Care and Feeding

After Two Kids, My Husband Eagerly Had a Vasectomy. But Now I Want More.

Should I content myself with the family I have or push for a reversal?

Woman looking into an empty crib.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by OSTILL/iStock/Getty Images Plus and urfinguss/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,

My husband and I have been married for over 10 years now and have two lovely children. I have always dreamed of having a large family, and we even agreed on having more kids early on, but due to various circumstances (mostly financial), after our first two children, he opted to have a somewhat permanent procedure done. I was against it, but during an unusually stressful time, I momentarily said “whatever, go for it,” and he jumped at the chance. I regretted it almost immediately. It has been a number of years now, and I am still aching for another child.

The problem is … of course my husband says he’s done. He is happy with the two children we have and asks why I can’t be. It is not that I am unhappy per se; it’s more that things feel incomplete. I feel like I have always been very clear about wanting more children, and, whether intentionally or not, he took advantage of my moment of weakness in agreeing to his procedure. Both of our children have expressed interest in adding to the family, too, although I have made it clear that is something for their father and I to decide together. I have tried to be understanding, let things go, and work on being happy with the life we have. However, that ache is still there and the desire to have one more child is not subsiding (I was in tears about it—privately—as recently as two weeks ago).

I work full time and always have. I am happy to have a job and provide for my children; but I also feel that in doing so, I should get a say and have some control in something like having more kids and the family I (we) create. My husband has been gainfully employed for a while now, and I am fortunate to have a job where paid leave is available; not to mention we have family locally who offer to help with the children we already have. Perhaps it’s my age and I’m feeling more that my biological clock is ticking faster these days, but I’m really struggling to know if this is something that will be a deal-breaker for me. I do love and appreciate my husband; he is a good father and loves our children. Is it fair for me to push back harder for the life I dreamed of and want to still create? We don’t see eye to eye on this one, and I’m not sure if we ever will.

— Dreaming of a Third

Dear DoaT,

It’s always difficult to feel that you were taken advantage of in a weak moment, but I’m afraid that it’s everyone’s right to do what’s necessary to ensure they will not conceive a child they do not want to have. Many doctors will still insist on a spouse’s permission or an arbitrary number of existing children or an arbitrary age of patient before performing a vasectomy or a tubal ligation, mainly to avoid costly regret-based lawsuits, but, reluctant permission or no, your husband has not done anything wrong. He does not want to have more children, and he has taken on the responsibility of protecting himself from a situation he thinks would detract from what he wants: two children, and no more.

I can’t tell you if you would be happier divorcing your husband and attempting to conceive a third child on your own (whether by finding a new partner or via sperm donation) than you would by trying to find peace in your existing, otherwise happy family. I suspect you would not, but the human heart is a complex place.

What matters now is starting to process the anger you feel toward your husband and your situation. No one really knows how many children they will want until they have had children. I suspect that your time of financial precarity made your husband extremely aware of how quickly circumstances can change. Working outside the home does not give you an extra “vote” in a situation for which there can only be mutual agreement.

I try not to prescribe couples counseling more than once in a column, but I also think you have a lot of work to do and would benefit from reading the next letter.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I have a son, who is 18-months-old, and are in agreement that we want at least three kids. That said, I’m an academic who is on the tenure track at a place where tenure is possible but far from guaranteed, and where I have a reasonable shot at tenure if I successfully complete some ongoing projects, which, however, will take a lot of time. While there are generous parental leave policies (which I used when our son was born), options are more limited for a second child. I would thus prefer not to have our second child arrive before I submit my tenure file in June of next year. My wife by contrast is very anxious to have another kid, and is convinced because my colleagues have said nice things about me (which matters! But you also have to convince external letter writers) that my professional concerns are overblown. For what it’s worth, I’m in my early 30s, and she’s in her late 20s. This issue was a persistent source of disagreement last year.

A couple months ago, she stopped taking birth control without informing me. More specifically, she told me that she was running out, and when I asked if she wanted me to help order more, she said that wasn’t necessary. As with our first child, she got pregnant basically immediately. She told me right before leaving on a business trip and proceeded, despite my repeated requests that she hold off until after the first ultrasound, to tell everyone (her family, friends, former co-workers, etc.). And then a couple days ago she had a miscarriage.

She is now completely distraught. I had adjusted to the reality that a kid was coming and am also sad, if not to the degree she is. At the same time, however, I’m angry that she ignored my preferences, both with respect to having a kid and by being so public so early in the pregnancy. I haven’t talked with her about my feelings, however, because I didn’t want to create strife when she was so happy, and I figured that we could talk about it later (plus there wasn’t an opportunity to have a serious conversation when she first told me). At this stage, though, I feel almost 100 percent confident that if I bring up the issue, it will precipitate a fight in which she’ll say that I got what I wanted, so why am I complaining?

At this point, I’m honestly uncertain what to do. Her actions were really uncharacteristic—our marriage has been really good—and part of me figures that bringing my concerns up would be picking a fight to no good end, nor do I want to make her more miserable right now. At the same time, though, I feel betrayed and angry. I’d appreciate a neutral perspective on how to approach the issue.

— Where Do I Go From Here?

Dear WDIGFH,

I wasn’t sure whether to leave in all the details about tenure, because the question of whether it makes logical sense to start trying to conceive a second child right now is completely beside the point and none of my business.

You have a huge issue in your marriage. You need couples therapy, your wife needs to grieve her miscarriage, and you need her to do the work to rebuild your marital trust. You also need to buy a crate of condoms and keep them in a safe place—though I frankly do not think I would want to have sex with someone who would unilaterally make the decision to bring another child into our marriage without the full consent and encouragement of the other.

Birth control is a two-way street. You need to take your own precautions to avoid conception. I think she has acted very badly by (it seems) deliberately breaking your wish to postpone having a second child, but you are now warned. Wrap it up, sir.

To couples counseling, go. Leave it all on the table. This is a serious breach of trust, one that displays a breakdown in communication that you have to rectify long before even considering adding another child to your marriage.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 2½-year-old daughter still uses bottles and pacifiers. She gets a bottle in the morning and at night before bed and sometimes in the middle of the day for “quiet time” (she no longer naps but plays in her room quietly with the lights off). Pacis we have gotten down to at night and during her quiet time. I know I’m supposed to get her to kick both habits, but I’m having a hard time because it just doesn’t seem all that bad to me. I know it can cause teeth issues, but don’t most kids get braces anyway? It also serves as comfort for both of us, and she’s a great sleeper now, which I don’t want to mess up!

I do feel a little embarrassed that she still uses them at this age. I think I’m just sort of hoping she grows out of wanting them. We are also about to start potty training, and I’m worrying about the timing with cutting her off. So I guess my question for you is: Do I really have to stop the bottles/pacis? And if yes, should I wait until after we potty train to avoid too many changes at once?

— It’s All Happening

Dear IAH,

Phase out the pacis first (start with during “quiet time”), then the bottles. You do have to get rid of them, I’m afraid: Some lucky parents do have children who wake up one day deciding pacis are for babies, but most parents have to goose the process a little. You’ve already done a good job cutting back over time, and the usage you describe is unlikely to cause orthodontic issues, but an all-night paci is not ideal at this age (though far from abnormal). I will assume you are carefully brushing her teeth after her nighttime bottle.

I would start potty training anyway. If it results in total developmental overload, you can slow the bottles/paci withdrawal process and remain at stasis for a time, but I strongly advise against regressing any progress already made at any point.

Of course it would be nice if our toddlers progressed in a linear fashion, with guidelines as to an exact age at which to do what, but that’s just not reality. Lots of toddlers are ahead of and behind your daughter when it comes to pacifers and bottles and potty usage. You are not a wild outlier.

If you are not opposed to a little magical thinking, many friends of mine have experienced tremendous success with telling their child that there are little babies who need her pacis, and if she wouldn’t mind too much, collecting them to give to a nice, paci-needing baby will garner her a much-prized treat or toy. (A friend’s baby may be useful for this transfer; obviously their parent will immediately toss them in the trash once you leave.) If that works, you can try it again with bottles in due course.

Best of luck!

Is It OK to Intervene With Other People’s Bad Kids on the Playground?

Dan Kois and Jamilah Lemieux are joined by Elizabeth Newcamp on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am Asian-American, and culturally, we do not call adults older than us (particularly of a different generation) by their first name. I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life, so I call my in-laws, colleagues and casual acquaintances by their first names, but even as a 35 year old, when I meet my friends’ parents, I default to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith until I’m told otherwise. Now that we have a 2-year-old, I have him call our closest friends Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe, and more casual friends and other adults Ms. Mary and Mr. Matt. (I know we need to tread carefully about gender issues, but for now this is my question.) Some of my friends have laughed and said Mr. Matt sounds weird and formal and just Matt is fine.

I think it’s one thing for a teenager being told it’s OK to call an adult by their first name, but I don’t want my young child doing it. In general, I want to respect what people want to be called, but I try to explain that it’s a sign of respect to use a title. It also grates a little that people want me to direct my kid to call them what they prefer, but they don’t ask me what I prefer their kids call me. Can I insist that he use Mr./Ms. anyway? Am I too old-fashioned or “too Asian” on this?

— Children and Adults Are Not Peers!

Dear Mr. CaAANP,

I believe we should call people what they ask to be called (which is not a directive from the heavens or anything; it’s just my opinion rooted in the current etiquette of the places in which I have lived). If Mr. Matt wants to be called Matt, it would be rude to insist on Mr. Matt. This is a common Yankee/Southerner sticking point as well, see also “ma’am/sir” usage by kids.

On the flip side, you have every right to politely say, “I prefer Mr. Henry” if your friends’ kids are like, “Yo, Hank, how about them Mets?” as they go through your fridge looking for soda. You are not being “too Asian”; you are asserting the name by which you wish to be called. In an ideal world, you would get five seconds to huddle with parents before meeting their kids to say, “Please introduce me as Mr. Henry,” but it’s a good lesson for kids that they do not make the rules on how to refer to adults. By extension, it’s a good lesson for your own children as well.

I think, based on your letter, you chafe more at being called by your first name with no preamble by other peoples’ children than you do having your own children given permission to use the preferred lack-of-title name that other adults in your circle favor. You should go ahead and assert yourself on the former point and, in my opinion, accept the latter as the reality of the day and place.

By all means, continue encouraging your children to default to Mr. Matt, but accept with a good grace that it may make Matt very uncomfortable (or make him feel like a preschool teacher) and he should not have to endure that anymore than you should have to be called Henry when you would very much feel disrespected by it.

I hope this has been helpful, and you do not seem like an unreasonable person to me. My kids also call my close adult friends “Aunt” and “Uncle,” which people tend to find charming, but if they didn’t, I would instruct them to defer to the adult’s wishes.

— Nicole

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