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Why Asking People How Many Children They Have Can be Harmful

Something I hear when meeting new people after I share that we have a son and a furbaby, is this dreaded comment, “just the one?” Yes. Just one kid. Sometimes it’s this one, “how many kids do you have?” I was asked this question, too, when my miscarriage was happening and we were signing the title for our first ever home. And it is in that short comment or question, I realize this a simple, normal question for people to ask. I also keep my guard up for predators, because that's a reality. Before I had my own miscarriage, I would simply brush off the comment and find something else in the conversation to focus on if I felt safe to do so.

However, within the past few years witnessing this question from other people or introducing people to each other, it makes me cringe. Here’s why.

Colonization has conditioned many of us to see and believe in one type of relationship when it comes to pregnancy, and it doesn’t even include anything postpartum. In expanding my understanding of the full spectrum of birth, it brings up the ideals and conditioning we’ve all been taught in relation to pregnancy and having babies, and it’s one that is not true. Not all pregnant families are binary. Not all women or womb carriers want children. Some womb carriers have complications with fertility and struggle to get pregnant or experience miscarriage. Some have experienced stillbirth (when a pregnancy goes to full term but the baby they birth is not alive when they come earth side). Some families experience infant loss or child loss. Don’t even get me started on the stats among communities of color.

Now come back to the question or comment, “ you just have one kid?” or “how many kids do you have?” It is such a question that seems harmless to those who have never experienced any of the things I mentioned above. But to the person on the receiving end, this could hit a heart string and place that is still full of deep pain and grief. Often times when it comes to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss shame is something that comes up. People react and express shame in different ways. Asking people how many children they have can be harmful.

It is not up to us to carry another person’s emotions or pain- this is true. However, when asking such a question to someone, you best be prepared to take on that load and respond in an empathic way.

So what are ways to get to know people without asking that type of a question? Here is a starting point- ask people about their family vs. how many children they have. It turns the focus not on their womb or a binary expectation of their relations. Instead, it leaves open the space for them to decide how they define family and what that looks like for them. Some people may use the words like “chosen family” over family and approaching it openly leaves room for this. Not all family members by blood are people we relate to or are respectful to our bodies (another result of colonization).

Whether you are a birthworker, community member, or family member meeting someone new for the first time or just trying to make conversation, I hope you keep the following in mind:

  • Please consider all of the above in how you approach learning more about people

  • Avoid making assumptions about people’s bodies and relationships, especially if they have a womb

  • Check yourself and your ideals when it comes to pregnant and postpartum families

Constant Motion Woman (Pearl) is an Indigenous birthworker in northern Mni Sota Makoce. Her focus area is providing Indigenous postpartum, miscarriage, and lactation support. Follow her on instagram @constantmotionwoman.

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