Care and Feeding

I Want to Celebrate My Husband’s Vasectomy With a Photo Shoot. Is That Insensitive?

The photo would be a “We’re not expecting!” announcement.

A Polaroid of a man and woman. The man looks exasperated.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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,

I’m a woman in my late 20s, and my husband, who’s in his early 30s, is scheduled to get a vasectomy within the next month or so. Excited about this decision, I asked if we could do a “We’re not expecting” photo shoot after his procedure. Like the compassionate sweetheart he is, he said he liked the idea, but wanted to be sensitive to people who physically can’t have children (we have at least one such couple in the family). While I understand and feel the same way, I’d still like to be able to celebrate our decision the way any family might announce a new addition. I also expressed some frustration that, between those who have children and those who can’t, I’m stuck in the middle as someone who made the difficult but very active decision not to procreate, and feel pressure to just shut up about it. I obviously don’t want to push my husband to participate in a photo shoot he doesn’t want to, and it’s not really about that—it’s about feeling free to celebrate a milestone in our life. Am I being insensitive and selfish? Should I just be quietly happy and watch everyone else make their big announcements?

—Happily Kid Free

Dear HKF,

It is, of course, significant to choose not to be a mother in a society that still makes women feel like it is their destiny or responsibility to do so. But those “We’re expecting” shoots can certainly be difficult to view for would-be parents or those who have lost children. They serve a distinct purpose, which is to announce that a new child is coming into the world. Is an announcement that you won’t be having a child necessary? Only you can answer that.

I think your husband has the right idea, especially considering that you have family members who were not given the option to choose or reject a “traditional” pregnancy. I know it feels like everything needs to be an Instagram moment, but there are ways to celebrate your decision that don’t involve a photo shoot, such as a baecation or a small dinner with close friends and family who wouldn’t feel some kind of way about fêting your choice.

If a photo is that important to you, consider one that is less about parodying the traditional birth announcement and more about celebrating the family that you have created together—maybe incorporating a shared passion for your favorite sports team, your love of travel, your pet, etc. When you share them publicly, choose a caption that mentions your decision without getting into the vasectomy. Think along the lines of “We are a family of two by choice, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Enjoy special holiday content from our Care and Feeding columnists, including a gift guide of classic toys for children of every age from Nicole Cliffe, coping strategies to survive the holidays from Jamilah Lemieux and educational (but fun!) kid gift ideas from Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer. 

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are in our 30s and have been married for about two years. We live in a religious community and people regularly ask me when we are going to have kids, or tell me that we better get moving. The fact is, we would very much like to have kids and have been trying, but so far all we have to show for it is two miscarriages. I don’t want to tell people about them because it’s painful and, frankly, none of their business, but I also don’t know how to get people to stop making these comments to me without shocking them into feeling terrible. Any suggestions of scripts I can use without telling people my whole medical history?

—Get Off My Back

Dear GOMB,

Consider offering a simple “We are hoping to expand our family at some point, and we will when the time is right.” Another option: “Everyone’s road to parenthood is different and we have actually been on that journey for some time. It’s a sensitive and complicated issue, and I’d prefer not to discuss it right now.” Shut the conversations down as soon as they start.

But if you ever feel yourself getting emotional or frustrated and wanting to blurt out, “I’m fucking trying the best I can!” … I say go with that feeling and do it. Asking people when they are going to have children is both one of the cruelest and one of the best-established norms in our society, and I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with that while managing a difficult road toward parenthood. It’s time that folks unlearn this behavior, and I think your sensitivities matter more than those of some nosy neighbors. You don’t owe them anything, including being concerned about them being shocked or feeling terrible. Wishing you all the best on your path.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have never done Santa with our kids (my spouse isn’t Christian, and while I grew up with the tradition, it just felt weird to me to do it as a parent), but we don’t want to burst the kids’ bubble and tell them he isn’t real either. When our 5-year-old talks about him, we just remain noncommittal (“Oh, really?” “How do you think that works?”).

My mom goes way overboard with giving Christmas presents, which led my kid to posit a new theory: Santa doesn’t come to our house because Grandma brings way too many gifts. He would like to ask her to cut back this year, so that Santa will fill in the gap. Other than finding this unintentionally hilarious, any thoughts on how we should handle this? My mom would be thrilled to label her gifts “from Santa,” but we just aren’t that into the whole thing. I could let him in on the secret, but I’m afraid he might blab to other kids too (most of his friends still believe). Any ideas?

—Unintentional Grinch

Dear UG,

Your son is clearly into Santa, and it’s pretty amazing that he’s held on to the idea this long without becoming sad or angry about never getting anything. He’s 5, which means he’ll be done with the whole thing in the next few years. Please let him experience the magic of being “right” about his Grandma theory this Christmas. If nothing else, you’ll have a funny story to tell for the rest of your lives.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 29 and my husband is 25. I used to be in the “definitely, someday” column when it came to kids, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Pregnancy sounds like a raw deal to me, babies seem like a thankless endeavor, and toddlers appear to be a nightmare.

I feel comfortable with children over the age of 4, but my own childhood seemed really trying for my parents from start to finish. They loved us, but that didn’t make parenting us any easier. Having kids is something I expect of myself, not to mention that my family and my husband and my husband’s family all expect it of me. I even promised my husband and mother-in-law I’d have kids when they asked me directly. All the resources are in place, and I’m holding up the show. Postponing this decision by a year did nothing. I’m blisteringly angry about this situation and I view other pregnant women I see at work and the gym with a mix of envy and schadenfreude. Then I feel guilt, FOMO, and more anger. I want to want what they have.

I’ve tried a few thought experiments, and these feelings hold true only if the kid is mine: If it was a foster/adoptee, I’d be able to summon up the altruism and patience I bring to my job when the kid gets difficult. If it wasn’t a child, but a loud and demanding pet (e.g., a cockatoo), I wouldn’t feel personally responsible for its unruly nature, so I could take its challenges with better humor. I checked: My husband does not want to foster, adopt, or get a cockatoo. He wants biological children of his own. Please tell me how I can talk myself into wanting to want to have children. Tell me it’s not that bad. Tell me why you had your own kids.

—Mixed Feelings About Motherhood

Dear MFAM,

I’ll start from the bottom. I had my kid because I got pregnant unintentionally and thought it was a sign from the universe. (Perhaps it was, or perhaps it is simply what happens when you don’t use birth control.) It’s not that bad most of the time, to me. It’s actually pretty great. However, I’ve also wanted to be a mother since I was 3 and never wavered in that desire. Of course, there are likely parents who enjoy parenting even more than I do, as well as those who come to regret their decision and wish they had not become parents at all. Every experience is different.

At this moment in time, you don’t want to be a mother. And you should not become one until you want to become a mother. You don’t owe your husband, his mother, or anyone else a baby. You owe it to yourself to unpack your anxiety and lack of enthusiasm for parenting and to make a decision that you can live with. Speak to a therapist, sis. Work through your emotions, be clear on what you want, and determine the future of your marriage based on that.

You can’t will yourself into wanting what other women have, but you may find that you do actually wish to become a mother once you dedicate time to exploring the hesitation you feel today—or not. But you have to do that work. No one can convince you or change your feelings for you. Sending you peace, comfort, and the courage to honor your feelings, no matter which direction they send you.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

When my friend became pregnant she asked me if she could buy my kids’ old cot. I told her she could borrow it but made it clear I wanted it returned when she was finished. She knows the cot holds a lot of sentimental value for me, as my late grandfather made it. Unfortunately her baby boy died unexpectedly, and she is planning to burn everything he used due to religious beliefs. I would be devastated if she burns this cot. Is it callous if I contact her and ask about the cot while she is mourning?