Dear Prudence

My Sister-in-Law Wants More of Our Embryos, but She’s a Terrible Parent

Prudie offers advice on donated embryos and baby names.

Collage of a woman's hand and frozen eggs in freezer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock/Getty Images Plus and blueshot/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Welcome to the newest addition to the Dear Prudence lineup: the Friday mini-column. At the end of the workweek, Prudie will answer two more questions from the mailbag. This week: donated embryos and baby names.

To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,
Five years ago, my husband and I gave his infertile sister some of our fertilized embryos (we were done having children). We meant this as a gift, as my sister-in-law was in agony. She now has a beautiful daughter, but my husband and I are rethinking our offer. She’s overly involved to the point that she has refused to leave the child alone with her husband for over a year. My niece has obvious separation anxiety and still is not toilet trained. Their marriage is on the rocks, but my sister-in-law asked for the last of our embryos this Christmas. She did this in front of the entire family and followed up twice on our noncommittal response. We still have four embryos in storage and have been debating what to do. My sister-in-law is not abusive, but in my hearts of hearts, I can’t say she is a good mother. My husband doesn’t like his sister pushing on this in front of everyone. He says we should lie and say an accident happened. I don’t know. And I hate the presumption of my sister-in-law in pushing after we demurred the first time. It was humiliating to have my private business paraded in front of everyone without a word. I fear what will happen if we refuse this.
—No More Children

Ideally, your sister-in-law would realize that your initial generosity did not mean she had carte blanche access to your remaining embryos, would recognize your right to decline to offer her more, and back off once it was clear you were not interested in providing additional genetic material for future children. You’re clearly operating in a situation that’s not anything close to ideal, and while you don’t owe her an explanation in saying no, I can understand why your husband feels inclined to invent an “accident” instead of being straightforward with his sister. My guess is that no matter which reason you give her—“We’re not comfortable providing more embryos to relatives,” “The clinic accidentally got rid of them,” “We’re concerned about your ability to care for your existing children,” or even just “We were prepared to do this once but don’t want to do it again”—she’s going to be upset, likely even angry, with you. So whatever reason you decide to give her when you say no (and I think you should say no, although I’m fairly agnostic on whether you should lie to her about why), the most important thing to stress is that your decision is final and that it’s not up for discussion or debate. “The embryos aren’t available” is, frankly, all you need to tell her. You don’t have to convince her that you have a good-enough reason for saying no. The two of you should figure out how you’re going to shut down further arguments or public attempts at manipulation from her, then stay united in saying no. Even if your sister-in-law’s marriage were strong, and even if she were a terrific parent, you and your husband have every right to refuse to share any more of your embryos. It’s not your responsibility to furnish her with children, she does not have an ongoing right to your frozen embryos, and no one should be forced to parent or provide genetic material for children that they don’t want.

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Dear Prudence,
My brother died in infancy; the rest of us are all girls. My husband and I discovered we were having twin boys and announced the pregnancy and the names as a Christmas present to my father. Baby One has my last name plus my father-in-law’s first. Baby Two has my dead brother’s full name. My father and mother both cried at the news. My husband and I were so proud—until my sisters got involved. Both are married without kids, but my oldest wrote me an email telling me I “hijacked Christmas” and she was “saving the names for her children.” She is 37 and has been married 10 years. My second-oldest sister scolded me for not including the “family” in the naming tradition. I feel so insulted, but I don’t know what to do. There are no grandchildren on my side of the family, while my husband had two different “Katies” born the same year. I think both of my sisters are behaving badly, but I don’t want to push them out of the family lines. What should we do?
—Baby Problems

Even if your sister were 107 and had been married for 300 years, “saving the names” isn’t a thing, and she doesn’t have a right to tell other people what to name their kids just because she thinks she has seniority. I can appreciate that you are hoping to de-escalate the situation, but this isn’t something you need to apologize for, and I hope you’re able to resist pressure to do so in order to keep the peace. You did a lovely thing that honors your brother and father, and there’s absolutely nothing keeping your sisters from incorporating either or both of those names with any future children they may have. They have not been injured or insulted. Nothing has been taken from them, nothing has been ruined or tarnished, and Christmas remains on the date it always was. You can tell them both that you care about their feelings, that you did not name your twins in order to hurt or exclude them, and that you hope they can come to feel, with you and your husband and your parents, excitement and joy about the upcoming addition to your family.

Catch up on this week’s Dear Prudence here.