#1348: “How to tell an ex you’re pregnant when it’s not theirs and not your ex”

Hi Captain,

When my partner was barely legal he got married to a girl who was very religious. They decided at the time of their marriage to never have children. They grew up, and inevitably who they were at 18 was not who they were at 27, and she decided she wanted children. That, and the other issues in their marriage brought up cracks (such as my partner’s atheism) and they eventually divorced when they were 32.

When I met my partner, he was 33 and I was 26. He was very clear he didn’t want children and I was very clear at 26, I wasn’t marking any decisions. Life and relationships change, and. I’m now 30 and five months pregnant and we are going to start telling people.

The issue is my partner’s Ex and their mutual couple friends. Their friends have always been welcoming, but I’ve always felt like I was the outside. I’m 8-10 years younger than all of the women, I’m a WOC, an atheist, and the women have all known each other since childhood from growing up at the same church. When my partner was divorced, it took a few years for the friendships to recalibrate and for awhile, Ex was being chosen over him and that very much hurt his feelings.

Ex has desperately wanted children once she got divorced but due to her religion didn’t start trying until after she got remarried. She’s now 39, and from the last Facebook update, she and her husband are trying their second attempt of IVF and are fundraising for it.

I want to tell the world we are having a baby, but I don’t want to be unkind. My partner and Ex don’t talk much unless it was about dog sitting a dog they owned together(she’s been gone for three years now) however it’s obvious that she would find out.

My partner doesn’t want to message her to let her know, because he doesn’t think that’s the kindest way to let her know. She has to deal with the knowledge directly, no matter how much time she takes to respond/if she responds.

I think it would be cruel to just do the pregnancy/birth announcement on Facebook and never reach out. But I think me reaching out would make it a lot worse. Ex and I don’t like each other (removing our mutual connection), we’re very different people and disagree on basically every topic. We’re civil because we’re adults, but I don’t like people who realize that they are completely dependent on others to survive, and make no effort to become useful (how do you become an adult and never learn to cook and just expect other people to cook for you?!) and she doesn’t like me because I’m straightforward, blunt and don’t let people claim outrageous facts without giving me a source.

How do I let someone my partner loved very much know that I’m pregnant, which was something she wants more than anything in the world?

P.S. My pronouns are she/her/hers.

Hello and congratulations, you must be very excited!

Even if your assumptions about your partner’s ex’s potential reaction (and/or the likelihood of ripples of social…weirdness… in a group where you already feel like you don’t quite fit in) are correct,. I’m just not sure that any of it is preventable or fixable by you, and I don’t think you should center assumptions about the feelings of someone you clearly dislike in how you convey your happy life choices! If the news is going to land like you think it will, trust that there was no perfect alternate delivery method that would make her not feel those things, and half-hearted attempts to assume and manage her feelings from someone she doesn’t like are only going to read as patronizing and make it even worse. Disengage!

That said, there is some stuff you can control:

How and when you tell the people you are most excited to tell. Gather your friends, cheerleaders, and support system around you, and don’t center the reaction of somebody you strongly dislike in how you tell your good news. You’re going to be a parent! That’s amazing. I’m happy for you, and I want you to prioritize telling the people who are going to be happy for you.

Who can see what on social media. You don’t like your partner’s ex-wife and she doesn’t like you, and maybe one kindness here is to set everyone free from the need to modulate or perform their feelings or pretend that you’re friends/”friends.” Give yourself the gift of not seeing whatever she says online, and give yourself the gift of not worrying about how she’s reacting to whatever you say online.

Just, generally, pregnancy tends to “inspire” lots of weird, overly-familiar opinions and advice from people, and you’re going to have enough to contend with from people you actually like/coworkers from 7 jobs ago/people you are related to. Unfriend! Unfollow! Block! Otherwise engage your filters and disengage from this lady’s day-to-day.

Your own expectations about what you need from your partner right now. Your partner is the one with baggage here,  ergo, he’s the one who might want to message his ex and the friends who come from that time in his life with some version of, “[Letter Writer] and I are expecting, we’re going to start telling people, and I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone else.”Yes, I’m very happy.” “I know I said ‘never,’ but I’ve changed my mind about lots of things from that time in my life.”

If he doesn’t want to do that, I’m sure he has his reasons*, and he can deliver or not deliver the news however he wants, but that doesn’t mean managing his friends’ feelings about his life choices falls to you! [*Consider that his instincts to NOT ENGAGE might be extremely healthy here!].

To that end, I think it’s reasonable to say, “Babe, I’d feel better if you were the one who spread the word to your old church crowd, ideally before we all hang out again”  as well as “FYI, I’m blocking your Ex on Facebook and really limiting who can see pregnancy updates online. I think the mix of my pregnancy news and her recent fundraising and medical stuff is gonna get weird and I don’t need that stress.”  Make it about what you need, not about what you imagine that she needs. She needs her life to have turned out differently (you assume); “I need it to not be weird at brunch” is an easier sell.

If your partner wants to maintain some kind of civil relationship with his ex for the sake of harmony in his other friendships, that is his decision, and it’s his task to figure out how to do it. If he wants you to hang out with these people, then smoothing your way with those friends so you don’t have to deal with racist micro-aggressions or refighting ancient battles is also his job, with respect to you. If he wants you to pretend to get along with his ex so he won’t have to experience any ripples from his own “Oh hey, remember when I swore I’d never procreate? About that….” decisions, remind him that you are busy 3-D printing a human inside yourself, and that’s going to take up all the energy you’d normally spend on faking it. ❤

P.S. Generally,  I’d encourage you to temper “Wait, how can somebody not even know how to cook??? [or other “adulting” task]? judgments with “There’s probably a story here that I don’t know, good thing it’s not my problem to figure out!” and move on. Not everybody is taught these skills at home, the expectations about who is just supposed to know vs. who never has to really learn are so heavily gendered, and, not gonna lie, it also reeks of a complaint that your ex had about when they were together that you’ve adopted as your own grievance, even though I presume you’ve never had to serve as her personal Meals-on-Wheels. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 10 years of doing this job it’s that the fewer assumptions about what “everybody” already knows or “should” know I make, the better.

And yet, I’m glad you included this literal “BEC” detail in your letter,  because it’s telling about how much you don’t like this lady that’s totally separate from pregnancy. Whenever you feel yourself getting sucked into  managing your partner’s relationship with his ex-wife, use this to remind yourself: You and this lady don’t like each other, you never have, and you never will. You’re not having a baby at her, you’re not the cause of her woes, and supporting and comforting her is a job for the people who like her (not you!).

I hope that the next four months go easy and quick.