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Courtesy and infertility

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 17, 2011 05:32 PM

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What kinds of courtesies do people who have children owe to those who are infertile? Two recent questions from "Dear Prudence" brought this up for me. This one from last week's chat

My sister has not spoken to me since I told her I was pregnant. She has been trying to get pregnant, undergoing medical assistance (artificial) when she and her husband can afford it. Unfortunately, both her sister-in-law and I got pregnant within a week of each other. I was the second to tell and knew that she was upset about the first. I should have held off, but I don't keep secrets, and she knew I had been trying for about five months. My daughter is now 8 months old. How can I reconcile and reconnect with her? I've apologized, but I think it's more about the breach in trust, but how can I work to repair that when she won't speak to me?

... and then this one from today's

My husband's brother and his wife are unable to have children. More specifically, he can't have children. They decided against adoption because it's important to them to have a biological link to their child. Then they asked my husband if he would be willing to donate his sperm. I am angry I was left out of this because I feel it's also partly my decision. He says he would like to do it but I feel completely uncomfortable with having a nephew or a niece who in fact is biologically my stepchild, and my children's half-sibling. 

I told my sister-in-law I am adamantly against this decision and now she is upset because I've apparently taken away the one chance for her to have a child. I told them they could use anonymous donors but that's not what they want to do. The way I see it, that's not my problem. Am I being selfish here? My husband won't do it as long as I am against it but he feels guilty, and I sense some grudge on his part because he can't help his brother.

What is your take on this? I don't understand the pain of infertility, myself. I hesitate to judge. But the sister in the first question seems, frankly, beyond the moral pale. Severing a relationship because the other person has something you lack is heartless. Soulless, even. 

There has been some controversy in comments around the second question, and that I find surprising. "I'd rather my husband not have a child with another woman" is kind of a no-brainer, personally. I don't think the in-laws were wrong to ask -- heck, you can always ask -- but I don't think they had any right to cut the LW out of the discussion, nor to try to lay any sort of guilt trip on the LW and her husband. 

What do you think?
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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