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When Strangers Ask About My Lady Parts

Posted by on May 23, 2013

She raised her eyebrows and leaned forward. Her arm made a sweeping motion over her stomach, pantomiming the belly of a very pregnant woman. “Can you not have your own?!”, she whispered conspiratorially. I laughed too loudly and informed her, and the bored occupants of the waiting room of the Brooklyn Tow Pound, that we “hadn’t tried but wanted to adopt first”.

This was not the first time that a complete stranger felt the need to ask me if my lady parts are in working order. Perhaps it’s the anonymity of being strangers or just blatant curiosity, but one of the most common responses I hear about adopting is the Intrusive Question.

I get it: we all love a good story, adoption is unusual and 99% of us speak before we think. Most of the time, I find this laughable and give an honest reply. But a part of me feels enraged.

Infertility is a long, hard and heart-wrenching journey. I have cried and prayed and waited and been disappointed alongside friends who have struggled with conceiving. I’ve rejoiced when those who have waited for years announced that they were finally pregnant. And I’ve admired and loved and supported as couples we love have decided to lay to rest their desire to conceive and pursue parenthood through adoption. No matter how you slice it, struggling with fertility is an unpredictable and difficult experience.

When strangers ask me about the condition of my ovaries and uterus, I picture the beautiful faces of the women I know who have experienced infertility. I imagine a shadow of hurt and memories darkening their eyes in response to this question. I imagine the feelings stirred up and the difficulty of telling a stranger the facts that have stolen dreams.

So I find myself at an impasse. I want to be friendly and kind to strangers, I want to tell people about the joy we have experienced in pursuing adoption from the get-go. But I also want to tell them that this question is not okay. I want to protect my friends and every would-be-Mama from experiencing the intrusion of the pregnant-belly-pantomime.

I should also note that it’s not just strangers. I hesitate to write this as I’d hate for anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward. Acquaintances and friends are curious as well; their questions are usually more veiled. What was the impetus for this decision? What made you decide to adopt? Have you ever thought of having your own*? I feel these questions are a bit more fair. If I wanted to answer and tell you about my lady parts, I can. Otherwise, I can easily dodge the question.

So friends, what do I say? How do I respond with grace, but also in a way that teaches and informs the questioner that this question is unkind? I’ve been stumped on this one for a while, and I’d love any input you have—satirical or serious! Help!

*Someday soon I will write a post on the use of the word ‘own’ before children. For the record, the child who comes to us via adoption will be 100% our own.

9 Responses to When Strangers Ask About My Lady Parts

  1. Vanessa Strickland (@vanster)

    I don’t have any gracious responses, but I am SO with you on your last caveat. 100% your own. Love it.

  2. JoJo

    (I know it’s a different topic but…) I just read this today about insensitive questions regarding biracial children. The author offers suggestions for dealing with these questions that are not necessarily coming from an ill-meaning person. You would need to alter the responses a bit, but maybe answering with, “What makes you ask that?” would cause the questioner to at least acknowledge they are assuming adoption is for those who can’t have children. Or somehow include that adoption doesn’t depend on whether you can/can’t have our own, but whether you are called to it or not.

    Here’s the link in case you’re curious…

    • Amelia

      Thanks for sharing that, Spops! I love the idea of answering with a question. You’re right, most people mean well and are simply curious/making conversation. Love that I could ask a question to inspire them to think through their assumptions! Thanks for passing along that article–awesome!

  3. Andrea

    Just commented on this on another forum. It really depends on who I am talking to and the subject matter. If it’s about my body, I tell them what I know they want to hear, whether it’s true or not. I figure that it’s not a question I’d want to answer anyway; why should I bother with the truth? If it’s obviously something really insensitive that marginalizes others, I would find a chance to educate them. If education is not possible, I would not hesitate to say, “How rude!” or “What kind of question is that?” and refuse to answer.

  4. heidi

    it is a sensitive question, one I get asked often! Like you, adoption was our choice, something we chose and wanted to do. I don’t think there is a right answer to it. If it’s family I try to explain our reasons in more detail but if it’s a stranger I just say this is what we wanted or sometimes I would say…. wouldn’t you adopt if you could love a child as your own, give a family and love to a child who deserves it… wouldn’t you?

    • Amelia

      That’s a neat idea too–kind of answering with a ‘why wouldn’t I?!’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Dana

    If you were a child longing for a family, wouldn’t you be glad we are longing for you?

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!