A reader asked:
I’ve had a hysterectomy and I live in a region where it’s very odd (like, statistical outlier odd) for a woman not to have kids by my age.
So it’s fairly common for people to continue to harass me about why I don’t have kids and not take any of the polite attempts at diverting the subject as hints to leave me alone until I tell them the truth.
Then when I tell them the truth they get mad and say that it’s too much information. Any advice for dealing with this?
It might help to be direct about saying it’s a personal question.
I’m not sure how your conversations are going. I’m getting the sense that they might be something like this:
- Them: So, why don’t you have kids yet? When are you going to have them?
- You: Nice weather we’re having. But it’s summer and so it will probably rain soon. Do you think it will cause flooding again?
- Them: Oh, probably. It usually does. But what about kids? Are you seeing anybody? Fertility doesn’t last forever.
- You: So, I have this great new recipe for a seven-layer congealed salad.
- Them: Children are a blessing. Life really can’t be complete without them.
- You: That may be true, but I had a hysterectomy, so it’s not happening. Now can we please talk about something else?
- Them: Why would you tell me something like that?!
It might help to add a warning layer before you tell them the truth. One possible layer: Saying it’s personal and that you don’t want to talk about it, then an immediate subject change:
- “That’s awfully personal. I don’t like to talk about this.”
- “That’s private medical information.”
Another possible layer: Asking rhetorical questions that warn them that they might not actually want an answer. This can make it harder for them to blame you, and more likely that they’ll back off:
- “Do you really want the gory medical details?”
- “That’s a very personal question. Do you really want to ask that?”
- “Are you sure you want an answer to that?”
Another possibility: Answering the question in a way that’s a bit less graphic but still gets the point across:
- “It just hasn’t been in the cards.”
- “I can’t have children.”
- “I’m sterile.”
- “It’s not medically possible.”
If you’re in the South, there are some nuances about how to make people feel bad about asking inappropriate questions that I don’t really understand. (Which is part of the reason I don’t live there anymore.) It’s mostly a matter of affect. I know that it involves inserting a certain kind of pause and icy body language that tells someone they’ve crossed a line, but I don’t know how to do it or describe it well. If anyone who is better at that wants to weigh in, that would be welcome.
Short version: If your attempts at subtly deflecting intrusive questions are failing, it can help to more explicitly say that the question is too personal and that you don’t want to answer it.