Dear Prudence

Deceptive Conception

When I got pregnant, my boyfriend thought it was an accident. It wasn’t.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
More than 13 years ago, I got pregnant. At the time, I was finishing school and just beginning my career. My boyfriend “Ben” and I had been dating seriously for a few years. We had talked about marriage and children but hadn’t decided on when that would be. Ben assumed the pregnancy was a birth control failure. I told other people that it was an “unplanned but welcome surprise.” I never told another person this, but my pregnancy wasn’t an accident at all. I stopped taking birth control pills because I wanted to have a child. After I stopped I didn’t get pregnant for almost a year and got lulled into a false sense that it was never going to happen. From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test, I knew what I had done was a horrible, dishonest, unethical thing and felt terrible guilt and shame. I seriously considered giving our baby up for adoption, but finally decided to raise her. Ben and I split up when our daughter “Holly” was 3 years old. He and I live in different states and aren’t friends, but he is involved in Holly’s life and they have a good relationship. I eventually married and so did he. I now have a younger child with my husband. Like everyone else, my husband thinks my getting pregnant with Holly was an accident. I have spent the last 13 years feeling that maybe I was some kind of pathological monster. But I’m mentally stable, and I have a pretty unremarkable suburban life. I had decided that I would go to my grave never telling anyone what I had done. Recently, a friend became pregnant after a one-night stand. Everyone assumes that was an accident, but she confided in me that she had been seeking out sex with the purpose of getting pregnant. I was so relieved to meet someone else who planned an “accidental” pregnancy that it made me wonder if I should open up about my secret. But I’m afraid if I told Ben it might change the way he interacted with Holly. My questions are: Am I some kind of monster for getting pregnant on the sly? And should I come clean, and if so, who should know?

—Not an Oops

Dear Not,
Tossing away your birth control pills—while pretending to dutifully swallow them—has obviously had far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. It forced a man to become a father before he was ready and with a woman to whom he ultimately didn’t want to commit. It made you confront a dark part of your psyche and turned your cootchie-coo fantasy into hard reality. And, depending on how your daughter understands her story, she may think that her parents never intended to have her. But your act doesn’t make you a monster, nor do I think there’s any benefit to enlightening everyone now. Both you and Ben rose to the occasion and neither of you would express regret that you’re parents to Holly. Ben has been Holly’s father for 13 years; even were he to find out about your trickery I can’t imagine he would now look upon his daughter as the demon seed. It would just be one more confirmation that you and he never belonged together. At this late date, however, your coming clean would only cast a shadow over your character. You are deeply remorseful for what sounds like a singular act of substantial deceit. There’s nothing to be gained by telling your husband and making him uneasy about your essential honesty. Were you to spill, the person who would perhaps benefit the most psychologically would be Holly. She wasn’t an “oops,” after all! But thinking she was unplanned only makes her like vast swaths of people on the planet. My parents had four oopses—I was the first—and all my siblings would agree that’s a trivial fact about us. You and your friend are also hardly the only women to deliberately get pregnant without letting the man in on your plan, as objectionable as that behavior is. As for your friend, since there are other, straightforward ways to find a sperm donor, how sad that she preferred to make an unwitting stranger the father of her child.


Dear Prudence: Raunchy Upstairs Neighbor

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating a kind, sensitive, wonderful man for about a year. Three months ago, I unexpectedly became pregnant, despite meticulously using several forms of birth control. While I may be open to the idea of having children someday, I was recently unemployed, about to lose my apartment, and not in the right place to bring another life into the world. I had an abortion. I’m confident my decision was the right one, but I’m afraid it will destroy my relationship. My boyfriend lost his own father to a tragic accident at a young age and was raised by a horrible single mother. She abused and berated him, convincing him it was somehow his fault his father had died. Amazingly, he’s grown into a healthy, well-adjusted young man. However, as an only child, passing on his father’s genes and breaking the cycle of abusive parenting are very important to my boyfriend. It would devastate him to know I robbed him of that opportunity. Should I tell him about the abortion? I feel like he deserves to know, but I can’t imagine breaking his heart that way. How do I live with the guilt?


Dear Guilty,
Here’s a mirror-image question about excluding a partner from timely reproductive information. It appears your motivation for not informing your boyfriend of your condition and at least hearing out his reaction to your pregnancy was that you couldn’t bear to see the look of devastation on his face when you said you didn’t want to continue, nor could you stand to listen to his pleas about wanting the child. But it’s too bad you didn’t trust in your relationship enough to make the knowledge mutual, even if ultimately the decision was going to be unilateral. You actually don’t even know whether your boyfriend, as much as he wants to be a good father someday, might have agreed that that day has not arrived. Nor have you robbed him of his chance to be a father. He is young, and even if it ultimately isn’t with you, he has plenty of opportunity for fatherhood ahead. What’s done is done, so at this point it just seems cruel and useless to tell your boyfriend about your decision. But if your guilt is overwhelming, your relationship seems doomed whatever your do. Telling him will likely end things, but if you feel anguish every time you look at him, that’s impossible, too. Since you still firmly feel your decision was right, you must try to arrive at a sense of equanimity about it. If you want to talk to others who can nonjudgmentally talk to you about the emotional consequences of your abortion, contact the support group Exhale.


Dear Prudence,
My partner and I recently got engaged and have begun the wedding planning. While we both agree that we would prefer a low-key, inexpensive event, some amount of money is still going to be spent, and we are having trouble raising the funds on our own. I know that it is typical for the father of the bride to pay for the majority of the expenses, but being that there is no bride, this makes things more difficult. My fiancé’s parents are well off and very supportive, but my own parents, especially my father, are not as well off. My question is: How do I go about asking either parent for financial support for this wedding? If I want this wedding to go the way I’d like, I need some type of financial aid. Gay marriage is fairly new, so there doesn’t seem to be any precedent set for this.

—Overwhelmed Grooms-to-Be

Dear Grooms,
The Supreme Court, in their historic decisions about gay marriage last week, neglected to address the pressing issue of just who is going to pay for the bashes. So in lieu of the high court, I will provide the lone opinion that whatever the gender of the couples involved, the precedent should be that if your dreams and your finances are at odds, then it’s your dreams that need modification. Liza Mundy has a fascinating piece in the Atlantic about what gay couples have to teach heterosexual couples about gender stereotypes and equality. Since many wedding rituals come from the time when women were handed over from their fathers to their husbands, gay and lesbian couples who marry have a chance to help blow up these anachronistic assumptions—including that the bride’s family pays (which is falling by the wayside anyway). It’s lovely if any engaged couple has parents who are willing and able to help underwrite the celebration. What’s not lovely is for people old enough to get married to pressure their aging parents to jeopardize their own bank accounts to pay for a party. You say your parents are of limited means. That means you don’t hit them up to pay for a wedding you can’t afford. If your future in-laws offer to contribute, accept what they give without telling them you consider it a starting offer. You and your partner are embarking upon a life together. One of the first things you need to do is learn how to make a budget and stick to it.


Dear Prudence,
I began working for a very small company a few months ago. Our office shares a floor with a much larger firm. I’m being treated for a kidney function problem, and one of the side effects is that I urinate more frequently than most people. It hasn’t affected my life until now. The restroom is on the other side of our office, in plain view of the desks for the other firm. The fact that I go into the bathroom every hour or two has begun to draw some attention; people trade glances whenever I head that way, and more than once, I’ve heard employees whisper about whether I have an eating disorder, etc. If these were my co-workers, I would just be honest about my medical condition, but I don’t even know them. I have become so self-conscious that I have started making excuses to walk to the nearest public restroom outside of the office building, which is two blocks away. Do you have any advice for how I can tactfully handle this without drawing even more negative attention?

—Pissed Off

Dear Pissed,
I guess no employees at the other firm are middle-aged men. Sometimes I wonder if the gender wage gap can be explained by there being secret bonuses for time spent facing the urinal. The average adult urinates once every two to four hours during the day, so your frequency is not wildly out of normal range. But let’s say you had a condition that had you going to the bathroom every half hour. You’d think the strangers at the other desks would have concluded that you go to the bathroom a lot, then moved on with their lives. You have nothing to be embarrassed about, nor should ever feel the need to explain why you visit the toilet. Since it’s good for people, especially those who sit at desks, to get up and move around, go outside for a short morning and afternoon break and stop at the public restroom when you do. Otherwise, instead of worrying about who’s looking at you when you make your long march, do what everyone does these days: While you’re walking, stare straight at the screen on your phone.


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