Sisterhood Blog

My Womb Is None of Your Business

By Rebecca Honig Friedman

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While I have nothing significant to add to the heterosexuals-using-“partner” debate, I would like to pick up on a comment made to Debra’s post:

“How about not asking someone at all whether they are single or in a relationship,” writes reader Toby. This objection to nosiness leads me to a similar question: How about not asking women when they’re planning to have children already?

It’s on my mind because yesterday was the first time my grandfather put this question to me, when I called to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. My grandfather is notoriously short on the phone — my husband once timed a longer-than-average conversation with him at 45 seconds — but he added an additional few seconds to the call by asking for the first time, whether I am planning to have a child soon. Not in those words, mind you. Point of fact, he’s been asking the question subtly for the last couple of years, in pretty much every conversation we have, by saying suggestively, “So, what’s new?” Now you might think I’m being paranoid but if you heard his tone you’d know he really means, “So, are you pregnant yet?”

But in yesterday’s conversation he went further than he’s ever gone before. In response to my wishing him a happy father’s day he said, “Thank you. Maybe next year we’ll wish your husband a happy Father’s Day?”

Now rather than being surprised at my beloved grandfather’s chutzpah, I’m actually surprised he’s been this patient with me. We’re talking about the same grandfather — a Holocaust survivor who lives in Borough Park and has a decidedly Old-World mentality —who, when I was 21, dismayed at finding out I wasn’t dating anyone seriously, said I was “almost” an old maid. Tact has never been his strong suits.

I did get married a few years later, at the ripe old age of 24, and now, at 28, still no babies. My poor grandfather’s been restraining himself for a while. He’s shown more restraint in fact, then other members of the family.

At my wedding, my uncle, who was also the officiating rabbi, ended his speech under the chuppah, much to the shock of the attendees (particularly my non-Jewish friends) with, “And God willing, we’ll be together again in a year for the bris.” (P.S. His son and daughter-in-law, who got married less than a year ago, are expecting a child, so at least it looks like, God willing, my grandfather will get that great-grandchild soon after all, though no thanks to me).

Other members of my and my husband’s families have made subtle and not so subtle inquiries and suggestions on the subject. All of which we generally take in stride, good natured as we are. But it takes a lot to resist the urge to respond, “Stay out of my womb!” Or, “Stay out of our marriage!”

While some degree of nosiness on the part of close friends and family is appropriate, a sign they care, putting pressure on a couple in this particular area should be off limits.

First of all, beyond the pleasure of playing with the grandchildren, or the status/bragging rights that come with telling your friends you’re going to be a great-grandparent, what’s it to anyone else when and if I decide to conceive another human being? Why should I make one of the biggest decisions of my life — and one with the biggest consequences for myself, my marriage, and the person I’m going to bring into this world — because my family wants something to cute to cuddle when they come to visit?

Now, mom, grandpa, aunts, uncles, in-laws, etc., don’t freak out and take this post as a sign that I am never planning to have a child. Rather, take it as a note that it’ll happen when the time is right. And I’ll certainly let you all know with enough advance time to shower me with gifts and advice, and to get a high-stakes family betting pool going on the sex of the baby.

Yehuda Tue. Jun 23, 2009

It's just so normal to ask. Certainly, among Jews, it is so common to hold a conversation about children, grandchildren. That's what I do all day long! What bothers me about this sensitivity ("what’s it to anyone else when and if I decide to conceive another human being?") that is expressed in this article is the cultural point of reference. It's obviously coming from within the American cultural world - "rugged individualism". The Jewish cultural point of reference is different - it's family-oriented, it's focused on the cycle of Jewish life. All the "nudnikim" in the family, taking an avid interest in the next generation of the Honig-Friedman family, are actually expressing the old familiar Jewish world. The attitude of "mind-your-own-business" is another shade of the on-going process of assimilation. The American world and its social codes are "correct", while the Jewish world and its social codes give a feeling of "foreignness". Anyway, as an old grandfather, I identify with the grandfather in this article. I, too, am very curious if the good news will reach the Forward readers soon.

lild Tue. Jun 23, 2009

Just officially invite your most curious family members to the "blessed moment of potential conception" a couple of times and I'm sure they will stop asking.

RHF Tue. Jun 23, 2009


You make an interesting point about assimilation into the American worldview. I hadn't thought of it that way but there's probably some truth to your argument. That doesn't mean my point is wrong, though.

At times I actually find my grandfather and other family members' inquiries endearing. But I think there are a lot of factors that go into the decision to have a child (and, I admit that considering it a "decision" is a sign of my assimilated American worldview), which a couple's family isn't necessarily privy to, and they should keep that in mind before putting pressure on a couple.

Also, perhaps a better point which I didn't make in my post, is what if a couple can't have a child? Or can't have one right now? It's not information one generally advertises, and even the most well-meaning relative can cause a couple pain by making inquiries.

But on a different note, Yehuda, it sounds like you and my grandpa would hit it off -- do you live anywhere near Brooklyn?

Aurora Tue. Jun 23, 2009

Hi There is a difference between what is socially acceptable and what people inside your family do. It is not socially acceptable to ask a woman ( or a man) when or if they plan to have children. Nor is it acceptable to ask how much people earn or what they paid for their house. However that does not usually stop grandparents.

Susan Tue. Jun 23, 2009

Age and different generations/histories notwithstanding, I think it is completely inappropriate to ask about someone's (and it's always the woman's) fertility, or lack of it. People can be struggling with infertility issues, economic issues, or issues in their relationship, all of which affect the huge decision to have a child. If a person isn't prepared to help with paying for fertility treatments, childcare or day school tuition, then they really have no business asking about when you will be having children.

Erin Tue. Jun 23, 2009

Ah, I LOVED this post! I am from a different religious background and feel pressure ALL THE TIME about getting married. I always thought it was my cultural upbringing but as it turns out it is others as well. :) And once married, yes kids. When are those kids coming?! It is nobody's business except for the couple. I do believe society has come a long way in refraining but it will still be at least two more generations before everyone knows better. Just think... we can all influence those in our own religious culture and soon it will influence others around us. And ah, what a happier and more peaceful life we can live. :)

S Wed. Jun 24, 2009

I find the culture clash very interesting, I think it’s difficult for your grandfather to understand because the concept of waiting to have a child was never as easy as it is today. Though as a young woman who is married and has a child, I am grateful for the ability to choose not to get pregnant, I think it’s important to see your grandfather point of view. My grandparents also went thru the hell of the holocaust, which our generation can never fully comprehend and they picked up the pieces of their lives and got married and had children even though they sow how evil the world could be. Their world as they knew it was completely destroyed and still they brought children into this world, and thank G-d for that, because if not for their courage and strength to move on and continue the Jewish population, would not be here today!

Ben Plonie Tue. Jun 30, 2009

I agree the question is insensitive, but stating it as a womb thing is saying something else. We know it's your womb but with all due respect, the question of having children transcends the womb. This issue is similar to advocates for abortion rights insisting that it is an issue of a woman's right to choose. A woman has no right to choose, but that is because nobody has that right to choose, not her husband either. The proper response is; 'Complain to G-d'.not me.

This seems to be a common view of women as seen in the similar October 8, 2008 'My uterus is none of your business' by Aliza Hausman, blogging at Memoirs of a Jewminicana

But she has the excuse of not growing up in the Jewish culture. I can't believe that Dominicans are any less nosy than Jews.

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