The Most Common Infertility Question in Ecuador

As we’re down here in Ecuador getting settled and meeting new friends, Ecuadorians are often curious about what led us to decide to come to their beautiful country. They invariably ask us what we’ll be working on here and if we have any children. When we explain that we don’t have any children and why – they almost always ask a question immediately after, in regards to infertility. It’s a a question that I’m not sure we have ever been asked once in the U.S.

They point to each of us and ask,“Which one?”

As in, which one can’t have children?

They do so without reservation.

After we tell them (somewhat awkwardly), they almost always then look at Danny with a little smile of relief. oh my. haha.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a taxi driver, the woman at the fruit and vegetable stand, your neighbor, or a man or woman at a convenience store. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local artist you just met, or stranger you’re sitting next to on a bus, or the owner of the restaurant where you’re eating lunch. It is almost always the follow up question.

We thought it was a little weird the first time it happened. And then it happened the next day, too. And the day after that. At this point, we definitely anticipate the question anytime we are meeting someone new. We then replay the conversation later and chuckle. Though I think their questioning is just due to their emphasis on family here.

Are there any questions that have caught you off guard when you’ve moved to a new city, town, or country? It seems each place has their own cultural norms, values, etc. In New York, the first questions you get asked might be about your career or what neighborhood you’re in. In Boston it seems there is a lot of talk about education. And obviously in Washington D.C., it seems conversations have a lot to do with politics. Any other insights? What do people usually talk about in areas that you are familiar with?

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  1. Ihilani May 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    So interesting! I can just see the look they give Danny. You guys are awesome for being such good sports. Here in Hawaii when we meet someone new we're always trying to make a connection: "What's your last name? Oh…are you related to so-and-so?" or "Where are you from? Do you know so-and-so (and we proceed to list all the people we know from that place)?" Because in Hawaii, EVERYONE is related, so we seek out those connections. My husband and I are distantly related. By knowing the family someone comes from, we know more about that person (sometimes good, sometimes bad.) Example: We recently met a man in his early twenties from Molokai (one of the islands next to Maui). My Dad spent many years there as a child, and once he heard this boy's family name he realized he grew up with this guy's father and played guitar with him all the time. They formed an immediate bond and talked like old friends after that, even though my dad is 20+ years older. It's one of my favorite things about being Hawaiian and being born and raised here – to make those connections with perfect strangers. Lots of times we bump into family we didn't know we had.

  2. ABBY LOW May 1, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I remember when I lived in Brazil as a teenager and I would be in the apartment building elevator (where I lived) and a neighbor would get on the elevator and right along with "hello" or "good morning" would then say non-chalantly "look, you have a zit on your nose!" or "you've gained weight!" The first time this happened I almost died! I was 16 and American and not used to this norm of stating the obvious and being so open. But, then I learned that it was just meant as an observation, not a stab at my confidence or meant to mean. Brazilians were more open and expressive — which was one of the things I loved most about them (and was such a contrast to the anglo-American way). Needless to say, I learned a lot about the latin people and culture and was definitely less shy after my year abroad!

    Glad you two are taking the questions/comments in stride! I'm sure you'll have so many great stories to tell after your experience there.

    • danny May 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      Ahhh yes, Brazil. How I loved that place, the people, and their bluntness. When Mara and I returned two years ago after I'd been away for 12 years, one comment a few told me was "You look fat" I laughed.

      I knew it was simply an observation based on how I looked when I was with them. Back then as a missionary I walked miles and miles under the hot sun everyday and lost a lot of weight (I was 30 pounds less than I am now). So of course to them, I now look fat.

      No offense intended, none taken. Simply an observation of change.

  3. noranicholas May 1, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I'm from Egypt (although I have lived in Canada for most of my life), and find that our culture is much more forthright with asking what are thought to be delicate questions: How much money do you make? When are you going to have children?…that kind of thing. They also always comment on weight – Oh my, you're looking a lot fatter this time! or You look terrible, you've lost too much weight! And it's a funny thing, I don't think that Egyptian people's self-worth is as tied up in their weight or finances as many of the Canadians I've met – perhaps that's why they're so open! My husband has definitely had to teach me a bit of propriety with these direct questions!

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      There is something refreshing about not having worth tied to those things, right? So fascinating to hear how different it is elsewhere.

  4. lanlettie May 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    I lived in Hanoi for just over a year and a half as a teacher. The first question was always "Where are you from?" I'd reply that I was from South Africa, the follow up question was always one of disbelief "But you're not black??". I live in the US now in the Northwest and nobody has asked me that here, ha ha!

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

      ah, thanks for writing in. Too funny.

  5. Mara May 1, 2014 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    In St. Louis, Missouri – the question "Where'd you go to high school?" is usually one of the first asked. St. Louisans like to ask it b/c it helps put you in a group – private school, public school in a good/bad area, etc. So silly! And if you aren't originally from St. Louis and you answer "I didn't go to high school here" 9 times out of 10 – the person asking will just blink at you b/c they don't know where to go from there! 🙂

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      WOW -This one is made me laugh. But I guess that is also a big question from where I grew up in Mesa. Anytime anyone hears that I'm from there they say, "Oh, you must have gone to Mountain View" – it was a school in a nicer area of town and I'm always shocked that they would just assume I went there. It turns out I went to Westwood and I happened to grow up super poor.

  6. Anonymous May 1, 2014 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Must you always answer with an explanation of why you don't have children? You can just say "no, we don't have children."

    • mara May 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm - Reply

      Here they are very forward about asking us why we don't have children. I guess we could tell them it's none of their business. But we don't mind telling people if they ask.

  7. Karen Kimbler May 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    I live here in Ecuador too, and I always get asked if my children are going to come live with me. When we say NO, they do not understand how we can be so far away from them as such a young age (23, 25).
    Also if you ask a question be sure you can take the truth. I asked a lady whom I knit a shawl for if she liked the color… she said, no mucho… pero Lo usaré 🙂

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Yes, I can see they might be surprised by that. It seems the families do all live together for quite some time. Interesting about the blunt answers to questions. haha! I haven't experienced that yet, but I'll think of you when it happens. 🙂

  8. Anonymous May 1, 2014 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    I served my mission in Ecuador and also got the sense people were blunt. I was also frequently told I was fat, or the other missionary I was with. It can be refreshing to have people notice differences but they don't seem to care one way or another — it didn't seem to influence their opinion of me 🙂

    • Anonymous May 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      I also learned to be careful complimenting people's clothes/jewelry/shoes. People will take the item off and give it to you, because they love you and want to show that love. So much to learn from people like I met in Ecuador 🙂

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Loved your comment. And! So true about complimenting people's belongings! We visited Brazil and we visited some friends. Their kitchens were SOOO bright and colorful – everything in the kitchen would be in LIME GREEN for example. I once said something like "wow! I am just amazed at all the color in this kitchen!" And the woman pulled a knitted paper towel holder off the wall and gave it to me. I felt so badly but there was no giving it back.

  9. Christian J May 1, 2014 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    marrying in my mid 20's – immediately moving to NY and having kids (3) landed me this question a lot – "are you jewish?"

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Oh man, thanks for this. That's great.

  10. Natalie B. May 1, 2014 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I am sorry, but I am cracking up about the "Which one?" question. There is something sort of endearing and sweet about it. I don't think if I said it here it would go over as "sweet and endearing though." I had my first five children when we lived in California. The first first four were boys and I swear every time I went to the store people would say, "Trying for a girl? Are you gonna try one more time?" When I was pregnant with my fifth I continued to get the question and when I said it was a girl they acted all relieved that I could FINALLY stop having children….as if I just kept popping them out in hopes that I would finally get that girl. I would just chuckle as well. On my sixth, I just didn't find out what it was ahead of time. Once the baby comes out people don't feel as comfortable saying things like, "Man, I bet you are so disappointed to have another boy." I just think everyone likes to connect and talk to others, and since there were not many people in our area with large families, I was an easy topic of conversation. Love your blog and the inspiration you are to me! Thank you!

  11. SarahN @ livetolist May 1, 2014 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    When I moved to Sydney for university (from Brisbane, the next major city north), people ALWAYS asked me where I was from. I answered Brisbane. What they were looking for was mainly 1. what was my ethnic background, although sometimes 2. what suburb/area in Sydney did I live in, so they could assume my character for that choice.

    My mother almost always asks people (esp my age) where they went to school. She's taught all her life, so I think she finds connections that way. I certainly hope like heck it's not for elitist reasons!!

  12. Alison August May 1, 2014 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    We have one daughter who is 2 1/2 and people are ALWAYS asking about when we'll be having baby number 2. We're trying! But so far no pregnancy. People get quiet quickly when you tell tehm you're doing what you can.

    As for the geographic portion of the question: WEATHER! I live in Winnipeg, Canada. It gets COLD here. Brutally cold – and this year was particularly bad. Summers are beautiful with beaches and lakes nearby to spend long, hot, sunny days at. So we Winnipeggers are always talking about the weather! I love your blog about LOVE. What a marvelous theme.

  13. Anna May 1, 2014 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    Welcome to Latin America 🙂

  14. Lisa {Amateur Nester} May 2, 2014 at 12:06 am - Reply

    So interesting that people feel free to ask you that! I'm loving your blog and look forward to hearing more cultural tidbits.

  15. Michelle Bunt May 2, 2014 at 12:17 am - Reply

    I was in Bali (Indonesia) for a week earlier this year and everywhere I went, I got asked "Why are you travelling by yourself, where is your husband?" When I explained that I didn't have a husband, I was asked, "Why not?" People seemed extremely concerned that I was travelling by myself and genuinely perplexed as to why I wasn't married. I would explain that I hadn't found the right person yet and they would offer consolation by saying "I'm sure you will get married soon" or (if they were male) they would try and proposition me. Cultural norms are fascinating.

    When I was in the UK, Denmark and Sweden, living and working amongst African populations, the first question I would get asked, would be "How is your family? How is your mother and father?" As someone who doesn't have contact with my family (due to abuse) I always found this a difficult one to answer.

    • danny May 2, 2014 at 2:00 am - Reply

      Michelle, the Bali one really had me laughing! That is classic.

  16. RSN May 2, 2014 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Here in Malaysia, its the norm to have multiple kids. My daughter is 4yrs old so I often get asked when the next one is coming. When I say im fine with one, people are shocked. When I go on to say that I was considering a puppy rather than a sibling for her, they are flabbergasted. Its always amusing to see how people react cos till today I have yet to meet someone who was happy with my decision. The day I meet someone who says "yay to one" I think I will be shocked!:) love LOVE your blog. Gives me hope. Thank you.

  17. Alex May 2, 2014 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    We have been in Greece now for six years, but when we moved here I remember parents at school (I am a teacher) asking me very personal questions straight away. Some of thoe involved: "Why are you not married to your boyfriend?", "Why do you not have any kids?", "How old are you?" Sometimes all in succession too… I learned to be less shocked when answering, though my (now) husband and I would spend hours coming up with "fun" alternative answers.

  18. Anonymous May 2, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I have been living in Ecuador for the last decade and I can tell you that I never got used to the prying questions, they somehow offend my need for privacy. As a mother of two girls, I frequently get asked "Where is your son? When is he going to come?" There is an idea here that just having girls is somewhat inadequate. There is also a sentiment that not having children means you will never be fulfilled. I find both assumptions and their follow-up questions to be offensive and downright "nosey". I would answer the "which one" question with a simple "There is no need to worry, we are fine, thank you for your concern". I am also completely tired of cab drivers asking me how much money I make and whether or not I'm happy in my marriage.

    • mara May 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      Wow. you are a veteran here! And holy cow – interesting questions for sure. So far I've had cab drivers ask frequently about how much we're paying in rent – but that's something to be asked about your marriage. ha.

  19. Anonymous May 2, 2014 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    Ahaha, I am Portuguese but I have been living abroad for the last 10 years. I am now 37yo and EVERYTIME I go back to Portugal I get asked the same question over and over again by nearly everyone: are you married yet? when I say no they follow with: why are you still single? Oh my…..

  20. Andrea May 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    I live in North Carolina. We moved here 11 years ago. When we were new, the first question most people would ask was, "Do you have a church?" and then we'd be invited to join theirs. Very reflective of the Bible belt, right?

  21. Anonymous May 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    I found your blog because I was just doing a search on mindfulness and meditation. I think your blog is interesting out there as it is focuses on a very serious/painful topic while still being fun and playful and including beautiful and artistic photography. That's not an easy balance. I am very cynical when it comes to people having children (this is a result of my chosen profession as a child psychologist). On my worst days I often find myself thinking, "I'm estimating only about 30% of the US population should actually have children." These are days when I see the range of parenting styles from highly permissive/entitled (i.e., believing and teaching your child s/he is the most important person/creature/being on the planet) to horrendously abusive. Just yesterday we had a 4 year-old come in who was so severely neglected and starved that he weighed only 22lb. His parents were both gainfully employed and middle class – and, might I add, they both looked to be very well fed. When I hear of couples struggling with infertility where both seem to be psychologically stable, mindful, compassionate, and playful – it only adds to my resentment and cynism – I spend a lot of time meditating/doing yoga to regulate these automatic thoughts and feelings. I don't know you and for all I know you both could be raging pedophiles. However, assuming this blog is a genuine representation of the two of you and your relationship, I think you would fall into that 30% – which is really the highest compliment I could give anyone.

  22. Anonymous May 10, 2014 at 9:44 am - Reply

    This made me laugh – I spent some time in Ecuador a couple of years ago and even as a woman travelling alone, not in a couple, I constantly had local women asking me if I had children. When I answered no, they'd ask why not. I found it difficult explaining that I felt I just wasn't ready to have children (I was only 22) let alone the fact I was single. I fondly remember them shaking their heads at me and the way it made me feel so foreign in their country.

  23. Anonymous May 11, 2014 at 2:08 am - Reply

    I am totally fascinated by this infertility question you get! There is a new book that just came out that explores the stigma of male infertility in the U.S.

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