women/couples family planning questions.

The post:
Hey everyone!!! Now that I got your attention with this RANDOM ULTRASOUND PHOTO I grabbed from a Google image search, this is just a friendly P.S.A. that people's reproductive and procreative plans and decisions are none of your business. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Before you ask the young married couple that has been together for seemingly forever when they are finally gonna start a family ... before you ask the parents of an only-child toddler when a Little Brother or Little Sister will be in the works ... before you ask a single 30-something if/when s/he plans on having children because, you know, clock's ticking ... just stop. Please stop. You don't know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues. You don't know who is having relationship problems or is under a lot of stress or the timing just isn't right. You don't know who is on the fence about having kids or having more kids. You don't know who has decided it's not for them right now, or not for them ever. You don't know how your seemingly innocent question might cause someone grief, pain, stress or frustration. Sure, for some people those questions may not cause any fraught feelings -- but I can tell you, from my own experiences and hearing about many friends' experiences -- it more than likely does.
Bottom line: Whether you are a wanna-be grandparent or a well-intentioned friend or family member or a nosy neighbor, it's absolutely none of your business. Ask someone what they're excited about right now. Ask them what the best part of their day was. If a person wants to let you in on something as personal as their plans to have or not have children, they will tell you. If you're curious, just sit back and wait and let them do so by their own choosing, if and when they are ready. (source)

I didn't hear anything about this until I was watching the morning news on Monday morning.  Since I was not fully caffeinated yet, I was only partially paying attention and comprehending what was being said.  But the when the lead in to the story teased it as a story about fertility shaming, that got my attention.

It wasn't until I read the entire post that I realized that the news tried to hook people in with a sensational title and that the post wasn't about fertility shaming at all.  Or at least not the way I define shaming.  I believe that in order for it to be shaming there needs to be intent to make someone feel bad.  For example, if someone says to me "that dress makes you look fat" there is an obvious intent to make me feel bad about myself.  I don't think that someone casually inquiring about one's family building plans is done with the intent to cause hurt or shame.  Can it cause hurt?  Absolutely!  Is it completely inappropriate?  You bet!

I've got the question more times than I choose to remember.  It all started as soon as we started to plan our wedding.  The question made me uncomfortable back then but it didn't hurt my feelings. As things progressed and we realized that there was a problem it started to hurt more and more and more until I could barely exit the conversation without melting into a puddle of tears.  But at no point did I ever feel like someone intended to make me feel like crap by asking that question?  Not once.

So I'm curious...what do other people think?  Do you think that asking someone about their family building plans is fertility shaming?  Or do you think it's highly inappropriate?


  1. I don't know about the phrase "fertility shaming." I agree with you that most people don't intend to hurt, they are merely curious. They are following the standard script, saying the same stuff that people once said to them. It might seem nosy or intrusive even to fertile people. But because so many people don't have any experience with infertility or loss, they don't tend to view it from that perspective and don't realize that they might actually be causing anyone pain or emotional distress.

    I DO think it's highly inappropriate. Even before we were married, I always felt, very strongly, that when, whether, how or why we chose to have a family was entirely my business & dh's, nobody else's, and I've never felt inclined to discuss these subjects with anyone outside of my very closest friends, and sometimes not even them.

    When we returned from our honeymoon, some of his relatives had a party for us. They presented us with a cake with one pink candle, one blue candle -- and one small yellow candle. Everyone was laughing (nudge nudge, wink wink). I was FURIOUS. Dh pleaded with me under his breath to suck it up & not make a scene. UGH. :p

    1. What Loribeth said. Every single word of it.

      And I would've been furious at that cake too.

    2. Completely agree! The only two people won's opinions matter are the couple!

      I'm quite impressed that you managed to "suck it up and not make a scene" about the cake. I think that "she went batshit crazy" would have accurately describe my reaction. :)

    3. I was a bit tweaked by this story, too. Outside of the inappropriate news lead in on 'fertility shaming' .... WTF? What struck me was the weirdly primal sense of attention grabbing and the lack of exploration about why society thinks an ultrasound photo gives someone carte blanche to 'steal the show' or 'go to the head of the class privilege.' THe sense that 'I reproduce therefore I am uber important' makes me very uncomfortable...

    4. I know exactly what you mean! I'm so sick of the "I'm growing a human so you must bow to me" attitude!

  2. I think this woman made her point and I'm glad to see people speaking out on this (I very much liked Tyra's and Chrissy Teigan's outpouring a few weeks back). Would I personally call it fertility shaming? No. Is the ultra sound photo a questionable hook? Sure. But I'm still glad someone spoke up on the issue of inferring human reproduction is something everyone can "just do" and asking people intrusive questions about their child status needing to be considered socially unacceptable.

    My personal term for this is "reproductive nosiness". This is probably not a great label either, but since this subject has hardly been in human conversation word accuracy is going to take awhile. So shaming? Not intentionally anyway. Inappropriate - most definitely. And I'd also say thoughtless - I don't need to be single myself to know that asking someone when they are going to get married is inappropriate.