A Questionable Question

Jul 19, 2013

Whether at the mall or on the bike trail, I always arch my neck to see the contents of a passing double stroller.  I’m curious — siblings or twins?

When I see a set of twinkies, I have to stop myself from asking the question that immediately pops into my head:  natural or IVF?*

I hate using the word ‘natural’ to describe conception the ‘old fashioned’ way. It makes IVF by default unnatural. 

That doesn’t jive with the sight of my perfectly normal, 100% amazing baby girl. There’s nothing unnatural about her, and I refuse to think of Peanut as a different “kind” of baby.

I am in awe of parents of twins. How the hell do they do it? Superwomen. For sure.

(I am in awe of parents of twins. How the hell do they do it? Superwomen. For sure.)

Wait. Hypocrisy alert! Then why am I so eager to put other people’s babies into categories?

It’s not actually about the baby. I want to ask the question of the parent, because if the answer is IVF, that’s the “secret handshake” that opens up an entirely new conversation. You can’t wait to sit down and talk war stories.

IVF twins are a sign that they’ve been through the unique experience of ART, just like me. They understand the concept of a bruise-covered ass from 10 weeks of Progesterone-in-Sesame-Seed-Oil shots. They can relate to seeing a four-digit total due at the pharmacy (that’s four digits to the LEFT of the decimal).

She can also probably relate to the complex anger that most infertiles experience, even after they’ve successfully conceived. And in many cases, she can empathize with the agony of a failed IVF cycle, too.

Last month, while garage sale-hopping, I met a very-pregnant woman selling a double stroller. Nodding toward her sizable belly, I asked why she was selling it, because she might be needing it soon (I had no idea if she had any kids already, nor that she was pregnant with twins; I was just taking a shot in the dark). She smiled and said that the stroller didn’t collapse, so they were selling it  in order to buy a better one “before the girls are born.”

My ears perked up. “Twin girls? That’s wonderful! When are you due?” We chatted about due dates for a little while, and the fun of having a late summer baby (read: humidity + 3rd trimester = yuck).

She was so nice, I thought I’d take my chances with the question. “Do you mind me asking, are your twins from IVF?” She smiled and said they were, and I explained that my daughter was as well.

Turns out she was using the same IVF clinic we did, and we chatted about our favorite doctors, giving ourselves IM injections, and how many cycles we went through. I left a few minutes later, but we’ve talked several times since. Having something in common, besides being first-time parents, created an instant connection.

Though I did have one positive experience, perhaps my question is too intrusive.

On her blog, Living on the Ledge, an IVF survivor named Julie said this recently:

The other question that makes my skin crawl is when people ask if my twins are “natural” or if we had them “naturally”. The question implies that there is something unnatural about my children, which really kind of makes you sound super insensitive. My children are beautiful, living, breathing miracles, and they are as natural as yours, even if all you did to conceive them was some rumpy pumpy. 🙂

I can see where she’s coming from, too. But I wonder how she’d feel about the question if she knew it was being asked by someone who just wants to relate to her. Someone like me.

So here’s my question: is it ever okay to ask someone if their twins are from IVF?


*A reader suggested the term “spontaneous” instead of “natural” when referring to old-fashioned conception. I like that, a lot. Thank you, Atlantis! Now I have something to call it that’s a little more dignified. 🙂


About Me

Hiya! I'm Lydia. I live in Iowa with my husband and two children, both the result of iVF. I started this blog in 2011, so everything here's a wee bit... old. I don't do a ton of writing anymore... but I'm leaving the blog up, in case it's helpful for those who stumble across it.

Skip to the iVF

If you're going through infertility and want to see our journey, start in June 2011 (first two cycles) or January 2014 (third cycle). Hopefully reading about our rollercoaster with assisted reproduction brings you a little hope, and more than a few giggles. (Keep in mind that this information is over a decade old in most cases; please don't take anything you read here as medical advice. Consult your doctor for facts.)

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  1. I am 13 weeks pregnant with twins from IVF. I have no problem telling others that they are IVF babies. Sometimes I think I may make other people uncomfortable since I am so open about our story.

    • Good for you, Sara. 🙂 Maybe someday everyone will be so open! I know there are probably more than a few women who are ashamed of doing ART. Me, not one bit! And congrats on your twinkies, I hope your pregnancy continues to go well. 🙂

  2. Hi Lydia!

    Great post – written beautifully!

    I actually think that asking someone if they used IVF is a much gentler, more respectful way than saying, “Are they natural?” It’s simply the word choice that I dislike. But even when people use that choice of words, I still reply openly because I agree with you – connecting with other people who can relate is a beautiful thing. I still don’t like the implication of a question that sounds like my children are unnatural, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night, just something I don’t care for. 🙂

    About six months after I had the girls, my husband and I were seated next to a couple at a restaurant who had their newborn twins with them. I did ask, “Are they twins?” to which the mom looked at me like I was the most annoying person in the world and answered with a short, “Yes.” I got the hint, told her they were beautiful and left her alone. What I wanted to say was, “It’s hard work, isn’t it? It gets easier, I promise. Etc. etc.” You never know what kind of reactions you’re going to get, so I think it’s best to be prepared for the not so friendly responses, too!

    For the most part, people are gracious. and us IVF women take comfort in each other’s battle stories, which I think is wonderful!


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