Care and Feeding

My Mom Keeps Blaming My Miscarriage on My Weight

A woman standing with both hands placed on her flat exposed midriff
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by 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 trying for a second child since the end of 2018. We were just about to call a fertility specialist at the end of last year when I found out I was pregnant. Unfortunately, in January of 2020, at 10 weeks along, I had a miscarriage. Because my husband and I are under 35, we were told to wait another year and keep trying on our own before seeing a fertility specialist, so the plan is to have a visit in March 2021. Overall, my family has been incredibly supportive, but my mom often puts her foot in her mouth, which makes it difficult to talk to her.

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For context, I’m an RN with several years of experience and work closely with my health care providers if I need things addressed. My doctor told me I’m at a healthy weight, and my husband and I have a fairly healthy diet. I work out three or four days a week for 20–45 minutes at a time, and have never experienced an injury related to working out. My mom has always been slightly overweight (which she often pins on her long-ago pregnancies with me and my siblings) and frequently finds excuses not to eat well or exercise.

When I first told my mom about the miscarriage last January, she sympathized, but then asked, “Were you working out too much?” I explained that most of the time a miscarriage is caused by a genetic anomaly, and there was nothing I did that could have precipitated it. Just a few weeks ago, I told her that we’re still not having any luck, and how tough that is, and she said she was concerned that “maybe you’re underweight—there’s a lot of articles out there that show that this can be a problem.” I bluntly told her it’s not my weight that’s the problem and changed the subject. I want to have a close relationship with her—I want to be able to talk to her about anything and everything!—but this sort of conversation is very frustrating. I think she’s trying to relate to me by doing internet research, but I can’t understand why she’s fixated on my weight as a cause for my possible infertility. How can I talk to her about this in a productive way? Should I even try? At this point, I kind of just want to give up and just keep things superficial when I talk to her.

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—Not Underweight!

Dear NU,

I’m so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. And I understand that right now your desire to become pregnant again is the main thing on your mind, but surely there is a middle ground between talking to your mother about this—a subject that you have learned is not a productive one for the two of you—and a superficial relationship with her.

Sometimes even the people we feel closest to fail us, often for reasons that have nothing to do with us; sometimes people who love us not only cannot offer us what we need at a particular moment but say or do precisely the wrong thing. It sounds like this subject has become a sort of hot spot for the two of you (and I have the distinct feeling that this conflict is not new, that it’s dredging up some old tension between the two of you around bodies and weight). Look, there’s no shame in keeping a relationship superficial if that’s the only way it’s going to work for you in order to keep someone in your life—but since you want so much to be close to your mother, can’t you just call this one subject off limits? The truth is it’s perfectly normal, as one gets older, not to tell one’s mom “anything and everything.” This can be a strange shift for those who’ve had the sort of tell-all relationship with a parent that you’ve had, and I understand that you might feel that by withholding anything at all you are somehow letting your mom down, but really … in this case, “Yeah, Mom, we did it again last night, and I really think it worked this time” is something that’s completely and reasonably acceptable to keep to yourself.

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Don’t talk to her about your effort to become pregnant. When you are pregnant, you can tell her the good news. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other topics that are far from superficial ones. (And if she asks you how things are going fertility-wise, a cheerful “No news yet!” is sufficient. If she says, “Aha! That’s because you’re too skinny!” I would just as blithely say, “Oh, Mom, that’s just silly. Now, about that arrogant doctor I finally told off at work last week—you wouldn’t believe what happened yesterday … ”)

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I just read your column about a woman trying to decide whether to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of her kids. I was in the same spot 16 years ago and decided to stay. I made the deliberate decision to assume my husband would never change and just pretend I was a single parent so that any help he gave me was a pleasant surprise. It’s worked OK. I’m quite sure my husband has little idea how low-key unhappy I’ve been in our marriage since I gave up any attempt at marriage counseling, and my kids all are doing well. Now that the youngest is headed to college next year, I’m ready to move toward ending the marriage. I’m starting to plan for the next stage in my life as a single person, and I wonder how to cushion the blow for my three (technically) adult children? I’ll definitely wait until after the pandemic, and probably until my youngest is out on his own, but I know it’s still going to be a shock to them. I don’t want to drag them into any conflict that arises between their father and me, and I’m certainly not going to ask them to choose sides, but I’m pretty sure that my decision to leave my husband after 30-some years of marriage will look insane without more context. Any thoughts about how much truth to share with my kids, now that they are not kids anymore?

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—Searching for the Exit

Dear SftE,

I don’t think it matters what your decision to end your marriage looks like to your adult children. At this point in your life—and theirs—your choice to divorce your husband is no one’s business but your own. Yes, they may be shocked: Adult children are not immune from feeling dismayed or destabilized when their parents divorce. But now they are not children. They will deal with whatever they are feeling in the way that adults do (and, no doubt, each in their own way). The only truths I’d share with them is that this is a decision you’re making for the sake of your own happiness, and that you’re sorry if this is hard for them. To say anything more would be gratuitous and do none of you any good. As noted above: Adult children and their parents do not have to talk about everything in order to have a close relationship. Both parents and children can (and should) make their own decisions about what’s off limits.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 23-year-old undergrad who recently got married. My husband is older than I am, and we have been talking about our baby timeline. He wants to start in four to five years, when he’s 36/37, if we are going to try for biological kids; otherwise we would adopt after I finish school. I am currently on track to pursue my Ph.D. in clinical psych—a lifelong goal. Not pursuing that ambition is not an option. But I know that raising kids and completing a Ph.D. are overwhelming, exhausting endeavors in themselves, and that trying to do both at the same time has the potential to destroy a marriage. So I am more than a bit skeptical of how this plan of his will work.

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He has shown he is supportive; he does most of the cooking and we share household responsibilities equally, but even so I know that the majority of parenting often falls on the mother. The schools I am looking into are all far from family or friends who would otherwise be available to support us, and this timeline he’s proposed would put me smack dab in the middle of my graduate program. It’s true that I have heard of women who were able to become first-time parents while in pursuit of their degrees without jeopardizing their careers, so I know it is possible, if difficult. But I have also heard that having a baby while in grad school can get you dropped by advisers and jeopardize the chances of receiving the degree—thus the excessive worrying and planning on my part. We are going over how much money he would need to make to cover babysitting or day care, what kind of work schedule we would need to cover all of our bases, and how we would divide labor and communicate about chores, cleaning, cooking, and child care. What other questions or topics should we be discussing? Are there habits we should be developing now so we are in a more secure spot when the time comes? I feel like the kinds of planning we’re doing now would be fine if I was already in the job market or finishing my graduate work, but the prospect of becoming a mom in grad school makes me think we need to put in more effort into planning and preparation than we otherwise would.

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—Planning for Ph.D. Parenting

Dear Planning,

You are 23 years old. Why on earth are you agreeing to this tight time frame? Why is your husband the one deciding when the two of you are going to start a family?

And why should the possibility of your abandoning your lifelong goal even be raised (even for you to reject it!)?

Yes, it is possible to have a baby while in graduate school. But the women I know who have done this (rarely on purpose, I would add) have been stressed and stretched to the limit of their endurance—I know this because I’ve been their professor and adviser. It’s difficult enough (but for many reasons much more doable) to have a baby while starting out in one’s career (my own baby was born three months before I came up for tenure at my university). I can think of no reason for you not to wait to have your first child until after you’ve turned in and defended your dissertation. Well, I can think of one—but it’s not a good reason: Your husband wants to have a baby by the time he’s 37. I don’t believe for a single second that you should go along with this plan of his, or that waiting until the time is better for you means that biological children are off the table. The conversation you should be having right now is one about a marriage of equals that goes well beyond the question of splitting household chores.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mother of a wonderful 6-year-old girl. She is independent, funny, smart, and easygoing. Since she was around a year old, my husband and I have been friends with another couple. We consider them family, and they have always been amazing with our daughter. They’ve always told us that if we ever need a babysitter to let them know. And so we’ve reached out several times to ask them to sit—and they always say no! For a long time this didn’t bother us; we understand that people are busy or sometimes just don’t want to be bothered with someone else’s children.

However, there are two other couples with younger children (ages 3 and 2) in our circle, and they babysit all the time for them. It doesn’t seem to matter if they have other plans or not—they will either cancel them or incorporate the kids into their plans. Both of them have even left work early or taken the day off on multiple occasions in order to babysit. I casually mentioned once that we seem to be the only people that they say no to, and their response was “We love your daughter. We’ve just always had something going on when you’ve asked us.” But this seems like an excuse that only applies to us, not to these other families. Am I reading too much into this? Do I have any right to feel left out and jealous, and if so, should I say something to this couple?

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—Not Sure What to Say

Dear NSWtS,

When it comes to feeling left out and jealous—when it comes to feeling anything—having a “right” to the feeling isn’t really the point. We feel what we feel. I don’t know why your friends don’t want to babysit for you, but it’s pretty clear they don’t. Maybe they don’t, in fact, like your child. Maybe they like her fine but feel out of their depth with her for one reason or another. Maybe when she was younger, they didn’t want to babysit any children—they didn’t feel up to the task, or didn’t want to make the sacrifice—and now they’ve discovered they enjoy spending time with small children … but don’t want the responsibility of entertaining a 6-year-old (a very different sort of task than caring for a toddler). Who knows?

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But you’ve already said something. A tad passive-aggressively, maybe, but you did bring it up. And they sidestepped an answer. Do not say anything else! They have made themselves clear. They either don’t want to explain it to you or can’t explain it even to themselves. If you like them and otherwise get along well with them, I would let this go. If you can’t—if your feelings are too hurt, and the possibility that they are not wild about your wonderful daughter is unbearable to you—then I’m afraid you’ll have to let the friendship go instead.

—Michelle

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