#1397: “I desperately want more children, my wife does not. Should I leave her?”

Content notes for pregnancy trauma and raging misogyny. (Though to be fair, the rage is mine, and is likely to be yours when you’re done reading).

Dear Captain Awkward,

My wife and I have 2 kids both girls. When we were dating we agreed on 3 kids. Our first daughter caused complications at birth. First she was late, then decided to flip when my wife asked for an epidural. And it required an emergency c section because her doctor never showed up and the doctor in the hospital came in late to asses her. After the c section the doctor did not follow procedure and she developed a blood clot. It healed and everything was good. 4 years later she got pregnant with our second daughter, 4 years later I found out she got another blood clot in same leg as the first at around 2 months pregnant. They did a scheduled c section and convinced my wife to have a bilateral salpingectomy. That I wasn’t told about until the day of birth. And I also didn’t agree with.

Here we are 4 years later and I still want more kids and have offered all options to my wife but she refuses any of them. I have asked her about IVF, surrogacy, and other options she has refused all. I am left torn because I do want more children and in the beginning I wanted 4 or 5 but we agreed on 3. And I would like at least one more chance for a boy and have been completely shut out. Lately I find myself thinking about finding another women to have more kids but I take my vows seriously and am completely torn between wanting more kids and my wife. I do know if I don’t have more kids it is going to be on my mind my whole life and I don’t know if I can live with either choice.

Dear Sir:

I don’t know what on earth you expected when you wrote to me, but here is what I’ve got.

A lot of people don’t get to have all the children they wish for in life or become parents at all, and it’s not strange or wrong to grieve for lost possibilities. If that’s the case for you, then take it to a therapist. Talk through it. Feel all the feelings. Negotiate with your messy heart and the indifferent universe on territory that isn’t your wife’s bodily autonomy or your massive sense of entitlement to her reproductive system for a change.

Right now, you are trying to set this question up as a dilemma between your dreams of being a fruitful paterfamilias and your wife’s supposed reneging on agreements within your existing relationship. You are describing your wife like she broke some kind of promise to you, and you are treating her like a faulty incubator, not a human being. Not cool.

However many children your wife “agreed to” when you were dating, you have two, and it sounds like you’re lucky to have those. Agreements change all the time, and it’s not like there aren’t mitigating circumstances. Plus, have you considered the possibility that she’s grieving, too? That some dream or possibility closed off for her, just as much as it did for you, plus she underwent substantial physical trauma and made the best choice she could under the circumstances?

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the medical decision your wife and her doctor made to remove her Fallopian tubes (that’s what a bilateral salpingectomy is for the curious) after two complicated pregnancies in a row. Nobody asked for your input then, or now, because it isn’t your body. Your hopes do not outweigh other people’s medical conditions or choices about their own bodies, and it’s not even close. I hope that clears things up.

It doesn’t matter what “options” you offered your wife for having more kids after she almost died, twice, having the two you’re lucky enough to have. I’m not sure how IVF would work after the salpingectomy  Edit: I know how it would work, thank you, science! But it’s beside the point anyhow, because it sounds like your wife has all the children she plans to because she’s not willing to risk death a third time. Does that mean you’ve been “completely shut out” or that she’s done being badgered about it?

From what you describe, you are treating your wife like your wish for an imaginary son is worth the possibility of her dying, worth more than your marriage, and worth more than being the best dad you can be to the daughters you’re lucky enough to have. And you are talking about leaving your family for someone else because you want a different incubator, not a loving relationship with a different human being. (Sounds like a great deal, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to bear the Royal Heir to Misogyny Manor! If you go that route, make sure that the new consort knows that if she fails to produce a son in a timely fashion, you’ll be moving along, so she can factor it into her dowry negotiations.)

Please, sir, get a therapist. If you go to a church that teaches that women are subservient to men, get one who is not affiliated with that church. You’ve got enough to unpack without adding more of the same.

After some therapy, I don’t know what you should do. If you really need to leave your marriage, then you should probably leave. Own the choice (vs. blaming your wife for letting you down somehow, because she didn’t), leave in a way that doesn’t destabilize your family’s lives financially or uproot their living situation, and then live with the consequences. Dive into the dating pool from your swinging bachelor pad, and set your ex-wife free to find someone who thinks she’s people.

If you want to stay married after therapy, try to pass this quiz without looking at your notes:

1. Can you name five things you like about your wife – as a person – that aren’t about a) what a good mom she is b) how pretty/sexy she is c) things she does for you and the kids, like cooking? No “I love how she puts up with me” bullshit. Is she funny? Is she cool? Does she have great taste in books or music? What do her friends love about her? What would make someone meet her and instantly want to be her friend? If you don’t know or can’t think of any, fucking find out. If you do know what you like about your wife, tell her.

2. Can you do the same for your daughters? What are five things you like about each of them as small people, without using the words “pretty” or “well-behaved.” Are they brave, hilarious, smart, cool, kind, skilled at something, creative, good at solving problems? Tell them. Tell them all the time.

3. Can you name five women you admire and respect? They can’t  be your mom, your wife, anyone you’re related to, or anyone where what you admire is chiefly their beauty/hotness. Who are women who lead in your chosen career field, in your community, in your areas of interest? Who are your favorite female authors, thinkers, scientists, musicians, inventors, leaders, artists? If you can’t name any, it’s time to get curious and find some.

4. Since having more children is off the table for you and your wife, do you have any idea what your wife wants out of her life during the next 10-50 years? Is she a full-time stay-at-home parent now, or does she work outside the home? Does she have further career or educational aspirations for herself once both girls are in school full time? If you don’t know, find out, and ask what you can do to support her. And check back in on all of your dreams that aren’t about fatherhood.

5. When was the last vacation your wife took? Was it a vacation for her, where she got to relax and rest and do things she wanted to do, or was it a vacation where she planned everything and wrangled the children the entire time, just in a a different place? How many hobbies or leisure activities does she get to do, how often does she see her friends and family or go out without the kids while you hold down the fort at home? If you’re trying to woo this lady after your years-long campaign to colonize her womb once more, making sure she has plenty of rest and leisure time is a gift that keeps giving.

6. Quick, name the following things/people:

  • Your wife’s birthday
  • Your wedding anniversary
  • Your daughters’ birthdays
  • The best/most recent holiday, anniversary, and birthday gifts you picked out and purchased for your wife and daughters and any cool surprises you planned and executed on these occasions.
  • Your daughter’s current teachers, what grade they are in, and what classes they are taking
  • Their favorite teacher or teachers and classes (current or all-time)
  • The location and current start/end times of all school, day care, and regularly-scheduled activities they go to
  • The name of your family pediatrician
  • The last time your children went to said pediatrician and what it was for
  • Everybody’s favorite food, least favorite food, and any dietary restrictions or allergies
  • Your daughter’s favorite books, toys, movies, songs
  • What your daughters were for Halloween last year & where their costumes came from
  • Their best friends and the names of at least one of the friends’ parents
  • Their favorite outfits and colors.
  • Their current/most recent answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
  • Your daughters’ favorite ways to spend a day with dad doing fun stuff

If you got all of or most of those on the first try, then great! You’re on your way to being an involved family man and not a total loss on the “as a father of daughters” front. If you didn’t get all of those, then a) find out the answers, stay curious as they change, and demonstrate good follow-up skills  b) consider that some of your wife’s reluctance to have more children, even with the help of a surrogate, is down to not wanting to take on all the parenting work herself so that you can finally have your trophy kid.

If you’ve got the good-dad-and-husband stuff covered and you’re still hungry to be around more kids and get to nurture and support them as they grow, there are plenty of opportunities to lead a scout troop, coach your daughter’s sports teams, chaperone their school field trips and awkward middle school dances, and be a band-dad or theater-dad or archery-dad or whatever kind of -dad supports the interests of their actual children and the other children in their communities, instead of theoretical sons. I had a tiny tool belt as a child for when I followed my dad around “helping” with home renovations (and eventually helping w/o the quotation marks). There’s no “manly” activity that you can’t teach your daughters if you have sufficient interest in them to invest the time and effort, and if you’re capable of seeing them as fully-formed people and not just as faulty substitutes for the boys you really wanted. (A thing they *will* notice, and when they do, it will cut them to the core).

I am being hard on you, because your letter was sexist and mean and small, and it’s really hard to be on your side when you describe a lady almost dying in childbirth a couple of times and deciding, “whoa, that’s enough near-death experiences” as a dereliction in her duty to you. Is your wife a person, or a failed incubator for your dreams? Are your daughters people or a test batch for the family you really want? If that remains unclear or debatable to you, then what the hell do you think you have to offer a new family? Why would any other woman want you, and why would she put herself through the risks of pregnancy, or entrust you with raising a son in your image or another daughter you’ll treat like a breach of contract?

I answered your letter with something other than “get in the bin and stay there” because maybe, just maybe, you asked me this question because you’re looking for a way forward where you aren’t doomed to star in one of the letters from adult daughters who don’t want their shitty, sexist, absentee dads walking them down the aisle at their wedding or commanding their attendance at holidays and deathbed forgiveness rituals.You described your choice as a binary between staying married (and eternally unfulfilled) or leaving for the possibility of future fulfillment (unless your potential future incubatrixes spitefully have only girls, or can’t have children at all). But you have a real opportunity to undo some of the damage you’ve already done, and a real chance to show up in the family you’re lucky enough to have before it’s too late. My advice is that it’s time to grieve whatever it is you think you’ve lost and do better. Your wife has been through hell, and she deserves your support for her dreams, not your continued pressure about yours.Your daughters deserve a dad who doesn’t treat their mom and other women like vessels. There’s still time to be the person who deserves them, and I hope you will rise to the occasion.