Help! My Husband Wants to Tell His Parents the Baby We’re Giving Up Was a Stillborn.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 6 2014 2:57 PM

Born Under a Bad Sign

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose husband wants to tell his family their baby died.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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: Happy New Year! And so far I've remembered to write 2014 on all my checks.

Q. Truth or Lie About Adoption?: A few months ago, I discovered I was pregnant. I'm only 20 and my husband is as well; we lived with his parents at the time. They were adamant that we shouldn't abort the fetus. We were sure we didn't want to be parents, after all that's why we had been using birth control! We decided on adoption, but his family would not accept that option and began to blame me for "making my husband reject his child." We've been pretending we're keeping the baby to keep the peace and moved out of state to get away from everything. We've continued with the adoption in secret and found an amazing family. The baby is due soon and my husband insists on telling his parents that the baby was a stillborn or died during delivery. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is. I know his family will interfere with the adoption, guilt my husband and possible make things difficult for the adoptive family, but saying the baby died seems so harsh. To add some context: His family is Hispanic, and babies and family are very important to them along with their religion. He's afraid they'll disown him or he'll break his mother's heart since she's had four miscarriages and was really attached to the thought of her son being a father. What should we do?

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A: You are two adults and young though you may be, you have made a very considered decision about where you are in life, your capabilities, and what is best for your child. That you have to move out of state says just how oppressive is the pressure your husband's family is putting on you. It is one thing to talk to the potential grandparents about your situation, tell them your thoughts, and listen to advice and counsel. It is another to feel hounded and shamed. I am against hiding the existence of a person. That means married men who father children don't keep them a secret. That means people who have placed a baby for adoption should tell their future spouses and their subsequent children about the child. And that means you don't pretend a healthy baby died. I don't think that lie will hold, and in the long run will likely make things worse. You are working with an adoption group and they should have social workers and other trained counselors to help you through this process. You should tell them what's going on so that you can figure out strategies to deal with your in-laws now and particularly after the baby is born. Here's a list of support groups that help birth mothers—you need to check out which ones might be most appropriate for helping you. It's fair to acknowledge your decision will bring pain to the grandparents, what's not fair is that they won't back off.

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Q. Old Girlfriend Pictures: I have some old pictures of girlfriends that have been buried at the bottom of a box for the past 18 years. My wife continues to nag me that I should take them out and burn them. It's not like I look at them daily (as they have been at the bottom of a box for 18 years). I feel that just because my life began with my wife 18 years ago that does not mean that I should not have anything of my life prior to that. I don't think that is unreasonable but what is your take?

A: Everyone is entitled to their private box of memorabilia. It's none of your wife's business that an excavation of yours would reveal a photo cache of your exes. I hope your wife has some redeeming qualities, because it sounds as if for two decades she's been holding a lighted match ready to make a conflagration of your past. You need to tell her the conversation about this is over—18 years of nagging is enough. She's the only one obsessed with the contents of the box, but you don't have to destroy it to assuage unreasonable jealousy.

Q. Relationship Compromises: I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly five years now, and I love him dearly. Here's the problem: I'm an aspiring closet novelist, and I've been working on a book for about a year now. I've asked him to read what I have so far, but he refuses. He says he's not a reader, and what I'm writing about (a family drama) doesn't interest him. He compares it to his love of cars and my refusal to drive fast with him; he says this is unsupportive of me and hurts his feelings, and basically, why should he have to spend 5-plus hours reading an unfinished manuscript if I can't drive with him? Prudie, I get motion sickness if I walk too quickly down a hill. I can't help that. He always comes up with an excuse not to read what I've written, and whenever he does mention it, he calls it a “romance novel” (it's not). I can't help a bitter part of myself from thinking that he might suddenly get a lot more interested in my novel if I ever make it big, but if that ever happens, I'm not so sure how excited I'll be to share whatever success I have with him. Am I being demanding and unreasonable, or is it normal to want the feedback of a man I love and also know to be intelligent enough to struggle though one measly book?

A: So we have a man who is hurt that his girlfriend won't puke in his car while he's driving fast, and a woman who resents that her boyfriend won't try to prop his eyes open as he attempts to turn the page of her family saga. I think you could at least get a short story out of this. I once read that Joyce Carol Oates said that her late, beloved husband never read her work and that that was one of the secrets of their happy marriage. This was probably a sanity-saving decision on his part, since Oates writes a novel a week. Consider that you insist on getting the opinion of your novel from someone hates to read. Hearing, "The parts I got through weren't as bad as I expected," is not going to thrill you. If you're already planning how you're going to lord over him the bounty of the sales receipts heading your way, then maybe you do have the kind of imagination required of a novelist. If you want someone to read your work, join a writer's group and engage in mutual feedback. Give your manuscript to a friend who you know devours novels. Accept that you and your boyfriend are one of those couples who have intense interests that you don't share with each other. Or look for partners more mutually inclined.

Q. Re: Truth about adoption: Since his family is very religious, have the minister/priest help the family understand this is best for the baby.

A: Good advice—as long as the clergy member is totally on board with the decision.

Q. Re: Truth or lie: Don't divulge the names of the adoptive parents. Your husband's parents shouldn't have access to them. Ask for help to make sure they're protected.

A: Also good advice. Thanks.

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