Help! Should I Leave My Infertile Partner?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 19 2012 3:00 PM

Should I Leave My Infertile Partner?

In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who wants to bolt after learning his girlfriend can’t have kids.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Spring, spring, spring! Pollen, pollen, pollen!

Q. Infertile girlfriend: My amazing girlfriend of four years has been told that she will never have biological children. It was devastating to both of us. She is coming to terms with it and saying things like, "We can look into adoption." While I've been trying to support her, the truth is, I'm now wondering if our relationship can make it. The more I think about adoption, the more uncertain I feel, and it would be unfair to adopt a child without being sure. I've researched a bit on surrogacy and donor eggs and all, and it sounds very complicated and expensive, and there's no guarantee. I know this sounds cold and callous, but the whole infertility issue is beginning to look like a deal breaker for me. Am I being a jerk?

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A: If you were married, would you divorce her? If you would, there would be general agreement that you were quite the cad. If the situation were reversed and you both discovered you will never be able to father children, would you understand if she said adoption or donor sperm wasn't for her and she was moving on? Despite being together for four years, you two apparently aren't engaged, even though you've discussed having children, so you've left it ambiguous just what your articulated intentions were to your girlfriend. You've both just received devastating news, and the blow is infinitely heavier for her. If you do love her, you will take some time to absorb this news and slowly explore the consequences for both of you. This is made easier by the fact that you're a guy, so you have more leeway to ponder questions of reproduction. Your girlfriend needs to find a support group so that she can talk about what's happened to her with others who have been there. And before you run off you should honor your relationship by going together to a therapist who specialized in these issues. But you are entitled to your feelings and though you recognize they're not noble, they are understandable. Pretending you don't have them won't do either of you any good in the long run. But with more knowledge and time, you may find this is not the fatal blow to your relationship it feels like now. Do keep in mind that if you leave her for more fertile pastures, you won't actually know about your ability to have children with someone until you start trying.

Dear Prudence: Lying, Stinking Adulterer

Q. Too Many Siblings: I'm a freshman in college about three hours from my parents. I have 10 younger siblings—three biological and seven adopted from the foster care system. My parents are doing a wonderful service to these children in providing them with a warm, loving home. However, as the oldest child, a lot of responsibility was put on me from ages 12 to 18 to babysit, watch, and care for my younger siblings. I never felt like I had much of an opportunity to be myself or build my own interests because the vast majority of my time was occupied caring for children. I am attending college on an academic scholarship and I am enjoying my studies and learning to grow on my own. I recently got a summer job near my university and there is an affordable apartment I can rent for the summer while I am working. When I told my parents, they got very upset, claiming that I was "abandoning" them. They said that they needed me home to drive children to appointments and provide summer care. I feel like I gave my teenage years to my family and college should be my opportunity to grow as an individual. My parents think family is more important than anything else and I owe it to them and my siblings to come how and offer care. Who is right in this scenario? If I decide to stay in college, how do I explain my choice to my parents and preserve a relationship with them? If I decide to go home, is it possible to negotiate for a few hours per week that I am not responsible for children to go to a movie, talk to a friend, or do some yoga?

A: Your parents have done a wonderful thing by adopting children out of the foster care system, but they also have an obligation not to turn any of their children into indentured servants to their service. Eleven children is an overwhelming number, and without the older kids helping out, the family would likely collapse. But I dislike your description of your childhood as one of schoolwork and childcare. No wonder college has seemed like glorious liberation. I disagree with your parents’ idea that you never actually do get to leave permanently, and now you're obligated to be a full-time camp counselor. I don't see how you negotiate with them for a movie or yoga break. If that is the kind of frivolous activity that doesn't fit with their 24-hour on-call agenda, there's no point spending your summer trying to fight for a few moments of peace. You preserve your relationship with your parents by making clear that as their children grow up the relationship changes. You've become an independent young woman who’s gotten her college tuition paid, and has found a job and an apartment. Most parents of kids your age would weep with joy at that. Your parents may have had so many children they don't know what to do, but you do. Stick with your summer plans.

Q. Gardening That's Too Organic: Gardening has always been a favorite pastime of my wife’s, and over the years she's spoiled me with delicious home-grown fruits and vegetables. Last year she decided to go organic, which is harder than I would have thought. She's the type of person who likes to figure things out on her own, and trial and error is her favorite learning method. Last year she tried using horse manure as fertilizer, and didn't like the resulting weeds. This spring she's decided to try a different approach—she bought a chamber pot and says she'll fertilize the soil herself. I refuse to contribute, and I think I'll pass on the veggies as well. My wife disagrees with me but says she understands, but she also shares our bountiful harvest with the neighbors, and I'm sure if I spilled the beans on her unconventional technique, she'd be furious. Should I tell my neighbors what she's up to?

A: Talk about being a locavore. Food direct from the bathroom to the kitchen! This is the ultimate in recycling. Aside from spilling the beans, if she grows a lot of beans, things will turn over in an ever-faster loop. However, her plans are disgusting. And, if she plans on just dumping her dump on the vegetables, potentially dangerous. Once the toilet was invented, people voted with their—oh, never mind—and abandoned the chamber pot for the smelly repulsive thing it was. If she's going to start using one, at least get the plug-in Febreze. My understanding is that fertilizer has to be processed before it can be used. Many food borne-illnesses come from feces contamination in the fields. Tell your wife you don't want the CDC at the door because she gives the neighbors some killer lettuce. Organic is one thing, but she should keep her personal contribution out of the garden.

Q. Vacation: I have five children, one daughter (14) and four younger sons ranging from ages 6 to 12. Every year we take a week vacation at a second home near a lake, about five hours from our house. While it is certainly cramped, it is doable for a week especially considering most of the time is spent outside. This year, my daughter's best friend and her family invited my daughter on their family vacation to Boston (a plane ride away). I told my daughter we would think about it a few months ago, and since then she has been saving allowance and babysitting money to pay her own way, determined to go with her friend. My husband thinks she should go with her friend to experience something new. I think she should come with us because we are her family and this is the vacation we take—together—every year; 14 seems a bit young to elect out of family vacations. We have to decide if she is attending next week so the family can book plane tickets. I have no problem with her best friend or her family, I just want her to come with us, instead. My daughter and husband act like I am being unreasonable since we take the same vacation every year and missing one wouldn't be a big deal. But it is a big deal—to me! Should I let her go or demand she stay?

A: Take a lesson from the young lady in the letter above. If you don't let your daughter spread her wings a little while she is still at home, once she leaves for good she may find the freedom so intoxicating that she never joins you for a summer vacation. It's a tribute to your daughter's determination that she's been saving her money to help finance, if only a little, this exciting trip. Of course it will be painful for you to see your girl go, but it sounds as if your family is a tight unit so your daughter does not lack for time with her siblings. Her going with her best friend will be an exciting adventure, a lesson in how other families operate, and an important lesson in being independent. Book the trip—it will bring you and your daughter closer.