parenting recommendation from Care and Feeding.
Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I, both women, have one child, who is now 5. We used a sperm donor from a federally licensed bank, to ensure our legal parental rights. I conceived and carried the baby, and both our names are on the birth certificate. Here’s the thing: A couple of months ago, I brought up with my wife the prospect of finding our kid’s donor siblings. She told me she wasn’t crazy about the idea but that I should go ahead and do what I want (obviously, this was said without enthusiasm). I brought it up to her several times after that, and her response was the same fatalistic, “Do what you want, obviously my wishes don’t matter here.” I took my spouse at her word, and started looking. In a secure, vetted fashion (through the sperm bank itself), I was able to find a group of other families who used the same donor. And there are a bunch of kids—over a dozen!
I am overjoyed. I’m excited about the prospect of meeting these families, of our children having close relationships with their half-siblings as they grow up. Seeing pictures, hearing family stories, and learning about medical histories are all great outcomes of this. And as a lesbian, I am excited to connect with a lot of other families, many of them LGBTQ, and have a sense of community with them. My wife is threatened by all of this. She says it feels like I am saying, “Here’s our kid’s real family.” I feel that her stance is emotionally immature and centers herself, not our child’s needs. My wife was really upset over my findings. She has asked me to not tell our child (yet?), and told me she felt hurt because deciding to contact donor siblings was something she wanted us to do together. Which is clearly not true!
Do you have any tips on how I should talk to her about this? I am really frustrated, because it seems like she’s making all of this about her, rather than about our child’s best interests. There are other issues of her wielding power and control in our relationship (for instance, she has a double standard when it comes to spending time with our friends—she expects me to embrace her friends like family, but she picks a fight every single time I want to go hang out with my friends or family). Now her behavior of wanting to control relationships seems to be extending to our child, too.
—Isn’t it the More, the Merrier?
“The more, the merrier” isn’t a universal dictum, I’m afraid—I can think of a lot of circumstances to which it would not apply—and in this case, you’re the only one in your marriage who feels this way. Which means it’s your marriage that bears closer examination.
When your wife responded as she did the first time you brought this up—only a couple of months ago!—and then kept responding the same way, why on earth did you take her “at her word”? (In fact you didn’t take her “at her word” unless you mean that you agreed with her that her wishes didn’t matter.) The message you have given her, by following through with this despite her telling you that she “wasn’t crazy about” your plan, is that she was right: you really are going to do whatever you want.
I’m not letting her off scot-free here. Her response to you was awfully passive-aggressive. She could have said, “Please do not do this. I don’t want you to.” But I am guessing that being direct and forthright is not in her wheelhouse, that she is conflict-averse, and/or that the two of you have a longstanding dynamic of which her avoidant response is typical. (I’ll add that I find myself wondering if she’s afraid you’ll blow up at her if she tells you how she really feels.)
If she had been clear and direct, the two of you could have talked it out—assuming your response to that straightforwardness wouldn’t have been to say, “But I want to, and I think it’s what’s good for our family, so I’m just gonna go ahead and do it anyway and you’ll have to live with it!” Yes, it might have taken a long time for you two to work this out—and it might have taken a marriage counselor or some other objective third person to help you through this morass—but you wouldn’t be where you are now. And maybe if you two really had talked this through thoroughly, and she was able to articulate why she felt so uneasy about finding the children who are biologically related to the child you and she have had together, you would have been able to proceed as a unit.
You need to untangle several issues. One, as I’ve said, has to do with how the two of you communicate. A related issue is how you understand (and don’t understand) each other. You’re claiming that she’s putting her needs ahead of your child’s, but you’re assuming you know better than she does about what the child’s needs are…and the fact that you are so excited about making these connections suggests to me that you (too?) are putting your needs ahead of anyone else’s in your family of three. All of this bears closer examination.
The question of “control” is interesting too. I don’t know nearly enough about the “other issues” around power and control to advise you, but I would say that this also falls under the category of a failure to communicate, empathize, understand each other, and work together toward your goals as a couple and a family.
And I must ask you this: have you ever stopped to think about how she feels, as the parent who is not biologically related to the child you share? Whether or not she has spoken to you directly about it (and it sounds as if she hasn’t ever done that, as if she wants you to just know), it behooves you to consider this. It’s not “emotionally immature” for her to feel insecure; it’s something she feels, and as her partner it behooves you not to belittle this. That you merrily went off in search of bio-siblings without taking her feelings, stated or unstated, into account, doesn’t bode well for the two of you; nor does your airy dismissal of her feelings now that you’ve located them. Put the brakes on, will you? What’s the rush? Unless you are looking for a way out of this marriage, I’d strongly urge the two of you to get some counseling ASAP.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I need some outside perspective. My amazing wife and I (both cis women) have started trying to get pregnant fairly recently, and I went on fertility drugs to prepare for implantation. Then I was in the wrong place at the wrong time one night and got sexually assaulted. My wife and I decided to stop the process and focus on getting through this time together, but I just found out that I am pregnant. Honestly, my first reaction was joy, and I was surprised when my wife’s reaction wasn’t. We’ve always wanted to have kids, and now we can have one without expensive, invasive procedures that might not even work anyway. Obviously she would never tell me what to do with my body, but her priority, she says, is my mental and physical health, which to be fair has been rock bottom for six weeks, so I understand why she would think pregnancy wouldn’t fix it, despite how badly she wants to be a mom, too. She says we can recover together and try again the way we planned. But I’ve read so much about people trying for years and being heartbroken. What if I abort in order to give myself time to deal with everything and then we can’t get pregnant again? She says she would never resent me for this if it turns out that way, but what about how I would feel? All I want is to have a family with the woman I love more than anything. Am I crazy to want to keep this baby despite how it was conceived?
—Pregnant, but Now What?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but you two need help with this decision. It’s too big and too complicated, with too many long-term repercussions, for an advice columnist. I’ll tell you what I think—that’s my job!—but I beg you to seek counseling, because there is so much more to this than meets the eye. I hope you have been getting professional help in the wake of the assault (if you haven’t, please, please, do so now; rape is very difficult to process and move on from on your own, even with the help of a loving spouse—and a pregnancy resulting from it complicates this enormously, even as you find yourself welcoming that turn of events) but the two of you together need help now.
I fully understand your fear that if you terminate this pregnancy, you may never become pregnant again, and that you will regret what might have turned out to be your only chance to have a biological child. And I am empathetic with your determination to turn a hideous, traumatizing event into an occasion for joy. (I am the poster child for silver linings, lemons into lemonade, half-full glasses.) But given that you’ve been at “rock bottom”—and how could you not be?—this “joy” you’re feeling about the unexpected news may not run as deeply as you think (or hope?). And I’m guessing that your wife is not only worried about that but is also worried about what you are doing your best to ignore: that if you do bring this baby to term, the child will be biologically related to the man who raped you. That fact isn’t going to go away. How will you and your wife feel about this? How will you deal with it? I don’t think you’d be “crazy” to go forward with this, but I think that if you do, it’s going to have to be with a lot of support, a full understanding of all of your own feelings and of what’s ahead for you, and a complete agreement between you and the possible future child’s other mother about the decision. Yes, of course, your wife cannot and will not tell you what to do with your body. But the resulting child would be the two of yours, forever, and this needs to be a family decision made between the two of you, for the sake of both your marriage and your child’s well-being. Please get help with this now. Whatever you decide to do, I’m rooting for you. And I would like very much to hear from you again. I’m holding you in my heart.
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From this week’s letter, “I’ve Been Called a “Bad Influence” for Letting Kids Watch Schitts’ Creek at Our House:” “I always found Leo’s parents a bit odd, but I never would have expected something like this.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
I feel like this is a ridiculous question, but here we go: My friend from back home (“Mary”) had a baby (“Annie”) two years ago, and because I live in another city, I only get to see both of them via webcam. While Annie was a baby we videochatted while Mary and her husband both cared for her, but now that she’s running around she usually stays with the husband while Mary and I chat in a different room. Mary is totally honest about how exhausting and overwhelming taking care of a baby is 24/7 during a pandemic, and I totally get that as soon as she could, she carved out a few hours for herself to drink some wine and have a conversation with an adult. And I’m so happy she’s doing that, and that I get to be the one to talk to her! The problem is, now I don’t ever get to see Annie. She knew who I was from seeing me on the computer screen (she might think I’m a TV show but at least I’m one she likes) and she would always get excited when she heard my voice and show off her toys or make me watch while she demonstrated a new skill or whatever, and it truly made my whole week. She’s the sweetest kid, and I loved having her on the calls! However, I don’t want to ask Mary to bring her back, both because our calls are a break for her, and because I worry that Annie is usually content to play with her dad in another room but might get upset if she realized we were on a call and she wasn’t allowed to stay for the whole thing. I don’t have kids, and I know friendships have to shift to accommodate the new tiny human in their life, so I don’t know if asking to see Annie, even just for a few minutes before bedtime or something, is out of line. Is there a way I can see the baby without ruining Mary’s respite?
—Missing the Baby
This is the sweetest question ever, and not ridiculous in the least. Here’s your script for talking about this with Mary: “It’s so great—and I’m so grateful—that we get to see each regularly and talk this way, but here’s the thing….” Tell her that you miss her daughter! Ask Mary if she’d be up for regularly scheduling an extra chat—a short one—so that you can get your eyes on Annie, and vice versa. Let Mary know that you don’t want anything to interfere with your special time with her (and her break from on-call round-the-clock parenting) but that you love her child, too, and until you can see both of them in person, you want to get ongoing peeks at her long distance. I cannot imagine Mary would find this objectionable. I can only imagine that she will be tickled, glad, relieved. Maybe even thrilled. Given how often I hear complaints about friendships ending because a child enters the picture, it is heartening to get a question about a friend’s wish to include the child. I think this is a win, long-term, for all three of you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
This is a superweird one, I grant you. And as I write this, I’m waiting for a call back from our pediatrician. But I’m wondering if you have ever come across anything like this. My 6-year-old, “Maisie,” told me this morning that I suddenly looked “ginormous” to her–like, my face was huge, as if I was on a TV screen and my face filled it up (and I was standing across the room from her, making breakfast!)—and then a minute later that I looked “teeny tiny.” She didn’t seem upset or frightened about it (in fact, she seemed amused). What the hell? She swore she wasn’t fooling around. I sent her off to school—my husband drives her—but I’m freaking out a little.
—Big Mom/Small Mom?
Let me preface this by saying: I am not a doctor, I am an advice columnist. Nonetheless, I am familiar with this bizarre phenomenon. The common name for it is Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, and the scientific names for what your child experienced in the kitchen are micropsia accompanied by teleopsia (objects are seen as “minified” and at the same time far away) and macropsia accompanied by pelopsia (objects seem large and close). Your pediatrician will likely have explained, by the time you see this response, that this condition exists in terms of perception only: the mechanics of the eye are not affected. Your pediatrician will also most likely want to rule out any other possible causes, such as a viral infection.
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How do I know so much about this? Because my daughter experienced it too—not once but many, many times over a period of years, starting when she was a little older than your son, at first frequently and eventually rarely—and I took a deep dive into the subject in a book I published in 2013, because I was so fascinated by it (once I got over being scared to death). In an essay called “Seeing Things” in Stories We Tell Ourselves, I explored the (surprisingly little!) research there is on it, and—as is my wont—used that as the jumping off point to talk about perception, the mind’s tricks, and the unconscious itself. One thing I learned back then that didn’t seem relevant to me at the time is that this condition is almost always related to migraines. Although my daughter didn’t have migraines during those Alice in Wonderland Syndrome years, and there was no history of migraines in my family or my husband’s, some years later, when she was in middle school, she did develop migraines.
Fun fact: Lewis Carroll himself suffered from migraines, and it is assumed that his description of Alice’s encounters with too-big and too-small were inspired by his own experience of such metamorphopsias, which is the general term for these (yes indeed) superweird phenomena.
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