As I stumble through the door of the fourth baby shower or “sprinkle” I have attended in the last two months, wobbling atop a pair of rarely worn pumps, my eyes dart immediately to the buffet. I survey the landscape and breathe a sigh of relief: there are mimosas. And pimento cheese. Praise Jesus. Five minutes later, I am balancing a champagne flute in one hand, a blue paper plate in the other (It’s a boy, duh), and am trying to use my pinky finger to transfer a Ritz cracker to my mouth when the grandmother-of-the-honoree pauses her dialogue about monogrammed burp cloths, smiles coyly at me, and does the very thing that makes everyone stop their side conversations and lean in. I can smell the question even before she asks it: “So, when will you and John be adding a little one to the family?”

"Pilot"As a woman in the South, I am conscious of the fact that most other women, and even nosy men, want to hear about two simple things: when you’re getting married and when you’re having babies. Southerners celebrate engagements and weddings very well, and we lift up moms-to-be equally as effectively. There’s a reason I buy certain kinds of Container Store wrapping paper in bulk: I know I will be toasting either a new couple or a little peanut sometime in the near future. And no doubt these are good things, worthy of celebration. But there’s a real downside. After two years of marriage, I can sense the people around me getting curious, and perhaps a bit antsy. At this point in my life’s narrative, the audience is so over my Instagram posts of the dog and our most recent grilling adventures on the #biggreenegg. They want to see a big belly followed by a baby. But it is this very eagerness and curiosity that needs to be curbed, and not for my own sake, but for everyone’s.

“Have you thought about kids yet? When are you two going to have a kiddo in the nursery? Have y’all talked about when you want to start trying? Your cousin needs another little one around!”

We need to stop asking these questions. We need to stop making these comments. We need to stop asking women to talk about one of the most joyful, and potentially difficult, processes she will navigate in life. Conception, “trying,” pregnancy, IVF, infertility, ovulation predictor kits, charting: it’s all incredibly personal, vulnerable, even terrifying. To ask of someone when they plan to have a child or start a family is to ask outright–demand even–that they be vulnerable, and as my girl crush Brené Brown maintains, vulnerability requires mutuality. It cannot be coerced. Listeners must earn the right to hear of these delicate pieces of our lives, a right earned not by sharing a laugh over pimento cheese. It is earned over time, through trust, boundaries, moments of honesty, and perhaps a little (or a lot of) Pinot Noir.

But the primary reason we must stop asking about babies is that these questions suggest something that isn’t true about having a child; they suggest that we have control over when and how we start a family, that conceiving a child is always a simple process. Sure, we can pretend with our digital thermometers and our fertility iPhone apps and our “How To Have a Boy” step-by-step guides that we have the power to design our families to our liking, but in reality, we can only manage so much. These proddings, when frequent enough, can lead would-be mothers to look at their bodies and feel without, somehow not as whole, to feel compounded frustration at her body’s timing and perhaps even discontent with her baby-less world.

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During Advent, it seems especially timely to think of what it means for a woman to conceive a child and the amount of power she and her partner have over the process. The Virgin Mary couldn’t have had less control over when or how her family was to start. But she knew the author of her life’s narrative. She knew the character of our God so well that she didn’t pause to fight with Him over how it was all to go down. I can’t imagine that when the Angel of the Lord appeared before Mary and informed her that she was to conceive of the Holy Spirit a baby boy that she replied with, “Actually, my basal body temperature hasn’t spiked. You’re off by a few days.” Instead, she simply replied with, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

I appreciate Mary’s response because it carries a tone of relinquishment and acknowledges her lack of authority over her life. None of us actually has control of much in our lives, except perhaps for how we respond, how we engage, how we are sensitive to others’ narratives. We might not be able to orchestrate the manner in which our families or even our friends’ families are crafted, but Advent is a powerful reminder of what it looks like to respond in patience and expectation to how our lives and our families are authored by God’s design. Meanwhile, Christmas calls us to celebrate the birth of a baby boy who came into the world full of grace and tender mercies, a child authored by God to extend compassion and forgiveness even to those who from time to time might say something hurtful, insensitive, or wrong.