Martha Plimpton on being bugged about having babies

This week’s issue of New York magazine has a short profile of Martha Plimpton, the Broadway actress who you might also recognize from TV’s Raising Hope. At one point, Plimpton describes her frustration at how often she’s asked whether or not she wants, or plans, to have children.

Oh, God, this subject! You’re 40, you’re getting old, your ovaries are drying up. The gynecologist is like, ‘So, are you thinking about it?’ It’s just the question every¬body—no offense—feels like they can ask. Like, ‘So, what are you going to do with your reproductive organs?’

Something tells me that there aren’t a lot of men being asked intrusive questions about what they’re going to do with their reproductive material. Granted, it lasts longer, but the pressure on women to have children is far greater than the pressure on men – which means that women’s reproductive plans are considered fair game for public inquiry, discussion and advice.

It’s no secret that, once a woman is pregnant, her body becomes public property. Strangers feel entitled to touch baby bumps, or ask how far along a woman is, or inquire as to whether she’s having a boy or a girl (why wait until it’s out of the womb to gender it? Put a pink bow or a blue baseball cap on that fetus!). But Plimpton is right that when women hit a certain age and have not yet had kids, their un-pregnant bodies seem to be open for public scrutiny, too.

Tina Fey, who is also pushing 40, writes about the phenomenon in her book Bossypants, saying even thought her parents raised her never to ask someone about their reproductive plans – “You don’t know their situation,” Fey’s mother always told her – people ask her all the damn time. Fey observes that people she interacts with daily, some of whom she barely knows, like background actors on 30 Rock, would ask her all the time about whether or not she wanted a second child (she’s about to give birth to a second child now).

The ear, nose and throat doctor I see about some stress-induced canker sores offers, unsolicited, “You should have another one. I had my children at forty-one and forty-two, it’s fine.” Did she not hear the part about the stress-induced canker sores?

Fey ends her book by embracing the cultural practice of asking complete strangers (women only!) what they’re going to do with their reproductive organs. “Either way,” she concludes, “everything will be fine. But, if you have an opinion, please, feel free to offer it to me through the gap of the door in a public restroom. Everyone else does.”

I suspect that Fey and Plimpton have both concluded that a snappy, snarky response is the only way to deal with this nonsense. One of my favourite books about body image, Real Gorgeous, by Australian comedian Kaz Cooke, takes a similar approach and suggests some witty retorts you can have up your sleeve for when people comment on your body (“You can get a book from the library to explain what shape women are,” or “Strangely enough, I don’t have time to go to the gym for five hours a day. Will I be arrested?”). Her book has a whole list of them, and they greatly improved my adolescent life.

So let’s pool our snarky resources, Feministing community. What are some pointed, witty responses to the inevitable questions about if, when, or whether you’re going to have kids/have another kid/finally become a real woman by fulfilling your biological destiny? Let’s make a compendium in the comments section!

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

Read more about Chloe

Join the Conversation

  • Jen

    VERY soon after I started dating my boyfriend, people began to ask if we were thinking about kids. I once replied to a particularly nosy co-worker: “I’m saving myself for when our intergalactic alien overlords require human wombs to propagate an alien-human hybrid super race.” Strangely enough, she didn’t find this funny…

  • camer

    men are routinely asked about when they plan to “settle down” “have kids”, etc. the pressure is likely greater on women because they have a shorter time to have kids. meh, the different realities create the difference responses from people.

  • Magnolia

    I have been committed to not having my own biological children since I was in jr. high. Now that I’m a married woman, people generally assume that I’m having kids and make comments in that vein: “Oh, just wait til you have children. Everything will change.” Or, “You’ve been married for a couple years now. When are you and your husband having kids?” To which I generally reply that we won’t be having kids. When they are surprised and ask “WHY?!” (as if that decision is their business, and a personal affront to them), I say, “why should I?” To which they usually give me a flabbergasted look and awkwardly change the subject :-)

  • ellestar

    “Well, the ritual sacrifice to Cthulhu takes place during the next major solar eclipse, so we’ll try for a baby nine, maybe ten months before that.”

    • Kait Mauro

      LMAO new favorite comeback.

  • kthree

    When I was pregnant, I thought it was weird that people would ask me whether I wanted a boy or a girl. Not “is it a boy or a girl”, but “do you want a boy or a girl?” I just laughed and told them I didn’t have a choice in the matter– I get what I get. :P

    Once he got out, people started asking if I wanted another one as soon as we got home from the hospital. “HE”S A WEEK OLD. Let me get him started first!”

    • Badseed1980

      At least it’s easy enough to answer the “do you want a boy or a girl” question. “Yeah, why not?”

  • GeekGirl

    “I’m happy you want me to have so much sex, but really is that a topic for the dinner table/wherever we are?” <–what I'm going to say to my grandparents when they start in on me again about kids this summer.

  • Masa

    “When are you having kids?”
    “I don’t know. Would you like to decide for me?”


    “Hey you probably didn’t mean any harm, but I find it annoying when I’m asked about my reproductive plans. I feel like whether I have kids or not or when is a decision for me and my partner. When I get asked, it feels like a social expectation rather than a personal decision.”

  • Quisp

    “I keep trying, but the state keeps taking them away.”
    “When I want one.”
    “When my husband/partner is ready to quit his job and stay home full-time and take care of it.”

    Just a few snappy/snarky responses off the top of my head.

  • Gina Powers

    Try this one: “I can’t have kids; my species eats it’s young/own”.

  • Re DuVernay

    “Babies? I won’t even have a burger, vegetarian, remember?”

    “Oh, I can’t bare children, I have GINK.”

    or this one, only to be used after you’ve told this same person multiple times that you don’t want children and you want to be left alone about it,

    “You’ll know that I’m pregnant when you hear the rumors of my abortion!”

  • Enid Mastrianni

    When people ask me if I have children I reply, “Not that I know of,” with a cheery smile. Freaks’m right out.

  • Teresa Valdez Klein

    For me, these questions are around if I’m seeing anyone – since I’m 28 and single. I try to remind myself that people mean well. Then I act like a good politician and stick to my talking points around focusing on myself right now. People usually accept this just fine – they’re not being nosy, just interested in me and my happiness.

  • josh

    My wife and I have also decided not to have kids and we get hassled with all the same inquiries and suggestions that many others have posted. But I did want to add that men also get the same “intrusive questions about what to do with their reproductive material.” I got my haircut yesterday and could not, for the life of me, get my stylist to talk about anything other than whether or not I would/should be having children. It was a very awkward 20 minutes, and basically turned into a sociology lesson. I imagine women run into this more often, but don’t forget about the guys too!

  • Lindsay

    Great article! Since my partner and I are serious my family has it set out that we will have kids in the near future. We do talk about it, but I’m 23 years old and in no way, shape or form are we financially prepared to bring babies into this world. I love my family, but when my mom does the, “When you have kids…” (insert hypothetical future scenario here) I can’t help BUT get snarky. I get tired of the whole, “When are you guys gonna get married and have kids” B.S. We don’t even want to get married.

  • Stacey

    After leaving the question open for about a decade, at some point in our 30s, my partner and I decided we really weren’t going to have kids. And we’re not. I don’t need to be snarky: when people ask us “why not?” we just tell them that they’re asking the wrong question.

    Having kids shouldn’t be the default position. People should ask themselves “why” they’re having kids rather than “why not?”

    • Automator

      This. Thank you. I’ve never wanted to have kids, about to turn 30 and still don’t want ‘em. Yet people continue to say “well, never say never” as if it’s just one small step from NO to Parenthood.

  • Karen

    After I moved in with my bf 4+ years ago my dad decided it was time for us to have kids whether we wanted to or not. For about 2 1/2 years I couldn’t talk to him without some mention of what a great mom I would be and how I’m his only chance for grandkids (despite that I have 2 biological siblings and a step sibling). Finally I told him about the near-constant migraines I got when I went on the pill (obviously I stopped taking the pill as soon as the dr. told me what was going on) and how the doctor told me that if I ever got pregnant I should expect them to come back. That stopped him bothering me about it pretty quickly. Apparently migraines are a more valid excuse than “I’m in my 20s and don’t want a kid.”

  • Nathan Myers

    One interesting thing about when I get asked (rarely; my partner and I are both young [22], but it does happen) if we’re going to have kids in the future is that it usually means that on some level, I’ve passed for a biological male. [I'm a transman.] Regardless, though, my answer tends to fall along the lines of a casual, “Nah, I’m worried about getting hungry in the middle of the night and eating them.” Or, “No, we’re just fine with our cat and plants. Don’t want to contribute to overpopulation, y’know.”

  • liv79

    Once I got married, everyone asked if I planned to have more kids (I have one from a previous relationship). I always say, “I’ve got one perfect kid, why tempt fate?”

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    When a friend asked if I ever wanted to have kids and I replied I wasn’t interested, she said “Well, accidents do happen” and I said “So do abortions”. It just got a laugh from everyone at the table, including the questioner.

  • Lisa O.

    I have a similar gripe. I DO have kids and I hate it when people ask me some form of the question, “It’s your last one, right?” Well, what’s it to you? It’s none of your business! You don’t babysit for me nor are you donating any of your own calcium to the endeavor. I don’t like to be called a “breeder” either…it’s not anymore funny or pc than being called an old maid or spinster.

  • Rachel Sharp

    Was just discussing this with friends last night…We get a lot of relatives half-jokingly telling us “You’re not getting any younger, ya know”. My response was, “Yeah, that would be impossible”.

  • Zanne

    “oh shit! I knew I had forgotten to do something! Excuse me, I need to go start having unprotected sex. A lot.” Alas, I’m not really bold enough to do that…. so I sometimes go with “well THAT’S a really personal question” and wait for the other person to start looking uncomfortable.

  • toongrrl

    Those people know that just because she plays a 40 year old grandma and mom on tv, doesn’t mean she wants to rear children in real life, right?

  • Sunder

    Ellestar stole my line! That is MY line! ; )

    Depending on circumstances, I have also been known to use “I don’t think I will, I already have enough housepets,” “You’ve got some nerve! You haven’t even made your minimum donation to my childraising fund yet,” and, to the “when” question, “When I can mail-order an eight-year-old to spec.”

    These sometimes get replies along the lines of, “Don’t you like children?” A book whose title and author’s name I cannot now remember, or I would cite it, had the perfect rejoinder to that one: “I like tigers, but I don’t want to live with them.”

  • orguardian

    “When are you having kids of your own?” “Somewhere on the other side of never” “oh you’ll change your mind when you meet the right guy” “fuck that”

  • Joyanna Eisenberg

    I have two kids and am undecided about having more. “Oh a boy and a girl, a perfect pair!” people say. OR “You know you wanna have more!” Actually, I don’t know. And I have an IUD so I have however long I want to decide. I don’t usually have snarky comments for this kind of comment.

    However, when I was pregnant and riding the bus every day, people would often randomly touch me and I do NOT like to be touched by strangers (who does?) so I would flinch, and then say, “OK, my turn! ” and reach for their belly. It surprised people and MAYBE got the point across.