Is there conception etiquette?

Advice on manners and morals.
July 16 2009 7:00 AM

It's Our Turn To Make a Baby

Should we wait to have a child because our in-laws recently miscarried?

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Dear Prudence,
My sister-in-law recently suffered a miscarriage. Before the miscarriage, my husband and I were also planning to start a family. In fact, we were a little dismayed when my sister-in-law announced her pregnancy. I think we always assumed we'd have the first baby. We quickly got used to the idea, though, and were heartbroken for them when we learned about the miscarriage. My sister-in-law was so excited about becoming a mom, and I know they'll try to conceive again soon. My question is: Knowing what my sister-in-law has been through this year, is it insensitive for us to start trying for a baby before they conceive again? I'm afraid that my pregnancy could hurt my sister-in-law's feelings and damage our relationship, coming so soon after her personal tragedy. However the time is now for my husband and me to start our family. I'm just not sure that her miscarriage is a good reason to put our own lives on hold. I'm torn! Is there conception etiquette?

—Prenatal Jitters

Dear Prenatal Jitters,
No, there is no requirement that you call your friends and family from the phone by the bed and announce, "My basal body temperature indicates that I'm ovulating, but I just wanted to make sure it's OK with all of you if we produce a zygote tonight." They similarly don't have to notify you of their plans. Perhaps your ludicrous notion that people get to block out dates for fertilization comes from the misguided belief by some brides that they get to claim an entire season for their wedding, and only they should be allowed to marry during that window. However, people's reproductive decisions are their own business; no one defers to or takes precedence over anyone else. I'm actually having a hard time conceiving of what you mean by "conception etiquette," except that it's polite to make your conception event a private one, and that when you hear someone else's has succeeded you express your delighted good wishes at the pregnancy (and your sorrow if it ends in miscarriage).

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
About a year ago, a couple with whom I was friends got engaged and moved away. I have known the groom for 15 years and have grown close to his fiancee, too. After they moved, they sent out informal wedding date cards. I responded by e-mail, letting them know that I would be at the wedding. "Phil" replied that he would be excited to see me. The plane ticket was a financial strain, but I got a good price. As the date came closer, I noted that I had not received a formal invitation. I called Phil, and he meekly explained that they had to trim the guest list. His bride did not want to give up any of her guests and forced him to give up some of his. I was shocked. I thought we were good friends. Furthermore, they know I am pinched for cash. I got no apology from either of them. Should I say something? Should I just drop it and assume we are not friends?

—Left Out in the Cold

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Dear Left Out,
It's clear that Phil cares even less about saving your friendship than he did about the obligation incurred when he asked you to save the date—such a notice is sent out precisely to give guests the chance to make travel arrangements. His affront is compounded by the fact that you responded to the card (which you weren't required to do), so he knew you were making plans, expensive ones, to attend. I think you should send them a short note explaining your situation. Write that you were delighted to get the notice, and you booked nonrefundable and nontransferable airfare. Then when no invitation came, you were forced into the embarrassing position of having to call and find out you weren't invited. They can try to salvage this friendship by sending you an invitation with an abject apology in which they say they have behaved unforgivably but hope that you will forgive them because they would be honored and relieved to have you at the wedding. Most likely, however, they will conclude that you are selfishly subjecting them to more stress. After all, when you're planning a wedding, it's hard to decide which friends to treat like garbage. It could be that they are in a temporary sociopathic state some couples think they are entitled to as a kind of dowry. Maybe after the big day they will revert to being decent people. But unless they try to fix this, you won't know because your friendship is kaput. As you cool off, do take comfort that it is Phil, and not you, who is marrying someone of such contemptuous rudeness. ("Phil, I'm not disinviting anyone. You're the one with the expendable friends.") Likely the reason their "Save the Date" card became a "Save the Dis" card is because their expenses are out of control. So the bride and groom should return the gown and the tux, and wear something more economical and appropriate: sackcloth and ashes.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My best friend has a dominant personality. She is a born leader and a wonderful teacher. The problem is her mothering skills. She has a 9-year-old son. He is sweet, well-mannered, smart, and loving. Unfortunately, I believe that her treatment and discipline of him has gotten more severe over the years. When he gets home from school, he hangs his head and walks slowly into the house. Rather than asking how his day was or giving him a hug, my friend tells him, "You know what to do, boy, so don't even ask for anything else." If we are talking and he comes into the room to ask something, she uses a sharp, barking tone and he looks scared. She frequently refers to him in a frustrated manner and rarely says anything positive about him or to him. I am not married and have no children, so I feel out of place intervening or saying anything. Do I say something or do I let it go?

—Not a Mother but a Concerned Friend

Dear Not a Mother,
You don't have to be a mother to recognize the defeated posture of a disparaged child. You're right, this is an awkward situation, but it will be increasingly difficult for you to continue your friendship with this woman if you have to watch her emotionally abuse her son. Meet somewhere away from the house, so you're not responding to a just-observed interaction, and tell her this is a difficult conversation for you to have. Acknowledge you're not a parent but say you think she may not be aware of how harsh and cold you often see her acting toward her son. Say you know kids can be difficult, but her boy is such a delightful sweetheart that it pains you to see him seem so sad. If she's open to what you've said, add that you'd like to occasionally do things with her son, like take him to a museum or a movie, and that you always liked spending time with "aunts" who were your mother's friends. Your being a warm and supportive adult could be a real balm for this little boy. Depending on how things go, you could also recommend that she take a look at a child-rearing classic that I've recommended before, Between Parent and Child, by Haim Ginott. It is a guidebook for how parents can build loving relationships, and I hope your friend reads it because it's not too late.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Many years ago, before I was born, my grandfather cheated on my grandmother. It crushed my grandmother, but they were able to work through it and remain married. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and we all miss her. My grandfather recently rekindled his relationship with the woman he cheated with. After only two weeks of being reconnected, they got married. My whole family hates this woman and this situation, but my grandfather doesn't seem to care. We have met her only once, and now we are supposed to accept her into our family? To us, this is completely disrespectful of my grandmother and us. To them, they are just two lonely people who are nearing the end of their lives and want to spend that time with somebody. If it weren't for the past controversy, I could possibly understand this. But my grandfather has even given us all my grandmother's stuff to make room for his new wife's stuff. Are we right to not want this woman in our family, or do we need to get over it?

—My Evil Step-Grandmother

Dear My Evil,
You weren't even conceived when your grandfather's affair took place, so the statute of limitations on obsessing about this long-ago episode has expired. Your grandfather stayed with your grandmother, she died four years ago, and now he has found someone to be happy with before he dies. Clearly, when you aren't swimming in your family's bile, a part of you understands this ("To them they are just two lonely people …"). Your grandfather didn't toss your grandmother's stuff; he gave it to the people who loved her. And just imagine, he didn't ask the rest of you if it's all right if his new wife hangs her clothes in her new closet! You don't have to go along with the rest of the family's grudge. You could actually congratulate your grandfather and say you'd like to come by and see him to wish him and his new wife all the best.

—Prudie