04/18/2014 11:12 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2014

'It's Complicated': How I Learned to Fend off That Question

George Marks via Getty Images

I read an article today on The Huffington Post by Jennifer "Jay" Palumbo entitled, The Question That Gives You a One in Eight Chance of Being an Insensitive Jerk. This post discussed the pain that women who struggle with fertility encounter when asked, "When are you going to have a baby?" Having MRKH, a congenital form of primary infertility, I related to the difficulty of fielding that question. The first few times a stranger or an acquaintance asked me this, I felt as if I had been punched in the gut with no warning. After I recovered from the intense shame of being born with a severely underdeveloped uterus that was physically incapable of carrying a child, I smiled weakly to appease them and said, "Not right now." Unfortunately, this was not the answer they were looking for, and instead of leaving well enough alone, they often asked an even more probing question (given with a certain, knowing look that grandmotherly types have perfected), which I received like a sucker punch to my kidney.

After making an excuse and removing myself from the conversation, I would head to the nearest safe place (usually a bathroom, often in tears), feeling as if my breath, my entire being had been sucked out of me. The rest of the day or evening would be shot -- my confidence zapped and my self-esteem destroyed, a pile of discarded clothing on the floor. The voice in my head would repeat on playback, No one really likes you. No one truly loves you. They are all pretending because they feel sorry for you. If they truly knew who you were, they would make fun of you and laugh as you cried. You know that voice, the one that destroys your confidence and sends you into the fetal position for hours? I was really good friends with that voice. We spent hours together, curled up on the couch.

Even though this stranger or acquaintance had just devastated me, I took pride that I had done the right thing: I did not make the questioner feel uncomfortable. I was doing as I had learned, "Do what the grownup wants. Do not make others uncomfortable." After a while, I realized how messed up that was (although I recall using at least one four-letter word typically represented with symbols from the top row of my keyboard). I just couldn't do it anymore. I had to find a way to take back my self-esteem, to take back myself.

I will always remember the first time I shored up the courage to give the nosey person a steely look and replied, "It's complicated." I waited for the inevitable sucker punch, which my voice told me I would surely feel. I waited and waited, but there was no sucker punch. My self-esteem inflated. I stood taller! Self-assured! Liberated! Free! Fabulous! This soon became my standard answer to that overly-personal question. I grew stronger; I wore my MRKH with pride, no longer slinking into the corner with shame. I learned to accept MRKH and my world became larger, filled with friends and sisters from all over the world.

What I never expected was that after a few years of standing up for myself, I gained the ability to field that overly-personal question without any sucker punch at all. I now had the choice to respond to the nosey question with a steely-eyed, It's complicated," or say, "Not right now" graciously and with a loving heart. Although I rarely get asked that question anymore, the confidence I gained continues to grow, and if I am honest with myself, I have all of those nosey grandmotherly types to thank.