Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and his ex-wife divorced after 12 years mainly due to his ex’s wanting children and my husband’s opposition to that. Two years later, when he met me, I was upfront that at 27, I was not sure whether or not I wanted children, but I was not going to make my decision based on a third date. We agreed to address it whenever there was a change in feelings. Three years into our relationship, I decided I wanted a kid, he decided he wanted a kid with me, and now we have a baby boy, born in the pandemic. My husband made a general Facebook post—”Baby boy born at 9 pounds, 2 am, mom and baby fine” sort of thing. And now I have a voicemail from his ex in which she is crying and angry that my husband “stole” her ability to have children.
They married at 20, and when they divorced in their early 30s, it took her some time to date again. Because she’s religious, she didn’t want to have sex or a baby before marriage, and when she remarried at 37, they tried right away, but now she’s nearly 40 and she hasn’t been able to conceive. She blames my husband and me for her childlessness and is furious at me for getting what she wanted and also for being the younger woman. All of this I know from the voicemail. And now I don’t know what to do. My husband thinks he should reach out to her parents and ask if she’s going to any sort of therapy for this. I think maybe the kindest thing is probably to ignore the voicemail, but it grates on me. I don’t know if I can’t stop thinking about it because of overall new-parent stress, sleep deprivation, or pandemic anxiety, but I want to call the woman up and say, “My marriage has nothing to do with yours, and my family has no connection to yours.” I didn’t do anything wrong! It is not my fault that my husband didn’t want children in his first marriage and felt differently later, with me! What do I do? Ignore the voicemail, call her and give her a piece of my mind, or go with my husband’s plan of seeing if she’s in therapy?
—Pandemics Make Emotions Weird
Your husband should absolutely not call her parents—that would be intrusion into her life that I think would be more inexcusable than her voicemail rant. Since she hasn’t called again, I think you can chalk it up to a momentary lapse in judgment, however regrettable: a grief-stricken overreaction to a Facebook post that I very much hope your husband assumed his ex would never see. You’re right: The kindest thing to do is to ignore it. Even if she has continued, unbeknownst to you, to blame you and be angry, it’s not your husband’s place to make inquiries about her mental health—she has her own husband, her own friends, her own extended family to look out for her. And it would be unspeakably mean-spirited for you to call and yell at her. She’s having a hard enough time. You’re happily married, right? You have a brand-new baby to enjoy and lose sleep over. Take the high road here and do what she was momentarily unable to do: concentrate on your own life. Leave the poor woman alone.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I could use some guidance both in helping me deal with my own confused feelings and how to be a good friend to my dear friend “Kate” as she copes with some horrible, terrifying news about her new baby, who has been diagnosed with a genetic defect with devastating consequences for the child’s development (he will most likely be severely disabled). I am personally grief-stricken, but, much more importantly, Kate needs me, her family, and her other friends to step up. Her family is not handling this so well (understandably, I’m sure, since they have their own grief to contend with), and I would like to do better. But what do I do/say? How can I avoid doing and saying the totally wrong things?
—Worried and Heartbroken Friend of a New Mom
I have just finished reading a book that will help you be of use to your friend. I think you should read it and consider giving a copy to your friend too, once you’ve read it, if you believe she’s ready for it (her family could probably use a copy too). Raising a Rare Girl, a memoir by Heather Kirn Lanier, is a remarkable book that I had the chance to read an advance copy of this week (it’s due out in two days), and as I read it, I found myself thinking that all expectant and new parents should read it. Lanier’s thoughtful, complex, loving account of raising her daughter Fiona—now 8—who was born with an extremely rare genetic deletion that results in a syndrome called Wolf-Hirschhorn, is a beautiful and hopeful book that is also unflinching about the day-to-day challenges of her family’s life. While every family’s experience of raising a child with disabilities will come with its own specific challenges, Lanier’s ultimate realization that the question to ask herself was not Will my daughter ever walk or talk? but How can I best love her, just as she is?
Reading Lanier’s memoir, I realized that it would have been helpful to me as a new mother as I struggled with ideas about perfection and with my expectations for my daughter and for myself as a mother. Expectations about who our children should be and what they should be able to do (and when) can be crushing—and this is true for all of us, not only the parents of children with disabilities. But the fact is that our society as a whole is cruel—if often unthinkingly so—to people with disabilities. Your eagerness to be a source of support for your friend as she begins this journey is itself going to help a great deal, but educating yourself about (and helping her prepare herself for) what’s ahead for her and her child will be crucial. As will your own embracing of Lanier’s question: asking yourself how you can best love this child who has come into your life. I send my very best wishes to your friend and her family, and to you.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have been sheltering in place since early March while not seeing or interacting with anyone without masks or proper social distancing. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant and due in mid-November. After over three months of shelter in place, we wanted to visit my in-laws in L.A., since it is a six-hour drive, we are both working remotely, and could stay there for 10 days. My in-laws have been healthy thus far. However, they have done some things that make me concerned about how careful they have been: visited the hair salon with masks, made plans to visit the dentist for routine cleaning, going to work where three people have had to get tested (all negative), taking walks with friends with no masks or social distancing, and having extended family over for Father’s Day without social distancing. After much thought, we decided to have my husband ask them to do the following in advance of our visit: get tested, not see friends without everyone wearing masks, reschedule future hair (and their dentist) appointments, and allow us to properly social distance in the house (e.g., the two of them eating in the breakfast area while we eat at the dining table). My in-laws balked at this; they said no to all of the above.
My husband supports my uneasiness and says he understands if we can’t go. I feel bad and am unsure if I am being unnecessarily hypervigilant. My OB-GYN has said that if we can take the necessary precautions, we could go. Otherwise, we are increasing our risk level by some extent, and it is not entirely clear by how much. I would love to get your thoughts on whether the requests were fair and what I ought to do.
—Hypervigilant or Normal Concern?
First of all, no one knows what “unnecessarily” hypervigilant is. All that’s clear is that you (and your supportive husband—good job, husband!) have a very different level of vigilance than your in-laws do. What I have come to realize is that the gradations of comfort level are nearly infinite. (Even people whose vigilance level is similar will often find that there is one aspect of what seems safe they differ on.) With the exception of those who belligerently refuse to wear a mask in public, putting those around them at risk (I was at the grocery store and then at the gas station early this morning, and here in Columbus, Ohio, there was a significant you’re-not-the-boss-of-me unmasked presence, shooting masked me angry looks), these differences in personal vigilance are just fine … until the differences turn into a conflict. While your in-laws are certainly free to exercise their own judgment and make the choices that feel right to them, I believe that when people who love each other want to spend time together, it’s the most worried people’s level of vigilance that needs to be observed. I don’t think your husband was out of line in asking them to make drastic changes temporarily for your sake; I think they’re being selfish (and childish) in their refusal. (Either that or they don’t have much of a desire to see their son and his pregnant wife—so it’s not worth it to them to make these sacrifices. Stay tuned for what happens after their grandchild is born.)
I know you feel bad, and I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry you’re not going to get to make this trip that you seemed to have been looking forward to. But don’t take risks you don’t feel comfortable about taking. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t think you’re being reasonable. It doesn’t even matter if you are afraid you may be overdoing it. What feels safe to you is what feels safe to you. I’m very sorry your in-laws don’t see it this way.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I became a new mom three days before the shutdown began where I live. I could send in an endless list of questions that new parenthood has evoked as well as an endless list of questions that have cropped up related to parenting during the pandemic. But I’ll settle for just one issue right now. Our son will be 4 months old in a couple of weeks. When that happens, my husband wants to start putting him in his crib for bedtime. He feels like 4 months is the right time to make the transition. I cringe at this idea. Our son never took to his bassinet and has been sleeping in our bed since he was born. Even though his crib is in our room next to our bed, I don’t want to move him to it yet. I have a few reasons for why I want to wait: 1) I can conveniently nurse in the side-lying position at night; 2) I love having my baby near me after a long day, and I would really miss the bonding time; and 3) we have enough on our plates navigating work and life during a pandemic, and I’m exhausted thinking about the effort this transition would take (I know our son will put up a fight). But will this just get harder the longer I put it off? I don’t want him to be one of those kids who stay in their parents’ bed forever, but do we have to make this adjustment now!? Am I setting myself up to fail here by postponing the inevitable?
If you want to keep the baby in bed with you, I hope your husband can get on board. Reason No. 1 alone makes it worth it, in my opinion, and since he’s not the one who would have to get out of bed and nurse him during the night and then stumble back to bed and try to get back to sleep, I think your desire trumps his “feeling” that 4 months is the right time to put the baby in a crib. I understand that he wants his bed (and his wife’s full attention, no doubt) back. I’m even (a little) sympathetic. But 4 months is still young—way too young for you to be worried that he’ll be “one of those kids” who stay in their parents’ bed forever (4 months and forever are a world apart—but also, I would urge you to think about, and have a conversation with your husband about, what forever means to each of you, since you might be surprised by the difference in interpretation). I would venture to say, too, that this particular argument is probably code for a larger argument, both about you and your husband’s different expectations for your child and ideas about parenting and about the current stage of your marriage. It would be a good idea to raise both topics and start talking to each other.
In the meantime, I can assure you that letting the baby continue to sleep with you for now is not setting yourself up to fail. When you do put him in his crib, it’ll be hard (for both the baby and you). But like virtually all children, he’ll get used to it. And like virtually all mothers, so will you.
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I’ve been with my husband for nearly 14 years. When we first got engaged, my mother-in-law, “Barbara,” told me to my face that she’d been having a hard time accepting that her son was marrying me. Things have never gotten better. What should I do?