Today we don't merely measure out our lives with coffee spoons, but Facebook likes. Earlier this week, a well-worded rant posted by Emily Bingham to her own Facebook page went viral, being shared 40,000 times in a few days.
"Before you ask the young married couple that has been together for seemingly forever when they are finally gonna start a family... before you ask the parents of an only-child toddler when a Little Brother or Little Sister will be in the works ... before you ask a single 30-something if/when s/he plans on having children because, you know, clock's ticking ... just stop. Please stop," pleaded the 30-year-old writer from Michigan. "You don't know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues," she continued. "You don't know who is having relationship problems or is under a lot of stress or the timing just isn't right. You don't know who is on the fence about having kids or having more kids."
To many women, and men, of child-rearing age, it will come as no surprise that her words were swiftly propelled around the globe. I'm 34, and my husband and I have been married for nearly five years - a seemingly remarkable circumstance that provokes endless curiosity, outrage and well-meant but unwelcome advice.
I'd estimate that I field questions about my baby-making plans on an almost daily basis. Such as the taxi driver yesterday who asked: "So, have you not started producing yet, then?" before tutting about "modern women" and advising me to "be careful not to miss the boat". I just wanted to get to work on time. I did not want to be quizzed by a stranger about my reproductive schedule. When I got out of the cab, I felt like the driver should be tipping me.
Other remarks include: "Don't leave it too late! Clock is ticking!" from a young mother I sat next to on the bus. "Ah, I see, you're one of those career women," from a stranger at a friend's wedding. "Have you not persuaded your husband to let you have a couple of little ones yet?" from a hotel owner. "So, when are you guys going to open the baby factory?" from a guy my husband and I went scuba-diving with.
So the 40,000-and-counting shares make perfect sense. The only thing that doesn't make sense to me is how on earth that most personal of subjects - family planning - became public property in the first place. As a nation, we would baulk at asking our best friend about the salary attached to a new job offer, yet somehow "family planning" currently sits uneasily between "the weather" and "last night's TV" as acceptable conversation fodder, when the subject really belongs alongside questions such as, "Does cancer run in your family?" and, "Did your father love your siblings more than you?"
Of course, much of this questioning is benignly - even politely - meant. Humans are social beings, and when we ask strangers about their personal lives, we're not necessarily being nosy, we may be searching for common ground - hoping to encourage the intimacy that arises from a shared experience or attitude.
"Whether an attempt to find common ground or just natural nosiness, questions about parenthood and fertility are generally meant in a good way," agrees chartered psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd. "But the problem is that while it's widely considered socially acceptable conversation at large, to many individuals it feels precisely the opposite."
If it's connection, intimacy and commonality that prompt questions about baby plans, the irony is that this might be the single most off-putting conversation you could start. If there's one thing I've noticed about parents, it's that they don't need much coaxing to talk about their children. If a woman wants to talk about her existent or future family, believe me, she'll bring it up herself.
Observing this, Emily Bingham provides some helpful alternative questions for people grasping around for idle chit-chat: "Ask someone what they're excited about right now. Ask them what the best part of their day was. If a person wants to let you in on something as personal as their plans to have or not have children, they will tell you."
And at times, the questioning definitely strays beyond the benign: as a young woman who hasn't started a family yet, I've detected bafflement bordering on outrage from inquirers, as if I owe society an explanation for my strange and selfish decision; for delaying the natural order of things.
To those who think this is all an overreaction to a little harmless chit-chat, I'm sure the one-in-four British women who have suffered a miscarriage certainly don't. Nor the one-in-seven British couples who are struggling to conceive. Or the 50,000 British women receiving IVF treatment this year. In my close friendship circle, I know two couples who are still grieving over a miscarriage. I know three women aged between 26 and 34 who have been trying to conceive for years and are now undergoing the rollercoaster of IVF. If I find inquiries about my baby-making plans irksome, however well-intentioned, I can only imagine how distressing my friends find them. Refraining from asking people about their child-rearing plans is not oversensitivity, it's common sense. In fact, it's the only sensible approach.
As Bingham puts it: "You don't know who has decided it's not for them right now, or not for them ever. You don't know how your seemingly innocent question might cause someone grief, pain, stress or frustration." A friend of mine was asked why she hasn't had any kids yet right in front of me. I knew she'd been trying for years. It was painful, and maddening, to watch someone completely clueless cause so much sorrow. My ex-colleague Gina, 32, a designer, experienced three miscarriages in the past year. "It's been horrific, and I have to relive it every time somebody winkingly asks if Seamus and I are trying for a family yet," she says. "It takes a real effort sometimes not to let my distress show. If these people only knew how much pain they're causing me."
Womb-watchers aren't just treading on sensitive medical ground. There are numerous other factors - financial, emotional, psychological - that play a part in family planning. My friend Mandy, 31, an academic, experienced severe post-natal depression after the birth of her son Louis in 2013. "Every time somebody asks me, 'When are you going to give Louis a little brother or sister?' it's like a knife to the gut," she says. "My husband and I are still deciding whether to try for another child or not, but this is something I want to discuss with him and my therapist - not the woman in the local corner shop."
For women in the public eye, the scrutiny can be even more intense. The actresses Jennifer Aniston and Maxine Peake have both hit out at the womb-watching they've been subjected to, as did politicians Nicola Sturgeon and Liz Kendall when they were forced to field fertility questions during their recent campaigns. Curiously, everyone feels entitled to weigh in on motherhood, while fatherhood, as an experience, largely remains the private property of men - unless they bring it up for discussion.
Of course, most reproduction questions are not meant to constitute a serious grilling; my taxi driver doesn't actually give two hoots whether or not I wind up having children. But the horrible irony is that while the asker doesn't care, the listener probably does. They might care an awful lot.
The pregnancy charity Tommy's says that the likelihood of losing another baby escalates with each loss. According to NHS statistics, for couples who have been trying to conceive for more than three years without success, the likelihood of pregnancy occurring within the following year is 25 per cent or less.
So, to a significant proportion of the population, a question about procreation does not sound like harmless chit-chat. It sounds intrusive and upsetting. Over 40,000 people have just asked if we can strike "procreative plans" from day-to-day conversation.
Perhaps it's time we listened to them.