Dear Prudence

Help! My Stepsister Is Saying That My Twins Will Be “Her Babies.”

She’s had fertility troubles, but her obsession with my pregnancy is out of hand.

One woman looks with sadness on another pregnant woman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images and liza5450/iStock/Getty Images.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I never got along with my stepsister, Pam, because our parents married and moved six kids into a four- bedroom house. As the two girls, we were crammed together and constantly fought. We made each other’s life a living hell as only teenage girls can. We are both in our thirties now. I am civil towards Pam, but we have gone years without speaking directly to each other. She did invite me to her wedding, but I declined as I was in grad school.

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Now, my partner and I are expecting twins. They look likely to be the only grandchildren as my brothers and stepbrothers are all confirmed bachelors. Pam has been struggling with infertility for years and years now. At the news, Pam got extremely enthusiastic and started bombarding me with texts, calls, and “support.” It made me uncomfortable, and I asked my mother to intervene. I even told Pam that this was all too much.

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Then, she got into a very public feud on social media with my best friend. She had organized my baby shower, and Pam got livid. She went on a rant where she was the aunt, my best friend was overstepping and needed to know her place. These were “her babies”. Pam later deleted the post, but I was sent screenshots by multiple people. I don’t know if it was just a one-time incident or not, but I don’t care. It freaked me out. My partner and I agreed that we don’t want Pam involved in our lives at this point.

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Pam has apologized but not respected our requests. She has sent us unsolicited multiple gifts that we sent back, and we had to block her number. My mother and stepfather tell me we are being too cruel and don’t understand what Pam has gone through over the years. I am very sorry for her struggles, but her position has no bearing on mine. They have persisted trying to plead her case so much that we had to cut down our communication with them. I am getting physically sick from the stress. What do we do?

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— Stressed Out

Dear Stressed Out,

I don’t think what Pam has done justifies cutting her off for life, but I absolutely think you’ve made the right decision by blocking her for now. You do not want to be physically sick from stress during your pregnancy, and you did the right thing by ending contact with her.
Now tell your mom or stepfather that you don’t want to discuss Pam anymore, or they’ll be next. I know that sounds harsh, but you’re the most vulnerable person in this situation, and you have to protect yourself.

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I’m getting the feeling that Pam is acting irrationally in a way that goes slightly beyond the family antics that tend to surround big life events, and beyond a normal reaction to fertility struggles. Who knows what else is going on with her. At some point after your babies are born, if you feel you have the emotional stability and bandwidth, maybe you can check in with your mother and stepfather about what exactly she has gone through and how it’s affecting her, and decide if there’s a place for her in your and your baby’s life.

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Dear Prudence,

My house sits outside a housing development on two acres. We have the only real trees since the developer cut all their old growth down and put up fragile little twigs that give no shade.
There are no parks nearby.

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During the pandemic, we noticed that the local mothers would bring their children to the far side of our property and let them play in the shade. My husband and I put out a nice wooden picnic bench and a tire swing off a tree. Everything was fine for months until we noticed a lot of trash left there. We put out on the local social media page for our neighbors to be mindful this was private property and to please pick up after themselves. It still continued.

We had to take the tire swing down because children were using it dangerously (and even trying to climb our trees), and their mothers were not paying any attention. Then we started getting complaints from people. The straw that broke us was finding our picnic bench had been vandalized with profanity carved into it. My husband had made the bench himself. We dragged the bench back behind the house and posted again on social media that our generosity was at its limit, and for people to please stay off our property. We also got outside cameras based on advice from friends.

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What happened then is that one of our neighbors decided to have a family party on our property and got miffed the picnic table was gone, so they went right behind our home and dragged it back to its original position. My husband came home to find the party in full swing. He went up and asked them what the hell they thought they were doing. There was a confrontation: No violence, but threats to call the police came from both sides. My husband told them we had cameras and to leave. They did, but on the video you can see them making obscene gestures and the license plates of their cars.

We ended up contacting the HOA of the development over everything, since social media and common courtesy has netted us nothing. They put in an official reprimand to all residents about leaving us alone, but they also want the video of the people from the party so they can make an example out of the trespassers. My husband has gotten very bitter about this entire affair and wants to give them the videos. I just want this over with. We tried to be good neighbors, only for it to blow up into this. What should we do?

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— Want a Good Fence

Dear Good Fence,

Well, this has definitely gotten out of hand. Your neighbors were dead wrong for stealing the picnic bench, but at this point, I don’t see the point of handing over the video and escalating things further. Put a little sign up at your property line that says “private property.” Maybe a big sign. And in the future, don’t offer your space to the public unless you can do it without any expectations at all about how it will be used. Your heart was in the right place when you made the offer, but generosity that comes with rules and conditions almost always leads to frustration.

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Dear Prudence,

I am in the process of being diagnosed with a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, and I have recently been suffering from what is likely gastroparesis. I’m barely able to eat and have lost five pounds in a week; I’m vomiting upwards of seven times per day and have needed IV fluids three times in seven days because I can’t keep fluids down. I also injured my back right before this flare up of symptoms and still have occasionally severe pain. (The condition can also cause chronic pain.) I’m already on a lot of medications, and I’d like to explore the possibility of medicinal marijuana if my stomach symptoms and pain persist, but my husband is military and was raised to be very against any kind of drugs. We also have two young children, and he worries about them being exposed to drugs or accidentally consuming it. I have tried to broach the subject with him before, but for severe mental health issues instead of physical. I just want him to have an open mind about things and see how much I’m suffering. Is it even possible to have a rational conversation about it with him?

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— Seriously, I Just Want to Eat

Dear Seriously,

Your husband is living in the dark ages, and his outdated views should not keep you from getting whatever medication you need to be able to eat and relieve your pain. The only part of his concern that is at all valid is his nervousness about your children consuming the medical marijuana accidently. So get a safe and keep it there. Problem solved.

I’m not gonna sugar-coat this. I have a real problem with his willingness to see you suffer and his failure to eagerly embrace anything that would make you feel better. Plus, I would bet money that he’s fine with guns and prescription medications and alcohol in the home. And he has access to the same internet you do. So, if he wanted to learn about whether marijuana was safe, totally mainstream, and available for delivery to your door like a pizza in many states, he could. The military thing isn’t an excuse to be so stubborn that he’s willing to keep you from a substance that could allow you to keep a sip of water down.

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You’re married, I get it: You would rather get him to agree that this is a good idea than to do something that he finds scandalous. So take some time to educate him and attempt to get him on board. But not a lot of time—like, one 5-minute conversation before you go to get the prescription. This is your decision, not his. And once you’re feeling better, I hope you give some thought to what it looks like for a spouse to care about your wellbeing and whether he meets that standard.

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Introducing Big Mood, Little Mood

Danny Lavery has a new Slate podcast! Listen and subscribe to Big Mood, Little Mood, where Lavery will be chatting with special guests, doling out advice, and talking about feelings, from the monumental to the minute. New episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m in a wedding in a couple of weeks, and I’m worried about the makeup choice the bride has made for us. She is someone who is very trendy and doesn’t stop to think about how a trend actually looks. She sent a photo of her makeup. It’s a very trendy color palette and it looks terrible. I think she’s planning on having the same color palette for all the bridesmaids. I don’t think it would look good on any of us, all of whom have fair complexions. My question is, would it be rude to take some of the makeup off and put on colors that would look better? I’m thinking about doing it during the reception when she won’t notice, but maybe just before pictures too. I don’t like having my picture taken and am very self-conscious about how I look because I feel like I have a lot of masculine features. There’s a guy there that I kind of like, and I don’t want to look terrible in front of him.  What is appropriate etiquette?

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— Makeup Take-Off

Dear Makeup Take-Off

Yes, you can rub your eyes by mistake (wink) or unintentionally (wink) get very sweaty and have to find a mirror and correct your makeup, but—sorry!—not until after the pictures are taken.

This gives me a chance to share my theory about being a bridesmaid, which is that if you agree to be one you are agreeing to be 1) decoration and 2) an assistant. So the best way to go into it is to completely abandon the idea of looking the way you want to look or having the day you want to have. Switch your mindset so that the point of the event is to be selfless and make the experience as great as possible for the bride. Make it into a game that only you know you’re trying to win. How supportive can you be? What can you do to help the bride have the best day of her life while you have a day that you’ve had four times for four different friends and that is costing you tons of money? I know that sounds a bit unhealthy, but I think this approach is realistic, based on the nature of the event and how our culture treats weddings, which can be messed up on multiple levels. If you’ve signed up for it, lean into it.

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Of course, at some point you will end up having fun—after all, you’ll be with friends drinking and eating and dancing—but think of the fun as a perk of a very important and very challenging job rather than an expectation.

As far as the guy, hopefully your up-close interactions will happen after you’ve had that unfortunate allergy attack and been forced to wipe off your clown makeup and replace it with something more understated. But keep in mind that you’re still going to have the same face and the same personality that you always do, and someone who’s really attracted to you is ultimately not going to be put off by a little glitter eyeshadow.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

““Live a little! Wear some eyeshadow!”

Jenée Desmond-Harris and Lauren Williams discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

There’s a book—no, more than a book, lots of books—inside of me, just begging to pour out of my head. Mental illness and neurodivergence have been some really terrible, almost life-ending roadblocks to pursuing my writing dreams, but my new therapist has been a real help in getting me back to believing that I can be the writer I hope that I am. In our last session, she suggested that since I get so scared by trying to start something on a blank page but find talking out my book so easy, I should try talking out my writing and using a transcription service. It seems like a perfect solution; however, I’ve been so scared that a transcriber would find my book dumb that I just … can’t. (And I really need to use a human transcriber because of course my unusual accent plus mild speech impediment has led to some really terrible auto-dictation results.) What if they think my book sucks? Or the fact I use a hilariously bad approximation of a British accent when I “write” the love interest’s dialogue—how could they not find that idiotic? Or worse, hurtful, like I’m making fun? I know dictation is the solution to get back to writing again, filling the void that this years-long writer’s block has hollowed out in me, but … how do I manage that feeling of judgment I know is coming any time I hit record on the Voice Memo app?

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—One Day a Writer

Dear Writer,

This is a moment to ask yourself what you would prefer: The terror of a stranger listening to your words, or the disappointment you’ll feel if you never write and publish your book. If your fear of the latter is stronger, good! You’ll need to draw on that for motivation.

I hate to say it, but this is not going to be the only time you’re potentially judged during this process. You’ll eventually need editing, and (assuming you go the traditional publishing route) you’ll have to pitch to agents, and if all goes well, the public will read (and review!) what you write. You might even be asked to speak about it in public. It’s all horribly anxiety-inducing and involves many opportunities for people to let you know if they think your work is crap.

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I am glad you have a therapist who believes in you and is willing to brainstorm solutions, because writing is hard and causes a lot of angst and insecurity for almost everyone, with or without mental illness. As you continue to work on this, you should ask them to help you go beyond finding work-arounds and actually learn to deal with the difficult emotions that will surely show up throughout this very tough process.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I had extra embryos after our twins were born via IVF. We donated them to his sister, and she had Charlie. We never expected Charlie to be anything but our beloved nephew, but then my sister-in-law died of an unexpected brain aneurysm last year. Charlie was only 3. My husband and I took custody.

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I can’t tell you how this tragedy has warped our family in ways that we are still finding out. Charlie is adapting beautifully, but my mother-in-law isn’t. She gets very upset if Charlie calls me Momma or my husband Daddy. Or if our twins call Charlie their brother instead of cousin. She has accused me of trying to erase her daughter more than once.

My husband and I have every intention of telling Charlie about his mother and his origins, but he is 4 years old. My family is urging me to come home with the kids, that distance is the best thing I can do here, and that my mother-in-law needs to deal with her grief, not take it out on us. What should I do?

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— Mother Maybe

Dear Mother Maybe,

Your mother-in-law is understandably devastated, but she’s wrong to lash out in this way. Putting aside the origin of the embryo, it seems totally reasonable that a kid who is raised in a family from the time he’s in preschool would be allowed to call the parents mom and dad. Stay firm on that.

It would be wise to consult with a family therapist on the nuances of this, but I think Charlie is old enough to know about his mother. In fact, he never should have had a chance to forget! You don’t want to have to sit him down and tell him about her in a big reveal that could be confusing and traumatizing. His origins should be discussed openly and often, so nothing about what happened feels secretive or shameful. Your mother-in-law can play an important role there. Have a talk with her about how challenging this has all been and how you’d like her help in making sure Charlie feels included in your family but also knows and appreciates his “real” (“first”? “biological”? “birth”? “other”? I’m not at all sure what terminology to use here, especially with the unusual embryo situation, but you can figure it out together) mom.

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Tell MIL you’ve put up some photos of her daughter and Charlie together in his room (and do it, obviously) and are going to start mentioning some memories the two of them had together and how much she loved him. And ask for help creating some traditions that honor her. For example, you could celebrate her birthday as a family every year, or cook her favorite foods on her favorite holiday.

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I predict she’ll get over the names your son uses for you and your husband as long as she’s assured that her late daughter is not forgotten. And I’m hopeful that she can be legitimately helpful when it comes to helping Charlie feel good about where he came from and where he is.

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Classic Prudie

My family planned an important vacation for this coming June. This vacation will be in a remote location, a helicopter ride away from medical services, and it is important to us for cultural reasons. Surprise, surprise—I learned I’m pregnant, and I will be 36 weeks at the time of this trip. I asked my doctor, and she said it was pushing it to go on vacation at that time. I have already had one easy, uncomplicated birth. Also, my husband will be coming with us, and he is a doctor. My sister is threatening to cancel the vacation for everyone because she is too worried about me going. I’ve assessed the risk as minimal, if any, and in any event, I am an adult! Should my sister shut her trap and let us all go on this vacation? We’ve agreed to respect your advice.

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