Dear Prudence

Help! My Sister-in-Law Wants to Use My Dead Wife’s Embryos.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

A man and a graphic of embyros.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Hail Mary: My wife and I debated having more children after our son was born. We had the other embryos frozen when the unthinkable happened: My wife and son died in a car accident. It destroyed me in ways I am still discovering even years and years after, though my new wife helped me move forward.

I cut ties with my in-laws because it was too painful to see them, especially her sister “Sue.” They looked incredibly alike. Sue is a cancer survivor. She had her eggs frozen right before the surgery that saved her life. My wife was at her side every step of the way. I hadn’t spoken to Sue personally since the funeral. I know she got married. She sent me a letter where she explained how desperately she wants to be a mother but all the attempts to fertilize her eggs failed. Her husband is fine with a donated embryo, but Sue wants a biological connection, especially after her parents passed away last year. I didn’t know they had died.

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She asked me if I still had my embryos. I do. I have thought about donating or destroying them, but the decision was easier to put off.

I don’t have that luxury anymore. I told Sue I would need time. I don’t understand what to do. Part of me knows my first wife would want to help her sister, but my current wife has concerns about how I would react to a biological child of mine, especially if we weren’t raising them. My wife doesn’t want a child. She had a stillborn baby and the loss hurt her.

I don’t know what I feel, but I owe Sue an answer.

A: This is a huge decision, and not one that can be made with a quick response in a chat. But I will say, donating the embryos would be an incredible gift to give that would honor your late wife’s memory, and it seems the only argument against it is your current wife’s concern about how you would react. What does she mean, and do you agree that she has a point? Have you thought about how you would react? Really talk and think through that.

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If you can get to a place where you feel relatively confident about how you’d handle things emotionally (and how much, if at all, you’d be in the child’s life) I think you should—after a serious consultation with a lawyer about all the issues you probably haven’t even thought of—lean toward going for it.

How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Big mouth: About 10 years ago, during an argument, I told my husband that I was less attracted to him because he’d gained some weight. I said it deliberately to hurt him, because our sex life was being impacted by some mental health issues I was experiencing, and that he was not sympathetic about. I was tired of having to explain all my physical and emotional challenges and so I said it to shut him up.

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I’ve since apologized many times, and explained that it was a defense mechanism that I was wrong to use, and said I didn’t really mean it. But he can’t get it out of his head. He brings it up every time we have a disagreement, and I feel like I can’t express legitimate concerns or problems because it all comes back to this terrible thing I said. Is there something else I can do to take it back?

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A: Honestly, I don’t know that there’s anything you can do to take it back. That’s the thing about saying things that are specifically designed to hurt feelings. You trade accomplishing that in the moment for dealing with the consequences of your words for the rest of your relationship. That’s the case even if your partner doesn’t bring up the insult all the time. It just doesn’t go away.

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But the fact that your partner is raising this every time you have a disagreement, a decade later, could possibly indicate a deeper issue in your relationship—the same one that was at play when he was unsympathetic about your mental health issues and you were hurt. You are both unsure whether the other person truly likes, loves, and cares about you. This is no easy task, but you should redirect your efforts from explaining away this one statement to asking him to work with you to evaluate how your relationship is fractured and whether it can ever be repaired.

Q. Trying to balance old school and new school: I am a 33-year-old female who is in a healthy monogamous relationship with my 30-year-old partner, who is also female. After seven years of doing and growing in life together, I finally popped the question and after a loving and logical conversation, she said yes. That’s us: honest.

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Which brings me to my dilemma. Throughout our relationship, our families have always treated the other with love and acceptance. But one difference between our parents is the fact that in front of mine, it is openly talked about that we are IN a relationship. For example, I use terms of endearment and speak openly about our relationship with ease. When we are with her parents, we do not speak about or show in any way that we are romantically involved. After I proposed, my partner texted her father about our engagement. After 12 hours, he finally responded and pretty much apologized for taking so long to respond but said he has no comment. He then said the only things of importance to him are her mother’s and his kids’ safety. (Ironically, all three of his children identify as either gay or bisexual.) Although I am determined to not take it personally, it did stir something up inside me. I have always felt it was the right thing to do, out of respect, to not acknowledge us as a couple in front of her parents. Now I’m starting to wonder why I still hide certain social situations at this age and on this day? Where is the line between respect and being your honest and authentic self?

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A: If you two are so honest and logical as a couple, I have a hard time understanding why you haven’t had a frank talk about her parents’ apparent homophobia and how you plan to navigate it as a couple. Ideally you would have covered this before getting engaged, because it has a lot to do with how you’re going to live and what you’re going to put up with as long as your partner’s parents are alive.

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But you can still hash it out before getting married. Bring up your concerns with her and hear her out. Your goal should be to find out why she’s willing to be discreet about your relationship while around her parents, whether she thinks that will always be the case. If it sounds like it will, you have to decide whether you can tolerate it without feeling like you’re compromising your self respect by spending time with a father-in-law whose love for his daughter ends with her safety and doesn’t extend to your important role in her life. I can’t tell you where the line is in this situation, but I can tell you that you and your partner should be on the same page and respect each other’s positions before you tie the knot.

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Q. The terrible friend: My best friend from college has always been a bit impulsive, but that was one of the things that made her so fun. I grew up and got bored but stable. She stayed wild. About three years ago, she married a man she barely knew who turned out to be abusive. Their relationship has been a roller coaster. She’s currently separated from him but our friendship has been strained these last few years partly due to what I perceive is her continually making bad decisions. In our last heartfelt phone call, she tearfully told me she wanted to get sober and start to get her life in order because she wants to have children someday.

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Now here’s the problem: my husband and I are planning a 10-year vow renewal trip to Las Vegas and are inviting some friends to join us for the weekend there. I can’t figure out if I should invite her or not. On one hand, she’s my best friend. She was at our wedding standing next to us when we said our vows the first time. I’d love her to be there. On the other hand, my worst fear is that she gets back together with her husband and he comes too. Or if they do stay separated, that she would be triggered by our vow renewal in Vegas, the same city where she married her husband. Also, if she is really trying to get sober, inviting her to Vegas where the rest of us will certainly not be sober feels insensitive. Lastly, I’m afraid if I don’t invite her, she’ll never forgive me for leaving her out. What should I do?

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A: “Hi Friend. I wanted to talk to you because [husband’s name] and I are planning a vow renewal in Vegas and of course we would love to have you there because you’re so special to us. This is hard for me to say, but if you do get back together with [abusive ex’s name], I’m not comfortable with him being there, because of what I know about how he abused you. I also want to give you an out and let you know that Vegas isn’t the best place for you as you work on your sobriety. If you are comfortable being there and can assure us that you’ll come without [abusive ex’s name], it would be great, but I just want you to know that whatever you decide is okay and if it isn’t a good time, we can plan something else fun for just the two of us.”

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Q. Re: Hail Mary: Prudie, you’re not wrong that the letter writer doing so would be a kind gesture. But I think you’re not giving much weight to how much the letter writer feels that he couldn’t handle it, and by saying he should do it, is introducing much more guilt to the letter writer. He’s obviously struggling with the decision and he knows it would be the kind thing to do but sometimes there’s no right answer and he should feel okay to say no.

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A: I didn’t read him saying he couldn’t handle it at all. The only argument against it in his letter was his wife’s point of view, which he doesn’t say he shares. But you’re right that if he doesn’t want to it’s of course, 100 percent okay to say no.

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Q. Re: Hail Mary: NO NO NO! It is not true that he should “lean toward going for it.” His, not his sister-in-law’s, feelings come first. There would be a biological connection to this family FOREVER. Even if he cuts off contact after the donation, everyone involved would know about the child’s biological parentage.

I’m confused about the issue of her preference for a biological connection—if the embryos are donated, then the mother will have a biological connection, but the father (the SIL’s husband) will have none. If the infertility is the mother’s/sister-in-law’s, then why are they having an embryo with minimal connection to the potential parents when the father has viable sperm? If the issue is that they don’t want to pay the high costs of getting donor eggs, then they should be honest about that.

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The reasons don’t make sense to me. I wouldn’t do it, but at the very least, work with a therapist AND a lawyer (wrote the lawyer married to a therapist) who went through similar issues regarding using donated eggs or sperm some years ago. This is not a decision you can undo, and it may cause endless pain to know that there is a continued connection to this family.

A: I think you’re right they likely don’t want to pay for or can’t afford to create a baby with a biological connection via the father’s sperm. It seems obvious that they would prefer not to choose a route that could ruin them financially, so I don’t think there’s necessarily a lack of honesty at play here.

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And keep in mind, he says he thought about donating the embryos even before this request. Donating them to his late wife’s sister definitely complicates things (and yes, +1 to therapy to work through that), but it’s not as if this is not a plan he was already considering.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris: Thank you everyone, that’s all for today! Let’s do it again next week.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat—My Girlfriend Wants to Break Up With Me for Being a Mansplainer—click here to read it.

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From How to Do It

I’m am a 35-year-old woman with a 35-year-old man. We have been dating for half a year now, he is absolutely perfect, and I’ve never loved a person as much as I love him. I don’t want to say our sex is a problem—it’s really not. It’s extremely satisfying and I’ve never orgasmed better in my life. The thing is what turns him on is talk of love, monogamy, growing old together—stuff I love to hear. Our sex is very loving, and we have a great emotional connection every time. But sometimes I just want to be screwed, if you know what I mean. How do I convey this to him without seeming like I have a problem with how things are?

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