Monday, October 15, 2007

Bringing up Baby

Dear Mr. Steichen:

I am expecting twins and keep encountering several awkward questions, often from people who I am not so close to. Do you have any witty retorts (or just tactful replies) for the following?

First, when I tell people I am having twins they often immediately ask, "Oh, so are stopping after these two?" I find it so bizarre to be asked this when we have NO children out of womb at present. It's like your breakfast waitress asking you what you'd like for dinner.

Another awkward question: "Oh, you are having twins? Did you have fertility treatment?" As a matter of fact, my husband and I did consult with several doctors about fertility matters. But this seems so inappropriate and somehow makes me feel like these kids are less mine or natural. What is an expectant mother or father to say to such questions?

Yes indeed, these are dicey. Some might say "Oh but what's the harm in asking these kinds of questions...I'm just trying to find out more about their situation." But think about what you're really asking. In fact, let's test these using the diagnostic tool of hyperbole.

Using exaggeration for emphasis, the first is in effect asking, "I know that you have no idea about what being a parent will be like, but can you seriously think about having another kid after raising twins?" Hardly an uplifting or encouraging sentiment. The second is even more outrageous when you hyperbolize: "When you and your spouse were trying to conceive, did you have sex at home until you got pregnant, or did you go to a doctor's office and have them do stuff to you." Whoa...didn't mean to go there, did you?

Unless you're having a heart-to-heart conversation on the subject--a conversation initiated by the person, not you--it's not your place to give his or her life your own running commentary, which is exactly what these questions have the effect of doing. (Very close friends and family members can get a pass on this particular point, but they should still proceed with caution.) But how to respond...

When in doubt, keep them in doubt: To the first question you reply with an honest, "You know, we just aren't sure, but we're so excited about becoming parents." Because you honestly don't know, right? You may or may not have more kids...time will tell. To the second you can offer a slight variation, "You know, we're not sure how it happened, but we couldn't be happier." Because again, you don't know exactly how it happened. Lots of people who undergo fertility treatment have single births, and lots of people end up with twins just through mother nature taking a hand in.

If they persist, just stick to the same line. Remember, it's none of their business unless you want to make it their business, and it sounds like you don't. Being vague may seem flaky, but it's probably the quickest and most polite way to shut down an uncomfortable line of questioning. Once you make it clear that they are not going to get the information they're asking for, they'll probably move on.

Alternatively, you can turn either question back on them with a neutral "Why do you ask?" (Incidentally, this is the universal response to any question that you don't think should have been asked in the first place--thanks, mom!) "Why do you ask?" will usually make a person realize his error on his own. Of course, this keeps the topic active, so you have to be ready to parry a follow up question. And in the event that they don't take the hint, you can always just shut them down with one of the polite vaguenesses noted above.

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