Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Hubby Doesn’t Know: I’ve been married to a great guy for almost three years now. The only problem is that he really wants kids, and I have no desire to put my body through that. A few months ago he wanted to start trying for kids. I agreed, thinking that I could do it for him, but when I realized I was pregnant, I panicked and got an abortion. My husband is starting to worry that we haven’t had any luck and wants to start doing fertility tests. I’m worried that seeing doctors will cause my secret to come out and my husband will leave me. What do I do?
A: The two people in your marriage need to seriously consider what you’re doing there if you are so utterly at odds about adding another person to your family. You now realize you have no intention of fulfilling your husband’s desire for a child. But instead of telling him, you secretly aborted a fetus you had agreed to conceive. That speaks to a level of deceit that sounds lethal to a marriage. It would be one thing if your letter was about how you tell your husband you have no intention of having children. But you want some way to pretend to engage in fertility treatment without his finding out you two are perfectly capable of having a child. I don’t know if you discussed the having children issue before you got married, but an urgent life goal for him is to become a father. Your urgent life goal is to not become a mother. You need to face this forthrightly, and if it ends your marriage, that will give you each the opportunity to find more compatible partners.
Q. Too Tired and Old: I am in a horrible quandary! I am a 41-year-old mother of two wonderful girls, ages 5 and 7, and I have just found out I’m (unexpectedly!) pregnant again. My husband is very supportive, and we share child care duties, but we both work 40-plus hours a week and make decent but not great salaries. I have always been a very liberal person, believed in a woman’s right to choose, and even volunteered at Planned Parenthood in my college days. The thought of having a baby makes me want to cry; the thought of having an abortion makes me want to cry. I know that no one else can figure this out for me—but I need help on how to think about it and make the best choice. I can’t discuss this with my husband, who is seriously conservative on this issue. It would not be a topic even up for discussion, and if he did know I was even considering it, divorce might be a bigger issue. I feel completely torn; no solution seems better than the other. I really don’t want to go back to the diapers and midnight feedings, etc., not to mention highway robbery of day care costs. I still think abortion is the best choice for some, but I’m not sure if it is for me. I really need help figuring this out!
A: You recognize that I cannot in any way make this decision for you. It is the definition of a decision that’s profoundly personal. But you are reaching out to a stranger for a reason, so I will give you some reflections back. It is a coincidence that your letter comes at the same time as the letter from the woman who secretly had an abortion, but while your cases are generally similar, my reaction to the details is very different. You already have children, and this pregnancy was unintended. You feel you just don’t have it in you to start over with a third child. You are married to a man you can’t discuss this with. I hope it’s not true that he actually would tear his family apart and end your marriage if you ended the pregnancy, but you are married to him, so I take you at your word. Do you have some dear, wise, trustworthy girlfriends you can talk this out with? It can help to air things out with people who know your situation and can help you think through all contingencies. In any case, you need to make an appointment right away with your gynecologist—whatever you decide, you are going to need medical care. At your appointment talk this out honestly. What you discuss is confidential, and you should raise with your doctor the possibility of an abortion and the possibility of keeping it secret. It may be that the abortion drug mifepristone is an option for you. I am not at all saying this is what you should do, just that you need all the information available so that you can weigh this very difficult decision. If you do decide to go ahead with the pregnancy, do not feel guilty that you considered ending it. If you have that third child, you know you will love her or him as much as your two girls.
Q. Relationship Crossroads: My girlfriend and I recently moved in together. We are best friends and have always had a good relationship. The issue is after a few months living together I am starting to feel regret about making such a big decision at a young age. I am 25, and this is my only serious relationship to date. I have always been a shy person and never gave myself a chance to go out and meet new people. I am starting to think I may regret that later in life. Recently I have been going out more, and I am finding that I am not as shy around women as I once was. I love my girlfriend as a person, but I am having second thoughts about how much I love our relationship. Despite that we have been together for three years I have no desire to get married anytime soon. Part of me feels like I should enjoy being young while I can and meet other people, but another part of me thinks I should play it safe because I might not find anyone who loves me like my girlfriend does. Am I being selfish, or is this a sign that I should reconsider our relationship?
A: This letter is a sign you should look at your lease and see how easy it will be to break it. You want out of the apartment and the relationship. If you get out, you may realize, after meeting other women, that your girlfriend really was the one for you. But once you end a relationship, you don’t get to freeze-dry the other person in case you realize you want to reconstitute things. So yes, you will lose someone you love, probably permanently. However, most people do not marry their first love, so your chances are excellent of finding someone else. What’s most important is that you want the fun of looking. You are feeling suffocated by this too early domesticity, and frankly, if your girlfriend is hoping living together leads in short order to marriage, you are seriously wasting her time. Breaking up will be a mess, but it’s better than marching reluctantly to a destination you dread.
Q. Connecting With the Father of a Friend Who Has Passed: I had this friend growing up. Our houses backed up to each other, and we were very close friends and had a lot of sleepovers at each other’s houses, so I knew her parents very well. She was a year older than me, and we never went to the same school until college, where we got close again and saw each other frequently. She died shortly before her 22nd birthday. I’m 25 now, and I’ve since moved out of state and gotten engaged. I feel strongly that this friend would have been one of my bridesmaids, and I miss her dearly. I’d like to invite her father (her only living parent) to my wedding, and I would also like to ask him to meet up next time I’m in town, but I don’t want to upset him or make him sad. My father died a few years before this friend passed, so I’m experienced in the world of loss, but I try hard not to talk about it because I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. What would be a good way to ask my friend’s dad if he wants to meet up with me, and should I invite him to my wedding or would it make him too upset?
A: What a loving and moving letter. Please invite her father. Include a letter with the invitation saying that amid your joy, you are thinking so much about “Eliza” and wishing she were here to share it with you. Say that you hope he can join you for the wedding, but in any case, you’d like to get together with him the next time you’re in town. Perhaps you have some photos of Eliza he’s never seen that you could pass on. Surely you have some memories of her that will be new to him. I’ve heard from many people who have suffered such grievous losses, and they appreciate adding to their store of knowledge about their late loved ones. You do know loss, so you will be sensitive to Eliza’s father’s grief. But one of the worst things that happens to those who are left behind is that people act as if it’s better to not bring up the people they lost.
Q. Re: Too Tired and Too Old: I don’t really have advice, but I wanted to give the poster a (virtual) hug. I am currently 11 weeks pregnant with my third child, and it was definitely a huge surprise. The decision to proceed with the pregnancy was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make with my husband, and it was a very difficult few weeks, since we felt that no matter what we decided, one of us was going to feel resentful (either of the new baby or of an abortion). It was really, really hard. And it was made harder by feeling like my go-to people to talk to (my mother and sister) would be unable to be objective about the whole thing (and my mother is not exactly pro-choice, especially about her grandchild). So yeah, I guess I echo the advice to find a noninvolved party to try to talk to. It’s really hard, and I think the choice is sometimes harder for women who are already mothers—we know exactly what we’re getting into and how hard things are even under the best of circumstances, let alone with the possibility of “what-ifs” regarding health, money, etc. You’re not alone with this, and I hope you can come to a decision that brings you peace. Love to you.
A: Thank you for this sensitive, thoughtful letter.
Q. Re: Too Tired and Too Old: Another working mother here who faced a very similar situation. I had an abortion after an unexpected pregnancy two years ago when my daughter was still in diapers and my husband and I were both in the midst of career transitions. It was a wrenching decision, but as my daughter gets older and more independent, our lives are wonderful. There will be a cost no matter which way you decide, but remember you are not alone.
A: Thank you for another perspective.
Q. Re: Hubby Doesn’t Know: Prudie, while I think your advice to her was generally right, you ignored her comment that she doesn’t want a kid because she doesn’t want to “put her body through that.” Does that mean she doesn’t want kids, period, or she doesn’t want to be pregnant? Those are two different things. If the latter, I think she has some serious body issues she needs to address, but if she wants kids with her husband, they need to discuss adoption as a way around it. If she doesn’t want kids, then yes, this marriage is pretty much doomed.
A: True that her desire not to put her body through a pregnancy is definitely an issue that needs addressing. But the level of deceit she demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, points to other serious issues, which are grave ones for her marriage.
Q. Re: Too Tired and Too Old: I was in a pretty similar situation one year ago, same age, and my two children are teens. When I went in for the ultrasound, there was no heart beat, so I no longer had the choice. The feelings of relief and guilt are real. The real answer is what is right for you and your family—it will not be an easy one. I hope you can talk with your husband, and I hope he can support you in all the ways you will need for this journey.
A: Thank you for writing, and I agree that I hope her husband can address this with her in an open-minded way. How wrenching to feel if she can’t go forward, she has to make that choice alone.
Emily Yoffe: Thank you everyone. Have a great week!