my employee asked if I’m pregnant

A reader writes:

I have been experiencing secondary infertility for the last year and nine months. I have gone through two rounds of IVF since last October, which has meant a lot more time away from work than usual for monitoring appointments, surgical recovery, etc.

I supervise a small team of people at work, and last October (during the first egg retrieval), I decided to tell a couple of people on the team who were most impacted by me being out that I was doing IVF. I have not mentioned anything about infertility or the second egg retrieval, which was earlier this month.

Someone on my team (who I supervise) just came into my office and asked me if I am pregnant. I am assuming that person noticed I have been out more again lately. But I am just aghast. I feel so violated. Whether or not I was experiencing infertility, and whether or not I was pregnant, that question would never feel appropriate.

In the moment, I got very flustered and just said, “No, I am not pregnant.” Now I am stewing about whether to go back and address the comment — or what to do. I feel all kinds of emotions coming up when I think about addressing this myself, and I also want to be sure I am not directing all the emotions of my infertility toward this person in my response.

Was what they did really that bad, or is it something that I opened up space for when sharing about my IVF process? If I address the comment, is it as simple as me saying, “Hey, I was not comfortable with you asking about whether I am pregnant. I will share info about my family building with coworkers as I am ready”?

Context: I am queer and work at a queer-serving organization, so the person may have just thought I was doing IVF because of that rather than infertility. And also, I want to be mindful that while their question was completely not okay with me, I do hold formal power in the situation as their supervisor. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Your first instinct was correct — that question is never appropriate to ask.

Either the person is pregnant and they’ve chosen not to share it yet and so asking is intrusive and puts them on the spot … or they’re not pregnant and potentially upset about that and asking asking is intrusive and hurtful. (Or, just to be thorough, they’re not pregnant and don’t have any particular feelings about that, but asking is still intrusive and also maybe comes across as commentary on their body.) And you did not open up space for any of that when you shared that you’re doing IVF.

The only possible way I can see that your employee wasn’t horribly out of line is if there was some kind of miscommunication — like if she thought there had been an announcement that you were pregnant and she was coming to congratulate you. Although even then, it would have been awkwardly done.

I think you’re right to consider the power differential in how you approach her, but you still have standing to address it — both as the human she intruded on and as her manager since you don’t want her saying anything similar to others at work in the future.

You could simply say this: “I’m not sure what made you ask the other day if I’m pregnant, but please don’t ask anyone that. I know you meant well, but that’s something a pregnant person should share only when they’re ready, and it can be a painful question too.”

She might be embarrassed or even defensive, but it’s a useful message for her to hear.

{ 294 comments… read them below }

  1. fhqwhgads*

    I might swap “I know you meant well” for “I know you meant no harm”…I don’t know why but telling someone “I know you meant well” in this specific context feels…not quite right to me, even though I know it’s just softening language.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I know you meant well gives them an excuse — well its okay as long as I mean well, right?
      I know you meant no harm conveys this is not okay even under the guise of meaning well.

      1. Myrin*

        I believe I know what you mean but at the same time I don’t think “I know you meant well but this is not okay” can ever be construed as “it’s okay as lony as you mean well” – it literally says the opposite!

      2. Coffee Protein Drink*

        I agree. Phrasing as meaning no harm supports drawing a much firmer boundary. Meaning well, not so much.

      3. Laser99*

        I will say “I’m SURRRE you meant no harm” in a tone making it clear I mean the opposite.

    2. tina turner*

      You opened the door bringing up IVF. And if she asked “How’s IVF going?” you might be upset w/that too but have no one else to blame.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Have some empathy. If someone lets their work colleagues know that they’re going through a difficult, medical time, maybe show some sympathy and realize that you don’t need to pry into the details of it.

        1. tina turner*

          She could have some discretion and don’t reveal too much of your medical situation. You can keep it more discreet, as you might for a different condition. But pregnancy is “happy news” while non-pregnancy may be upsetting but isn’t “bad news” the way cancer would be.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            She told two people — not the whole office. The letter does not say that the person who is asked is one of the two people she told.

            So no she did not open herself up to the entire office and invite speculation on her medical condition.

            1. tina turner*

              I told a “work friend” I had a job interview and she told a VOLUNTEER! That seemed really obviously wrong to me. Learned my lesson. Don’t reveal anything unless you can stand it being talked about.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                Talking about a job interview and talking about a medical treatment (especially in the context of giving people a heads up) are two very different things. It saddens me that you can’t seem to grasp that.

              2. Astor*

                I’m sorry that someone you saw as a friend did that to you.

                It sounds like what you’ve learned is that if anyone else shares private information at work, then it’s fair game to do anything else you want to do with that information because they shouldn’t have shared it. But that’s not fair to any of the people involved.

                You might not still feel angry about this, but your comments sound really angry at the OP for sharing part of their situation. It sounds like you think that the OP should either have shut up entirely or should be willing to handle anything that people can be rude about. I think the way that a lot of us see it is that it’s reasonable to suggest to the OP that in the future it’s safer not to share specific details about personal or medical details because you never know how other people will react, but that does not mean that the OP invited anything that happens once she shares those details.

                It can both be true that you shouldn’t share information about a job hunt with anyone at your current job unless you’re comfortable with them talking about it, and that you shouldn’t share information about someone else’s job hunt at your current job unless you know that they’re comfortable with you talking about it. I’m sorry that it didn’t go better for you.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            The very fact that you assume pregnancy is always and consistently happy news – even for someone who wants children enough to do IVF – shows you really haven’t thought this through enough. And non-pregnancy be less upsetting than cancer but that still leaves a whole lot of “why don’t you rub salt in the wound while we’re at it?” damage from a clueless person deciding to poke into it. Someone mentioning trying IVF implies a MORE likely chance that “so, are you pregnant?” will be a salt-in-the-wound question.

            Among other things, more than a few people have gotten pregnant, mentioned it earlier than planned *because* someone poked into their business, then had to share that they miscarried. I’m one of them.

            1. Purpleshark*

              Years ago I had a principal who announced the pregnancy of a teacher at the school during a faculty meeting. Later I congratulated the teacher on her “happy news” whereupon she sadly informed me that she had miscarried. I told her I was sorry that I had said something and she kindly told me that it was OK I didn’t know. I explained that I felt bad because she was left to explain to everyone that came up to her to say something and that must have been hard. She had tears in her eyes and it still upsets me how callous the principal was in making that announcement and not allowing her to share the news herself. I am of the mindset that it should not be even said until the person is ready to drop the baby.

          3. Hannah*

            So I’ve never been compelled to have children but from what I’ve heard from others, not being pregnant can very much be “bad news”. For an analogy, I think about people who have been training since childhood for the Olympics, only to say, literally break a bone right before hand, ruining their chance to compete.

            No, it’s not a death sentence (neither is cancer all the time) but it is very, very heartbreaking to want something that bad, put all your effort into making it happen and then your body can’t perform the way you desperately want it to.

          4. M2RB*

            Pregnancy would absolutely NOT be happy news for me while non-pregnancy would be the best news. Sharing limited information with a select few coworkers who’ve proven trustworthy doesn’t invite commentary from others.

            Honestly, bluntly, this kind of comment sounds like “but what was she wearing??” victim-blaming.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, but when someone’s having IVF treatments, you can pretty safely assume that being pregnant is happy news and having proof that an expensive treatment has failed is very much not.

              That said, people are weird. I know someone who had scheduled an abortion and who was devastated beyond belief when she miscarried instead, to the point that she had to take tranquillizers for a while. Something about realizing that she wasn’t in control of her body upset her. So I guess you never know…

              1. Ismone*

                It can be complicated news. Like some people basically have PTSD from prior losses and are in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and/or distress. So people with a loss history may be going through that. Or as LW states below, it can cause issues with gender dysphoria and safety for transfolk.

          5. hbc*

            I’m late to this party, but you need to understand that people undergoing fertility treatment often don’t have simple “happy news” pregnancies. Many in this situation have early miscarriages, either as part of their initial infertility or as a normal risk of the procedure. I’ve personally been asked if I was pregnant days after I had an eight week scan that showed 2/3 of the triplets I conceived were dead. So yes, pregnant, but chewing my nails off waiting for the next scan.

            And really, the “upsetting but not bad news” thing is way simplistic too. The person you’re talking to could be actively miscarrying when you ask that question.

          6. Alright Alright Alright*

            You need to stop commenting on a situation you clearly don’t understand. IVF is time-intensive, as the letter mentioned, and LW told a couple of people at work to explain their unusual schedule. Non-pregnancy can absolutely be bad and even devastating news for someone going through infertility or pregnancy loss. There’s no need to play suffering Olympics and bring up cancer, just because you think LW doesn’t deserve privacy or empathy.

          7. Pregnancy Problems*

            Not being pregnant can absolutely be bad news, and no she didn’t open herself up to that by sharing IVF news. You never ask someone if they’re pregnant. Ever. You have no idea how that question will land, even with friends. When someone is ready they will tell you, until then it’s no-ones business.

        2. DontFlameMeBro*

          I’m not sure that asking “are you pregnant” while clunky and thoughtless is “prying into the details,” and I also feel like “aghast” and feeling “so violated” are a bit of an overreaction. Again, NOT okay to ask, but a lot of people just are clods and have no filter, and we don’t know WHY they asked, what they heard, thought they knew, etc… After having had 6 miscarriages in 6 years, I FEEL for the OP; don’t get me wrong. But, it was a thoughtless, inappropriate question and should be addressed as such: calmly, clearly but without hyperbole ala “you made me feel violated”.

          1. Bella Ridley*

            Yeah, this. I have done IVF, unsuccessfully, multiple times. Is this kind of a cloddish question? Yeah, and I wouldn’t like to get it. But aghast, violation…that’s a lot of reaction for something that is more than likely just a clueless questioner.

          2. tina turner*

            Why did she need to say it was IVF tests? It wasn’t necessary to be that specific.

            Don’t confide that you’re in marriage counseling either unless you want them to ask how things are going. You don’t get to “start emotional intimacy” and then shut it off, you need to remember you’re at work.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              She knows her situation better than you do. Maybe there was a reason for the specificity. Plus, the rude employee was not one of the ones confided in, they just made an assumption.

            2. Kella*

              Based on your comments, it sounds like you’ve had personal information that you’ve shared, in trust, used against you multiple times. I’m sorry that happened. It shouldn’t have and it wasn’t your fault. When someone betrays your trust, that was something *they* did wrong, not something you did wrong.

              It’s easy to put it on yourself because you can control your own actions, you can’t control the actions of others. But letting go of that control is what trust is and whether a person feels comfortable placing trust in a coworker about a medical detail is a highly individual, personal decision. It is not universally guaranteed that the person will exploit that private information and use it as an opportunity to pry or share it against your wishes. That’s your personal bias here, not a universal truth.

          3. Ismone*

            I don’t think she was going to express that she felt that way; and I also don’t think LW feeling that way is out of bounds.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        No. Talking about a procedure as a means of preparing ones team for a number of absences does NOT open the door to being asked about pregnancy. Yes, if the LW had originally written in to ask whether or not they should disclose the reason for their absences I would have suggested they keep it vague, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have standing to explain to the employee why the question was out of bounds.

        1. tina turner*

          It’s the difference between “I’m having some tests” and “I’m having some tests for cancer.”

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Again, I would have recommended the LW be vague, but the fact that they chose not to doesn’t mean their employee is off the hook for asking an invasive question.

          2. Ismone*

            Saying “I’m having some tests for cancer” doesn’t mean it’s ok to pry into what kind of cancer or what treatment options they person undertakes.

            1. bookwyrm*

              I was diagnosed with cancer last year, and I was open about the general “cancer” diagnosis with my colleagues (small office) so they would know why I was out a lot and might be making more errors than usual. I was doing chemo 5 days in a row every other week for four months, so it was pretty noticeable that something was going on. No one asked about details though, which I’m grateful for since it was a rare cancer caused by a pregnancy gone wrong. Little awkward to share.

          3. Dek*

            In that neither of those two statements would make it appropriate for someone to come and asking prying medical questions about information that would undoubtedly be shared when/if it became relevant?

        2. Project Maniac-ger*

          I agree and I totally see why the LW felt that disclosing the IVF was better than not. The cadence and frequency of appointments can be weird and abrupt and the side effects and emotional toll could have a profound effect on her. Also, nobody wants the rumor mill to run – LW confirming it’s IVF is probably a better scenario than LW’s team thinking they’re dying.

          None of that means anyone can burst into the LW’s office and ask “are you pregnant?!” That is a huge misstep.

      3. Silver Robin*

        That is a very different comment though.

        1) It only refers to information already given (going through IVF)
        2) It is more sympathetic, even if said relatively neutrally
        3) It is an open-ended question rather than a yes/no, which makes it much easier to dismiss with something like “as expected” or “ups and downs but I do not want to talk about that at work”

        And it is still prying, so I would never advise anyone to ask unless they were close friends. Mentioning that one is going through something difficult because it will have an effect on one’s presence at work is not an invitation to keep discussing it and it is not at all unreasonable to expect adults to understand that. OP did NOT bring this upon themselves.

      4. noneya*

        Medical information is no one’s business unless you decide to share it. The fact that you shared some of the info strictly in the context of “this is why I won’t be available for the next few months to work on X project” doesn’t mean you’re expected to share anything beyond that. Asking “are you pregnant” isn’t the same as asking “are you expecting to be taking any extended leave in the next few months because it will affect Y project deliverables”. If you shared that you were undergoing chemotherapy treatments and would be taking some time off, it’s not appropriate for someone to pop into your office a year later and ask “is your cancer cured?”

      5. Analytical Tree Hugger*


        To expand, you’re framing (both in yoyr original comment and your follow-ups) is flavored with victim blaming. You may want to reflect on how many people are independently pushing back on you, as that could be a sign to change how you think.

      6. Dek*

        Y’know, a work friend told me years back that she wanted to have children and was having trouble getting pregnant and trying some fertility methods. At no point did it ever occur to me that I should ask a follow-up later, because common sense says that when/if there’s good news to share, she’d share it when she felt comfortable.

        So no, I think you’d still have the employee to blame if they asked “How’s the IVF going?” instead.

    3. sagewhiz*

      I’d change that to “You MAY have meant well…” and done my damndest to not growl it out (or not).

  2. Hiring Mgr*

    I agree that it’s pretty common conventional wisdom never to ask about a pregnancy but possibly because you talked about the IVF she thought it was ok to mention.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “Assume pregnancy only if you can see a baby emerging from her at that moment” I believe was Dave Barry’s advice.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I use a lot of Dave Barry’s advice for my benefit and can directly quote him more than a well-adjusted person should: ‘You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.’

          1. Christmas Carol*

            The TV show Dave’s World was based on his life, and he was played by magician/actor Harry Anderson

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Yep. Don’t ask unless she’s in labor and you can see the head, basically.

        1. lady*

          And even then, is it really your business, tbh? The doctor presumably already knows and why is a stranger in the delivery room anyway, haha

    2. Carrots*

      I’m guessing the employee does not have any personal experience with infertility or pregnancy loss and thus might have rose-colored glasses about it all. A lot of people are like that when they are young and naive. Maybe she thinks that IVF always results in a baby — a lot of people don’t realize that the odds are still rough.

      All this to say – it would be a kindness for the boss to educate this hopefully well-meaning employee.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes, I could also see just the fact that the LW opened up about the IVF might have made it seem like the entire topic was fair game.

      2. Covert Copier Whisperer*

        If that’s the case, it’s a good learning opportunity for this employee. This is one of those areas where you just wait for updates, if any, rather than asking. Allison’s wording addresses that just don’t.

    3. …..and Peggy*

      Agree. While never appropriate to ask, LW opened this door by bringing up the IVF in the first place. They could have framed their initial notification to staff as “having to deal with medical issues” instead of saying the absences were for IVF. So while yes, this is an inappropriate question, I am reading a certain amount of pearl-clutching into this that really shouldn’t exist.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I wholeheartedly disagree. To say that OP’s genuine and reasonable anguish around pregnancy is “pearl-clutching” is horrific. One should know that if someone is going through IVF, it is safe to assume that pregnancy is a difficult topic, so they should be even more circumspect about bringing it up.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          From a queer perspective: sometimes IVF is the best choice for a particular family, and not necessarily biologically required to become pregnant (see: reciprocal IVF). In that case, pregnancy itself isn’t necessarily a difficult topic, but *family building* is obscenely expensive, outside parties are extensively and sometimes intrusively involved, and basic protections hetero couples take for granted are tenuous… and that can really grate on a person.

        2. Yeah...*

          That’s a whole lot of assumptions that people “should” know.

          If someone brings up a topic to me it is not unreasonable to think I can ask or talk about it.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Talking about a medical procedure that may or may not lead to pregnancy and pointedly asking someone if they are pregnant are not the same, though.

          2. Silver Robin*

            Really? Somebody brings up going through chemo as the reason they will need more flexibility around work for the next several months. You think you can go up to them and start asking about details?

            And before it comes up: offering support looks different than asking for details. Because support does not require details about what is going on, only about what is needed to make the person’s life easier. Aka the difference between:

            “Hey, are you in remission yet?”
            “Hey, I know this is hard stuff, do you want to talk about it?”

            To bring it back to OP:

            “Hey, are you pregnant?”
            “Hey, hope the IVF is going well! Is there anything I can take off your plate in the meantime?”

            1. Jojo*

              Well said. I was open about my cancer diagnosis and the impact it would have on my work schedule. But, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t open the door to my coworkers asking me which boob it was.

              LW, I’m sorry this happened to you. I appreciate that you asked Allison for a gut check on this. I think it would be a service to the person who asked this, if you let them know in a kind manner that they should not ask such questions.

            2. Purpleshark*

              And if they share a family member died do you then grill them on how they died and what they did with the body? “I am sorry for your loss” and move on.

            3. allathian*

              Given that the LW identifies as queer and is working in an organization providing services for queer people, it looks a bit different. Not much, but just a little bit. The difference is that while queer people can be just as affected by infertility as cis/het people, it’s often the only option for them to have children at all. IVF is often the first choice for uterus-having persons who wish to become solo parents, too.

              Cisgender, heterosexual couples generally don’t have to think about IVF unless there are fertility issues.

              That said, simply sharing that you’re undergoing fertility treatments doesn’t mean that you’ve opened the door to people asking if you’re pregnant. I’m sorry that someone you shared the news with felt it was appropriate to gossip about you to others to the point that your employee felt justified in asking about it. LW, I hope you can get your employee to realize that her question was inappropriate.

          3. Dek*

            … I mean, that depends how close you are, and how in depth they discussed the topic with you.

            Like, I might put an Ace Pride flag up at my desk, but that doesn’t mean it would be appropriate for my coworkers to ask my detailed preferences on sexual relationship etc

      2. Ell*

        Ooh I don’t like this. People are allowed to share this stuff if they want, especially stuff that could be stigmatized, without “opening the door” to anything. Sharing that you’re, say, undergoing chemo, doesn’t “open the door” to intrusive questions about bowel movements even though chemo impacts those. Why would this be different?

        And keeping your pregnancy questions to yourself is a widely held societal agreement and isn’t at all “pearl clutching.”

      3. Irish Teacher.*

        They could have, but they shouldn’t have to. Yeah, it would be fine for them to have said they had to deal with medical issues, if that was what they preferred but it is equally fine for them to say they are having IVF and neither makes them responsible for another adult’s subsequent choices.

      4. Kt*

        As pointed out elsewhere, they brought ivf up with someone else.

        They didn’t bring it up with this person who asked about pregnancy.

        This is not just about IVF and pregnancy, it’s about sharing around medical info without permission and knowing that your reports are gossiping about you.

      5. Disgruntled Pelican*

        I lost a baby at 22 weeks. I had to have a D&E, which is an actual surgery that requires anesthesia (among other uncomfortable things). It took me two months to stop bleeding. I still looked pregnant for three months. I was absolutely shattered, and I don’t even want to think about how I would have responded if I had been working in an office and someone asked me about it—but I don’t see how I could have avoided giving at least *some* concrete information about the situation.

        That’s an extreme example, of course, but calling it pearl clutching is callous. Even when I was happily pregnant with a healthy baby, I got all sorts of completely inappropriate questions and comments that made daily life absolutely exhausting. People, including people with uteruses, deserve privacy and empathy.

    4. Ell*

      I feel like knowing they’re utilizing IVF makes it particularly inappropriate to ask TBH. Enough people (of course not all people) going that route have difficulty conceiving that it’s more likely someone will have feel upset having to answer

        1. Varthema*

          this 100%. because when you’re doing IVF you often spend a lot of time technically “pregnant” but with the high possiblity it won’t “stick.” So asking someone known to be doing IVF if they’re pregnant is PARTICULARLY awful because it puts the interlocutor of having to lie (which I struggle to do even about little things when on the spot) or come out with more info than they’re willing to. And even if the speaker didn’t mean for it to be, they should know that.

    5. le teacher*

      I am currently doing IVF. In my opinion, it sort of worse to ask if someone is pregnant when you know they’re doing IVF. Because that means you know it is already difficult and fraught. Just my two cents.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I was thinking that someone naive enough not to know you don’t ask about pregnancy in the first place may not know much about IVF either.

        1. Dek*

          I’m just trying to figure out how someone can reach Employment Age and not know that you don’t ask someone if they’re pregnant.

    6. Freya*

      Mentioning IVF to the two people who are most affected by the absences necessitated by it doesn’t mean that a person you didn’t mention it to can bring it up. Relationships are not transitive, and the permissions given by that disclosure are also not transitive.

  3. Cog001101011*

    I agree that one shouldn’t ask, but I can see a misunderstanding happening here. It sounds like LW was very open about some procedures, so a natural follow up might be to ask if it was everything they hoped for. The wording was a fumble, but the sentiment was probably warranted.

    1. Kitty Cuddler*

      I have to agree. Whether it’s appropriate or not, once someone has been open that they are TTC, I think it’s natural for people who know that to wonder when someone is out a lot. And since the OP was open, the person may have errantly assumed it was a safe topic to broach.

      1. Artemis*

        Even having had that conversation with someone, I would never ask about it. They will tell me anything they want me to know when they’re ready. I’m a very “live and let live” kind of person, but I still had to learn the “don’t ask invasive questions” lesson when I was young and clueless.

      2. Ismone*

        Before I did IVF, it came up at work that I wanted to have kids. No one interrogated me about timing, positions, or whether I was pregnant, which was a very good thing lol.

          1. Ismone*

            They didn’t ask me about ANY of that, was my point. Including whether I was pregnant. So the fact I had disclosed an interest in having kids was not “opening the door” and my coworkers understood that.

      3. Pregnancy Problems*

        It is natural to wonder. But you don’t ask. I’m pregnant again after I had to terminate a very wanted pregnancy last year. When I started leaving work for appointments of course the people I worked with began to wonder. Not a single one of them asked me though, until I was ready to share it was none of their business (not even my friends asked, though have since said they suspected, but respected my privacy, and my feelings, enough to not mention it).

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      but they didn’t make it general known. The OP says they told a couple people on the team most impacted. The letter does not state the person who assumed OP was pregnant was one of those 2. So the person was making assumptions solely on the boss being out a lot.

      1. JustMyImagination*

        I think you bring up a good point about how this person wasn’t one of the trusted people LW told about the IVF. LW, is it possible that one of those two people is hinting around you being out soon? If the first egg retrieval was about 6 months ago they may be anticipating an announcement soon and have been not so subtle about it and the employee from the letter thinks it’s known news.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Based on OP’s context at the bottom of the letter, I’m not sure if this person was one of the people told.

          And, OP, it’s okay if they were! Even then, they wouldn’t be entitled to an update, and it doesn’t make the question any more appropriate. However, I think your reflection is good that the employee may not have grasped where the line is because of the earlier sharing, and it would be good for everyone involved to make sure that boundary is in place.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Honestly, if someone is open about IVF, I would say that is fair warning to NOT ask if it was successful or not. I mean, come on – the person is doing IVF because things are NOT going easily. Why put someone who is already dealing with fertility issues on the spot? If things were successful, they will tell you in their own time. If things are not going well, well, that speaks for itself, and the kindest thing you can do about it (unless you’re a VERY CLOSE friend / trusted family member) is to carry on as per usual and not to ask the person to address what is a very difficult personal issue in a work (or any other) environment.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘Honestly, if someone is open about IVF, I would say that is fair warning to NOT ask if it was successful or not.’

        You know it, I know it, and sensitive, kind people know it, but a lot of people don’t. I’ve known far too many people who just think everything is open for discussion or proudly state, ‘I know I’m being nosy, but that’s me!’ Grr.

        One long-ago acquaintance used to ask the most personal, intrusive questions, saying, ‘I’m an artist and just naturally curious about people…’ Some people really suck.

        1. Jen*

          I am a former journalist and an incredibly curious person, and sometimes you just have to be left wondering rather than asking an awkward question. (Or look at their social media and see if you can figure it out. I’m joking – kinda.)

      2. Ally McBeal*

        I do want to offer the caveat that not everyone does IVF because they were having trouble getting pregnant “the old-fashioned way.” The New York Times (or maybe Washington Post?) recently ran a story about couples who go straight to IVF for a variety of reasons: getting married later in life & don’t want to waste time, there’s a genetic concern they want to have engineered out of the embryo, even simply having a gender preference. Then we have queer couples who can’t get pregnant the old fashioned way and have to start with IVF.

        I agree with your larger point about not asking about one’s pregnancy status, but not everyone doing IVF is doing so because things aren’t going easily/well.

        1. Ismone*

          I will say that other than queer people and one person who was doing it for sex selection, almost everyone in the article was technically infertile or was doing it not to pass on a genetic mutation. So, it was kinda clickbaity and they even admitted that most people do IVF due to infertility.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Queer couples don’t have to start with IVF. ICI and IUI are a thing. Not relevant to the letter writer who is doing IVF, and who did say things aren’t going well, but we don’t all have to start there (thank goodness cuz it’s frequently not covered by insurance and is hella expensive).

    4. Lab Boss*

      I can see this. I wouldn’t ask about the details of a coworker’s medical procedure, but if they volunteered what the procedure was, I would be more inclined to ask “how’d everything go?” when they got back. In this case, “how’d everything go” basically means “are you pregnant?” z

      The good news is that OP should probably take the same action regardless. Either this was intrusive and the employee needs to be told so (professionally), or it was an unintentional mistake and it would be a service to the employee to understand why they should not make it again.

      1. Ismone*

        IVF succeeding, at least in the short term, doesn’t mean “are you pregnant.” IVF first involves creation of embryos, genetic testing of those embryos where indicated/chosen, then sometimes months of medical treatment or surgery (if the gestational partner has uterine issues that need to be treated) before a transfer can even be attempted. So you could have retrievals, successful or otherwise, and be nowhere near the possibility of pregnancy.

        1. Lab Boss*

          All absolutely good points. Let me rephrase to “to someone unaware of the details of the process, those two questions probably seem like relative synonyms,” just speaking to the earlier commenter’s idea that this feels like a reasonable idea (OP volunteered information, employee wanted to express interest and good wished) just executed very badly.

          1. morethantired*

            I was going to say this. Only LW knows for sure if this person is generally clueless but my experiences this far in life has taught me a lot of people just have no idea how sensitive and complicated these things are if they or someone close to them hasn’t gone through it. To the point where I feel like it would be a kindness for more workplaces to tell new hires “It’s inappropriate to ask anyone anything about any medical condition they have not volunteered, including pregnancy, diet, exercise etc.”

      2. Anna*

        A lot of people are inclined to ask “how did everything go?” because they don’t expect to hear a horrifying, depressing, angry, disgusting answer. They think the answer will be, “I’m pregnant! It’s going so well! I just love doing IVF!” The actual result of medical situations such as IVF (or cancer, surgeries, addiction treatment, etc.) can be absolutely awful, shame-inducing, death-filled, gory and shocking. It’s surprises me that some people think it’s just chatting with your coworkers.

        1. allathian*

          Indeed, and this is simply wrongheaded thinking. Generally people will announce good news when they’re ready.

    5. Coffee Protein Drink*

      I don’t think so. If someone is having IVF and it succeeds, they’ll announce the pregnancy. For something this personally sensitive, you let the person sharing information dictate what they share.

      This reminds me of the people who kept asking, “Do you have a job yet?” when I was unemployed.

      Dude, when it happens, I’ll be shouting from the rooftops.

      1. Cog001101011*

        Absolutely true as well. But I also know people who were upset that nobody asked about how things are going. No one is right or wrong, it’s just different.

        1. Ismone*

          No, prying is wrong. And could give rise to legal liability if they ask a subordinate instead of their boss.

    6. Carly*

      Yeah. I get being upset by it, and yeah the report should have known better, but like, I understand how this happened and I hope LW isn’t too harsh on their report.

  4. WorkerDrone*

    I might even add something like, “I was so startled to be asked a question like that, that I didn’t respond the way I should have in the moment. I would have preferred not to share any information, but I was surprised and answered reflexively, and I don’t want anyone else to have that experience.”

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      Agreed. This person may think the question was fine since they were given an answer. It would be helpful to clear up that the response was given from a place of shock and not genuinely wanting to share.

    2. The Starsong Princess*

      Some years ago, I was asked at work if I was pregnant. I replied “No, I’m just fat.” Pretty sure that person never asked anyone if they were pregnant again.

  5. Chairman of the Bored*

    My policy is I don’t speculate on or discuss anything about a pregnancy ever unless the person who may be pregnant brings it up or until they actually have the baby.

    Even if a colleague is very obviously quite pregnant I’m not starting a conversation about it at work or anywhere else.

    Two reasons for this:
    -Pregnancy talk is a fraught minefield that it’s easier to just stay out of. There’s no upside to asking about due dates or whatever, and potentially lots of downside.
    -I imagine that a pregnant-appearing person gets lots of comments and questions about it, and I expect it’s nice for them to have a routine work interaction where they can just be a professional without also having a Q&A about their plumbing.

      1. Bast*

        And arguments! I never thought I’d have so many people argue with me and tell me I was wrong about my own pregnancy.
        Them: “Ohhhh it must be twins!” (a dangerous move, and made me feel huge even though I had gained an average amount of weight)
        Me: “Nope, only one! I’ve seen him multiple times on the ultrasound and there are no others.”
        Them: “Ultrasounds can be wrong! There’s definitely twins in there.”
        Me: “There really isn’t.”
        Them: Continues to argue about how it must be twins.
        Spoiler Alert — there was only one. The ultrasound was not wrong. This was not even a friend or family member; it was a random person in Target.

        People have also argued with me about how I was carrying, “You’re definitely having a girl! Look how you’re carrying! Doctors can be wrong!” (he was definitely a boy) my due date, and on and on.

        I know people probably meant well with their questions, unsolicited advice, and maybe even the arguers meant well in their own way, but please, can I just buy some paper towel or go through a work day without discussing the pregnancy yet again?

      2. ANinnyMouse*

        Oh man! Currently pregnant with number 5 and I’m so annoyed with people asking how I am. They don’t ask in the normal way (tone in this case). Dude, I’m uncomfortable. I have a kid pushing against me to the point where it hurts (apparently meetings are for karate practice). I’m wearing compression socks so my feet are not balloons when I get home. I have to wear a support belt which mitigates the pelvic pressure (but doesn’t always alleviate it). Oh and I have gestational diabetes so all my comfort food is out of reach and I’m pricking my fingers four times a day.

        And yes, I am big as a house but my due date isn’t for another two months (thanks for pointing that out; I hadn’t noticed).

      3. Pregnancy Problems*

        My mother in law asked me yesterday if I needed a lighter mug, or I was ok with just a normal one! I’m pregnant, not injured!

    1. Delta Delta*

      “pregnant appearing” is pretty key. I once wore a dress that I liked but turned out to highlight my widest features. A stranger asked when I was due and I said, “due for what?” They then pointed out my dress looked like a maternity dress and I had to say, “no, I’m sorry, I’m just fat.”

      1. Bayta Darrell*

        Agreed. I was at the store on my maternity leave and was asked when I was due. I said “two months ago,” and walked away.
        It wasn’t a great interaction for my self-esteem.

        1. Bast*

          I had wildly unrealistic expectations for weight loss after my first, and when I still looked pregnant a week after giving birth, let’s just say I felt pretty awful. I went to a Burger King and someone asked me when I was due and I nearly burst out crying. I was so hormonal, self conscious, and combined with other issues I was having, it did not help my relationship with my body or eating.

      2. Elle by the sea*

        These questions are so embarrassing! I was 8 months pregnant when people didn’t offer any place to stand (!) (let alone a seat) on a crowded train. I was caressing my belly, which prompted people to offer me medication for digestion issues and to ask me questions about “eating something past expiry date” or “catching the stomach bug”. I told them that I was 8 pregnant and their reaction was “what? really?”

      3. Yoyoyo*

        Yup, I used to get asked if I was pregnant a lot and it hadn’t happened in awhile, but a few weeks ago I got a patient from the waiting room and they pointed at my belly and said “you’re popping out more!” I was like…huh? They asked, “you’re pregnant, right?” Luckily I have learned over the years to just say “nope” and let them stew in the awkwardness. Hopefully they learn a valuable lesson about assumptions and intrusive questions.

    2. Emma*

      Yes 100000%. I just had a baby. I had so many questions from my friendly and well-meaning coworkers about my pregnancy that I was sick of talking about it. I also have gotten a TON of comments on my body! I didn’t gain a ton of weight and I shrunk back down pretty quickly after the birth. I HATED the number of times I was told I looked “good”… because being smaller is better somehow? What if I had not lost weight quickly, would that be bad? I really dislike the need to comment on my body shape and size. I think the regular rules should still apply – comment only on things people choose. I didn’t choose my pregnant or postpartum body shapes, no woman does. Don’t bring up my body size. And don’t ask to touch my body. For the love of god hands OFF.

    3. Emily Byrd Starr*

      Exactly. If you ask someone “are you pregnant?” and they’re not, then you likely have ruined their day by calling them fat.

  6. IVF Supporter*

    No advice just wanted to stand in solidarity with you. I’m also experiencing secondary infertility and have recently undergone a second egg retrieval. The process can be highly emotional and also isolating. I definitely understand how terrible it must have felt to be asked that question and I can only applaud you for reaching out to ask if your instincts were being emotionally manipulated. Stay strong and I’m wishing you the best of luck in your journey!

  7. HonorBox*

    I like the phrasing of the advice because it doesn’t just address the LW’s feelings, it also sheds some light onto the situation in general. It isn’t something that should be asked, for many reasons, and the person asking needs to know that it isn’t a question that should ever be asked.

  8. ijustworkhere*

    I agree. Just address it openly and matter of factly.

    “I realize you may have meant no harm, but that type of question is never appropriate in the workplace. Even if someone has shared some information with you in the past, it is intrusive to initiate further discussion about it for a multitude of reasons.”

  9. Auntie Social*

    Whether I’m pregnant or not, I need to know why you think you’re entitled to that information.”

    1. Bella Ridley*

      This is a pretty adversarial take, and not to mention not really the point. “Why” isn’t really what needs to be addressed here.

      1. Nat20*

        I agree. It’s a good zinger, but a bit too contentious in reality. The employee might not think of themselves as “entitled” to know, and was “just curious” – but it was an inappropriate question regardless of why they asked it, and that’s what the manager should address.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Oh, please don’t advise the LW to be the worst kind of interrogating bully boss.

      The employee (in a position of considerably less power) made a mistake. They didn’t feel like they were entitled to anything, and the reason they made the mistake is that *they were wrong.* It’s not that deep.

      Demanding some kind of psychological / social deconstruction answer from a junior for a misstep of office etiquette is just demeaning and cruel. It might feel good to you to make your employees feel small, but it isn’t good management.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Yep, I shut down when a manager goes off on the questions where the answer doesn’t matter, they just want to drill down on what I did that was wrong. I’d be willing to explain if it was taken as more of a discussion, but this reads as: What on earth is wrong with you?

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        Especially since the LW seems like a really considerate and conscientious boss who recognizes and wants to handle the power dynamics well.

      3. musical chairs*

        Yes! This isn’t how you want people (especially a manager!) to talk in real life. Assume good faith until you can’t. Don’t ask passive aggressive questions when you just need to say some form of “don’t do that”. The point is to get the unwanted behavior to stop, not to score points.

    3. Melissa*

      Based on the tone here, I’m pretty sure there is no answer to “Why” that would be acceptable or satisfactory. So don’t ask the question. You don’t want to know WHY she thinks she’s entitled. What you mean is “Please don’t ask me that.”

    4. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Probably because she needs to know about the boss’s availability in the coming months? She asked the wrong question for the context but that is pretty critical and could have been asked about with more appropriate phrasing.

    5. Pelo*

      I’m very infertile. My uterus’s incompetence doesn’t mean I get a free pass on being a jerk, and this framing is a jerk’s framing of the issue.

  10. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OP as a manager you really need to address this. I know you are concerned about the power differential because its about you personally, but this is part of managing. It;s you this time, but next time it could be someone who is even more upset than you currently are. You need to make clear as the manager that this person cannot go around making assumptions about other people’s pregnancies, or quite frankly bodies. You are doing this not for yourself, but for the mental health of your other employees.

    1. Roland*

      My thoughts exactly. Being her supervisor is a reason to go back and talk to her, not a reason against it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes, you can think of it as future harm prevention. I guess some people never heard Dave Barry’s advice about when to ask someone if they are pregnant (when the baby is crowning), but unless you are the person’s partner or medical provider, you don’t need to know, so asking is rude.

        I was lucky that only one coworker asked me if I was pregnant, and at that point I was clearly showing, and had told most people (and this person was a grandfatherly coworker I liked).

  11. Medium Sized Manager*

    This is a great example of impact over intent. I am positive that the coworker thought they were being kind! But, it was not received as such. It is a kindness to let her know that her words may have an unintended impact and how to better navigate it in the future.

    1. the Viking Diva*

      actually, nothing in the OP’s note lets us assume kind intent. A coworker might be curious or sympathetic or gossipy. Or wonders how boss’ absences will affect them. Or wants to learn company policy or benefits, or locate IVF resources themselves.

      I wonder if the OP’s original sharing to select employees is being shared more broadly than what was intended? That may be something OP wants to address too, with a comment very similar to Alison’s script.

      1. Medium Sized Manager*

        Fair – I read in a “congratulations you have been trying to get here” tone, but on a re-read, that’s my (generous) interpretation. I still think it’s reasonable to assume positive intent as a starting point.

    2. Bast*

      I agree with this. My original thought was that because it had been brought up before, the Asker may simply have thought they were being thoughtful by asking — similar to how if someone mentions they aren’t feeling so great one day, you might follow up a few days later and ask, “Feeling better Sam? Let me know if you still need some cough drops.” Pregnancy is a landmine of a subject, and Asker should be made aware that it is inappropriate and why, even if someone brought it up in the days/weeks gone by.

  12. Ginger Family Med NP*

    As a person in a body that does occasionally get perceived as pregnant even though my youngest is 16, and frankly, being totally fine in this body that I have, the worst part for me is having to manage the mortification of the person who assumes I am pregnant and is then wrong.
    Like, you (the person making the comment or asking about pregnancy) are the one who is outside of the bounds of considerate conversation, why is it my job to now make you more comfortable?

    1. Tom*

      It’s definitely not your job, and you’d probably be doing the other person (and the world at large) a favor if you let them stew in their own discomfort. Some people have to learn the hard way.

      Also, I think you’d be well within your rights to rub their nose in it by acting upset (“did you just tell me that I look pregnant”, or bursting into tears, etc). Honestly, I’m pretty sure if you outright slapped them, most police/DAs/judges/juries would probably say, “they were asking for it”.

      1. metadata minion*

        It’s a rude question to ask, but there’s nothing wrong with looking pregnant, and I’m disturbed at the idea that this is worth slapping someone for.

        1. Ismone*

          Not down with slapping people, but the reason “are you pregnant” is an insult is that the implication is that is the only reasonable explanation for the shape of someone’s body is pregnancy. That a non-pregnant body shouldn’t look that way. So yeah, plenty of us feel insulted when that question is asked and we are not.

    2. anywhere but here*

      They are the one who made it awkward. Let them stew in it, and maybe they’ll learn their lesson about making assumptions (or at least about sharing said assumptions).

    3. Anna*

      You really don’t have to comfort them for their mistake! They made the situation awkward, so they can deal with it. If you want to break up the awkwardness start a new topic. But you don’t need to console them for being inconsiderate towards you. This gets easier with practise but you can definitely do it!

      1. Ginger Family Med NP*

        I responded to a different comment thread below also – but as a primary care provider, if the person who makes the comment is a patient, it is still on me to make sure they are comfortable with me, because they need to trust me as their care provider. It definitely adds a fly to the ointment!

    4. Fluff*

      I disagree with “why is it my job to now make you more comfortable?” Immediately yes. Waiting for it – and as a supervisor? Now it gets tricky. And yes, I love the Captain’s “return that package of awkward to sender.”

      1. An immediate response could be uncomfortable. Adding a zinger after a day of thinking? Why? To pay back in discomfort?

      2. Now that she has had time to consider it, coming back with a zinger to make her employee uncomfortable is not cool. What is her goal? Teaching her employee? Scoring a point?

      It will be uncomfortable likely anyway without adding too much “spice.”

    5. Goldenrod*

      “having to manage the mortification of the person who assumes I am pregnant and is then wrong.”

      Totally! I’ve witnessed this happening to someone else, and it taught me to never, NEVER, NEEEVER ask that question. I don’t care what they look like, what they are wearing, just never do it!

    6. No, I'm not pregnant, nosy people*

      The only way I got that question to go away was to get a tummy tuck. I was asked by literally dozens of people over the years, and it always stung. I would go out into the world thinking I looked okay, then have a stranger or acquaintance casually note that I had a significantly protruding belly with their “when’s your baby due?” questions.

      At one workplace, a secretary had been sent to ask me, sharing that “we were all talking about your pregnancy in the break room and wondering when you’re due”. A different co-worker refused to believe that I wasn’t pregnant and kept insisting, asking “Are you sure? How do you know you’re not? etc.”

  13. Jam Today*

    I am going to go against the grain a little bit here and say that yeah asking anyone if they’re pregnant is a Bad Idea for a host of reasons, telling people you’re undergoing IVF creates an intimacy that breaches a “we only know each other professionally” barrier. Its certainly declasse to speculate in public, but people are people and they’re going to be thinking about it and blurt out stupid stuff once in a while.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      So? If people weren’t people, this website wouldn’t exist. However, just because rude people exist, it doesn’t mean that people who have standing to say something shouldn’t.

    2. Ismone*

      I don’t agree. I was downright secretive about my IVF, and about the multiple pregnancy losses that proceeded it, even when they occurred at work. However, if someone wants to say they are doing IVF, that doesn’t mean that people then have carte blanche to ask questions. Just like if someone has prostate surgery, I don’t think it would be cool to ask about their sexual function post surgery. People can admit they live in human bodies and those human bodies have medical conditions without putting it all on the table. Or, for example, people can say they want kids without opening themselves up to an interrogation about how many and when and how they plant to conceive them.

  14. AvonLady Barksdale*

    There was a letter here a long time ago about a manager who “figured out” her employee was pregnant and wanted to say something. The answer was no. This situation is a bit different because of the relationships, but it is never ok to approach anyone, manager or colleague, and ask such a question.

    For what it’s worth, sometimes it’s ok to say, “Hey, is everything ok?” to someone with whom you have an established relationship. But omg never ever ever “Are you pregnant?”, “When are you due?” etc.

  15. Lydia*

    Am I the only one wondering if the question was more to get a sense of how much the boss would be there in the future? The procedure sounds time-intensive and the employee may have wondered how long it would go on for. This, of course, is still absolutely not okay to ask – quite insensitive!

    1. Anna*

      If that’s the case, the employee could have asked about the boss’s availability directly – IF it would impact the employee’s work. Ex: Hi boss, due to your increase in time off over the past few months, my workload has increased and I haven’t had as much support from you. If this is likely to continue into the future, can we figure out a solution for my workload/supervisory needs?

  16. Keladry of Midelan*

    I dealt with option 3 about a year ago – our janitor asked if I was pregnant and it was almost certainly due to recent weight gain. It did not make me feel great about my body and I spent the next 6 months actively avoiding her. So, shutting this sort of questioning down helps all sorts of folks.

    1. AnonORama*

      Yes, thank you. This can be an upsetting question for folks struggling with eating disorders/disordered eating or body image issues (whether or not they’re pregnant, parenting, want/don’t want kids, etc.). “Don’t guess about other people’s bodies” is a good guideline in general!

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Especially since this apparently a very queer-forward place! Queer folk have more reason than most to be touchy about society’s gendered expectations of us and our bodies, and here this person is swinging around the biggest gendered expectation of all with no consideration as to who’s in their sights.

  17. M2*

    Never ok to ask/comment. Ever since I was pregnant I can’t get rid of a small “pouch.” I also had a miscarriage last year at about 16-18 weeks. A couple weeks after I attended a work event with my husband. Women, men, and non binary people (coworkers and clients) came up to me congratulating me. I should have said on the spot “congratulating me on what?” My sister told me I should have shamed them for commenting on someone’s body, but this was an important event for my spouse. Some one asked me when I was due. I was horrified and felt awful I threw out that dress and have not attended a work event since.

    Commenting on peoples bodies is awful. Don’t assume things about people either.

    1. Rara Avis*

      I’ve found. “Not pregnant; just fat” throws the awkward back to the person making assumptions.

      1. Ginger Family Med NP*

        This is my go to everywhere except at work – I’m the provider and if a patient says something about my body I ultimately do have to make sure they’re reasonably comfortable with me so I can’t go scorched earth.

    2. Kangarooish*

      All the sympathy to you, M2 as well as OP. As a fellow pouch-haver, I have also been on the receiving end of these “polite” inquiries from total strangers as well as friends-of-friends over the years. It’s nosy, intrusive, and hurtful to navigate even when I have zero intention of having kids; I can’t imagine fielding that while also dealing with fertility treatments or pregnancy loss.

      Good advice to anyone who has questions about the contents of a stranger/coworker/manager’s reproductive system: minding your own business is BY FAR the safest path. The risks of being wrong are very high (and, as Alison notes, even if you’re right, the person might be waiting to tell people for whatever reason they wish). Your idle curiosity just isn’t worth ruining someone’s day over, and if/when they want you to know, they’ll tell you.

    3. Ismone*

      I’m so sorry. Due to my own loss history, I realized how horrific those questions can be. Once after a loss, I was still wearing maternity clothes. My colleagues and opposing counsel hadn’t noticed it, but a U.S. Marshal at the courthouse put it together when I asked if a chair in the hallway was available. He said, of course, anyone wearing a mommy shirt can use that chair. He meant maternity shirt, and fortunately the comment flew right over my head until later, or I might have had a full on crying fit in a federal courthouse. (And I’m not much of a cryer.)

  18. cat lady*

    I had a colleague who was furious that no one asked about her pregancy- she even cornered me to ask if I thought she was too old to be pregnant and just fat. I said I never discuss someone’s pregnancy unless brought up by the person in question but still was uncomfortable!

    On the flip side, I have a very uncommon name and another person (different from above) with that name joined my office who subsequently became pregnant so there was a lot of confusion . I had numerous people congratulating me on my pregnancy. Awkward! I just looked surprised, winked and said well then you know something I don’t or nope just fat depending on my mood. Hopefully I embarrassed them into not doing that again.

  19. Punk*

    I think that someone in a supervisory/managerial role can’t just start taking more time off without telling their reports something. I see you wrote that your employee noticed that you’ve been out more, not that you’ve been giving them any kind of advance notice or indicating how long you will keep being less available.

    You don’t need to tell them the truth, but since you already mentioned IVF and then became less available without (apparent) explanation, it sounds like the employee was making a very clumsy attempt to figure out why their supervisor hasn’t been there, and possibly if they need to worry.

    I would guess that other people on your team have also made this assumption, so you might want to factor that into your response and how you announce planned time off in the future. Because yes, you do need to tell your reports when you know you won’t be there.

  20. LawDog*

    I’m going to go to the opposite side of the fence on this one. The writer chose to bring her fertility issue into the workplace by telling people she was undergoing IVF. She opened the door the precisely this type of discussion/inquiry.

    Is she now going to say “oh, it was ok for THOSE people to know / me to talk to THEM about it, but not YOU excluded and inquiring coworker!”???

    Keep your personal life out – or bring it in. It’s not a halfway process.

    1. The Dude Abides*

      You’re so far off base you might as well be playing blernsball.

      She chose to share it with specific people within the context of work. If the people she shared it with blabbed, then the people OP told are at fault as well as the person who asked.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      I think it’s more that it’s fine for the LW to talk to THEM but not for THEM to talk to her because it is her experience and she is the one who gets to decide what is said. I don’t see this coworker being excluded as it would not be OK for any other coworker to ask either. It is OK for the LW to mention she is having IVF/is pregnant/is not pregnant/whatever she wants to say, but not OK for anybody else to raise it because it is her life and only she gets to decide when it is discussed.

    3. Nonprofit Pro*

      That’s how I feel about it too. If someone had come to me and told me they were doing IVF without saying that they didn’t want to talk about it, I would have assumed that meant that topic of conversation was ok because I had been one of the ones OP chose to talk about this stuff with.

      Still discuss it with the coworker, but maybe frame it as understanding now that you don’t actually want to discuss anything about your fertility/pregnancy/etc at work.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        First, it doesn’t sound like this was one of the employees the LW talked to. Second, even if they had, saying “I am undergoing IVF” might open the door to them periodically asking how you are doing/feeling. It does not open the door to being asked if you are pregnant.

      2. Varthema*

        The number of people who honestly don’t seem to understand the difference between “How’s the IVF that you mentioned going?” to which there are lots of easy bland answers (“fine” “oh you know” “not fun, that’s for sure!”), and a yes/no “Are you pregnant?” which requires the LW to either divulge info she’s not ready to yet or lie – it’s breathtaking. Please think for five minutes.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          What’s sad is that when I read the letter I KNEW there would be these comments from folks, though I am heartened by the number of folks pushing back.

        2. le teacher*

          Agreed. I am currently doing IVF as well. Some of my coworkers know, and they check in by asking “how are you doing?” I find it really weird for someone’s first thought when they know someone is doing IVF is to ask if they are pregnant. I guess if they are very young and don’t know about IVF or know anyone who has done it, maybe they assume IVF is a guarantee?

        3. alanna*

          I work at an office where people often disclose details like this (not everyone does, and that’s also fine!) and it really, really does not have to mean that you open yourself up to invasive questions! The most anyone here would say is “Oh, I hope that’s going well!”

    4. Ismone*

      No, no no no. Bringing up a medical issue does not open the door to intrusive questions. Saying “I’m visually impaired” doesn’t mean a coworker gets to interrogate you about the scope, or “I am going through treatment for breast cancer” means that coworkers can ask when your surgery/chemo/etc. is if you’re going to get reconstructive surgery or wear falsies or whatever—just no. People can acknowledge they have a medical issue or are going through medical treatment without it being open season. Now during that conversation about the treatment, if it is a conversation and not just an FYI, some people may ask questions, and that is varying kinds of ok based on how much the person disclosing is volunteering.

      But it’s like when I got my divorce in big law. My supervisors kindly asked how I was doing in a non-specific way, let me know that if there was anything I needed, they would make it happen, but they did NOT grill me about asset disposal, opposing counsel, whether I was dating yet, whether the divorce was final. None of their damn business and they had the good sense to know it.

    5. Ginger Cat Lady*

      I work at a company with about 1500 employees at this location, and several other locations nationally. Please educate me on how this works:
      I have a coworker I am friends with outside of work. If I tell her that I am pregnant, am I then immediately obligated to announce to the entire 1500 people who work on our campus? To answer invasive questions and accept unwanted advice from any of them who are inquiring? I guess since one person I work with knows, I’ve then “opened the door for precisely this type of discussion/inquiry?”
      Or does this one disclosure mean I must involve employees at the other locations as well? Just need to know who I am and am not obligated to include when I share something?
      Where exactly does it end? Or do I have so say at all in who knows my personal medical information because someone might feel “excluded” because they have no need to know?
      Please advise.

      1. Ashley*

        It is the opening of this slippery slope that leads to not even wanting to disclose your martial status or provide an in case of emergency contact.
        There are very few people that should ever ask if someone is pregnant and they are:
        doctor / medical professional treating a patient in the moment, the persons partner, and the persons BFF if they haven’t been feeling well and it is a possibility. Otherwise never ask.

    6. Nat20*

      What on earth are you talking about? Of course discussing your personal life at work isn’t an all-or-nothing situation! If I mention I’ve started seeing someone, that doesn’t mean coworkers can now ask me anything about my sex life. If I mention I’ll be attending a family member’s funeral, that doesn’t mean I want to talk about what happened to them. And if I give IVF as the reason for missing work occasionally, that doesn’t mean my coworkers are entitled to know everything about my medical situation at all times!

    7. Lenora Rose*

      The comment right before this is criticizing the person for not explaining to their team beyond “undergoing IVF” that they would be absent more often, which makes it her fault the person asked an intrusive question.

      Now she’s being told that even mentioning “undergoing IVF” (in the context of “I’ll be taking more time for medical appointments”, and thus be present less often) is saying too much, and makes it her fault the person asked an intrusive question.

      Which is it? Could she have done do anything that won’t lead to someone telling her this is all her fault? When does it become the fault of the person asking the intrusive question?

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Based on the wording, it reads to me like this commenter has a problem with ‘fertility,’ pregnancy, daring to have IVF while working, or maybe all of the above.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Has she tried not being a woman in the workplace???

        That kind of seems what this is driving at, TBH. I can’t imagine people would be responding to this if the question had been about the LW undergoing chemo. I think because it’s fertility-related the Peanut Gallery is out in full force.

    8. CommanderBanana*

      …..that’s….not how that works.

      If I tell my coworkers I’ll be out for a few days because I’m having surgery, that doesn’t give them the right to ask about it and it doesn’t obligate me to answer.

      When I told my coworkers I was going to be out for a few days because my sibling passed away, that didn’t give them the right to demand to know how they died or obligate me to tell them what happened.

    9. CommanderBanana*

      My closest and oldest friend was undergoing IVF, and guess what I didn’t do? Ask her if she was pregnant. We had a strict “if she has updates she will share them when and if she wants to” policy in our friend group, because it was a grueling and emotionally draining process and she did not want to constantly field questions about how it was going, because the answer was, until the baby is here, it’s terrifying.

    10. Kella*

      Let’s extrapolate on this idea.

      “I will be on leave for the rest of the week because there was a death in my family.”
      “Who was it? Was it your husband? Was it self-inflicted? Are you going with cremation or a burial? How much are you inheriting?”


      “Is your wife coming to the holiday party?”
      “No, actually, we’re separated at the moment.”
      “Oh no! Whose fault was it? Did she cheat on you? Are you sleeping with other people during the break? Who gets to keep the house?”

      Sharing one highly personal detail, in seclusion, is NOT an invitation for any and all invasive, prying questions on the topic. Existing social expectations on what questions are rude and cross the line to ask REMAIN THE SAME.

    11. Dek*

      ‘Is she now going to say “oh, it was ok for THOSE people to know / me to talk to THEM about it, but not YOU excluded and inquiring coworker!”’


      wtf kind of question is this

  21. H.Regalis*

    I can see why the employee asked, presumably thinking since OP mentioned that they’re doing IVF, the employee thought it was okay to ask in this situation; but yeah, don’t ask. Pregnancy is something where you wait for the other person to tell you, ESPECIALLY if it’s not someone you’re incredibly close to.

    1. NYWeasel*

      I’m thinking that if the Employee wasn’t there for the initial announcement, there may even have been a misunderstanding. LW tells Employees A, B & C how they are undergoing IVF. A & B know that means that LW isn’t pregnant yet, but C thinks that “undergoing IVF” = “successful pregnancy”, so tells D that LW is pregnant. In a situation like that, it’s far more understandable why D might come in and blurt out “Are you pregnant?”

  22. StarTrek Nutcase*

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I respectfully disagree. LW should never have provided such personal info re undergoing IVF. It was not information needed by coworkers or her team. If she had never mentioned it, team member would likely have never asked about pregnancy. but LW opened the window to personal reproductive matters. If team member misstepped, I contend so did LW. IMO, never provide such personal info unless you want to open a window.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      While I would have recommended that the LW keep their comments to their team vague, they didn’t do anything wrong by choosing to be more open. Their employee absolutely was in the wrong for asking a question that society has come to recognize is never okay to ask. This attitude is why stigma around certain medical issues like fertility (not to mention the multitudes of mental health issues) persists. Being open about something you are going through does not give the world the right to then asking personal questions they wouldn’t ask anyone else.

    2. Frances*

      This is the reason you don’t share information about something personal like this. A situation like that should say it is personal.

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Can we trust that OP knows better than you do what she did and did not need to disclose?

    4. CommanderBanana*

      I think it is entirely reasonable to let your team know your work schedule will be impacted because you are having IVF, the same way it would be ok to tell them that you are undergoing chemo, or regular PT, and not expect that you’ll have to field inappropriate or invasive questions.

      I feel like a lot of the comments popping up like this one are only because this involves fertility treatments / potential pregnancy. It’s weird and kind of bordering on misogyny.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I feel like a lot of the comments popping up like this one are only because this involves fertility treatments / potential pregnancy. It’s weird and kind of bordering on misogyny.

        Agreed. There are a handful of folks who I think are always looking to push back on pregnant (or aspiring-to-be pregnant) LWs for whatever reason.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Right? Like just go ahead and be honest that the problem you have is that someone is pregnant / attempting to get pregnant whilst daring to work.

      2. le teacher*

        “I feel like a lot of the comments popping up like this one are only because this involves fertility treatments / potential pregnancy. It’s weird and kind of bordering on misogyny.”

        Yes I agree. I am doing IVF and I had a meeting with my boss and HR to let them know, because I was missing parts of the work day here and there and I personally felt better being honest with them and telling them what I was dealing with so that they wouldn’t think I was skipping out of work. It really is just another medical situation. I get that some people are very private and wouldn’t want to share that but in my situation I felt a lot BETTER being upfront with my job.

        1. Pregnancy Problems*

          When I fell pregnant again after a loss last year I told a few select people at my work, as it made my life easier for them to know. But, agreed, that doesn’t give anyone the right to ask invasive questions, and even my friends at work (a few of whom have said they suspected with the amount of time I was out for appointments) didn’t ask, as they knew it was a difficult subject for me, and that if I had news I would share when I was ready to.

  23. Nat20*

    If the employee was truly trying to express well-meaning interest/concern and fumbled it spectacularly (and it’s not that they were just being exceptionally nosy), I’m trying to imagine if there’s any possible way they could have approached it differently without being inappropriate. Cause I could see how maybe they were trying to make conversation about something they already knew about you, and you’re probably right that they noticed you’ve been out again. That doesn’t make it any less intrusive or inappropriate, and even a less-blunt “how’s the IVF going” would still be a big overstep. Perhaps an “I’ve noticed you’ve been out more lately, how are you doing” would be vague enough to *potentially* give you an easy way to deflect while still communicating that they’re thinking of you, but that’s still not great.

    So yeah, there’s probably no way they could have brought it up appropriately. I agree you should bring them in for a conversation letting them know that regardless of intention, there’s no non-invasive way to bring that up. It’s fine to wonder and good to care, but they should keep it to themselves.

  24. Catabouda*

    I don’t have anything useful to add, but when I finally told my supervisor I was pregnant I was already 20 weeks along.

    Her response was And I just thought you were getting fat.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Oof. Such tact and thoughtfulness.

      I’ve seen people be rude both ways:
      -My hairdresser has an apple shape and has been asked more than a few times over the years if she’s pregnant. It’s almost never anyone close to her asking either: High school teacher, people at the gym, coworkers, etc.
      -Coworker was working the reference desk at the library. Patron comes up looking for the book French Women Don’t Get Fat and makes a comment about how the book is so great because literally no one is France is fat. Coworker said something about how there are probably fat people in France even if the BMI on average is lower there than where we live. Patron looks her up and down and is like, “You’re fat, so what would you know about weight loss?” Coworker replies that she’s pregnant, and the patron walked away without saying another word.

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, how awful.

        That said, a lot of fat people know more about weight loss than any thin person, this is because fewer than 5 percent of those who lose weight manage to keep it off in the long term. Losing weight is much easier than actually keeping it off.

        I’m glad that I’ve finally aged out of that question. I got asked if I was pregnant a few times in my 40s, but thankfully all my boundary-stomping relatives who asked it took my “No, I’m just fat” without any comments about my weight.

        I’m very glad to work with professionals who understand that people have a right to keep personal matters private and that even if you share a little bit, it doesn’t mean that people are entitled to all the details. Before the pandemic, a teammate shared that she was going through IVF and that this meant that she’d be absent fairly frequently, sometimes with little notice. Everyone simply wished her luck and some hoped that she’d have some good news to share soon. AFAIK nobody pestered her with unwelcome questions. She shared that she was pregnant when she was about 30 weeks along (I’m in Finland, and here you have to give notice of maternity leave 2 months before your due date). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who’d guessed before then, but it wasn’t our place to be curious and we knew she’d share the news when she was ready. No baby showers, but we did have coffee and cake before she went on maternity leave.

  25. Pocket Mouse*

    I agree, asking if someone is pregnant is never appropriate. A pregnancy is for the pregnant person to share (or not), and it’s rude to comment on another person’s body. OP, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this.

    However, I want to nudge back on the common belief that IVF = difficulty with pregnancy. I commented in a thread above but am pulling it out and expanding to highlight: from a queer perspective, sometimes IVF is the best choice for a particular family and not necessarily biologically required to become pregnant (see: reciprocal IVF). In that case, pregnancy isn’t necessarily a difficult topic–though still private!–but *queer family building* can be obscenely expensive, outside parties are extensively and sometimes intrusively involved, it’s nowhere near guaranteed medical personnel will treat you with respect, and basic protections hetero couples take for granted are tenuous… and the totality of all that can really grate on a person. Especially when it seems like the outside world just reacts with ‘pregnant, yay!’ without seeming to see the depth of the effort and consideration and worry taking place in addition to the circumstances of the pregnancy itself.

  26. STG*

    Contentious commentariat today.

    I think if the OP brought up IVF with a number of coworkers and this one was part of that group, I’d be a little more understanding. When you bring up specific medical facts with people, they’re going to be curious.

    I get the feeling that this person was not included in that limited list though.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Even if they had been included, to jump from “Oh LW is undergoing IVF” to “Let me ask LW if they’re pregnant!” makes no sense. As someone else said, just because a person says “I’m undergoing chemotherapy” doesn’t open the gate for folks to ask about what cancer they have.

      1. STG*

        The moment you start to share specifics beyond ‘a medical issue’, you are going to get folks who are going to clumsily ask questions.

        Doesn’t make it right of course but I get it. You felt comfortable enough to give them specifics in a situation that didn’t need or warrant it.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          No, just because someone decides to be open about a medical situation does not put them at fault for others behaving poorly.

          1. STG*

            Then maybe don’t give specifics to people?

            I’d never ask if a coworker was pregnant just to be clear. The employee still needs to be spoken to. I’m just saying it’s a bit more understandable that it would happen when you share that level of information with people.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              No, people should be allowed to be open about something without being forced to field invasive questions. If I mention I have to be out for chemo it doesn’t open the door to me being asked about what cancer I have.

      1. STG*

        Sure but it makes it more understandable.

        Don’t share your private medical info with folks if you don’t want them to know it.

      1. STG*

        Not entitled to it of course but it’s going to open the door for some folks to ask questions regardless.

        I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying it’s understandable but only to the folks that she specifically told about IVF.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          It’s understandable for folks to be curious. It’s not understandable for them to ask an invasive question.

          1. STG*

            It is absolutely understandable how it got to this point and judging by the breakdown of comments on this, I’m not the only one who believes that.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              No, it’s not understandable how an adult in this day and age thinks asking someone if they are pregnant is okay. Just because more than one of you in this comment section believes that doesn’t make it true, it just means a lot of folks in the comments are rude.

              1. Broadway Duchess*

                I am actually flabbergasted that there are so many people who think this is fine and maybe even to be expected since OP told a couple of people about undergoing IVF. If I said I needed foot surgery, are you going to ask, “Do you have bunions?” Making that leap is just so bizarre to me!

                1. Pregnancy Problems*

                  When people ask me if I have children, or if my current pregnancy is my first child, I am honest that this is my third pregnancy, and I share a late term loss that I suffered last year, due to medical reasons. This is for me, and for my son, because even though he isn’t alive, he was, and still is my child, and for me it’s important to recognise him. That doesn’t entitle anyone to ask questions about what was wrong with him, or the circumstances around that loss, and no one ever has asked. This is similar, if someone has given you a small, headline piece of information, that is what you assume they are comfortable sharing, you aren’t entitled to anything more. Yes people will make mistakes and may well ask, and they should be corrected, kindly if it’s done with ‘good intent’, but it’s still not the right thing to do.

                2. Jennifer Strange*

                  Sure, at the end of the day this is all still a matter of opinion. But as with many behaviors that are matters of opinion, this is one that a majority of our society has deemed to be rude.

                3. Dek*

                  Ok, but maybe just maybe since so many people do think it’s really out of line for someone who wasn’t told directly to come to another person months after the fact and ask them an invasive medical question that is COMMONLY considered to be one of the most Do Not Ask, You Will Be Told If It’s Any Of Your Business questions…maybe it is, in fact, really rude and inappropriate, and not OP’s fault for expecting that their coworkers would behave appropriately.

  27. JustKnope*

    I am flabbergasted by the number of commenters saying that the OP opened this door by mentioning the IVF at all. That is just simply not true. OP chose to share a high-level detail about why they are out of the office more than usual; that doesn’t give anyone else the right to ask invasive questions about it. A person going through a medical event always has the right to the privacy they want. Especially around pregnancy, goodness.

    1. Cog001101011*

      Well, if the number of commenters is any indication of life at large, then it’s reasonable to assume that this is, in fact, not as clear cut as some might think. Perhaps people haven’t run into this issue before. Perhaps talking openly about medical things is very normal. Perhaps their company is “like a family” and talking about all of this stuff seems normal.

      There was a letter last week or so about a group of women who constantly talk about the minutiae of childbirth and parenting. That was considered a much more ok topic of conversation. Can we not imagine how those lines can get crossed, especially if one came from a similar company?

      I agree that mentioning something doesn’t mean everyone gets to know all details about it. But mentioning something might prompt someone to ask about it, and that’s not completely unreasonable.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        But mentioning something might prompt someone to ask about it, and that’s not completely unreasonable.

        But the employee wasn’t one of the ones told about the IVF, and even if they had been their question wasn’t “How is it going” (which still wouldn’t be great, but more understandable) it was “Are you pregnant” which is never an okay question to ask.

        Also, I think sharing that you’re undergoing a medical procedure as a means of explaining absences is MUCH different than actively describing how you gave birth to a child! Presumably the LW isn’t going into detail about the what will happen in the procedure, just that the procedure itself is happening.

      2. Hmm...*

        I agree this is not as “clear cut” for “everyone.”

        I do feel there has been a shift in people’s expectations regarding inquiries (at least in the US because that’s where I live). An inquiry does not require a confession of anything you don’t want to reveal. In response to the inquiry one may have to say those words.

        We shall see how this continues to evolve…

      3. Dek*

        Nah, I think it’s pretty clear cut. It’s not an appropriate question to ask.

        I wouldn’t even ask friends who personally told me they were doing IVF if they were pregnant, because there’s every chance that it’s a difficult, complicated, or unpleasant answer.

        I don’t see why it seems so bonkers to expect people to know that they will be told when/if someone is pregnant once that person feels comfortable telling them.

    2. Kella*

      The victim blaming in the comments of this post is so strong. Like, folks are not just arguing that OP should have kept her medical stuff private. They’re arguing that yes, it is rude for people to ask invasive questions but it’s OP’s fault that they’re asking because she should have anticipated people would take her private information and be terrible about it.

      If you trust someone with something personal, it is NOT YOUR FAULT if that person abuses that trust.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Yes, to me this is the big difference. People do sometimes share, and sometimes they overshare, and sometimes they share then someone else says something inappropriate in response, or tries to push them. This doesn’t make things the fault of the person who said something minor about themselves; it’s always the fault of the person who later crossed the line.

        There has NEVER been an era where saying one thing about yourself as a person means others are now entitled to know everything else they want to know. In fact, most eras, these lines were more even more carefully kept.

    3. A mathematician*

      When I was pregnant with our first, my husband asked his boss (also male) for a couple of hours off in the middle of the work day “to take my wife to a medical appointment”. His boss asked if everything was ok, and my husband answered reassuringly. Apparently then his boss thought “oh, my employee’s going to be a dad!” but did not say a word to anyone until my husband made the announcement a month or two later (he then confessed when he’d guessed). If that guy can manage to keep his thoughts to himself and not mention anything to the going-to-be father, other people can manage to keep their thoughts to themselves too.

    4. A.K. Climpson*

      Yes, the number of people going with a “you opened the door” victim-blaming response is completely perplexing. I can’t tell if it’s from some misunderstanding about IVF or from a general disregard of privacy in the context of pregnancy. Because of course saying “I am going to be away dealing with my parent’s declining health,” for instance, does not open the door to “Is your dad dead?” or even “what’s his diagnosis?”

      I literally had a job-related reason to need to know whether someone going through IVF had gotten pregnant (the context would be giving away private information, but think more like “pertinent change in insurance benefits” rather than “affecting a co-worker’s schedule”), and everyone involved still waited until the person was comfortable announcing. It’s such an incredibly fraught situation that I can’t believe the answer is not obvious here.

  28. 2 Cents*

    It might be me being overly cautious but my very good friend is going through IVF and I won’t even ask her if she’s pregnant even though I know she had an embryo transfer because it’s none of my business! It’s never ok to ask. (And yes, I have suffered a miscarriage myself and was not ok for months after, so that might be coloring my response here.)

  29. Melissa*

    I feel like this is one (more) example of how the comments section here does not reflect reality. Yes, we should all be 100% sensitive and fully aware of everyone’s boundaries. But, like, I’ve had jobs. People ask (and tell!) inappropriate things all the time. At my last job, a coworker flew to Mexico to had her breasts enhanced; another coworker gave her breast-shaped soap from Etsy when she returned. Like… the real world is pretty messy.

    It sounds like this OP needs to have exactly the talk that alison described: “You shouldn’t have asked me that. I was taken aback and didn’t respond in the moment the way I wanted to. Please don’t ask personal questions.” But this comments section makes it sound like the coworker is some sort of sociopath, rather than just a bit clueless or insensitive or bumbling or whatever.

  30. GoldenHandcuffs*

    When I was going through IVF, I had a coworker who asked if I was pregnant or trying to get pregnant (without any knowledge of my IVF). She was young and naïve so I very gently let her know that she should never ask those questions of anyone, at any time for the reasons of loss, infertility and a thousand other reasons why that question isn’t appropriate. She was very taken aback but seemed to hear the advice. I have no idea if she ever followed it but she never asked me again.

    1. Anna*

      Nicely done! A lot of younger people haven’t experienced anything around pregnancy or loss so they truly just don’t know. They are the only people I’ll give a free pass to if they ask insensitive questions. And then I like to kindly inform them of their errors.

  31. K in Boston*

    This strikes me as one of many “how things SHOULD be” vs. “the reality of things” types of situations that Allison addresses on this site.

    In an ideal world, everyone would know NEVER to ask about pregnancy. But I think assuming that everyone A) is born into the world knowing this unspoken rule, and/or B) is familiar with WHY it’s considered such an invasive question to ask, is unrealistic. And that’s just a baseline — I think when you yourself introduce this topic into conversation, it can get even more confusing for people who just don’t have that kind of social awareness (regardless of whether that’s simply a product of naivete in this particular case, or if it’s someone who struggles with social norms in general).

    Which is all to say that I agree with Allison that the employee should NOT have asked and that OP broaching IVF as a topic isn’t an automatic invitation for someone to be privy to the details of their family planning…but I do understand why some people might find it to be a bit of a mixed message.

    1. Kat*

      Disagree. Even the fact that LW brought it up, why does this employee presume they are SO IMPORTANT to demand that info from the LW? Even if LW was pregnant, many women wait a number of weeks/months to tell people to make sure the pregnancy is viable. Or especially at work they make the info known first to their superior to be able to make arrangements for planning time off/coverage before they let coworkers or staff know. If you don’t know the answer to the question it’s cuz you’re not supposed to know! If you’re meant to know, then you’ll find out at the appropriate time. Asking someone is rude. Full stop.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        But not everyone knows that. We all know about 8 year olds who ask something totally, utterly taboo to adults, and teenagers who trip and faceplant on those lines. and we all know about things we were never told as an adult that other adults just seemed to “know”. This is why even though I agree the question was inappropriate, addressing it needs to be treated as a teachable moment, not a castigation moment.

        1. Ismone*

          If LW’s workplace employed 8-year-olds, in violation of child labor laws, I would take your point.

    2. Nespresso Addict*

      I just posted something similar before I saw your comment. I agree with your take — in reality not everyone out in the world adheres to your worldview, or mine, or that of OP. So there’s what’s right or wrong in theory or principle, and then there’s what do you want to do to protect yourself *in reality*, knowing that unfortunate as it may be, people are gonna people.

  32. Caroline*

    Hey LW! As someone who has had to read strangers’ comments about them here before – the comments section here can be a bit of a mixed bag, and empathy can be entirely absent in some commenters. I’m not sure how some people read (paraphrased) “I’m upset at someone’s potential comment on my potential pregnancy” and thought it was their job today to decide whether you’re allowed to be upset.

    If you’re reading, consider stopping and closing the comments section. You wrote for one person’s advice, not for the take of anyone who happens upon the comments.

    1. Elder Millenial Bureaucrat*

      LW here – I really appreciate this comment. Thank you. It was telling people felt it was ok to comment on the validity of my emotions, as if that is even a thing, when I asked nothing about whether my emotions are valid. While I do not identify as a cis women, folks definitely thought I did. What’s worse than a (presumed) woman in the workplace? A woman with feelings in the workplace. And what’s worse than a woman with feelings in the workplace? Apparently, a woman with feelings about babies/fertility in the workplace. It just reeks of misogyny!

  33. Jennifer Strange*

    For the folks who are adamant that the LW somehow brought this on themself by mentioning fertility, let me put in another situation. Let’s say I go to a couple of members on my team and let them know I’ll be out a lot because I’m taking care of my father who is terminally ill. Obviously, I could have just been vague and said a family situation, but for whatever reason I decide to give more context. Then a few weeks later another employee asks me if my father is still alive. They don’t ask how he’s doing, or if I need support/help, just is he still alive. Don’t you think that would be an invasive question, regardless of how much I chose to share?

    1. STG*

      It’s a clumsy question that reworded to ‘How’s your father doing’ would be completely fine.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Except, as I stated, that wasn’t the question. Just as in the letter, the question wasn’t “How are your treatments going” but “Are you pregnant”. I’m not sure why you are so insistent on excusing rude behavior.

      2. A mathematician*

        And in OP’s case, “How are your treatments going, if you don’t mind me asking?” would be a far better question.

    2. Willem Dafriend*

      Or another example – I’m in my early 30s and started using a cane and a wheelchair about a year and a half ago because of long covid. It is impossible for me to be the degree of vague some commenters are recommending, because a young, not visibly disabled person showing up one day with mobility aids is its own kind of announcement.

      I don’t reveal much more than “yep, long covid, anyway did you watch the game/how was your vacation/did IT follow up on our equipment request?” unless the coworker’s a friend or it’s relevant to the conversation. But my rolling (ha) into work with my aids, or telling people I have long covid, isn’t an invitation for people to ask for specifics. I understand why people do, curiosity and fear of it happening to them are a thing. But it’s still rude.

    3. le teacher*

      Exactly. Point blank asking someone “are you pregnant” when you know they’re going through IVF is REALLY not cool.

    4. Bast*

      I’ve mentally switched this scenario in my mind multiple times for things such as chemo, or therapy, and I can’t imagine people trying to justify it then. In your scenario above, again, I believe people would have a completely different take on what information people are “entitled” to and what is considered rude. With pregnancy, decency and common sense seem to go out the window. For example, most people would not dream of going up and touching a random person at work, in the store, on the subway, etc, but for some reason, when you become pregnant, “DO NOT TOUCH STRANGERS” seems to fly out of people’s minds and suddenly it becomes okay, even for people who wouldn’t dream of doing it otherwise. The only thing I can come up with is that because people’s minds, consciously or unconsciously, associate pregnancy and anything pregnancy related as a “good” thing (despite the fact that it may not be for all) vs. something such as chemo or terminally ill parent as a “bad” thing. “Bad” is taboo to discuss. “Good” is okay. Because it is “good” therefore people can’t fathom why others wouldn’t want to talk about it.

  34. LawDog*

    I’ll clarify – I don’t think the fact that LW mentioned IVF makes her an open book to all the world… BUT…it does mean she should be a little less “stewing” over it and certainly should NOT be using her “formal authority” to address the issue.

    You told people you’re going through IVF…someone made an inquiry (which I would not have)….you responded. Move on. If there’s another inquiry, address it then. You don’t use work-authority to address this.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I think as a manager they are even more in the right to let the employee know it’s an inappropriate question to ask.

    2. Ismone*

      Hi. Lawyer here. If you are one, I really hope you don’t advise employers or employees. If someone’s subordinate asks a question that inquires into the health, pregnancy, or disability status of another employee, that person’s boss absolutely should address that with them because those kinds of questions can lead to legal liability.

      I also don’t see why you feel entitled to tell LW how to feel, or what she is feeling (“stewing on it.”) People get to feel however they want.

  35. Kat*

    Asking if someone is pregnant is NEVER appropriate IN ANY SETTING (unless you are a medical professional and need to know in order to provide appropriate care).

    After I got married I gained over 30 lbs very quickly, all in my midsection. One woman at church asked my Mom when I was due. My Mom asked me what to tell her. “That I got fat” was my reply. The woman has actually approached my husband first, but because she was vague and simply asked him “when’s the big day?”, he had no clue what she meant. And rather than ask for clarification he said “I’m not sure” so she decided to ask my Mom.

    Then within a short time, some guy at church told me one day to do some exercises to lose weight.

    The lady made me feel bad that I obviously was so fat I looked pregnant and the man made me pissed off that he just assumed I was fat and not pregnant. Moral of the story: don’t comment on someone else’s body! Especially women. We have our bodies policed like it’s public policy. It’s none of your business why our bodies have changed shape! MYOB.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Moral of the story: don’t comment on someone else’s body! Especially women. We have our bodies policed like it’s public policy. It’s none of your business why our bodies have changed shape! MYOB.”

      Yes, THIS, seriously, what is so difficult about this?

  36. Anna*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this! I also did 2 rounds of unsuccessful IVF following 5 years of miscarriages. I regret telling anyone at work about IVF and infertility. When I told my boss and coworker about IVF, they asked me regularly if it “worked”. And during meetings about work my boss would often bring up that I have a baby coming (which never materialized) so I shouldn’t be doing fieldwork, or that he’s planning for me to be away on mat leave. Or if I needed a day off for any reason, my boss would automatically assume/comment that it had to do with infertility and that of course he would give me time off for my noble pursuit of having a baby! Once I had given up on motherhood I was able to focus more on my career and get a new job.

    My go-to answer to “are you pregnant” or “do you want kids” is “That’s a very personal question and I no longer answer it”. The awkward silence that follows is really satisfying! Hand the awkwardness back to the person asking the questions.

    1. Synaptically Unique*

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with insensitive and unacceptable behavior when you were already going through such a trying time. People never cease to surprise me with their complete lack of social skills.

  37. Anonymous Koala*

    I’m a fan of responding to questions like “are you pregnant” with “Why do you ask?” It gives you information that may be important (for example, if someone else told your employee that you’re pregnant or will be pregnant soon, you’d probably want to know that) and it has the side benefit of forcing people to articulate why they need to know such personal information, which sometimes makes them realise that the question they’re asking is not appropriate and/or gives you the opportunity to reassure them if they have a legitimate work concern about leave/ availability/ etc.

  38. Nespresso Addict*

    This is striking me as an odd debate in the comments because while there’s 2 distinct camps, they’re not necessarily in opposition to each other. My read: In theory, someone should be able to disclose the sort of info OP did without fear of being asked intrusive follow-up questions later. In theory. But in reality, whatever the commentariat may think the “prevailing wisdom” is, clearly not everyone out there agrees or are even aware of what some people assume everyone should know as common sense. So *in reality*, I actually agree with the commenters saying you may want to be a bit more circumspect about what you share because not everyone out there is going to follow whatever rules you think exist.
    As OP is the manager of the person who asked if she’s pregnant, it does make sense for her to have a conversation to let the person know that isn’t considered ok to ask. I think it’s likely the person legit did not know this and it’s a good teaching moment. My point is, it’s possible to believe in both arguments being made here: I should never be asked such questions, *and* because I know not everyone adheres to this line of thinking, I’m going to choose to share less as a measure of self-protection.

  39. UnpopularOpinion*

    while in general I totally agree, if someone chose to tell me they were getting IVF (especially in a work setting) I would assume that’s because they want to share their journey with me and would feel free to follow up/be upset if they got upset if I did. If you don’t want me to follow up, don’t tell me about it unless I am a personal friend and we have a relationship outside of the office. Could the language have been more diplomatic? Yes, but unless you or a close friend or relative has gone through it, most people don’t know what’s actually involved with the procedure and asking about its effectiveness some time later is, on its surface, totally reasonable.

    There are reasons people don’t normally talk about medical stuff at work. If you don’t want to talk about medical stuff at work, don’t talk about medical stuff at work. Don’t make other people guess when you’re in the mood to discuss it or what you expect them to do with the information if you do share (beyond not telling others without permission).

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      You reading too much into a situation isn’t on the other person to navigate though. Also, the LW did not tell this employee about the IVF, so it’s a moot point.

    2. Bast*

      “I would assume that’s because they want to share their journey with me..”

      This is kind of a weird take. As has already been pointed out, it does not appear that this particular person was in the know. Second, would you feel this way about anything, or just a pregnancy? I can’t see someone saying, “Hey, just so you know I need to come in at 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I have chemo” being met with, “What type of cancer? Are you going to die? What are your odds? Has it spread?” I would take it exactly for what it is — someone informing me that they will be late on Tuesdays and Thursdays for necessary medical appointments ie: not ones that they can easily move and that I should plan accordingly. I don’t understand where the “share your journey” comes in at all — even if that particularly colleague had been one that had been told.

  40. LostCommenter*

    I was told by a mentor never to ask anyone if they are pregnant unless they are giving birth right in front of you, at which time you could expect a slap across the head for asking such an idiotic question. It’s kept me safe for 15 years.

  41. SereneScientist*

    I’m a bit surprised to see only 2-3 other comments calling this out, but I think the LW’s situation/context as a queer person undergoing IVF has significant ramifications here.

    No matter which camp you’re in, never ask the question vs nuances of disclosure, let’s not forget that being a queer person trying to have a family of any kind (or do anything at all) in the world right now is pretty fraught. You have people who believe that all queer people are pedophiles, mentally ill, violent–without any evidence to back up those claims! I think LW’s anxiety in the face of a blunt question with that circumstance in mind is pretty understandable, even if it feels less logical to some of the commentariat. This blog’s readers generally are a pretty reasonable bunch, but all these suggestions that LW invited the question by disclosing anything at all makes me feel like they are getting lost in the broader, tenser conversation around these issues.

  42. Green Goose*

    I always take an interest in these type of questions because ever since having my second child I have looked about 4-5 months pregnant. I’m dreading the day when someone asks and how I’ll react.

  43. Just Here for the Llama Grooming*

    Reading the comments today, I’m struck by how much of work life, this included, isn’t “either/or” but “both/and.”

    As OP noted, yes, the door for more questions got opened when she mentioned IVF in the first place.

    AND asking if someone is pregnant is intrusive, potentially hurtful, and all-around Never A Good Idea.

    BOTH things are true.

    This doesn’t make the question OP’s fault; not all open doors need to be walked through.

    Yes, tell Inquisitive Employee not to ask that question again of her or anyone else, mostly so that IE won’t wind up getting their lights punched out by someone who is on their last nerve about being asked (and yes, so to minimize pain for someone else! BOTH/AND)

  44. Ollie*

    Dave Barry once said that you should not ask a woman if she is pregnant unless you see the baby coming out of the birth canal. Wise words.

  45. DJ*

    The other issue is you are implying the person has put on weight, usually a sensitive topic!
    I am wondering if someone is being sick a lot whether it’s ok to ask could you be pregnant. That happened with a colleague and lead to her taking a test to find out she was!

    1. Coverage Associate*

      Lots of people have these happy, exceptional stories, but for each of these exceptions, there’s probably at least 10 people dealing with migraines or chemo or something else with no silver lining who doesn’t want people speculating about her reproductive choices while dealing with an unfortunate illness.

      Signed, someone who had to call maintenance after vomiting on the carpet at work right around the time of her wedding. It was a migraine.

  46. Synaptically Unique*

    I was at a meeting a few months ago and one of the attendees had an obvious baby bump. I didn’t say anything at all. It’s none of my business until she chooses to share that information, and even then it’s not really my business beyond any impact to my projects when she’s on leave for a few months. She did share not too long after that, and I congratulated her and moved on. That’s the only appropriate workplace behavior.

    1. allathian*

      Yes. I’ve done the same, including when my teammate’s shared that she’s undergoing IVF to explain her frequent absences, sometimes at very short notice.

  47. Coverage Associate*

    From the family of an obstetrician: unless you are the possibly pregnant person’s health care provider, follow Dave Barry’s advice. It’s been drummed into me since I could ask questions.

    Personally, I am so deep into stillbirth statistics that even when a pregnancy was announced, I hesitate to ask about the baby several months later. (For example, if the pregnant person is someone I only see once a year in December, if she tells me she’s pregnant in December, I hesitate to ask about the baby the following December, but I am weird.)

    And, yeah, don’t ask specific questions even when medical treatment is disclosed in the workplace. Look at all the apologies people are making about Katharine Middleton. As someone with lots of experience in women’s healthcare, I was intellectually interested in the diagnosis, because her extended recovery didn’t match the initial “scheduled abdominal surgery for something non cancerous” but even if she were a close friend, let alone a coworker, I wouldn’t ask “Why were you in hospital so long?”

  48. Have you had enough water today?*

    Yuck. Why is this question ever asked unless you are a health care professional & need to know in case it impacts on treatment you are considering for that patient? I don’t think there is any need to be kind in this situation. “That is an inappropriate & unacceptable question to ask. Why would you think this is okay?” & watch them squirm.

  49. …username pending*

    OP shouldn’t have to live through this. For that, I’m sorry it has happened.

    At least the employee can learn, or relearn, appropriate social boundaries if OP has the conversation. It’s one silver lining out of all of this and hopefully will do the person well going forward.

    OP shouldn’t have to do this and sometimes it’s part of managing, unfortunately.

  50. Elder Millenial Bureaucrat*

    OP here.

    Admittedly, I have not gone through each comment in detail, both because there are so many and because some of them were rough. A few thoughts though.

    1: Some of the responses to my original post were focused on whether my emotions were valid or not. This was not the crux of my question, and it is telling that a vocal minority felt entitled to comment on that.

    I do want to share that before I went through infertility myself, I only understood how hard it was in the abstract. I know now through my own experience, the experiences of others I have connected with over this shared trauma, and a robust body of peer-reviewed literature going back to 1993 that infertility is not just hard – those who experience it report a level of psychological distress similar to those with cancer diagnoses. I share this not to justify my emotions but in hopes that people who called my emotions hyperbolic, etc. might act differently next time they encounter someone who is experiencing the hardships that go along with infertility (and especially if anyone they know anyone enduring infertility in real life).

    2: While I withheld some details about what happened to avoid putting one of my coworkers on blast online, I will share that the coworker who asked me this question came into my office when we did not have a meeting scheduled and, as they started to shut my door, said, “I want to ask you a personal medical question” (or something to that effect). I used the language “aghast,” which I intended to imply “shocked and upset.” I *was* shocked and violated, given that this question came out of the blue SIX MONTHS after I shared I was doing IVF, at a time when I was not expecting to be talking with this employee at all, from someone who openly acknowledged knowing it was an invasive question.

    3: Yes, I did carefully consider whether to share whether I was going through IVF specifically or say something more broadly. This was not an arbitrary choice and was one that took myself, my team, my employees, and other unique contextual factors into consideration.

    4: Allison’s second paragraph really helped me clarify my own narrative about what happened. I would not have been ok with this question whether I was pregnant or not pregnant, and whether my lack of pregnancy was due to medical fertility or choice.

    5: Just putting it out there that both my coworker and I use they/them pronouns.

    In fact, while I am definitely not going to engage a primarily cisgender commentariat about this, the complicated intersection of my trans identity and status as a gestational carrier/potential pregnant person means that I want and need even more privacy than some others about (in)fertility, pregnancy, etc. due to reasons relating to both dysphoria and safety. My coworker might not have grasped this even though they know I am trans. This just highlights that someone who asks this kind of question can never know all the reasons it is fraught for the person they are asking – which further makes the case for just not asking.

    Thank you to all the people who took the time to respond in good faith, and especially to those who showed some empathy and solidarity in their responses. A good 80+% of the folks on here avoided repeating misogynistic tropes today, which isn’t too bad for a Monday.

    1. allathian*

      Thank you for coming back with a clarifying comment, I’m sorry people are piling on.

      Good luck in your journey, wherever it takes you.

    2. Dek*

      I swear, every additional piece of information just makes it more bonkers to me that they thought it was an appropriate question to ask you.

      And sorry the comment section is…like it is right now.

  51. Hedgehug*

    I am thin with a pooch, and I get asked weekly if I’m pregnant. What is more shocking and appalling to me about being asked this question in 2024 – REGULARLY – is that no one is ever embarrassed when I say no. I had a person argue me once when I told her no.
    I constantly have people’s eyes flickering down to my stomach while I’m speaking to them.
    It makes me feel like garbage about my body that I am trying to appreciate for carrying and delivering my daughter, but people sure do make it difficult!

  52. ShiroiKabocha*

    This letter reminds me of the only time I was ever asked (in a work context) whether I was pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and I am thankful that the coworker who asked me put a lot more tact and consideration into it than the person who asked LW. I think my coworker might have stumbled into the only situation where such a question was warranted, and even then, she understood that it’s a weird, invasive, uncomfortable question to ask, and phrased her question accordingly!

    In my case, my coworker sent an email to everyone in the office who could reasonably be assumed to have a uterus, and she told us that she was about to undergo a medical treatment that would make her radioactive. She planned to take some time off, then work from home, then come back into the office at the point when her doctors judged her radioactivity was low enough to pose no danger to adults. However, she warned us her presence might pose a risk to infants or pregnant people for a significantly longer time frame, and that anyone with relevant concerns could email her back privately to discuss scheduling. Crucially, she acknowledged that she knew she was asking a very personal question, that any information she received would be kept in strictest confidence, and also that “Hey Sansa, please stay at home for the entire duration of the extended radiation safety timeline, thanks!” was a complete sentence and she would comply with such a request, no further information needed. I think she managed a pretty deft threading of the needle, given her desire to avoid accidentally blasting fetuses with her mutation-rays while maintaining coworker privacy about any fetuses that may or may not be present in the office.

    tl;dr, I actually CAN think of a situation where it could be reasonable to ask a coworker if they’re pregnant, and LW’s employee still went about it the wrong way! Discretion is vital!

    1. Pregnancy Problems*

      Yeah we had a similar situation at my work (I’m in a school and a student had shingles), but similarly, an email came out saying that if you are pregnant and have concerns to speak to our HR manager.

  53. Nica*

    I’d be a heck of a lot more blunt than AAM suggests. I’d speak with this person privately and say something along the lines of, “It is NEVER appropriate to ask if someone is pregnant. It does not concern you. IF they want to discuss it, they will bring it up first.”

Comments are closed.