Two women married to each other, one’s pregnant, everyone’s curious

Posted Nov. 02, 2012, at 1:52 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 04, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 30-year-old woman, married to a woman, and three months pregnant with our first child. We’ve begun sharing the good news with our nearest and dearest, but I’m befuddled by some of the reactions. After exclaiming “Congrats!” most people launch into questions about the mechanics of our pregnancy, everything from “How did this happen?” to “Who’s the donor?” to “Which college did the donor attend?” It would be one thing if these were acquaintances or strangers, where I could brush them off.

But how do you tell dear friends and family members that the ins and outs aren’t any of their business? My wife and I aren’t ashamed; we simply don’t think the donor’s biographical info or the details of our fertility treatments should be up for grabs. I get flustered and say more in my answer than intended. Is there a quick way to shut down the conception questions without offending our loved ones?

- Baby on Board

Dear Baby,

“How did this happen?” are four words that should not be uttered consecutively to a woman who has just told you the happy news of her pregnancy. Of course you are entitled to tell your loved ones nothing, but I’m not sure shutting down the subject of the paternity of your child is the best approach in the long run. As gay people marry and have children in greater numbers, this is something many more couples will have to address. In one sense your situation is similar to that of heterosexual couples who go through fertility treatment. Some share their experiences with those closest to them; others prefer to keep it entirely private.

In another way, it’s analogous to adoption in that a child born to a gay or lesbian couple requires genetic material from a third party. Adoptions used to be shrouded in secrecy, even shame. The identity of the biological parents was sealed, and some children were never even told.

Fortunately, that’s all changed, and it’s accepted that children are entitled to know their biological origins. Musician Melissa Etheridge and her then-partner Julie Cypher finally revealed their children were fathered by David Crosby because they felt keeping the secret was a burden, and their daughter, at age 3, was asking if she had a daddy. (And yes, I’m aware that Etheridge’s romantic life has been as tumultuous as that of any rocker.)

Of course, David Letterman won’t be pressing you on national television for the name of the father, but in just a few years your son or daughter will be wondering, and you want to be able to answer in an honest and in an age-appropriate way. It’s important, especially when you’re around family and close friends, that your child doesn’t get the impression there is something embarrassing or shameful about his or her conception. That’s why I think that you should give your family and friends the general information, but say for now you’d prefer to keep the details of the father’s identity private.

You could say something like, “The biological father is a dear friend, but he’s not going to be involved in the raising of our child.” Or, “We used a sperm bank and the father not only went to college, he appears to be a delightful person.” Having a confident and comfortable response to your loved ones will be good practice for conveying to your child this topic is a happy one and not taboo.

- Prudie

Dear Prudence,

My younger brother is trying to become a real estate agent, and my husband and I are selling our apartment and buying a house. The apartment was an investment by my husband and his parents — I moved in after he bought it. His parents are using their longtime agent for the new transactions. I brought up my brother with my in-laws, but they said they wanted to stick with the person they know. My family is now saying that I have betrayed them. My father has disowned me, my mother has screamed at me, and they all say that I should give my husband an ultimatum: Either he uses my brother or I leave him. My family says I am being controlled and that I married my husband for money, which is untrue. They say they will not be part of my life because of this. What can I do?

- Torn Apart

Dear Torn,

This sounds like a great opportunity to foreclose on a relationship with your family, at least for the time being. They falsely accuse you of marrying for financial advantage, and now you are being disowned for not forcing upon your in-laws an unearned financial advantage for your brother. I can just see the logo on your brother’s business cards: “Hire me, or I’ll make your life hell.” This can’t be your first indication that your family is volatile and bizarre, but what you do now is keep your cool. Tell them you will not listen to their threats, and if they want to cut you off, you wish them well. Focus on how lucky you are to have missed whatever personality disorder they all seem to suffer from and that your marriage has brought you a loving and supportive new family.

- Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

 

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