My Fiancé Won’t Let Me Give Birth to My Friend’s Baby

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, 

About two years ago, I was at a Super Bowl party with my now fiancé alongside our mutual couple friends (we’ll call them Mary and Jack). During the party, Mary confided that they had been trying for another baby (they had twins the first time) but were having a lot of issues. On top of that, Mary had been told by several doctors that it would be dangerous for her to carry again because she had preeclampsia the first time and was in the ICU for almost two weeks following her emergency cesarean. She told me they had looked into surrogacy but that it was way out of their budget. After talking for a few minutes, I told her that I would be happy to be her surrogate, and that if they decided that was the only way forward I would do it for free. Right then and there I pulled up a copy of my health benefits explanation (I work for the agency that insures me) and was able to confirm there was no surrogate exception, so I am able to use my own health insurance for the birth. I just told her that I would ask them to pay for the deductible and out of pocket costs, which would amount to $1,700 at most. She thanked me through tears, and said she would talk about it with Jack.

To their credit, they really did explore every other option, and now have come to me saying they are ready to move forward with the surrogacy plan. I was thrilled to help! But when I approached my fiancé, he was less than thrilled. He told me that since I’d mentioned it so long ago, he had hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. But now that it’s moving forward, he does not support it. While at first I was fully prepared to tell him where he could stick his objection (no uterus, no opinion), he brought up a very good point. The nature of my job involves me only receiving FMLA leave when pregnant, because I work a school calendar year, therefore I don’t have vacation days to “bank.” That means that for however long I am unable to work due to the pregnancy, I would only make 50 percent of my income. Before we were engaged or living together, this wasn’t any of his business. But now that we are in a different place, he would definitely have to financially pick up the space left by my decrease in income.

If I was only off work for a month, it would be no big deal (my savings could bridge that gap). But my sister was off for four because she was put on bed rest, and so was my mom. I have no children, so I’ve never done this and have no way of knowing how my body will react. He is right to object, and I can’t argue this—I simply can’t put him in that position. My question is how do I let Mary and Jack know that I can no longer fulfill this request without ruining the relationship? I feel terrible, and I want to help so badly. But I can’t burden my fiancé financially just to be a good friend. Do you know of any options that could fix the financial issue? Help!

—Not So Sure

Dear Not So Sure, 

Before I answer your question, I have a question of my own: Are you sure you can’t fulfill it? From your letter, it sounds like you’d mentioned your offer to your fiancé at the time that you made it. Why does he all of a sudden get to renege the arrangement just because you are engaged? Not to belabor the insurance speak, but in my opinion, your offer to Mary and Jack was a “preexisting condition,” so to speak, and he doesn’t get to penalize you for it. He knew this was on the table and he got engaged anyway.

Additionally, your agreement was that they would cover the deductible and out of pocket costs. I would think loss of income due to bed rest or other complications would also be covered, and if that wasn’t assumed, it is absolutely part of the conversation you need to have now. You have ways to protect yourself in this, as do they, but none of you should do it on your own. Both you and Mary and Jack need to get legal counsel who specialize in surrogacy to draw up a fair and reasonable contract.

If surrogacy is really off the table, you are going to have a very hard conversation ahead of you, in which you must own up to the fact that you hadn’t considered the full financial ramifications of your offer, given your family’s medical history. You may also have to acknowledge that while you agreed to this surrogacy plan, your fiancé did not, and you feel he should get a say. They may be mad at you, and they may be mad at him. The only chance to salvage the relationship is full transparency, but be prepared that they might be too disappointed or angry for the friendship to remain the way it was. You’ll have to accept that, hard as it might be.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am extremely desperate for advice here. My 5-year-old daughter is so incredibly indecisive that it has become concerning. It’s not so much the indecisiveness that’s the issue—it’s the humongous meltdowns that happen when she really wants two things and just can’t choose between them. When this happens, she first starts whining about wanting both, then she gets frustrated, then the tears come, and usually screaming and yelling, too. It has become so bad that she’s started having full-on panic attacks. She’s told me post-meltdown before that she “just can’t control” herself when these situations happen. My partner (her dad) and I have tried lots of things—seemingly everything—to try and help her, but nothing has worked.
When she becomes distraught, I recognize the similarity to my own past behaviors and feelings. I experienced these kinds of “freak-outs” or “episodes” before she was born, but it seems glaringly obvious to me that she is experiencing something similar. It pains me to see her so exasperatedly desperate for help to calm down. I know that feeling of floundering in hopelessness, grasping for anything to bring you back to reality. It’s almost like watching a movie from behind the screen—you’re part of the movie, but you’re also observing the movie as it plays before you.

Even though this doesn’t really happen to me anymore, I feel like I should know exactly what she’d need to help her (or at the very least, soothe her in the moment) but I don’t. I try many different things and always with tremendous patience, but it doesn’t help. We’ve also tried to avoid these situations from happening altogether, but that didn’t work either. I’m willing to try anything to help my sweet girl. I just don’t know what to do.

I have a side-question in all of this: I had always said I never wanted kids because “I would never want someone else to ever be like any part of me.” Of course, I love my daughter more than anything and I love being a mother—especially to her. But I can’t help but remember that’s how I used to truly feel, and maybe I was right? How do I rid myself of the guilt I feel for giving my child the mental anguish I’ve experienced?

—Decision Paralysis Analysis Needed

Dear DPAN, 

Oh, my dear. Let me answer your side question first, because I can hear how anguished you feel in all this. You are not the sum total of your perceived weaknesses. The things you struggle with do not diminish your value as a person, or what you contribute as a mother. Children face all kinds of obstacles in their lives, and not all of them are hereditary—far from it. You did not doom your child to this struggle by conceiving her, any more that you could have shielded her from struggle had you been any different or “better.” And I invite you to consider this: your daughter could have been born to a mother who didn’t understand and had no patience for her struggles. Instead, your daughter has you, and your compassion, solidarity and understanding. That is no small thing.

I’m not a psychologist, but I really want you to take your daughter to see one, because I do think something is going on—whether anxiety, OCD, or something else—that a professional can help with. Two things I think are important for you to remember: The first is that even if you and your daughter have a specific condition in common, it’s not a given that the coping techniques you use would be equally helpful to her. Secondly, it sounds like you ultimately figured out on your own how to cope with your “episodes,” but perhaps at a price—thinking of yourself as broken or unworthy (from what I see in your letter). I know some people get nervous about mental health diagnoses for their kids—worrying about labels, lifetimes of therapies, etc.—but taking that step now could be a way she gains the self-acceptance that you may have missed out on.

Seeking help is not weakness—it’s brave and liberates us from the things that hold us back.
You are exactly the mother she needs, and I know you’ll crack this. You just don’t have to do it on your own. I wish you luck.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My lovely and generous Father-in-Law is killing himself slowly. He drinks to get drunk almost every day and smokes a ton. Now he refuses to ever go to the doctor, even though he’s developed a cough so bad he’s admitted to my husband that it causes him to wet himself, and even sometimes vomit simultaneously. We’ve spoken to him together, gently, in person; my husband has followed up via text and phone (FIL lives far from us). Nothing changes. I know you can’t save a person from themselves, but do you have any suggestions on a) how we might be able to get through to him and b) how I can best support my husband through this ordeal? He lost his mother to similar lack of self-care issues and I’m devastated that he’s watching it happen all over again. FIL has remarried, but his wife seems unconcerned with his health. She smokes and drinks heavily, too, and has her own health problems— but they actually seem to tackle her medical issues! In a timely fashion! Together! Please help.

PS: the cherry on top of this situation is that FIL is, in fact, a doctor.

—Wishing I Could Do More

Dear Wishing, 

They say doctors make the worst patients, don’t they? I’m sorry you’re going through this. In answer to your first question, how to get through to him, the only suggestions I have are guilt and being pushy. Your husband could write (and perhaps even read aloud?) a very vulnerable and heartfelt letter about how his dad’s actions are emotionally impacting him, in the hopes that it would put the stakes in a new light for your FIL. He could also ask his dad to commit to getting medical help and actually schedule the appointment together in that exact moment. It’s no guarantee he’ll go, or do any follow-ups, but it might be enough to get the ball rolling.

In answer to your second question, how to support your husband, I think listening and reminding him that he might not be able to fix things are going to be your most important jobs. If your FIL continues to refuse treatment, your husband will have to decide whether he can accept that and focus on enjoying what time there is left. If he can’t, he may have to decide he needs to walk away. In either choice, he’ll need you to accept his choice and back him on it. I’d also suggest that you and your husband find a local or online meeting for Al-Anon, or a similar support network. There are benefits to knowing you aren’t the only person in this experience, and specialist organizations like this can offer both practical perspectives and community support, each of which have value. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I have two children, a neurotypical daughter who is 9, and an autistic son who is 11. In summer while I’m at work, I send them to a mix of summer camps, and they also spend two weeks visiting their dad and stepmom. My son patiently puts up with all of them to go to his special interest camp. He talks about it all year long in anticipation. It has resources for him to work on projects and try things we could never do at home or school, and more of the kids are autistic than not. It’s been the one reliable place for him to make friends and he seems to really thrive there. He builds a lot of confidence and it really seems like the biggest place where he feels safe to try out new skills, especially socially.

The camp is also expensive, and signups are in January. Kids come from as far as two hours away to attend the day camp since it’s an unusual topic and it fills up fast. This year, my kids’ dad did not pay child support for nearly four months, and by January things were very, very tight. I took him to court, but it took time and although he’s now paying current and overdue support, it’s been rough. As a result, we missed the window to sign up for the camp.

I’ve put him on the waitlist but it’s in the double digits. This is the time I normally talk to my kids and pick out the other summer camps, which I can now afford to do. But it means the topic is going to come up. How and what do I tell him? I told them both the broad strokes that we were going through a time without a lot of money, last year. But I never told them it was because their dad decided his child support payments were too high.

—Summer Camp Blues

Dear Blues, 

Camps are never a guarantee to get in, even when you have the money to enroll. In my day job, I oversee a summer camp that has more demand than spaces, and every year kids are disappointed that they cannot attend. (Heartbreaking to us, but that’s a different story.) So, I don’t think it’s out of bounds to tell your son that you couldn’t secure a spot in time. If he asks, you can tell him it’s because you didn’t have the money, or you can simply say that other parents beat you to it—that part is your call. But I would not go into any details about the child support contention. I’m not a lawyer, but some divorces have a non-disparagement clause, which can hit you with penalties if you air your dirty laundry to your kids. Even if your divorce agreement doesn’t have such a clause, do you really want to subject your kids to that side of the family situation?

Meanwhile, write to the camp director and see if she can recommend any alternative camps that would be a good fit for your son. Camps professionals often know one another—either as colleagues or as competitor programs. You might get a lead that takes some of the sting off of this frustrating situation.

—Allison

I love my grandkid and I want to see her as often as possible, but recently my son has started to put some weird restriction in place. If I want to see them, I can’t golf, visit with friends, or cut my hair. This started during quarantine, so I somewhat understand where he was coming from, but it’s still created a lot of hurt and distance, and I’m not sure how to proceed. What should I do?