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Heavy Meddle: I’ve Started Taking Fertility Meds — But My Husband Doesn’t Know

A woman eager to have another child decides to take fertility medication … without consulting her spouse. (stordito/flickr)
A woman eager to have another child decides to take fertility medication … without consulting her spouse. (stordito/flickr)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

My husband and I have agreed to try for a third baby. However, I haven't told him that I am taking a fertility medication to help make it happen. He thinks we are just letting whatever happens happen.

Do I need to tell him all of the nitty gritty details, even though I find it very embarrassing to talk about my fertility challenges?

PHOTO

Signed,
Going for Three

Dear Going,

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You have to tell your husband.

First, because there are clear medical issues here. As you well know, fertility meds come with certain side effects and risks. Most notable, is the higher incidence of multiple births. Do you really think it’s fair for you to not tell the father of your children that he may be welcoming numbers three and four to the fold. (Or three, four and five.) In some cases, there’s also the increased risk of miscarriage, which is its own sort of anguish. The other symptoms — depression, mood swings, ovarian cysts, etc. — are no picnic, either. Your husband has a right to know about these risks. They effect his life, as well as yours.

This leads me to the second and deeper reason, which has to do with the broader issue of full marital disclosure. To wit: your spouse (or partner) doesn’t need to know your every feeling, or behavior, or decision. But he does need to know about the big ones. Otherwise, you are practicing a kind of deceit by omission. And that is what brings most marriages down in the end — not what people think or do, but a failure to communicate, which leads to an erosion of trust.

Just remember: the truth will set you free, though it won’t change any diapers for you.

Your reluctance to disclose your perceived lack of fertility is perfectly natural, even for a woman who already has two kids. There are a host of resources, in fact, for the hundreds of thousands of women who feel some version of what you do. Your husband, the father of your other two children, is your most important resource. Doesn’t he deserve to know what you’re struggling with? Don’t you deserve his support?

You don’t state this explicitly, but I wonder if you’re holding back on telling him in part because you feel he might object, or that telling him will at any rate complicate the decision. He might argue, for instance, that you guys should try to get pregnant without medical intervention first, at least for a few months. Or maybe he will feel more ambivalent about the undertaking. This is a real and legitimate concern. But I think he has the right to participate in this decision, because while the body that carries that child is yours, the family it is born into is a joint endeavor.

It may be that your husband will feel betrayed. But I suspect, given the chance, he’ll be sympathetic. After all, you decided to have a third baby together, and you should decide together what steps you’re willing to take to bring that life into the world.

Just remember: the truth will set you free, though it won’t change any diapers for you.

Good luck,
Steve

Author's Note: This is one of those many letters were I feel like my gender, and general self-involvement, is a handicap. When I ran this by my wife, Erin (also a mother of three), here’s what she had to say:

I would actually take a much less hard line on this one. Maybe I understand more deeply what it’s like to struggle to feel full ownership of your body, when there are so many cultural and political forces telling you, as a woman, that what you do with your body – especially around fertility and birth decisions – is their business. I’m going to guess that the letter writer’s initial justification for taking fertility meds without telling her husband went something like this: He’s okay with having a third baby, so what I do with my body in order to give that a better chance of happening is not his business. I don’t entirely disagree with that. Although I know this is entering morally tricky territory, if I were speaking to a friend in this position, I would probably recommend that, if she wants to come clean, talking with the husband about “hypothetically” taking fertility meds first, to see what his reaction to them might be. I guess I wonder what the letter writer is afraid of — that maybe her husband’s decision about having a third child is contingent upon leaving it up to fate or God, and that if she’s taking extra steps he’ll somehow want the child less? It may be that he doesn’t feel that way. But if he does, than that’s a conversation they need to have. Your point about the possible complications is well taken, although the only one that really affects the rest of the family is the possibility of a multiple birth, which, if the mother is above a certain age, is more likely even without fertility drugs. (I’m guessing, although of course I could be wrong, that the letter writer’s fertility challenges are related to age.) Finally, as a mom of three who’s last baby was officially an “oops” — no drugs required — I would like to emphasize that how the baby is conceived and arrives in the world is ultimately much less important than how much the family loves and cares for her once she’s there. If the letter writer and her husband are fully prepared to take on the challenge of a third, then it shouldn’t ultimately matter if conceiving her requires medical assistance, only that there’s enough love to go around. — Erin Almond

I’m curious what other readers, particularly women who can identify with Going for Three, have to say. Please leave a comment below, if you would. Oh, also, for an incredibly beautiful literary treatment of this subject, please check out the story “Procreate, Generateby one of my favorite writers, Anthony Doerr.

And, finally, please send your own questions along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your queries via email.


Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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