#1232: Infertility and In-Laws

‘Tis the season for people who can’t shut the fuck up about what’s in other people’s uteruses.

Hi there Cap,

I looked in your archives and didn’t see anything like this question earlier, but if I missed a relevant post, I apologize. I’ve got a bit of a weird situation that I’d love your take on.

Long story short, my body doesn’t do normal menstrual cycle things, which means that it’s downright impossible for me to get pregnant without significant medical intervention. Infertility treatment is not only incredibly expensive, but it’s also a significant time investment and is emotionally draining in the most horrible way possible. (I had 20+ transvaginal ultrasounds in ~4 months. That’s the one with the wand they stick up your bits. And the invasive ultrasounds were the least unpleasant part of the process.) (CAPTAIN’S NOTE: I had three of these in one day over a year ago and I’m still not okay about it. You are a goddamn warrior.)

After more than 6 months of doing progressively-more-intense infertility treatments, I got pregnant last summer and gave birth earlier this year. I am of course absolutely delighted with my son, and my husband is a wonderful father. There’s just one problem… My in-laws.

Throughout the course of my infertility treatment, my mother-in-law and father-in-law consistently waved away my concerns or tell me “don’t worry, you’re going to get pregnant, it’ll all be fine” when I brought up how painful treatment was. The hormonal drugs I had to take caused me to have horrible mood swings, and at one point my mother-in-law told me to “snap out of it” when I was first trying to adjust. 

Obviously, their attitude then was unhelpful, and I still haven’t forgiven them for saying “we told you so” when we told them that I was pregnant. (They said that before they said “congratulations.” WTF.) However, now that I’ve produced a grandson, they keep bringing up “having more kids” and “you don’t want Baby to be like so-and-so.” We know a few only-children who are dysfunctional people, and my in-laws keep bringing those people up as examples of why we “have” to have more kids.

I’ve tried countering this several ways. I’ve tried pointing out that my son is only seven months old and that it’s way too soon to be thinking about more babies. I’ve tried pointing out that there are plenty of dysfunctional people who have siblings, and there are plenty of functional only-children. I’ve even asked them if they’re going to pay for the infertility treatments if they want another grandbaby so bad. (The answer was no, of course.) I’m getting snappier and snappier every time they bring it up, and they’re not taking my very clear hints to drop it. 

Cap, it really hurts me every time my in-laws pretend that I’m going to be able to have another baby. I’m not. I’m not going through infertility treatment again, EVER. But my in-laws keep saying “well, Such-and-such family friend had infertility and it magically fixed itself after the first baby was born, so maybe you’ll get pregnant too any day now!” (They know I’m not on birth control because I made several jokes along the lines of “on the bright side, now I know I don’t have to take the pill anymore! That’s a plus.” I am now wishing I had never opened my fat, stupid mouth.) 

I can tell you for a fact that having a human wrecking ball forcefully pushed out through my ladyparts did not “fix” me. I’m still infertile. This is just how I am, and I am doing my best to make peace with it, which is a hard and painful thing to grapple with. I love my son SO MUCH, but I always wanted multiple kids, and having to let go of that dream is hard. My in-laws are making it that much harder.

I’ve asked my husband to speak to his parents, but I have low hopes that it will succeed. He’s a very gentle-natured person, and when he has talked with them about correcting their behavior in the past, it didn’t stick. 

Outside of this, my in-laws are lovely people and I do genuinely adore them. But the refusal to acknowledge a very real, doctor-diagnosed physical “disability” that I have is maddening. Short of shrieking “NO” or “SHUT UP” whenever they bring up the matter of more children (which I’ve started seriously considering), what can I say to indicate that they’re hurting me and their behavior needs to stop?



P.S. If it help you with your response, the comments aren’t just “when are you having another kid” or “baby needs a sibling.” They sometimes say things like “you can really tell that Baby is the first child!” (when we tag-team on getting him ready for bed, for example) or “you forget about how much childbirth hurts until you have your second and third.”

Dear L,

Look, even if having kids were easy for you, your in-laws would be way out of line. You are the boss of your body and what happens to it, including the shitty, difficult things that happen to it. Plus you’re not an incubator and your kid doesn’t have to be part of a matched set to be worthwhile. Your in-laws may be “lovely people” but this is not fucking lovely at all, and it needs to stop already. This is worth fighting about. This is worth FIGHTING about. Your son can’t understand them now, but the time when he gets pressured about “needing” a little brother or sister and manipulated into breaking your heart about it on the regular is coming. Fight now.

In a perfect world your husband would handle his family for you. Before the next time you got together, he would say, “MOM. DAD. Listen and don’t interrupt me until I am done. YOU NEED TO SHUT UP ABOUT ANOTHER GRANDBABY. We barely got this one. You are hurting my wife. You are hurting my kid by implying there’s something wrong with him if he’s not part of a matched set. [L.] adores you so much but you are making it hard for her to spend time with you when you bring this up, and I know you don’t want that. Nope, stop talking. Don’t apologize, don’t explain, just stop. Okay, now you can talk, by which I mean look me in the eye and give me your word, you’re not making comments about this ever again.”

And then if they broke their promise in the future, he would be the one to stand up and grab the car seat and say, “Mom. Dad. We talked about this. Anyway, good seeing everybody, time for us to get on the road.” He can be gentle-natured and still stick up for you.

If he can’t do that, you’ll have to, and if you’ve never looked your in-laws squarely in the eye and let yourself be/appear as hurt as you feel when they bring this up, may I strongly  recommend it. Forget hints, they don’t work, and forget a strategy of getting “snappier and snappier.” Go with enraged and very specific about what needs to happen for a change and see what happens. Patiently explaining it to them didn’t work, asking them to cover costs didn’t work, your husband speaking with them won’t work (again), I got nothing for you in the Reasonable Scripts Aisle, you already used them just fine without me. If they’re such “lovely” people, they’ll honor your request even if they don’t understand it, and they’ll adjust if you get “emotional” about an emotionally difficult thing. They probably think they’re helping, showing enthusiasm, they “mean well,” they are trying to reassure you that it won’t be that bad, etc. They aren’t helping. It is a big deal. It will be that bad. They need to know that, and it is okay to (strategically) LOSE YOUR ENTIRE SHIT if that’s what gets it across.

So consider what would happen if you locked eyes with the person who is being inappropriate next time and said some version of:

“HEY. Let’s talk. When you say something like that to me, what is your intention?”
Let there be a long, awkward pause while you wait for an answer. It doesn’t really matter what they say, make them spell out what they think or hope they are accomplishing, then tell them what they are actually accomplishing.

“Ok. I’m sure you mean to be encouraging, but you have to stop.

Do you have any idea how much it hurts me when you toss around the idea of having another grandkid when *you know* what I went through to get this one?  I feel like I’ve tried to tell you this already but it’s not sinking in, so let me be clear: I need you and everyone in the entire family to stop bringing up the idea of another kid, period, forever.

No more “it will be easier with the next one.” No more weird comments about “only” kids. Enjoy the grandkid you’ve got and stop making me feel like I don’t matter except as an incubator and that he doesn’t matter unless he’s part of a set. He doesn’t understand language yet, but this applies to the “wouldn’t you like a little brother or sister?” jibber jabber when he’s older. Stop. All of it. Stop. This applies for eternity. 

And let me interrupt you RIGHT there – don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Just stop. If you want to hope in secret that someday I’ll get pregnant again, that’s your business! It’s okay to want that. But if you care about either of us at all, you’ll knock this off and you’ll tell everyone in the family to do the same. Can I count on you?”


“Ok. Look, I’m gonna need to you to never, and I mean NEVER, hint/talk/joke/or mention having a second grandchild to me unless YOU plan to carry one in YOUR own personal body, in which case, let me know when it’s here and until then, shut up entirely.

You clearly have NO IDEA what I went through to get pregnant last time, even though I tried to tell you, and you clearly have no idea how much it hurts me when you keep bringing it up, even though I’ve tried to tell you. I’m not going to explain it to you again. Just stop. Assume this is your one grandkid. STOP. You didn’t know before? Okay, now you know, so, stop.

Do not make me have this conversation again.

Raise your voice if you want to. Cry if you feel like crying. Make it wicked uncomfortable, possibly the first time this conversation will be as uncomfortable for everyone else as it always is for you. Let your feelings in and let them out, don’t tamp them down to keep the peace this once. Say swears if you want to. RUIN THE OCCASION. You want to get the message across in one go, without apologies or further explanations. You want this person, when someone in the family who doesn’t know the deal starts bringing it up, to be on the side of “Nope! Howabout that subject change!” because they do not want to run afoul of you again.

If they say, “I’m sorry” (and shut it thereafter ) call it good, even if there is an awkward silence. Don’t smooth that over. It means the message was received, and you can try having fun again next time.

If they start up with the “but I just don’t want Grandkid to be a Weird Only*” or “But have you tried______, you were wrong before so maybe there’s a way?” or if they imply it’s “just the hormones” talking and tell you to “snap out of it,” raise your voice again. “I will quote snap out of it unquote when you show me you can follow simple instructions such as: We are done talking about this.” “I know you meant well. People can ‘mean well’ and do harm. If you mean well, then you’ll do what I ask and STOP.” 

MAKE IT AWKWARD. And then it’s okay to leave the conversation and go outside/home/away. Don’t get sucked into a discussion when there’s nothing to negotiate. Even if they try to talk you into staying, it’s okay to be like “Nope, I need some space and you clearly need some time to let everything sink in. We’ll be all good the next time we see each other, as long as you understand, we’re not talking about this again. If I seem upset, it’s because I am! Thanks for the pie.”

Resist the urge to explain more, apologize, minimize. Let them tell themselves anything they want about how “unreasonable” you are (you aren’t)(but ok, go ahead and be “unreasonable,” as long as they fucking stop, “But you’re going to not say the thing anymore, right? ‘Cause saying stuff on purpose that you know hurts me would be actually pretty unreasonable!”) or “hormonal” you are (you just had a fucking baby you’re probably quite hormonal, so what?), don’t try to argue or negotiate about this. You told them what you needed. They test you? You and their adorable grandbaby need a lonnnnnnnnnnng walk in the stroller and maybe to go home early, again, until Grandma and Grampa learn some boundaries, OH WELL.

Since they can’t empathize in the abstract, maybe they will respond to feeling incredibly uncomfortable in the moment? I hope it only takes the once.

*Ugh, stop it with the “only child” hate already, everyone. Weirdos come in all family configurations, including “lovely” people who can’t STFU up about a subject they’ve been told is painful.