Care and Feeding

My Reckless Brother-in-Law Made My Baby’s Birth Extremely Dangerous

I’m furious about the risk he put us through.

A pregnant person covers her mouth, as if sick.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Andrey Zhuravlev/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

When I was 37-weeks pregnant, our family had dinner at my in-laws’ house. Like most parents of young kids, we’d been dealing with a lot of respiratory illnesses this season, so we were taking extra precautions to avoid illness around my due date (our school-aged kid masking at school, my husband masking at work, avoiding large gatherings). My husband’s family knew that this was a concern for us, and I thought we could trust them to tell us if they were sick so we could stay home. My brother-in-law and his family showed up to dinner noticeably sick (it turned out to be RSV that their kindergartner contracted at school). When we realized they were sick and BIL casually dropped that our niece had tested positive for RSV, we left (it was awkward, but whatever). It was too late, though. We all got RSV too. My toddler ended up in the ER, and I developed pneumonia.

I went through labor and delivery with double pneumonia. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. The first couple weeks of our baby’s life were extra exhausting and miserable as I recovered from both the illness and childbirth. Our baby is now 5 weeks old, I’m still not back to full health, and I’m still furious at my BIL and his wife. It’s not like they were asymptomatic and they exposed us by accident. This was totally avoidable, and they just didn’t care enough to give us a heads-up. My BIL sent my husband an “oh man, sorry about that” text when my husband told him we’d all gotten sick. I don’t want to see them at all for the next few months, not until our baby has had a chance to develop a more robust immune system and be vaccinated. I don’t trust them anymore.

My husband, however, thinks it’s time to forgive and move on. When I pressed him for a reason, he revealed that it’s mostly that he doesn’t want to deal with his parents being upset about us skipping Easter and the next few family birthday celebrations. I got very angry and told him that he and his parents weren’t the ones who had to push out a baby while feverish and struggling to breathe, so I don’t care what they want. Now we’re at an impasse. How can I convince my husband to support me on this?

—Still Recovering

Dear Still Recovering,

You can’t “convince” him to support you on this. But here’s what you can do: 1) Ask him to tell your brother-in-law why you’re angry. From your letter, it seems possible that BIL has no idea—I’m guessing that your conflict-averse husband never presented him with the full picture. If your husband refuses his responsibility here, then you should do it. Not only for your own sake but for the sake of anyone else who may come into contact with your BIL and his family when they once again expose people to illness because they are too stupid and selfish to do otherwise. Spell it out for him. And 2) If you are not convinced you can trust him but also if you would just feel better about it (as I would), stay home with your kids when/if your husband insists on spending time with his family right now. If this happens, I would also point out to him first that if he contracts an illness from a thoughtless member of his family, he’ll be bringing it home to the baby, and, second, that in avoiding conflict with his parents he will be actively bringing on conflict with you. Let him cogitate on that. I hope he’ll come to the conclusion that his need to not rock the boat does not trump your need to protect your infant, nor does it trump your justifiable anger at his brother. Shame on your husband for not seeing this on his own.


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