How Do You Talk About the Baby Thing Without a Fight?

Last week I told you about the book I was reading, Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. Cathy’s husband Neil had announced he didn’t want any children. In fact, he insisted they had agreed on that. No, they hadn’t. She was willing to wait a few years, but she did expect to have children eventually.

What happened? She got pregnant. He was furious. He wanted her to have an abortion. What happened to his belief in a woman’s right to choose, she asked. She chose not to terminate the pregnancy.  

At 14 weeks, she had a miscarriage. Her husband tried not to be smug about it, but he was clearly relieved. What about future babies? Well, by then, their marriage was falling apart. The baby issue wasn’t the only one where he made rulings instead of asking what she wanted. By the end, they couldn’t have a civil conversation.

Finally, trying to save the marriage, he said, okay, you can have a baby. But it was too late. Cathy left him. He took a job in Africa that he had wanted all along. Meanwhile, Cathy’s work partner Tom had dumped his girlfriend. Soon he and Cathy were getting cozy. They will probably get married and have a dozen kids who will all grow up to work in their catering business.

But this is fiction. Cathy left the guy who didn’t want kids and fell into a relationship with the real Mr. Right, who can’t wait to be a dad. I suppose it could happen. But can we count on it?

For hundreds of pages, Cathy and Neil couldn’t seem to talk about their issues. They were both too busy at work, and neither one wanted to risk an argument. So Neil assumed they were on the same page about kids when they weren’t. Cathy was afraid to stand up for her right to be a mom. When she got pregnant, she put off telling him until people were starting to guess. There were so many issues where he wanted A and she wanted B, and neither would compromise. He didn’t respect her work, and she didn’t trust him not to cheat on her. They kept saying they loved each other, but was that enough? Not for Cathy and Neil.

What lessons can we learn here? Couples have to talk about the important issues. Even if it’s difficult, even if the other person keeps changing the subject, even if you’re both so busy you can’t see straight, you have to have do it. That includes discussing whether or not you will have children and when, what you will do if the woman falls pregnant when it’s not planned, and what you will do if you have trouble getting pregnant. I know it’s hard. Some people clam up when it comes to feelings and touchy issues, but it has to be addressed. This applies to living arrangements, work, and other big choices, too. When you’re a couple, one person is not supposed to make all the decisions.

How do you do it? People don’t react well to ultimatums or whining or accusations. Perhaps it’s a matter of asking questions and really listening to the answers. Why is this so important to you? What are you afraid of? Could you give in on this issue because it’s so important to me? In some cases, an intermediary, a counselor, a priest, a friend, might be needed. But I would hope if you’re really in love, you can find a way to have those important talks and check back in occasionally to see whether you both still feel the same way. Don’t be like Cathy and Neil. Find the time to talk.

Some helpful websites:

“How the 5-5-5 Method Helps Married Couples Work Through Conflict”

“10 Tips for Resolving Relationship Conflicts”

“7 Ways Happy Couples Deal with Disagreements Differently”

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9 thoughts on “How Do You Talk About the Baby Thing Without a Fight?

  1. Sue,

    Once again you put it out of the park !
    I’ve seen many couples split up over this very issue. I believe that it needs to be addressed and settled before marriage. All too often it isn’t. Thank you for this blog.

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      • I try. Sue, your blog has helped me feel legitimate being childless.
        People can be so rude about this.
        And I’ve got a hot temper and a smart mouth. And I’m big and muscular for 70. So I can be intimidating. It rarely gets that heated. For years my family heaped guilt on me about not having children. I’ve recommended your blog to my similarly situated friends.

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  2. I agree with Tony. Excellent post. And it applies to all parts of the situation – whether or not to try to conceive, to have IVF/try donor egg/adopt, whether or not to stop, etc. Talking and not blaming is critical.

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  3. I loved this post Sue. I’ve read Maeve B but missed this one. It’s SUCH an important topic for young marrieds or about to be-s. It was me 38 years ago and our marriage made it, but barely. We went through some brutal years. The issues are often even more complex than ‘I want kids, you don’t’, now what’ as if that’s not hard enough. Good advice to get help from specialists who might help preserve the couple’s sanity, if not the marriage.

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  4. I read all of Maeve Binchy’s novels, up to a point, back in the 1990s. This must be one of the later ones, because I don’t remember reading it — will have to look it up!

    I agree with you & Tony… people need to settle whether they’re going to try to have children before they get married. If they run into difficulties, it’s best to have a discussion up front about just how far you want to go to pursue this. And revisit the discussion from time to time along the way. My dh & I saw an infertility counsellor before we went into treatment, and she encouraged us to set a limit up front, on the number of cycles we felt we were willing to go through. She said, “Once you get there, you can revisit whether you’re actually done — but have something in mind, going in.” I thought it was very wise advice.

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  5. It is good advice to discuss whether you both want children before committing to a long term relationship. It is more difficult to envisage infertility problems and discuss what you would do in that situation in terms of fertility treatments and adoption because it is not until you are faced with them as your options that you come to realise what is involved in each option.

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