Thursday, May 25, 2017

She Wants a Baby; He Doesn't

Here’s a situation that arises more often than it used to. A childless woman in her late 30s marries a man who has two children. He tells her clearly that he does not want to have more children. She either agrees or acquiesces.

They live together as a happy family. They are inhabiting an “ecohouse” in the country… meaning, I surmise, that they are both suffering from advanced environmental awareness.

So far, so good. And then, at a moment in time, she feels overwhelmed by the desire to have children. A biological imperative has awakened and she cannot imagine not having children of her own.

Calling herself “Undecided” the woman writes to Ask Polly. She describes what happened when she reached her 40th birthday:

Then, at the end of April, I turned 40 and shit hit the fan. Every time somebody posted their latest baby ultrasound on Facebook (and, as you can imagine, in my cohort that is happening way more often than people post pictures of themselves raising a Solo cup and looking hammered or whatever), I burst into tears. I started having intense baby dreams, like more than one a week. Every time I brought it up with my partner, he would reiterate that he loved me so much, that he felt so guilty, that he didn’t want kids.

Naturally, Undecided talked it over with her therapist. The therapist thought it was her problem:

I started talking to my therapist again. She said this pain was my pain and that if I needed to explore it, I owed it to myself to do so, more or less. 

Her husband feels upset and feels abandoned. After all, he thought that he had made a deal, that he had reached an agreement, and now she is going back on it:

He is super, super, extremely upset. He feels like I am putting him and the kids second. He is not really wrong about that — but it feels like a version of the truth, and it’s not necessarily my version, or even our version.

But the more he is sad and distant the more I regret everything I have said up to this point, because I love him and I hate to hurt him, and maybe it is not worth it to “figure shit out” if it costs us all our trust and feeling of safety in one another?

Undecided makes a decision: to check with her physician to see if she could still have a baby. To see whether she is fertile. If she is not fertile the couple does not have a problem. If she is, they do.

Here, Polly is basically correct. I will not regale you with her terminology, but she understands that this marriage is in deep trouble, and that it is in trouble because of the husband. The woman has given up everything to move to the country and to help bring up her husband’s children. That the husband does not understand and cannot accept why she would want a child of her own speaks ill of him, speaks ill of his character and makes him sound like a self-centered boor. To say nothing of: an ingrate.

For all future reference, if a man really does not want more children he should NOT marry a woman who is of childbearing years and who does not have any children of her own. Whatever she says, however she feels, she is most likely going to change her mind. And if she does, he is obliged to respect not only her wishes but her own biological imperatives. 

Even if, by chance, she had signed an agreement saying that she would never want children of her own, the truth is, for any man who marries a childless woman in her thirties, he ought to be man enough NOT to hold her to the agreement. One understands the rules of contracts. One understands that people ought to keep their word. But, circumstances arise when you cannot keep your word—you are in a coma or your flight is canceled—and, in those circumstances, an honorable partner will forgive you your apparent and unintentional dereliction. 

In the current circumstances, the man ought to acquiesce. He owes it to her. She knew his wishes and she married him anyway. But still, things change; biology has a voice; the man ought to accept her change of heart. If he insists on being the obstacle to his wife’s having a child of her own, he is a disgrace. Keep in mind, she is saying that she wants to have his child. What’s wrong with that? Is he afraid that in his late forties he will be consigned to diaper duty again?

Such is my opinion. Happily, Polly agrees. One notes also that Polly herself has a stepson, along with two children of her own. She is well placed to understand that bringing up someone else’s children is not the same as having your own. The point is salient, but, even if it were not so obvious, any man who is worth anything would happily accept his wife’s wish. Clearly, she is not abusing his trust.

The husband in question is morally defective and will probably have to choose between changing his mind and losing his marriage. Polly is correct to observe that this woman has done nothing wrong. She ought certainly stop thinking that she has and should fire the therapist who is inducing her to do so.

In Polly’s words:

But, I have to say, the idea that wanting a baby amounts to putting him and his kids second is so off-base that it presents an enormous red flag. Throw in the fact that you’re panicked over having ruined everything BY MERELY EXPRESSING THIS DEEPLY FELT DESIRE, and that red flag starts to block out the sun.


James said...

Well one thing about reality, it keeps the "Ask Pollys", therapists, and self help book industries alive and thriving.

trigger warning said...

Personally, I would offer to help her pack. Yes, Mr Husband made a mistake by marrying her, but no point in compounding that mistake with another child to be traumatized and higher support payments when the next shoe drops. And there will be a next shoe.

Operative Principle: Never feed the dog at the table.

James said...

"Operative Principle: Never feed the dog at the table."
Or the horses at the gate" every time you drive up they'll be there and want to come through.

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: For all future reference, if a man really does not want more children he should NOT marry a woman who is of childbearing years and who does not have any children of her own. Whatever she says, however she feels, she is most likely going to change her mind. And if she does, he is obliged to respect not only her wishes but her own biological imperatives.

I imagine an argument like this works for almost anything. None of us can predict how our future selves will feel on anything, so any promise ought to be renegotiable, not just ones regarding "biological imperatives", but at least you shouldn't make someone feel guilty over these predictable unexpected predicaments.

The "biological imperative" argument works for men as well after all, who are impelled to sow their seeds far and wide, and so how could any studly man be held in a monogamous relationship, no matter how much he promises he can handle it.

Turning 40 puts this woman in a desperate timeline. If she abandons this marriage, will she be able to find another man to marry to start a new family? Every year matters, and she'd have to compete with much younger women to find a new father for her child. Of course we know attractive women can find a sperm donor, especially if there's no liability, but then she has to have the resources to raise a child on her own.

It certainly would be simpler if fate found her infertile so the option is taken from her.

I don't see any reason the husband should make her feel guilty in expressing her newly found "need" but there also no reason he has to say yes. And that's the biggest inequality with any relationship - whomever wants less has a right to say no, and the one who wants more has to accept that no, or go elsewhere if they dare.

Anonymous said...

She could, of course, have paid a bit less attention to her career and more to family earlier in her life. Just sayin'.