coworkers are joking that I’m pregnant after a couple of absences

A reader writes:

I am a woman (this is relevant information). I have worked in my current office for over 2 years and began shortly after graduating from college. I am one of the younger people in the office.

Last May, I got married. I recently learned from a coworker (female) that three of my colleagues, including my boss, were joking around that I am pregnant. They chalked this up to my not attending an upcoming offsite meeting (I have a previous family obligation); being out for a doctor appointment (an annual physical); and taking one sick day (for a head cold). I was not there to refute them but even if I had been there, I do not know how to handle it.

My workplace is small and has no HR department. What is the best way to handle these kind of remarks? My workplace has a boys’ club feel that seems to encourage that kind of joke.

Ugh, they’re stupid.

It’s pretty likely that they genuinely didn’t mean anything by it and were just being dumb, but it really is dumb.

It’s up to you if you want to address it or not. Personally, I’d let it go unless they say something similar when you’re around, because the reality is that sometimes people make stupid jokes and the best thing to do if you want to be treated as a peer is to have a reasonably thick skin. You’d certainly be in the right to speak up, but that doesn’t mean that you’d ultimately be helping yourself, if it causes them to see you as overly sensitive.

But if they say it in front of you at some point, I’d tell them to cut it out. My wording would depend on the office culture and your relationship with the people doing the joking. Depending on what type of relationship you have with them, I’d say, “That topic isn’t up for speculation” or “Can you guys cut that out? Thanks.”  If they protest that they’re just joking and you should lighten up, reply to that with, “I know you didn’t mean any harm, but joking about women in that way isn’t really appropriate at work.”

You can also enlist the coworker who told you about this in responding on the spot if it happens again when you’re not around.

And frankly, if you know any of these guys well enough and are comfortable doing it, you could also take them aside and educate them on why this isn’t appropriate. You could explain that interpreting women’s behavior through a particular lens just because they’re women is offensive, particularly in a professional context. And you also could explain that joking about someone being pregnant is always a bad idea because you never know if that person might be struggling with fertility issues — or, in fact, might actually be pregnant and not ready to share it. You’d be doing them and everyone else a favor if you’re willing to educate them about this … but it totally depends on your relationship with them and whether you’re comfortable doing that.

{ 213 comments… read them below }

  1. Lexy*

    So, I dealt with this when my husband and I had a super short engagement. I knew several people (acquaintences and coworkers) who gossipped behind my back about it being a shotgun wedding.

    My philosophy at the time was to ignore it (unless someone said something to my face, no one ever did) because the falseness would come out in the fullness of time and saying anything about it would just make me feel defensive and weird.

    YMMV obviously, but I think the better time to speak up is when it’s SOMEONE ELSE being gossipped about. It’s hard to defend yourself graciously in these situations :-/

    1. Steve G*

      If I was a girl this would annoy me more than what the OP posted. I mean, sometimes I see parents and friends nag girls about “maybe your pregnant” in a nice way, because it is code for “I want you to have a baby.”

      However, calling a marriage a shotgun marriage just tarnishes the whole thing and makes a joke out of celibacy, holding out for marriage, or at least a pledge to hold off pregnancy until a formal marriage. These things are very important to alot of people and they don’t want them to make into jokes.

      1. Lexy*

        Steve:

        I think that’s a good point, marriage is a really important step before having children for A LOT of people and joking about it is pretty insulting.

        However in just a bit of defense of my jerkish friends/coworkers the number of people who thought my husband and I were celibate/waiting would be precisely zero. We’d been living together for 5 years… that ship had sailed ;)

    2. Maria*

      Me too, Lexy. A short engagement, coupled with a few dr’s appt for a chronic kidney problem and my boss asked if I was pregnant. It was awkward and really, unnecessary.

  2. Rana*

    This seems to me to be one of those occasions where that useful phrase, “Wow,” accompanied by a deadpan expression, would be helpful. Because… wow.

    How utterly inappropriate of them to joke about that stuff. Co-workers shouldn’t make jokes about another person’s biology and private business; they just shouldn’t.

    1. Kou*

      I think that would be a good path, since objecting is highly likely to be met with the “it’s just a joke, you’re so sensitive” line of crap. It’s hard to rebut “wow” in a way that doesn’t make you look like you’re protesting a little too much.

    2. unsan*

      Interesting… I’m thinking “wow” that the OP is even slightly offended by think. I think perhaps I’ve worked with mostly guys for too long! This stuff wouldn’t even phase me.

      1. unsan*

        Also, I’d watch that co-worker that tattled on the jokers. She’s probably trying to start something.

  3. Kou*

    How is it that there are so many people still who do not understand that this is not cool? You don’t ask people if they’re pregnant, you don’t speculate about it, you don’t joke about it. No matter whether the person you’re talking about is pregnant, isn’t pregnant, doesn’t want to be, does want to be, is trying to be, whatever, you are barging right into one of the most deeply personal part of their life.

    Similarly, don’t ask people when they’re getting pregnant, if they want to, why they don’t want to, etc. File the whole subject under Not Your Business.

    Luckily fate handed me a Golden Ticket on this subject, so if it ever comes up in any capacity I can stonefacedly say “I can’t have kids.” Even though I never wanted kids (so infertility is kind of awesome for me) that really shuts the whole thing down in a rather satisfactory way.

    1. Anonymous*

      You hit this on the money. It is so RUDE to ask people if they are pregnant. It is rude to ask people who aren’t pregnant, rude to ask people trying, and rude to even ask pregnant people. If people wanted to share this information they would, calling people out or falsely calling people out is just ridiculously rude. As a pregnant person, it was SO annoying when I was purposely keeping it quiet early on (due to high chance of miscarraige in early weeks, etc) and a number of people had the nerve to ask me straight out, or to gossip to my family members asking about it when they didn’t even know yet and essentially were spoiling the surprise. People had the nerve to ask me if I was pregnant when my now husband proposed to me, too. What the hell?!! We had been dating for 3 years and were engaged for over a year before getting married. Oh, and god forbid I ever order a glass of water at a bar. There is such thing as being thirsty….

      In sum, do not ever ask people if they are pregnant. It is really never appropriate… and gossiping behind someone’s back about the possibility is also inappropriate. I wouldn’t say anything to your coworkers yet, but if it continues I would certainly call them out, namely saying, “I could be having a high risk pregnancy and not want to share yet,, I could be getting infertility treatments, or I could have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or, I could have just had a family engagement and a physical scheduled. Stop gossiping about my personal life.”

      1. Victoria*

        Ha. So true. I don’t like to drink, but I ALWAYS drink at my husband’s family’s get-togethers, lest everyone assume I’m pregnant.

        1. Kou*

          Haha, last Christmas someone pointed out that an Aunt of mine always announced pregnancy at family gatherings by not drinking. When we realized she’d done that three times, all of us went up and got a drink just to avoid any questions.

      2. Anon*

        Oh, and god forbid I ever order a glass of water at a bar. There is such thing as being thirsty….

        Or get a stomach flu or food poisoning. The only possible reason for a woman of child bearing age to be nauseated is pregnancy.

        1. Grace*

          RIGHT?! I came down with a surprise bout of stomach bug, to the point where I had to run out of my boss’ office without warning. I went home for the day. When I came back to work, I got the “we would have thought you were pregnant except you were drinking a margarita the night before.” My office isn’t jokey about it, but it was obnoxious to have every bit of nausea in the past 7 years assumed to be pregnancy.

        2. Liz in a Library*

          Ugh…I got that several times a few years ago when a medical condition I have (that causes nearly constant nausea) was less controlled.

          The only thing worse than throwing up at work is having people see you do it and then spread the news around the entire building like wildfire.

        3. Anonymous*

          I’ve had issues with dizziness, and a coworker asked “ARE YOU PREGNANT?!” When I said no, she said “BUT WOULDN’T THAT BE AWESOME?!”

    2. Laura L*

      Except then people will probably be overly sympathetic and tell you that it’s just so awful you can’t have kids and blah, blah, blah.

      1. EAST*

        No, they pretty much shut up with the awkwardness of the situation. Foot in mouth, you know? I get asked both questions frequently as I have a large tummy due to medical problems, ironically one that contributed to infertility. It’s just not a subject to bring up.

      2. Stells*

        I’ll agree with EAST here. My husband and I have been married for a couple of years (and living together for over 5 years) so people are ALWAYS asking when we’re thinking of having kids. Early on my husband learned that the best response is the honest one, “Well, she is probably infertile, so maybe never” ends the conversation really quickly (and prevents it from being asked again by that person). If it is a close family member, we might answer differently, but our parents are smart enough to not ask us.

        I think people aren’t really trying to barge into your personal life; it’s just one of those topics that is considered socially acceptable (even though it really isn’t). The minute you make it a personal issue, they suddenly realize how they’ve barged into matters that aren’t their business.

      3. Kou*

        That’s only happened a couple of times, usually people get a horrified look and change the subject.

    3. ChristineH*

      “Similarly, don’t ask people when they’re getting pregnant, if they want to, why they don’t want to, etc. File the whole subject under Not Your Business.”

      +1!! I got that a lot during the first few years of being married. I chose not to have children, and explaining as much made me pretty uncomfortable.

  4. RF*

    Gah, those “jokes”. I got married this summer and young for my country (average marriage age in my country if >30 years ) and now everybody seems to assume I will soon get pregnant, because what else would you get married for? Only I am really not sure I even want kids and have just taken to saying “I don’t want kids”, and it still doesn’t stop.

    Next time I might just scream at them that even if I wanted to have a kid right now that would mean going off the medication for my chronic illness for at least 6 months before even attempting to get pregnant, which would likely result in a very painful flare of that illness – the alternative being a very probably miscarriage, thank you very much. That’s not even mentioning the whole “do I want to take the (albeit small) risk of passing this illness on” thing.

    Seriously: None. Of. Their. Business.

    (Another Public Service Announcement: Wwhen a woman tells you she is not changing her name after marriage, trying to discuss this with her is also not cool.)

    1. Anonymous*

      I tend to use this line:

      “When are you having kids?”
      “When the one I married grows up…..”

      They either don’t get it and shut up or laugh and usually don’t ask again.

      My thoughts are with you on your situation though.

        1. Chinook*

          Liz, I like your response so much better because it does not belittle your spouse at all. after all, why would you have married him if you thought so little of him?

          1. Laura L*

            YES. Thank you. I hate the stereotype that adult men are children incapable of acting the way adults act.

    2. Mike C.*

      “Oh you’ll change your mind about having baaaaaaaaybeees!!” I want to smack people when they say that to my wife. It’s always said in that stupid, patronizing voice.

      Gah!

      1. Andrea*

        I really thought people would stop saying that to me eventually. I am getting older, after all. But instead some people tell me it isn’t too late. This happens much less frequently than it used to, though. Maybe some people are getting clued in to the fact that I was not kidding when I said I didn’t want any, and I knew exactly what I wanted when I was 20 and I know it still, at 35. Anyway, I hope the people saying this to your wife (and to you) will get a clue, too. I don’t think I ever got it more than once from the same person because I never shied away and lied and said “maybe someday” or whatever, I just said matter-of-factly that I had decided long ago to be child-free and that my husband had, too (or else I wouldn’t have married him). I was nice about it, though, and they usually shut up. (I have had several parents—some friends, some strangers–tell me that they’d make the same decision if they knew then what they know now…which is sad.)

        I would be so incredibly offended if someone I worked with speculated about whether I was pregnant, and especially if they did it in front of my boss. I know the best thing is probably to ignore it, but I doubt I would be able to. This kind of rumor can hurt your career, frankly, and I’m not going to have kids and should not have to take a career hit just because I’m a woman and people assume that I would have a kid (or think it might be a fun distraction to start spreading this rumor). If I did indeed become pregnant (hardly likely, since I have an IUD and my husband had a vascectomy), it would be a Major Personal Problem for us to deal with asap and none of anyone else’s business.

        1. Liz*

          Ugh. I get “it isn’t too late” and a lot of awkward comments like ‘You know some women don’t want kids and lots of people think that makes you really selfish but I think it is ok because you must like your job a lot.” At the time I was unemployed, so obviously that wasn’t my excuse :)

          Seriously folks. Just never talk about other people having sex or any consequences that could result… no one will ever enjoy that conversation.

      2. twentymilehike*

        “Oh you’ll change your mind about having baaaaaaaaybeees!!”

        UGh. HATE HATE HATE this

        Yes, because we agreed on not having kids, got married, had a vasectomy, and think having kids in our 40s while living paycheck to paycheck is not something we are prepared to do, BUT one day we’re going to wake up and have an “aha!” moment and decide to get the vasectomy reversed and start trying. People who KNOW this already think we are going to change our minds about having kids. We don’t even have PETS. I can barely keep a PLANT alive. Sometimes you know that parenting is just not for you. Why can’t people just be okay with that?

    3. Diane*

      RF, I’m so sorry. I’m in a similar place with a chronic illness and nasty medication, but I’m older, adding even more risk. It’s nobody’s business. I hate insensitive jerks, especially the ones who “mean well” or are “just joking.”

    4. Mints*

      I just go with “I’m not” in deadpan (for the Are you pregnant). The comments about “You will soon” or “Why not” just shrugs. Then change the topic.

  5. Anne*

    Wow. How completely inappropriate of them.

    I’d like to think that if I a co-worker ever made a comment like that to my face, I’d answer it with “Gee co-worker, you’ve been looking pretty frustrated and depressed lately, having some erectile issues?” just to get across how completely inappropriate it is to speculate on the state of my reproductive organs.

    But I probably wouldn’t, because that would probably be stupid, even if it’s justified. Maybe in a non-professional social situation…

    1. Stells*

      Or just ask if the reason they’ve been tired lately (or any other relevant symptom) is that they have low testosterone.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    I got this from a coworker right after I was married, too. Apparently because my then-boyfriend and I had been together for more than five years at that point and I was over 30, we must be marrying because we wanted some bambinos.

    I didn’t want to have it out with him that this was an inappropriate thing to say. (I also wasn’t worried that my female boss would make assumptions that could affect my career path.) So I just told him “whatever you want to think, dude,” and allowed time to prove him wrong.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Also, my favorite response to the rude question “Why don’t you want a baby?” is “Well, if you could pick one up at the store already potty-trained…”

      1. Stells*

        Sometimes I’ll just respond that I’m overwhelmed taking care of the children I already have: my two Boston Terriers. And that I can’t have kids until they are both dead because they’ll smother the baby out of jealousy. (which wouldn’t happen, obviously, but both makes them laugh and feel uncomfortable because I’m joking about my pets dying).

  7. Janet*

    Ugh. Pregnancy at the office. Whether it’s a reality or it’s not even close to happening, the world needs to realize that you keep your mouth shut about it and when someone does say “I’m pregnant!” you do not respond “I knew it! Your boobs have gotten bigger!” or “I knew it! You look fatter in your belly!” or “I knew it! You haven’t been drinking at the office holiday parties!” (all comments I got) – you simply say “Congratulations!”

    And you don’t guess for any of the reasons that Allison identified. Maybe they’re trying, maybe they’re infertile, maybe they don’t want children . . . either way, no one should talk about it at work.

  8. Just Laura*

    This is so inappropriate. I think being ready with a line is smart, so you’re not caught off guard. Something like, “You think I’m pregnant? Do you know something I don’t?” (Other readers may have better one-liners!)

    1. Judy*

      A calm “Not everyone can always get what they want” response stopped the questions for me. That response was given to everyone except the handful of people who I answered directly. Coincidentally, they would be the only people I would directly ask questions like that to – two friends and two sisters, well, and Mom too. But when they asked me, it was a part of a conversation, rather than “hi, how are you? having kids soon?”

    2. Anonymous*

      Personally I’d go with a joke in reply that would make them not want to raise the topic again. “Don’t worry, if I was pregnant and getting morning sickness, you’d be the first one I throw up on.”

  9. Cat*

    I like “why do you ask?” as a response to overly-personal questions at work. Puts the defensive right back on them in a relatively polite way.

      1. Erika*

        To be fair, “Why do you ask?” only works if you work with people who have a sense of boundaries. Unfortunately, if you work with people like the ones I do (who have little shame or self-awareness), they simply answer with something like, “Well, you’ve been going to the doctor a lot lately.”

        Not that that’s happened to me or anything.

        1. EM*

          That’s when you say, “I have cancer, and I’m dying” and burst into tears, but I’m a little evil.

  10. Anonymous*

    Ugh. It sucks because as a woman, you can’t be sick or tired because you’re probably pregnant, and you can’t be angry because you’re PMSing! Haha! It gets so tiresome to have to deal with that. And if you get “too defensive” about it, then of course they know they are right because why else would you get so worked up over “just a joke”?

    Women can be sick without being pregnant, and they can be angry without having to be on their period. This is a really terrible situation OP, and Allison’s post was spot on. Good luck dealing with your crappy co-workers.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, if I’m frustrated I’m seen as “hard working” or “passionate” about the job. That double standard is really terrible.

      1. Anonymous*

        What are you referring to? I’m confused because I didn’t say anything like that in my post.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If a woman is frustrated, sometimes people accuse her of PMS’ing, as you said. Mike pointed out that as a man displaying the same behavior, he’s seen as passionate or hard-working.

            1. Chinook*

              I have worked in a “female” office where the one guy would sometimes get frustrated at what was going on and someone would ask if it was “that time of the month.” He would smile and nod, which would break the mood. yet, if you were an outsider and didn’t know the dynamics, this could be seen as confusing or dismissive of his issues.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            What bothers me the most about the pms’ing remarks, is that the “conclusions” are easy outs- to avoid real issues. If a woman gets upset over how a project is going- it could not possibly be serious problems with the project- nooooo. It’s because she is pms’ing. That answer lets people off the hook. It’s an easy out.

            1. Rana*

              I once read a great retort one woman gave when her husband was being annoying about her anger as being entirely due to PMS. She pointed out that it’s not that women aren’t angry at other times, but that it’s a lot harder to keep your cool when you are dealing with crap while exhausted and in pain.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                And that would be the point- it is still CRAP. Does not matter, where in the month it is happening. That fact gets lost somehow…

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I do think it sounds like the coworkers were joking in just a dumb manner — I’d probably categorize it as more clueless than truly terrible! (This specific situation, that is, not the double standard more broadly.)

    3. KT*

      Equally annoying – when I run out of eye liner/mascara, or just don’t have time to put it on before work. There’s always at least one person who has to ask me, “Wow, you look really tired, are you feeling ok?”. My response is always, “yes, I’m fine, thank you. this is what my face looks like”. People are always commenting on my appearance, my clothes, my mood, etc at work. I have always thought that these were inappropriate conversation topics, especially at work, but by how often this happens, I must be in the minority.

  11. Mike C.*

    I was just married. Even though I don’t get asked if I’m pregnant, I really feel for the OP. People won’t stop asking “when are the little ones coming?!?” and all sorts of related garbage.

    What my wife and I do in our spare time is NO ONE’S BUSINESS BUT OUR OWN. Why is this rule ignored when it comes to children?

    1. Jesse*

      I’ve used this line on a coworker:

      “So when are you having babies.”
      “Not sure yet, but we’ll have fun trying.”

      He also has a great sense of humor, and as a recent married himself, was asking out of curiosity instead of nosy-ness.

  12. Jackie*

    I’ve been married for a year and I got a disturbingly direct version of this question at work. “Are you pregnant? I can always tell.” My response: a thoroughly baffled expression followed by a brightly cheerful, “Nope! Just fat!” The level of flusteredness after that makes me hope he won’t asking a coworker if she’s pregnant ever again.

    What is wrong with people?

    1. EM*

      Love it! Maybe she really can tell if some women are pregnant, but really, just keep it to yourself and then smile inwardly if you are proven right. Our culture is so weird about issues surrounding pregnancy and family and feminism. It’s okay to ask a complete stranger if she’s pregnant, or rub a visibly pregnant stranger’s belly but even mentioning a miscarriage or infertility is taboo.

      1. fposte*

        It’s not actually okay to ask a complete stranger if she’s pregnant or rub her belly, though.

      2. Rana*

        Honestly, if anyone tried to touch my stomach without my permission, that person is going to lose a hand.

  13. Christine P.*

    “because you never know if that person might be struggling with fertility issues ”

    Exactly. After two recent miscarriages, people joking about my being pregnant would be incredibly painful. (And since something like one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage, this affects many more women than you’d think! Be gentle with your coworkers; you may have no idea that you’re opening a wound.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Last I read, the US is ranked number 32 world wide in its ability to keep babies alive. My standby is to assume every woman I meet has had a miscarriage at one point.

    2. saro*

      This is a very good point. I lost my first in child birth and just had a miscarriage. I really don’t need to discuss this with strangers and a jokes are particularly difficult. I have handled it politely, of course, but I can barely manage a grin when people try to joke with me.

    3. Anonymous*

      It’s actually closer to 2 in 3 pregnancies that end in miscarriage, according to a couple of studies. The majority of those happen before the woman is generally able to tell she’s pregnant – within the first few days or weeks – so they’re a non-event for most people.

  14. fposte*

    The problem here is that it’s not to her face, so the great to-the-face responses don’t work. I’m in agreement that it’s just dumbness and not malice, but you don’t want it becoming a joke–perhaps even a slightly believed joke–that you might not be someplace because you’re pregnant. I’m with Alison–try to get the informant in your corner and hit up a likely sympathetic other for a two-point approach.

    1. Stells*

      In these cases I try to (very casually) insert the topic into conversations with those people without bringing up the “rumor”.

      For example, next time I’m just chatting with them about family, or my husband, I’ll complain about how his mom will not stop asking about when we’re going to have kids. And then just go on a rant about how it’s none of her business and how she doesn’t know if I’ve had fertility issues, miscarriages, etc etc.

      Or I might have that discussion with a friend at work but at the coffee pot, etc, where it can be overheard.

      This requires enough of a relationship with those people to discuss such topics, but it helps spread some awareness. And you have to have the opportunity to do it in a very not obvious way.

      1. fposte*

        I think people goofily clueless enough to make it into an office joke might not extrapolate, unfortunately.

    2. Flynn*

      “…that you might not be someplace because you’re pregnant. “

      I just started imagining this running joke. “Oh, she’s not in the office this afternoon because she’s pregnant”. “Oh, she can’t come and help with the photocopier because she’s pregnant”. “She’s not in the lunchroom/coming up the stairs yet/in the conference call…”

  15. OP*

    Hey guys, OP here. I really appreciate Alison’s response and everyone’s comments.

    What makes it worse (and I really didn’t get into this in the question), is that my husband and I do want kids sooner rather than later, and we’ve already experienced some setbacks and serious heartache in this area. That makes learning about these rumors even more painful. Like others have said: it’s no one’s business but my own. Even if I am trying to get pregnant, it is NOT anyone’s place to joke about it. It’s very aggravating.

    The guys who were joking around are people I have a solid working relationship with too, so that’s unpleasant. If it comes up again I definitely will shut it down. I don’t want to draw too much attention to it right now, as I don’t want to appear too sensitive. I feel like I can’t win.

    1. Kerry*

      I had multiple miscarriages before I had my two kids. After one of them, some weenie asked if I was pregnant, in front of a bunch of executives.

      When I am queen, it will be legal to smack people who ask about reproduction in any way, shape or form. Until then, I think it is fine to look at them with a Hammer of Thor expression and say though your teeth, “You need to stop asking me that.” Then walk away. That was what worked me.

      Good luck. They suck.

    2. Rana*

      Ugh, I’m sorry. I’ve had to deal with similar stuff, albeit from well-meaning family, so I completely understand. *offers hug*

    3. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I am sooo very sorry this is happening to you. Pregnancy is such a tender- tug at the heart strings topic.

      I learned that I would never be able to carry to term. For a few reasons I was able to move through that. I was okay with it. However, I did catch my coworkers joking about me being pregnant. I figured they would figure out the truth later. But it made me realize that this is the way some people approach life. Let’s say I had that kid. Then their next topic would be getting a house, or getting a degree or something. Their habit was to point out the holes in people’s lives.

      If you can, take a minute to see if this is what your coworkers are doing. Are they routinely making assumptions about people? Are they routinely looking at individuals for holes in their lives and pointing out what is missing? (“Oh, so and so needs to find a spouse and settle down.”)

      Maybe in a tiny way this could help change the way their remarks impact you, somehow.

      The truth is, OP, we all have holes in our lives in one form or another. And it is never appropriate to point out to anyone what is missing from another person’s life. Shame on them, I say.

      1. EM*

        I wouldn’t ever call not owning a house, or being single, or not having kids as having a “hole in one’s life”. I think some people have bought into the notion of being married/owing a home/having a family are what adults HAVE to do. Thanks to many things, it doesn’t have to be that way any longer, but some are stuck in the past. Sometimes people are just trying to justify their own choices by making sure everyone they know makes the same choices.

        1. some1*

          + infinity. I am a female single, childless, a renter and in my early 30’s. A lot of people treat me like I’m not really a grown-up and it can be so aggravating.

        2. Lanya*

          I think Not So New Reader just meant the “holes” in one’s life as the ‘next steps that society expects that haven’t happened yet’.

        3. Lanya*

          Thankfully nowadays it’s more and more OK to choose for those “expected steps” never to happen, or to happen out of order, or to be delayed past the “expected” age.

          1. Anonymous*

            It is amazing how often that happens. My now fiance, then girlfriend bought a house last year. After correcting each neighbor about 3 separate times a piece at a neighborhood party, I think only 1 couple caught on that we were not yet married. I don’t know if people are just bad listeners or unobservant (no rings) or just can’t comprehend anyone going through the “steps of life” out of order. I just stopped bothering trying to correct them at that point.

            Fact is, we both had apartment leases ending at about the same time, were planning on moving in together anyways and given the marriage discussions it made more sense to jump in the real estate market when it is really really good for buyers rather than waiting until after marriage when who knows what it will look like.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          EM, exactly my point. People make assumptions about how life should be. Then they look at their coworkers, family, neighbors and talk about how these people don’t fill those assumptions- that is their is a hole in their life somehow.

          Am encouraging the OP that perhaps these gossipy coworkers are those kind of people that just dissect other people’s lives looking for something snide to say. Give the gossips ten minutes they will have moved on to rip someone’s life a part.
          It’s never appropriate to point out to people what they should/could be doing.

          On the other side of the story – the truth is most of us have something that we want/hunger for. It could be a baby. But it could be a parent, a lost friend….. It could be anything- but it’s absence causes our hearts to ache.

          I am dismayed that our society has not collectively figured out that we do not know everything a person is going through and we need to be careful what we say.

    4. Kathryn T.*

      OP, I’m so sorry for your troubles. It sucks.

      I’ve had tremendous luck with this sort of pseudo-joking asshaberdashery by just making people explain themselves. With a puzzled look, say “I don’t get it.” And keep saying it. “Oh, come on, it’s just a joke.” “OK, but I don’t get it, can you explain it to me?” “Well, because you were gone that day.” “Yeah? But I don’t get it.” “And you had that appointment, remember?” “Yeah, I remember, but still, I don’t get what you mean.” “Well, it just seems like you’ve been gone a lot.” “I didn’t think you were in charge of keeping track of my PTO? and anyway, I still don’t get why this would mean I was pregnant.” “It was just a joke!” “I know, you said that before, but I’m afraid I simply don’t get it.”

      If you make them bear some of the awkwardness of their inappropriate behavior, I’ve found that they’ll stop sooner rather than later.

      If you can’t manage that level of insouciance, though — and given your followup, that would be understandable — you can also just look them straight in the eye and say “That is SO inappropriate. If you need me to, I’d be happy to explain why.” And if they take you up on that, just tell them that your medical history is none of their business and their continued violations of your privacy are making you uncomfortable, and that this conversation should serve as official notice that you want these comments to stop. Then document the heck out of it just in case.

      1. Anonymous*

        I have gotten much better results just being direct with men in testosterone-heavy environments. Sometimes, a gruff and angry, “Knock it off, assholes, and get back to work” is more effective than the stereotypical female tendency to think about the offender’s feelings and carefully word a response designed to evoke a particular effect.

        I also find it extremely demeaning to “play dumb,” as you’ve suggested. It evokes stereotypes about women being stupid or too sensitive. I know many women who prefer to act like they don’t understand something rather than standing up for themselves – and I’ll admit that in the short term, it works and lets them avoid conflicts. In the long term, they have to keep playing dumb over, and over, and over – whereas I come off as a bitch right away and get a lot less people mouthing off to me in the future.

  16. N.*

    Last few weeks we have discussed abusive situations and then I read this today.

    When I was in college I had a professor that phoned a frequently absent woman to advise her of her status in the class (since the withdrawal deadline was approaching) and her husband answered the phone, said he would pass on the message. When she came the next day to withdraw from classes she was wearing dark glasses, and she explained to our professor that while she would have liked to remain in his class, her husband was upset a man had called for her at the house, and had subsequently decided that college was expanding her mind too much.

    People joke about this, but I remember a girl cousin who scandalized our family when she received news she’d been placed in a coed dorm her freshman year. Her parents went ballistic and threatened not to pay her tuition until she straightened it out with college housing. I overheard my parents on the phone with them, and then they came to me and told me that “[I’d] better know not to pull something like that,” and made me show them my single sex dorm housing assignment. Didn’t matter/help that I was 17, and didn’t change a bit when I turned 18. Nothing changed until I was married at 29, though I had graduated and had been providing for myself for several years. Sometimes people come from an extremely conservative background. Sometimes what seems an innocent remark can get someone else in a lot of trouble. For the record we do not come from a family of religious fanatics, or some weird cult, my family has been in America since before that territory became America, which I have explained in the past (whether or not I wanted to) to people who assume the above.

    If anyone had even joked about me being pregnant before I was married, I would have been in big trouble with my family, because even if this kind of joke was unfounded (it was) there was always suspicion that I must be behaving in a licentious way to provoke such comment. Those occasions when I have pointed out such speculation can harm others, and wondered aloud why people that I ordinarily respected would say such things, I was met with hostility. Apparently they could not entertain the idea that it might be rude.

    Right or wrong, I know people who would go to jail to defend their daughter’s/sister’s/wife’s honor, and don’t give a darn that “this is America” (they are American) and that “isn’t how it is done around here” or that the female in question has an MBA or whatever. On the other hand I frankly cannot envision a scenario where people gossiping like this could be anything but mean – spirited. Perhaps I lack vision.

    Next question, if joking about a woman’s pregnancy status in the workplace implies promiscuity, or perceived sexual immorality does it constitute sexual harassment? Dare I venture a guess that it might?

    1. N.*

      By the way MY comment was in no way to imply ANYTHING whatsoever (just remembering the “my husband resigned for me letter” from a few days ago) about the OP’s situation, just that nobody ever knows or could have any idea about another person’s home life, and when in doubt should refrain from saying something that could be hurtful. I forgot about my friend who had to have a complete hysterectomy at age 21, and the comments that she would get about her marriage (why did she even GET married if she wasn’t going to have kids). Of course she was just deviant, and she never felt the need to dignify that kind of question with an explanation, despite everyone’s mystification and confoundment and regardless of the frequency which it was asked. OP I feel for you. Keep your head high regardless of what you choose to do in your situation.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be illegal, harassment has to be “severe and pervasive.” I don’t think joking about pregnancy would rise to that level, even if in specific situations like yours it could have very different ramifications than it would normally.

      1. N.*

        Thank you for your reply, I think the last company I worked for had stricter policies than what was required by law, because if someone felt harassed even once (about anything), or a manager suspected something untoward was happening, it was handled immediately. After two instances, HR was contacted even if there was no complaint. This put people at odds on more than one occasion since they were sometimes questioned by HR about things that they did not think were of consequence, and incidents they could not even remember happening to them. You remind me though, that was probably just one “zero tolerance” company, not the rest of the world, and from the sound of things not the OP’s place of work where she said the “boy’s club” attitude was encouarged.

  17. Susan*

    Options (in order of difficulty):

    1.) Ignore.
    2.) Drink alcohol or talk about drinking alcohol in front of them.
    3.) Tell them you are pregnant and then fake a miscarriage, get a couple sick days out of it.
    4.) Get pregnant so you can take maternity leave to get away from them.

    1. Stells*

      #2 FTW! I always drink tons of coffee, and, without sounding like I’m still in college, talk about drinking on the weekend with my husband (and/or always order something with alcohol during a company happy hour).

      If asked, one of my stock answers (in addition to the two I’ve mentioned in other comments) is that I don’t know because I can’t commit to a year (or more!) of no alcohol or caffeine…which may or not be true :o)

    2. Kimberley*

      As someone who has experienced a real miscarriage I find your suggestion that someone pretend to experience one to be very insulting. Please don’t ever joke about things like that. Unless you have actually experienced the loss of a pregnancy/child you have no idea exactly how hurtful those comments can be (even when made in a joking manner). I’m even more hurt that a woman would make such a suggestion.

      1. Yvi*

        “Unless you have actually experienced the loss of a pregnancy/child you have no idea exactly how hurtful those comments can be (even when made in a joking manner).”

        Even then, just because one person who has experiences with X can laugh about X does not mean it’s not hurtful to others.

  18. DMP*

    I had a lady in my office state she could always tell when someone was pregnant and is never wrong. She told my other coworkers shortly after I had gotten engaged that I was glowing and definitely pregnant. Umm no… just happy we’re engaged at 7 years of dating while finishing school, getting a house and building our careers… but thanks! I had people giving me looks and questioning me for weeks. So annoying!

  19. Becca*

    This post came at a good time for me. The same thing happened at my office as well. I was sick for awhile and one coworker kept joking that I was pregnant, in front of many other coworkers. Long story short, earlier this year I found out that I have about a 10% chance of getting pregnant. Obviously my coworkers don’t know this, but hearing that joke every other day is very painful. Bottom line, dont make stupid comments.

    1. Stells*

      I feel you. I have issues that will make it very difficult for me to get pregnant if/when we start trying too. Luckily, I’m in a place where I can joke about it, so if someone is really annoying about it, I’ll just tell them that I probably wouldn’t be able to have kids even if I wanted to. It shuts them up, permanently. But not everyone is able to joke about it.

      Good luck with dealing with horrible coworkers!

  20. AC*

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing out the fertility issue.
    My husband and I have been trying to conceive for over a year and have been seeing a specialist for 6 months and the comments from coworkers (particularly since other coworkers were getting pregnant left and right, just another knife in the gut) about when I was going to get pregnant were awful. I finally ended up telling a number of people at work about it because they needed to know how their comments were making me even more depressed and angry than I already was. Comments like that to a woman already pumped up on a ton of hormones are incredibly hurtful and just an all-around bad idea.

    And for the OP, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. I actually felt a huge sense of relief when I started telling some of my coworkers (particularly my boss) about my struggles, but I’ve been at my job for over 5 years so I felt OK with that. But don’t feel like that’s advice for you if you’re not ready (now or ever).

    1. Anonymous*

      Yeah, similarly its just as hard hearing about someone else’s pregnancy at work when you are in this situation.

      I feel luckily in the fact that my husband is the one having fertility treatment (so my hormones aren’t an issue) but I’ve spent the last 6 months wincing as a coworker got multiple daily questions about their partners pregnancy and then the new baby.

      Drove me mad (especially as the rest of the department seemed to stop working and crowd round to ‘coo’ whenever it happened).

      My thoughts with anyone else facing this.

  21. Some European*

    A while ago I was at a store with my sister, she was going to look somewhere and I was watching my little niece who just got asleep in her wagon for a moment. Suddenly a middle aged women approaches me and says something like “Oh isnt she lovely?” I was baffled and just said “Ahh yeah.” which made her continue talking.
    Somehow she must have felt the need to encourage me being a proud “father”, which even more weirdly worked somehow on me. I guess this is something from stone age deeply ingrained into our DNA to help humanity spread, even though its totally inappropriate to approach unknown people like this.
    Now for those caveman coworkers it means this would be Big News for them as back then in stoneage they would have had the need to start bringing more food for the group, so they feel the need to anticipate such a situation. This means such annoying behavior will not go away automatically and they probably need to be specifically trained to stop this.

  22. Anonymous*

    It never ends. I have two kids and a newish co-worker said the other day, “I noticed you’ve been craving a lot of spicy foods lately. There isn’t anything exciting happening, is there?” This is because I inhaled a box of Hot Tamales at my desk. (Because it was 3 p.m. and sugar called).

    REALLY?

    1. Bridgette*

      A single box of Hot Tamales and that equals “craving a lot of spicy foods lately”? Yeesh. Also, Hot Tamales – yum.

    2. Mike C.*

      Hot Tamales aren’t even that spicy.

      I would love to respond with something like, “I notice you’re really interested in my private life, could it be that yours just isn’t that exciting anymore?”

      1. fposte*

        Yes indeed. I’m really appalled by all these reports. Honestly, the reason not to inquire about somebody’s pregnancy isn’t that she might be infertile, it’s that it’s none of your damn business what’s happening in her reproductive organs.

        I’m grateful that I work with largely unintrusive folks who seem willing to take news when people are ready to give it and not go hunting for it.

  23. Bridgette*

    I really hate any kind of joking or speculation about pregnancy, even if it’s just done out of ignorance. I feel for you, OP. My husband and I are going through a similar situation so I cringe every time I get those comments (from anyone, not just work). I was also very bothered when one of my female coworkers went on maternity leave, and male coworkers kept asking me if she was going to come back after the baby (we were somewhat close). Even after I told them that first, it’s none of their business, and second, if she said so, then she would, they would not believe me and asked every few weeks.

  24. Ivy*

    This post and comments really opened up my eyes. I’m a woman myself, but unwed and still young enough not to be asked pregnancy questions. While I have never made, nor would I ever make, such comments, when I first read the question, my thought was, “what’s the big deal?” Other than the fact that the coworkers were commenting on OP’s personal life, which isn’t appropriate for the work place, I didn’t see why the particular pregnancy comments would be so frustrating. After reading some of the comments though, I can see how hurtful they can be to someone having trouble with this part of life. Generally in life, we shouldn’t make comments that can hurt, I just think that a lot of people (including myself until recently) don’t realize comments relating to pregnancy have the real potential to hurt….

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Even aside from the possibility that someone is struggling with infertility, this kind of speculation can have a real impact on a woman’s career — with sexist managers assuming she’s not focused fully on work, might be leaving the workforce in the near future, etc.

      And there’s also just the general principle that a lot of people are uncomfortable having their reproductive parts the subject of speculation in the workplace.

      1. Ivy*

        Yes, I suppose its things like this that make that define the glass ceiling… I think I’m still too early in my career to have noticed the impact on myself, but I’m sad thinking I can be limited by something like this.

        1. Bridgette*

          It is sad, but it helps you weed out the good managers from the bad. At my last job, it was made VERY clear to me that the company-wide culture was that women of child-bearing age were expected to quit and not come back after the first kiddo. So I got out of there. I still get some of that BS from random individuals at my current workplace but it’s isolated, so I don’t feel pressure like I did at my last job.

  25. Anonymous*

    I had one co-worker who as soon as I got married a few years ago started asking me all the time when I was going to have a baby. Well, it took us more then a year to do so. I had my kid about 5 months ago and the other night she asked when I was going to have another. My poor baby can’t sit up yet but she’s already old news!

    Other coworkers apparently decided that I didn’t want my pregnancy because I lacked enthusiasm when I announced it! I had to announce earlier then I wanted to because I had morning sickness bad enough to require prescription medication so I could drag my sorry butt into work. I think they were comparing me to someone who used to work there before me who had filled everyone in on her fertility plans step-by-step.

    So what I am saying is everyone mind your own business. What difference it makes to people in the office when/if their coworkers reproduce makes no sense to me. I love my baby. She doesn’t go into work with me so they never see her anyway.

    1. Tiff*

      I’m familiar with the “so when’s the next one coming?” story….I was being wheeled up to labor and delivery to birth my twins, and upon learning that I was giving birth to 2 girls the nurse immediately asked me when we would try again for the boy.

      She almost lost her life that day.

      1. Anonymous*

        I would have complained definitely. UGGH. I have a girl too and everyone asks if my husband is “disappointed.” WTF? He’s over the moon!

      2. N.*

        This is getting juicier by the post, since I never yet had kid one, I had forgotten that even then it does not stop, that sometimes it has to be a certain gender or a certain number to earn a reprieve. I am at the conclusion some people are just sick, and never happy with what you do.

  26. Heather*

    I always tell people that I have had a tubal ligation so I can’t be pregnant. ;)

    Which is actually true – I had it done at a very young age. Yup I’m that person. :P

  27. Hannah*

    I don’t know what it is about being a woman of child-bearing age and this topic! In TWO separate offices now, after calling in sick for ONE DAY, I have come back to co-workers asking me if I am pregnant or, “Is there a possibility you might be expecting?” No, dude, I have a freaking sinus infection. And if even if there was, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

    MYOB!

  28. Erika*

    The people at my work used to do this to me all the time, and to my face. Any time I had a doctor’s appointment (for a while I was seeing a therapist once a week), someone would make a crack to me about how I must be pregnant. At first I just let it go, because most of the people making these jokes are elderly and meant it in a nicer way than I was interpreting it (or so I kept telling myself), but finally one day I snapped and told an 80 year old man that the state of my uterus was no one else’s business, and if I had something to tell, I would.

    It made telling everyone that I’m now pregnant (about eight months after the above incident) so much more fun. :)

      1. Erika*

        Thanks!

        The funny part was that for all the time people around work spent guessing I was pregnant when I wasn’t, no one noticed when I became so, despite how sick I’ve been. There are some people who still don’t know!

  29. Tiff*

    People are nosy, inappropriate, often rude and don’t know that they’re crossing a line until it’s 10 feet behind them. Fortunately, almost all humans are afflicted in the same way, and although we strive to be polite every single one of us has offended someone. It’s part of the human experience, which fortunately has not been totally wiped out by a business setting.

    The funny thing about it is, I’ve made some real connections – and seen some real connections made – when people venture outside of “strictly approved” work conversations. Women who share information about anything from infertility issues to breastfeeding advice. For some reason, we all seem to think that there is a list of rules and topics that are strictly forbidden to discuss at work, and to do so is to commit a horrible crime. In reality each person has their own limits. Limits that are not set in stone, but rather harden and relax according to what life has thrown at us.

    I would suggest, if you know that the folks who are gossiping are not ill-intentioned, but just nosy/inappropriate…cut them some slack and if someone asks just give them a cool, “Nunya”.

    1. Erika*

      I’ve noticed, though, that when people DO make those connections, they rarely start out with an inappropriate joke. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

      1. Tiff*

        I think it depends on who is doing the joking, how well they know the jok-ee and what either side is coping with. Some people use humor to cope.

        1. Erika*

          I guess the point I was attempting to make (and failing) was that these jokes aren’t really inappropriate when they come from someone who doesn’t creep you out or annoy you, or whatever. :)

  30. BCW*

    I’m a man, so I’m sure I’ll be labelled sexist for this, but is it REALLY that big a deal that they are joking about this? Again, if they aren’t being malicious, it doesn’t seem that big a deal. I think you shouldn’t necessarily tell someone how they should feel about something, but at the same time, I think looking at the intention behind something is a something that should be done.

    Here’s an example. I’m the only single guy in my office, so people know I enjoy going out for a few drinks. Well, the 2 times this year that I took a sick day, when I got back, people joked that I was probably hungover. Is that inappropriate for the work place? Probably. Did it offend me? Absolutely not. Now maybe I just have thicker skin, but it just doesn’t seem like that big a deal since I know they are joking. There was a time though at a different job when it wasn’t a joke, and someone who didn’t like me too much decided to imply to my boss that the reason I didn’t come in was that I partied too much. The boss told me because she thought I should know what people were suggesting. In that situation I absolutely confronted the person. Again, to me, it came down to the intention behind the comments. Now I get that in my situation, the joking about a “protected class” as women are, but its still taking a bit of information they know (I enjoy hitting the bar on occasion) and assuming that is the reason I’m not in.

    Another question. Would it be considered just as offensive if it was a group of women saying it? I honestly don’t know this. It is possible that some people would be just as upset. However, I think this is one of those things where you do differentiate your reaction based on the audience.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The difference is that assumptions about women’s child-bearing decisions have a long history of being used in a way that harms women professionally. (Plus the insensitivity to possible infertility issues that others have raised, as well as the fact that people’s uteruses really aren’t up for others to speculate on.)

      I agree with you that it’s not intended maliciously. But it’s still not cool.

      1. Jill*

        BCW, The difference is, with a pregnancy joke the “joker” is touching on a woman’s health, her physical appearance, her faith beliefs (chastity, marriage before children) and her sex life. Those areas are far more personal and should remain private – unlike joking about getting a little to drunk.

    2. Rana*

      Having men discuss the state of your sex life and genitals (which is what making jokes about pregnancy actually is, whether the jokers realize it or not) is particularly gross, but it’s not much better than when women do it.

      To put it in perspective, imagine living in a world where every relative of a certain age asks you, at every major family gathering, if you’re going to get drunk today. Imagine every boss giving you a nudge-nudge, wink-wink whenever you have a headache or feel barfy from the flu. Imagine doctors ignoring your requests for medical help with comments like, “Oh, you’re young, of course you like partying, what’s the problem?” Imagine employers looking you up and down to see if you’re likely to be out for several months recovering from alcohol poisoning. Imagine people assuming that you only got married because you were drunk at the time.

      And so on. Unless you’re female, you have no idea how much of this crap we have to deal with on a regular basis; thus, while one little round of jokes may not seem like a big deal on its own, it’s really one more unwanted straw on a very tired camel’s back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’ll also add on to this: Imagine this all happening because of the 50% of the population you happen to belong to (not because of anything you yourself have said or made known about yourself).

      2. BCW*

        Fair enough. But trust me, even as a single guy in his early 30s, the amount of questions from family, friends, and co-workers about when I”ll settle down, get married, and have kids does come up. I guess I just don’t take it as offensive malicious. Its people who I think literally want what they think is best for me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not to keep hammering this point, but these same issues for women have traditionally been used to push them on to certain paths and deny them certain choices. So it has a different subtext to it for many women.

          1. fposte*

            One of the things that crossed my mind, in reading the question, is that it comes up specifically because the OP’s absent. I’m don’t like that correlation of pregnancy=not being there to work, and I’m hoping that this superficial dumb stuff isn’t a sign of something bigger.

    3. Bridgette*

      To me it would be just as offensive if a group of women said it, because, as Alison pointed out, my reproductive history is not anyone’s business, male or female. I even get bothered when family members pester me about this.

    4. BCW*

      I also want to point out, that I do have sympathy for anyone who is trying and having fertility issues, so please don’t think I don’t.

      I’m just saying that I’m sure many of us has made a passing comment about someone (friend, co-worker, etc) without knowing what they are going through. So while this is a particular issue, I think the way you are taking things vs. how they are intended can be applied to anything.

      Even little things like saying you had a crazy customer could be taken very personally by someone who is seeing a therapist.

      1. Mike C.*

        Sure, we’ve all put our collective feet in our mouths from time to time.

        But the point here is that while malice isn’t intended, we should respect the fact that it’s a sensitive issue for others because clearly it is. We might not understand or be able to directly relate, but we should have the empathy to say, “Ok, this is sensitive topic and from now on I’ll be more aware if the issue comes up again”.

        It’s not useful to excuse concerns with a “well it wasn’t meant to be harmful” type statement. If someone says that what you’re doing hurts them, you should generally stop. That’s all it boils down to.

        1. BCW*

          I agree. As I stated below, if someone is told that something they said was hurtful or offensive and they don’t stop, I think thats a problem. But you shouldn’t just assume they are insensitive because they truly may not realize it was offensive.

          You could have 2 hispanic women from california take the same statement in very different ways. So if I’ve made a joke and they didn’t have a problem with it, its not really “fair” to me to know how someone will react

        2. fposte*

          I think that works in some areas, but not in all. For many subjects, including reproduction, the default is that you *don’t* get to make the joke (and maybe eventually you grow close enough to realize it would be okay now), not that you get to make the joke (and stop when somebody complains). While you should definitely stop if somebody objects, the absence of objection doesn’t mean it’s wise or okay to joke about traditionally inappropriate areas. It’s our job to learn the boundaries ourselves, not to rely on other people to identify them for us.

      2. Kerry*

        “I’m just saying that I’m sure many of us has made a passing comment about someone (friend, co-worker, etc) without knowing what they are going through.”

        Exactly. Most of us mature and realize that we should be more careful with our passing comments, for precisely that reason.

        When you are in the middle of a miscarriage and someone asks if you look sick because you’re pregnant…that’s not cute. The fact that the person didn’t mean to be a weenie does not make it easier.

        That’s the whole point here: Pregnancy is fraught with all kinds of “I didn’t know you were going through that” possibilities. That’s why it’s an area that you should never make any passing comments about, ever. That’s how it’s different from joking about a hangover—because hangovers aren’t connected to as many heartbreaking things that go on behind the scenes.

    5. Stells*

      I think it’s a BIG deal for most of use because we consider our fertility and family planning to be pretty private. The hangover comments could be offensive if, say, you never drank and/or if they were more than just a couple times a year. Or if you were recovering from alcoholism and had been sober for years, but they were making those jokes. Also, imagine if people assuming were constantly making jokes or assumptions about whether you have low testosterone or ED.

      Mostly, though, it’s the frequency. Once two straight people get married, everyone thinks that they need to know when they will procreate. It doesn’t stop there, because once you GET pregnant they want to know everything (are you doing C section or natural? Breastfeeding?) plus they all want to touch your stomach (if/when you start showing). It’s this constant invasion of privacy that is not appropriate ever, but especially not in a professional environment.

      If it was once or twice a year, most women wouldn’t care so much, but it isn’t. Plus it has a tangible effect on our careers. Managers who think you might get pregnant soon (even if it’s just because of gossiping coworkers) will be less likely to promote you because they are afraid you’ll just get knocked up and leave. Very few people, if anyone, is denied a promotion because they get asked if they have a hangover when they come in sick a couple times a year (assuming it’s not frequent and you’re not hungover).

    6. Lexy*

      It’s still offensive when women do it. I’ve actually never had a man comment on the state of my uterus… it would for sure gross me out and maybe in a slightly different way than when women do it. But all the comments about baby-making to me come from women and they almost always make me want to punch them in the face.

      exceptions: close friends in private making general inquiries into when/if we want to have kids. In a non-judgey, just curious about my friend’s life-plans way.

      Good response for those who need to use it:
      “Not pregnant, but I’m sure practicing a lot. Care to hear how last night’s workout went?”

      1. BCW*

        Another interesting thing to why many people, especially guys don’t see it as bad, is that we hear women joke about it. 2 easy examples from my past.

        #1 In college whenever a girl would go to our med center for anything (sprained ankle, sore throat) the first question was a variation of “are you or could you be pregnant”. It became a running joke among anyone who went there. I went to a big state school, so I encounter lots of women who have had that and laugh about it.

        #2 In the last year my office has had like 3 women become pregnant. Due to our office being re-done, there was a lot of desk movement. One desk became known as the pregnancy desk (a term coined by the women who sat there and got pregnant). Then they would always joke if someone was sitting there for even a minute that they were going to get pregnant.

        So these are just 2 experiences where hopefully some of you who are more vocal about this can see why to others (especially guys) we may genuinely not know that this is so bad to joke about.

    7. fposte*

      This is the kind of thing where not having a bad intention isn’t good enough. I mean, geez, it’s not okay to ask people you work with about their genitals. This isn’t rocket science, it’s not a newfangled PC rule, and there’s no excuse for not having figured it out.

    8. N.*

      You make an interesting point about drinking, you say it doesn’t offend you if folks at the office joke that you missing work = hungover, because there was no malice behind it.

      You wouldn’t be a wee bit unhappy, if after hearing this, your boss suddenly decided you aren’t ready for more responsibility/raise/promotion because everyone at the office seems to think you ditch work to nurse your after-rager wounds?

      Sometimes that happens to pregnant women, or women simply rumored to be.

      Just a thought.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, this is exactly the problem. Women who get pregnant are frequently assumed to be not that interested in their jobs, gonna quit after the baby’s born, etc. and just the RUMOR of pregnancy can harm their chances of promotion. Sad but true.

        In your example, in real life you’d probably have to be stashing liquor in your desk and being drunk at work in order to affect your chances of promotion, though. Because men get more leeway about almost everything, especially if it doesn’t permanently affect their bodies and the drinking is happening while you’re not at work.

        1. BCW*

          Yes, you are right. Point being either way you are making assumptions about what people are doing outside of work and then joking about it. I see that I’m not going to “win” this argument. Again though I’m just saying everyone says things at times without knowing what is going on in peoples outside lives. It happens. Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to differences in sense of humor. Now I will agree that if someone is asked to stop and they don’t, its different. But many guys don’t get that its that big a deal. So be as mad/hurt/whatever as you want, but sometimes you just have to realize everyone doesn’t know everyone else’s past and on occasion people may be unintentionally offensive.

          Also, I don’t know that men get more leeway about everything. I think it is one of those things that if you are on the other end, you see things in a ways that aren’t necessarily true. Historically, yes. But I’m black and I don’t necessarily think that in general white people get more leeway. I know it can happen, but I don’t assume that to always be the case.

          1. fposte*

            The thing is, speaking generally, it’s not always simply a taste call–some of those different senses of humor are inappropriate, especially in the workplace. Some of them contribute to pervasively hostile environments. Some of them are just plain schmucky, because the joke-maker is siding with people in power when their victims are right there. So “different sense of humor” is sometimes used as a Get Out of Responsibility Free card akin to “I was only joking.” As an adult, we’re obligated to understand that our enjoyment of a joke isn’t enough to make it acceptable and consider its effect on other people. Which isn’t too tough, and it’s something most of us manage most of the time, so it’s not a big deal to expect it of one’s colleagues.

          2. N.*

            BCW, I think you are better off for having a win-win, forgive and forget, water off a duck’s back, and thick skinned. If I had refreshed in time to see that others had beaten me to the punch I mightn’t’ve written, didn’t mean to gang up on you!

          3. Lamb*

            From the first time a child wanters up to a plump stranger and asks if she has a baby in there, someone has been telling them it is rude to ask women if they are pregnant. This isn’t like heights, where plenty of people are ok but some are terrified and you couldn’t guess beforehand; this is a running chainsaw- a few people might juggle them, but most people don’t want one coming at them.

    9. Erika*

      I think this may be the kind of thing that is difficult to understand until it starts happening to you. I never thought this type of thing would bother me until my coworkers started asking me at least once a month when I was going to start procreating (shortly after my husband and I married). At first I told myself that since a lot of them were older, they were just taking an interest and speaking from their experience.

      When I started seeing a therapist for situational depression once a week, though, they really started teasing, and I became truly obnoxious. What I found most offensive was the idea that this intimate part of my life was just up for public consumption.

      Now that I am pregnant and have begun telling people, it’s gone into overdrive. While I know most people are not malicious when they ask about my pregnancy or tell me how big I look or tell me the horror stories they know of awful pregnancies or labors, I really think that people don’t consider what they say before they say it. And while that’s true of many different subjects, I have to tell you from personal experience that it’s really irritating to be equated with my uterus just because something is happening in there. I am still a person.

    10. Anonymous*

      The closer guy-equivalent is “joking” about sexual orientation. If a co-worker jokingly accused you of being gay because you were walking funny or had a day off at the same time as a buddy, or something like that. It touches off a closer set of issues. First, the underlying implication behind such jokes is that there’s something wrong with being gay. Then there’s the implications that your sex life is somehow a matter to be joked about. Then there’s the stereotype implications – that if you can be compared to a gay man, you must be effeminate, flaming, not manly, etc. It’s layers of insults and bigotry wrapped in a joke to try to make it harder to object to without looking “prissy.”

      That’s closer to what a woman goes through when someone jokes about pregnancy, with the added layer that she may very well have lost a child to miscarriage or be unable to conceive – both events are often in the running for “greatest tragedy of my life” status.

  31. Anonymous*

    I am imagining a scenario where the fun folks in this office believe they just super clever masters of snark and are simply making the place fun to work in. Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it less rude, and doesn’t make snark a good idea. Ever.

      1. Anonymous*

        I think it might be, to the folks saying it. The reality is, when you are the butt of the snark, all snark is dumb. Fact.

        1. fposte*

          Maybe this is hair-splitting, but to me snark is specifically being meanly funny and derisive, not just engaging in any humor that could have a problematic element. I don’t think they’re being mean, any more than a parent saying “When are you giving me grandchildren?” is being mean. It’s just dumb and inappropriate.

          1. A Bug!*

            Yeah, they’re two species of offensive chatter. The Cattus Snarkus has developed a surface similarity to the Doofus Oblivious, as a means of self-preservation. If the C. Snarkus can imitate D. Oblivious successfully then it can avoid its predators which tend to leave the less dangerous D. Oblivious to its own devices.

  32. Chinook*

    I am wondering if this is because it is a “male” environment (not that it makes it appropriate) and, as a result, they don’t realize what the joke implies to women? If so, then take this as a cultural difference and approach one of the guys you know, like Allison mentions. They may even be horrified to think it was taken offensively and never meant it as anything other than a light joke.

    Having worked in crude male environments (which is not like working with men in general), I think sometimes the “newbie” (whether male or female) has to realize that sometimes a thick skin is the best way to become a part of the team. That doesn’t mean laughing at inappropriate jokes but just giving the “wow” response and walking away may be enough to let them realize they crossed a line. Because, if you start lecturing them on why it is wrong, you may end up in a “scolding mother” role that just reinforces their culture instead of reshaping it.

    I think this may also work in a “female” environment (again, not the same as working with women in general) that seems to have fallen into the cattiness that sometimes happens.

  33. Minous*

    At one point I used to have a swollen stomach due to allergies. When someone would ask me if I was pregnant, I would look at them and say “no, just fat”. They never asked me twice.

    1. mbm*

      It’s also fun when one co-worker tells another that they are “worried about you” because you “got so fat,” when you are really 8.5 months pregnant.

  34. Heather*

    Ugh, ugh, ugh. This kind of thing has happened so many times, and I’ve gotten it from both men and women.
    One night at work, I decided I was craving a burger, so I told a colleague I was running out for one. “You’re pregnant!” she exclaimed. And she even told other people. I just let it go, figuring time would prove her wrong.
    At my current job, there’s a guy here who is strangely interested in the uterus of every woman here. He and his wife just had babies, and I guess we’re all expected to join in or something?
    Either way, I don’t know when it became socially acceptable to be all up in others’ reproductive business.
    Anyone who does this: knock it off now. You never know what someone is going through – whether they had a kid and lost it, whether they’ve been trying for years or whether they don’t want them at all – so just stop. It’s creepy and weird.

    1. fposte*

      “Either way, I don’t know when it became socially acceptable to be all up in others’ reproductive business.” I don’t accept that it ever did, and I think that it’s perfectly okay to make people uncomfortable for having inquired about stuff they shouldn’t.

      1. Heather*

        Sorry, I meant that tongue in cheek, because it definitely didn’t become okay. But the number of people who seem to think that it has seems to have exploded in the last decade. Or maybe I’m just blessed with being surrounded by extraordinarily rude people.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t really mean that you thought it was–I just figured I’d take the stakes up a notch :-).

  35. Diane*

    I work in a place that loves to gossip. There’s no good way to stop it when it’s so deeply ingrained in the culture.

    A few years ago, a higher-up told me she’d heard rumors about me and a married higher-up and wanted to let me know so I could “protect my reputation.” She said she’d also warn the other guy. But she wouldn’t say what prompted rumors (why were people even going there?) or who was saying anything (other than several people in her office). Other than sputtering that the whole idea was ridiculous and offensive, I couldn’t even figure out who to confront or ask for help if I wanted to. I decided to keep quiet and let it fizzle, rather than fuel the stupidity by protesting.

    Fast forward a year-and-a-half. A friend heard the same rumor floating around and immediately protested. She found out it started because I’d had dinner with the guy one time. We had–between a long string of work meetings, at which we had discussed mentoring and career paths and our families, while our colleagues were also having dinner at various places. The person who originally “warned” me knew about this meeting, and I’d also had the same discussion with her.

    I wonder what would have happend if I’d confronted some of the people I suspected fueled this gossip–probably even more of a headache. I don’t trust anybody here. There judgement and viciousness is disgusting.

  36. N.*

    Anyone ever see the Malcolm in the Middle episode where we find out why Hal was never ever promoted?

    One day he is introduced to the woman who is going to be his new boss, and who is pleased to meet him until he says enthusiastically in front of everyone “oh and look, someone has a bun in the oven!” And pats her belly. She wasn’t pregnant.

    Definitely a classic moment.

  37. Mints*

    Oh geez, you know what was mortifying? When people who were older than me (like mentors and friends’ moms) in late high school or college would ask if I was making sure NOT to get pregnant. I would just say “I’m fine.” Seriously the most awkward thing you can ask

    1. N.*

      Yup, I have found the people who lamented the possibility I could get pregnant out of wedlock and insisted it would be the end of the world if I did, were the same ones to insist upon a blow by blow description of my child bearing and parenting plans after I was married. I am married 5 years come December, and still reeling from that disturbing reversal.

  38. KayDay*

    Some days, when I read posts like this and the comments, I realize how truly blessed I am to have coworkers who have a basic understanding of boundaries.

  39. J*

    As noted Above, this can all be avoided if people would just stop inquiring into the status of people’s reproductive organs.

    This also applies to inquiries about why a woman is carrying her purse to the ladies room so often and does that mean its “that time.”. If you need to keep track of time buy a calendar. And let’s toss in there questions to those of us past 40 about how old our mom’s were when they went through menopause, like someone is tracking our reproductive lives on one horribly invasive spreadsheet.

    But, I also implore people to stop over sharing because I don’t think it’s unrelated. When people share details that they are ‘trying’ including how and when – it blurs the lines of what is appropriate to discuss in the office. None of this is appropriate office talk. But while I have never asked a follow up question after being told way too much about other’s reproductive plans – if your maternity leave will impact my job i’d really rather know nothing until there is something to know. I’d prefer to be left out of the loop on the whole stick peeing thing.

    1. Lexy*

      Seriously, I have had (in nearly 10 years of professional employment) TWO MEN ask me why I’m bringing I need my purse to go to the ladies room (wink, wink).

      Guess what that buys you? A one way ticket to TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

      “Well, Marc, I’m shedding my uterine lining at a RATHER SWIFT PACE, so in order to avoid a biohazard on my chair I’m going to have to change my tampon. Thanks for your concern!”

      (note: I didn’t really say that, I probably just glared. I wish I had the steel ovaries to pull that off though)

    2. Laura L*

      YES. I am the same way. I hate when people over share because it implies that we have a sense of intimacy that we don’t have! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be over sharing, it would just be close friends discussing things going on in their lives.

      1. Jamie*

        Exactly! And if it was a close friend that you happen to work with, that’s one thing – but I’ve heard way too much about people “trying” just discussed casually with anyone who will listen – which helps grease the slippery slope of others not knowing where the proper boundaries are for most people.

        If we aren’t friends I should never be more familiar with your ovulation cycle than my own. That’s a good rule of thumb. :)

        1. Laura L*

          “If we aren’t friends I should never be more familiar with your ovulation cycle than my own. That’s a good rule of thumb.”

          Ha! My new favorite quote.

  40. Lisa*

    String ’em along and see if you can get them to throw a surprise baby shower without ever actually being told you’re pregnant, then be stunned, reveal you’re not expecting, and give all the gifts to charity?

    (OK, so that’s more like me writing my own private sitcom than real advice, but still.)

  41. G.*

    I completely agree that comments about ‘are you pregnant’ could be annoying,(I’ve had my fair share when I was a little chubby – quite hurtful) but reading all the other comments here also makes me wonder what are we really allowed to talk about in the end…the weather? Only about matters at hand in the office? I suppose it comes down to corporate culture (or national culture) but for me at least learning something about people on a personal level has always made it easier to work with them.

    I must say that the shock of entering the workforce in Europe after working in the US was huge – so many comments on being a woman, about your age, etc…in the end…I also would not like to work in an environment where you have to think 10 times and analyse whether a simple ‘hello’ might be hurtful – as it was in my office in the US when the boss came in and said “hello, ladies” as he did not notice that there was one guy there also. Of course, this guy went ballistic and straight to HR as he was left out, discriminated and not recognized by his boss. The poor boss…he really did not mean anything by it.

      1. A Bug!*

        I agree. If the only things you can think of talking about are reliant on assumptions on someone’s personal circumstances or intrusion into those personal circumstances, then that’s a problem for you to address, not something that others should just put up with.

        It might feel like a chore at first to be more mindful of what you are saying, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the effort and it doesn’t mean you’re being restricted or stifled when it’s pointed out that a particular word, phrase, or line of thinking might be exclusionary or otherwise troublesome.

      2. Stells*

        Exactly! There’s plenty to talk about (current events, television, movies, music, pets, travel (past or present), local events, the new iPhone/iPad/tech gadget, video games, books, oh, and work).

        Also, I learned working in HR that you can talk about any “sensitive” topics if done in the right way. I would only inquire about something after the other person brought it up. For example, in my last company there were a lot of first and second generation immigrants from the Middle East. I always enjoy talking/learning about their culture, but I never asked directly about their religion, cultural practices, etc unless they brought it up. When a manager jokingly complained about how she “hated” fasting for Ramadan, then I knew I could ask her about how she celebrates the holiday with her family – but I’d never just make the assumption that she was Muslim because of her national origin and start asking about the holiday out of the blue.

      3. Purps*

        Agreed!
        This makes me laugh. It’s seriously easy to NOT be offensive.
        I mean, if the only things you like talking about always come off as racist/sexist whatever, YOU need to work on that.
        I’ve had great working relationships with people, in which we talked and laughed and joked, without ever verging into iffy territory.
        And sure, I’ve made mistakes when somebody looked upset at something I said, and all you’re expected to do is say “I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.” And then don’t let it happen again.
        It’s not that hard, folks!

        1. Liz*

          Exactly. I never understand the people who get upset that someone was upset by something that was said. Apologize and move on. Don’t act like you and only you are entitled to be above reproach so it’s obviously wrong or “too PC” if you’re ever questioned. That’s just being a jerk, which rather proves the other person’s complaint anyway.

    1. Laura L*

      But “on a personal level” includes hobbies and interests (e.g. books, pets, tv shows, movies, etc) that aren’t offensive or intrusive.

      1. Jamie*

        Right. And not all personal questions are intrusive.

        Not to quote Miss Manners again, but “Do you have kids?” is an acceptable question when people make small talk. Why don’t you have kids, will you have kids, why did you have kids, why did you have so MANY kids…all of those completely inappropriate.

        It is amazing to me what people will ask. I have a son with autism and I was asked in what was allegedly small talk once if I had known about how disability would have I have had an abortion because my younger kids are “fine.”

        This wouldn’t have been okay no matter what the relationship – but a woman who met me 5 minutes earlier because we’re in a pediatrician’s waiting room?

        Yet I was the one considered rude for sputtering in shock and refusing any further attempts at chat. Sure. I’m the bitch.

        This was a decade ago and I can still see her face. Her stupid, stupid, rude, and intrusive face.

        I’m no longer shocked at what questions people will projectile verbally vomit at total strangers.

  42. Hari*

    I think I’m the only woman here who wouldn’t find it offense to be asked. I realize others would be though, for a variety of reasons, so I wouldn’t ask or outwardly speculate to others. The only problem I see with it is when it starts to effect the woman’s career as she is getting passed for promotions, stuck with bad projects, etc. for fear she may get pregnant and check out. However that depends entirely on company culture and coworkers, not all environments would be like that.

    Around the time I started working at my previous job, at a Friday happy hr more than half the office spent 20 minutes or mor minutes speculating and pointing fingers at who was pregnant since 2 people in the office were already and there was a rumor of a third (employee or employee’s spouse). Given the air around the office, people acted like it was the most normal thing in the world. I’m not very sensitive to those types of things myself (even though I’ve already been told I will have trouble when I want kids and I do) so it didn’t bother me, but after reading all the comments about how some people are I couldn’t imagine being that 3rd person having almost the entire office have a group speculation about. The plus side is this was a family friendly place so a woman’s career, at least there, wouldn’t be effected by it.

    1. saro*

      I told my brother that he was a surprise. My mother overheard and told us both that he was planned and I was the surprise. Still makes me laugh.

  43. mel*

    Ugh… the endless pregnancy jokes are just a reminder of how we’re all just worthless human incubators and nothing else.

    I get that some people might not think it’s a big deal, and in a way it isn’t, but I would be pretty uncomfortable if I was surrounded by a group of men who defined me as WOMAN, and woman only. That worker, that’s the WOMAN. She has reproductive parts and wears skirts! That’s pretty much it!
    If she’s moody, sick, away on leave, hungry, annoyed at our sexist jokes… it’s clearly her ovaries acting up amiright guys?

  44. Wolfe*

    How about, next time a male coworker is out/sick/etc…ask, especially to those that made jokes at the OP’s expense, “Is he pregnant?”

    Not only is it funny, so it can get past any claims of over-reacting, it appeals to the thicker-skin comment, and it gets the point across of…Just because someone is out doesn’t mean they’re pregnant.

  45. brynette*

    I have the same problem at work people go about talking and sometimes conront me about being pregnant this behaviour has been ongoing for a year now and still happening and still no sign of pregnancy. Me and my fiance badly want a child but I am scared what are my collegues going to say about it.

  46. lorena sacco*

    So I started a new job about 6weeks ago and my coworkers cant stopping thinking am pregnant. I got sick at yesterday work and was vomiting pretty bad and he came out and said are you pregnant and I looked at him and he said I cant stop speculating because you keep vomiting. Now all the people in the office think i am expecting.I finally went to work today I said thanks for throwing me under the bus and starting rumors about me & he came and said why do you think it was me who started this. I told exactly how I felt I said Put your wife in my shoes my and she how she would feel if she just started a new job and was asked this instead of asking are feeling okay, or take something. I can’t believe I have lost so much respect for this company am 39yrs and don’t have any children and don’t see that this is a good working environment already so I spoke to the controller today who hired me and I told her so every time I get sick am going to check on and get asked these questions again.

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