Unless you are the father of the child, a medical professional treating a woman, or the close friend and genuine confidante of a woman who shares this sort of thing with you, the question “are you pregnant?” is simply not appropriate.
I have no idea why people don’t realise this.
I was thinking about this the other day after talking to my mothers group about the way that we all found out we were pregnant. After my first positive test, I went to the chemist to buy another test to be sure. That one turned out to be a dud so I had to go back again for another pack. I felt the need to explain this to the sales assistant, a guy in his early 20s who looked confused to see me again, and he actually asked me, “So, do you want it to be positive or negative?”
This was the most phenomenally inappropriate question in the world. It was tantamount to asking, “So, will you be having an abortion some time in your near future?”
But it got me thinking about how inappropriate it is to ask women in general about whether they are pregnant or not — something I was asked a lot after I revealed to a select few that we were considering starting to try, but also in general after I hit my late 20s.
I was simply astonished that people seemed to think that this was something you could ask. Yet our culture seems to think that a woman’s reproductive health is everyone’s concern.
So let me break it down to you: the reasons why the question “Are you pregnant?” should be taboo:
1) It is none of your business.
This one’s pretty straightforward.
2) The question assumes all women want children. Under all circumstances.
They don’t. And nor should they.
3) If the woman is trying to get pregnant, and not having much luck, it is an incredibly upsetting topic.
Again, I don’t see why I need to spell this out. And since you may not know whether or not the woman in question is in this position, just assume this could be anyone you know, and move on.
4) If the woman can’t/would have difficulty getting pregnant due to a medical condition, it is probably a sensitive topic, if not an incredibly upsetting one.
5) If she is pregnant, and doesn’t wish to be, you are essentially asking her to reveal to you that she is planning to abort the fetus.
6) If she is pregnant, but hasn’t had her test results back regarding any abnormalities that may cause her to decide to terminate, you are also asking her to reveal to you that that she is planning to abort the fetus.
You are a jerk.
7) If she is pregnant, but hasn’t had her 12-week scan yet, you are essentially asking her to confide to you that she is pregnant before she’s “out of the woods”.
10-20 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, with 80 per cent of those occurring before the 12-week mark. So you are asking the woman to let you know if she loses her fetus, something that she may prefer to keep to herself. Again, you are a jerk.
8) If you are her employer, the whole conversation is loaded.
Some bosses may ask about your plans to start a family as an idle question (again, because our culture seems to think women’s reproductive choices are everyone’s business).
Some ask because they’re fond of you.
And some ask because they’re discriminatory bastards.
Sometimes it’s all three — “unconscious bias” is a major problem in Australia and while the boss may just be making conversation during after-works drinks, with an employee they consider a friend, at the back of their mind they may be slotting the woman into a pigeonhole marked “don’t bother with any future training, she’ll be off soon” or “don’t promote interstate, she’ll want to stay put due to her kids”, etc.
Just don’t ask.
9) The question is sexist. It insinuates that you define the woman, at least in part, with her ability to bear children.
It’s a bit like asking your Indian coworker if he’s eaten any good curries lately. Again, just don’t.
If I’ve missed any, let me know in the comments. But you get the idea.