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A year and a half ago, my wife and I quit our jobs after saving to travel the world. It had been our dream since we met, but in the lead-up to travel, her biological clock went off. Six months into our travels, her brother got his girlfriend pregnant, and my wife suddenly realized she wanted children desperately. We bought a house with plenty of room to grow and resettled down. We got pregnant on our first try but lost the pregnancy at eight weeks. It was heartbreaking for us and especially hard on her. It took until that moment for me to realize that this isn’t what I want. Not even a little. It wasn’t part of the deal.
I hadn’t misled her on this point either. We had both agreed that children weren’t a priority for us. I still want to see the world, and she wants to have a family now. I don’t want a life without her, but I know I’m not enough for her anymore. I feel, at bare minimum, a duty to give her what she wants. I don’t know if I have it in me to stick around in this middle-class suburban life long enough to raise children, but at our age I don’t know that she will ever get a family without me. The way I see it I have two choices: her being a shattered person without children, or me living for the day our kids leave when we are in our 50s. I think there is a very real possibility that this will end our marriage either way. It isn’t what either of us want, but we can’t find a compromise in this scenario. Is it wrong for me to give her what she wants, knowing that our marriage will probably dissolve before the children are out of diapers?
Please talk to your wife and be absolutely honest with what you now know about yourself, let her make her own decisions with all the facts she needs in order to do so, and be prepared to end this marriage. It is not your duty to help your wife get pregnant again, knowing that you don’t want children. If your wife is as resourceful and clear about what she wants as she sounds, she will be able to find a way to become a parent without you, even if the end of your marriage is heartbreaking. Or, at the very least, she’ll be able to make peace with a childless life on her own, which would be better than trying to raise children with a man who knew he didn’t want them from the start or who fled halfway through raising them. You’re lucky enough to have realized what you want before having a child. Would you want to be parented by someone who was “living for the day” when you left the house? Do you think, if you’re being really honest with yourself, that you could parent a child well with such a mindset? This martyr’s mindset isn’t good for you, your wife, or the children you don’t yet have together.
You say you have two options, and I think that’s true: You can be honest with your wife and accept that this may result in a divorce, or you can lie to her and bring new life into the world with the knowledge that you never really wanted to do so. Both of these options involve pain, but the former at least gives everyone a chance at the life they want. You won’t shatter your wife if you tell her the truth. She’ll be hurt, possibly devastated, and maybe angry, but she’ll have the information she needs to figure out what she needs to do next, rather than making decisions under false pretenses. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Wife Wants to Settle Down and Have Kids, but I Don’t.” (Nov. 29, 2018)
I am the mother of 14-year-old twin girls. It took three torturous years of infertility treatment for me to get pregnant. Then my husband and I were told that I was carrying quintuplets! We explored all the ramifications of this pregnancy and got wise counsel from our doctor and our spiritual adviser. Because we feared total miscarriage or severe disability for one or more of the babies we decided on selective abortion and reduced the number of fetuses from five to two. This too was a torturous process emotionally and physically. Our families were very supportive and after our daughters were born we asked them not to share the fact of the selective abortion with them. Everyone agreed except my father who says family secrets are unhealthy. I told him that whether to tell the girls and when was up to my husband and me. He responded that he couldn’t promise that he would not tell, which is typical of his insensitivity and arrogance. He lives quite a distance away and I’ve had limited contact with him ever since. Now he plans on moving closer and the issue has come up again. I don’t think the girls are ready to hear this, and part of me doesn’t ever want to tell them. They do know I had infertility treatments. What should I do?
For every (Jon &) Kate Plus Eight with their thriving sextuplets, there are terrible stories about the consequences of “high order” multiple births. You made a painful but medically sound choice. As far as family secrets are concerned, often the corrosive nature of keeping them can be as damaging as the secret itself. However, your father sounds like a selfish blowhard whose motivation is not that he fears an important truth is being withheld from the girls, but that he enjoys the power to make you squirm. Refuse to squirm, but reiterate to him that the medical issues around your pregnancy are a matter for you and your husband to discuss with your children. Say that since he doesn’t trust your judgment, you can’t trust his. So despite his moving closer, you’re going to keep your distance unless he accepts he’s not entitled to overrule your parental prerogatives. I understand your feeling that this news would deeply distress your girls to no good purpose and that you want to wait, perhaps until they are young adults. (I know you’re considering not ever telling, but since a number of people know, it’s probably better for you and your husband to be the ones to inform them some day.) You must be prepared, however, for your father to carry out his threat. If your daughters come to you having heard this revelation, put aside your rage and be calm and factual. Tell them what their grandfather said is true, and that you’re very sorry they found out this way. Say that and you and their dad have discussed telling them many times, but concluded that this hard and sad fact is a burden you didn’t want them to bear right now. Since they do know, say you are ready to discuss the reasons you made the most agonizing decision of your lives, and that you want to hear how they are feeling. Tell them that if you could have safely carried more children you would have, but that every day you are grateful that you were able to become mother to the most precious people in the world to you. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Father Is Threatening To Tell My Twins They Were Born After Selective Reduction.” (Sept. 27, 2012)
My brother, a widower, is dating a new girlfriend after a long search. She is kind and loving, and I want them to be happy, but there’s one major problem: She has breast cancer, and she’s gone down the naturopathy rabbit hole. She absolutely rejects any form of modern medical treatment because she thinks the so-called “medical establishment” is corrupt and has placed her survival in the hands of “medical intuitives” who tell her to eat vegan foods, open her chakras, and visualize tying ribbons around her liver—I am not making this up.
If she keeps this up, she’s going to die, and my brother will face terrible mourning again. His daughter (a medical technician) and I are appalled, but unfortunately, the girlfriend has the right to make her own (terrible) decisions. Is there anything I can say or do to alter this inevitably fatal outcome?
How painful, and how bewildering. You’re right, of course, to recognize that your brother’s girlfriend has the right to manage her own medical care, even if her choice is a dangerous one. But that doesn’t mean you can’t speak to your brother about it—not necessarily with the expectation that he will be able to change her mind, but inasmuch as this is a very serious decision that will surely affect him too. Surely he’s distressed that she is ignoring her own diagnosis and could use some support as he figures out how to take care of his own feelings, as well as encourage her to at least consider seeing a medical doctor once with an open mind. Ask him how he’s doing, and if there’s anything you can do to help him. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Brother’s Girlfriend Is Treating Her Cancer with Vegetables and Bogus Medicine.” (Nov. 6, 2017)
After eight years of heartbreaking infertility, my husband and I are expecting a baby girl through my sister-in-law, who wonderfully offered to be our gestational carrier. She is now seven months pregnant. While discussing the pregnancy and labor last week, she made some reference to us coming to the hospital after the birth to see the baby for the first time. I was completely floored because my husband and I assumed we would be there for the labor. When I clarified, she said she felt uncomfortable about us witnessing the birth, or even being present while she’s having contractions. For all her own three children she only had her husband and medical staff present. I know I must respect her decision, but I feel tremendously hurt at the thought of not seeing my child being born. It seems wrong that we won’t be there for one of the most significant events in her life. Am I unreasonable to feel so upset?
Let’s say you were pregnant in the 1950s. During the birth, your husband would likely be in the waiting room smoking cigarettes, yet his absence would have no effect on his life-long relationship with his child. Let’s say you had decided to adopt from China. Then you certainly wouldn’t have been present for your child’s birth, but that would not change how you felt about her once you finally held her in your arms. Let’s say you were giving birth but serious complications came up and you were so heavily sedated that in essence you were “absent.” Again, it would have no effect on your feelings about your child.
You understandably are focusing on the moment when, after years of disappointment and waiting, you will become a parent. But after that big event, you will be a mother for the rest of your life. Whether or not you were in the room when your child crowned will be of absolutely no consequence. Your sister-in-law is making an extraordinary sacrifice for you. She has been through labor three times and she knows doing it without an audience is how she wants it. Respect her wishes. Soon she will hand over your child to you. Accept with grace that her desire for privacy will have no effect on the lifetime of significant events you will experience with your child. Tell her that you understand her feelings, and reiterate that your gratitude for what she is doing for you is boundless. —E.Y.
From: “The Surrogate Smother.” (Feb. 22, 2011)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My wife and I have been together since high school, 17 years ago, and married for nine years. We are each other’s only sexual partner. We both went through our own “seven-year itch,” but nothing came of it, we were never unfaithful, and we stayed committed to each other. Now I find myself often wondering what it’s like to be with another woman.