#168 Dear Baby: How do I criticize my sensitive partner?
Welcome back to Dear Baby. Today I’ll be answering three questions: The first about being forced to make a decision before you’re ready (in this case, about whether to have kids), the second about how to criticize a sensitive partner, and the third about the difficulty of navigating the online discourse these past weeks. As always, the first is available for free and the other two are reserved for paying subscribers—although I’d like to warn anyone who’s considering converting to paid that I’m about to head out on maternity leave! So there won’t be too many perks for a while…but you will gain access to the archive. (More on all that next Sunday!)
This week’s Dear Danny episode will drop Wednesday at 9am instead of Tuesday, as we’re recording tomorrow (Danny’s sick!).
On running out of time
“Dear Haley, I’m 26 and was diagnosed with multiple serious chronic illnesses a couple of years ago. This includes chronic kidney failure. I’ve now been told if I ever want to have children, I must do it in the next year, because my kidneys will deteriorate and pregnancy will become too dangerous. I live with a fantastic and supportive partner of five years. He is ready to come with me on whichever journey we choose.
There is so much to weigh up here. I want to have my own baby, but I LOVE my life right now. There’s still so much I want to do: have a wedding, travel, progress in my career and hobbies a little further. I’m a creative writer, an amateur drummer, a cat mom, a great friend. I have a rich adult life that I’m only just beginning to settle down into. Plus, there’s no guarantee I could pursue my passions ‘later’ in life because of my condition. My life expectancy might not be as long, so it feels like every year counts.
On the other hand, I don't want to sacrifice a lifelong dream of motherhood just to have another five years of fun before the people around me all start peeling off and having babies. I’m afraid I’ll hit 35 and be full of regret, as well as guilt for denying my partner this experience. Adoption is of course a choice that I’m very open to (and will probably pursue when I’m older, if I don’t take the biological route). But I think deep down, I always wanted to experience pregnancy, and have a baby that’s half me, half the man I love.
Tangled up in all of this is that I’m incredibly high-risk for birth complications, both to myself and the baby. Pregnancy and childbirth could ruin my health even further and might result in health complications for the baby (for example, they could be born extremely premature). It’s very possible that I will be a ‘sick mom’ and put a lot of burden on my partner and the child if my health deteriorates further. Some days I feel like I’m barely coping with the exhaustion of being chronically ill without throwing a baby into the mix.
I feel so overwhelmed trying to make sense of this. I’m so young and what I feel I really need is a few more years to make this call. But I just don’t have that option. How do I even begin to make this decision: take the leap for a baby, or treasure and preserve the health and life that I have now? I know no one can make this decision but me. That being said, I would appreciate your thoughts. I’m such a jumble of feelings and you are so adept at untangling those jumbles. Lots of love from the UK. You’re a huge inspiration to me as a writer and a person! Xx”
I completely understand why you’re overwhelmed. I’m so sorry your health has forced you into this position. It must feel impossible! Before navigating these options, I hope you’ve given yourself time to simply mourn the fact that you don’t get to make this decision on a more organic timeline (which is hard enough as it is). It really isn’t fair, and I just want to say that you’re allowed to sit with that for a while before attempting to move through it. It’s a lot to process.
Obviously I can’t tell you what to do here, but I do have some thoughts about how you might philosophically approach this situation. My first is more high-level: Whenever any of us are faced with a huge and difficult decision, I’ve found there is very often not a “right” choice, but merely two sets of opportunities and costs. This is actually a good thing, because it means that no matter which way we go, there will be both joy and loss. This is a fact of life. I think most of our big choices only become “right” in hindsight, through both our commitment to finding meaning in them and in accepting their associated downsides as “worth it.” So regardless of which path you take, I think it will be within your power to make it feel like the right one.
But for the sake of actually choosing, let’s assume there is one path that’s a more natural fit for you. Something that helped me in my decision to have kids was to imagine the best possible version of both having them and not having them—and to linger there in my mind to see if one resonated more than the other. Your imagined scenarios may look different, be more complicated, but it can be clarifying to temporarily remove fear and worst-case scenarios from the decision-making process, because they’re so powerful they tend to crowd out our desires. At the very least, it might be nice to know which path you’d prefer if the worst didn’t happen.
You mentioned fearing regret. I think we’re more likely to regret things when, looking back, we can see that the better choice was staring us in the face but we were avoidant, complacent, or dismissive of what we knew were the facts. I don’t think we regret choices we’re forced to make before we have all the necessary information though, because there’s simply nothing else we could have done. There’s no version of reality where we could have been smarter or wiser. There’s no blame to assign. That’s the situation you’re in, I think. There isn’t necessarily a better choice, and you don’t (can’t!) have all the information you’d like to have. You’re simply doing the best with what you have right now.
I’m struck, reading your question, by how lovingly you describe your life. I get lots of questions from people around your age who are confused about and dissatisfied with how things are going, even if they’re going reasonably well. I don’t fault them at all (that may be the condition of being in your mid-twenties), but I think it’s beautiful that this unfortunate situation has given you such a clear-eyed perspective on yourself and your life—or that you’ve let it. You’re wiser already. And while I’m sure this whole situation makes you feel at odds with your peers, I want to assure you that they’ll all eventually find themselves on life paths they didn’t expect or see for themselves, or which require them to grapple with regret or missed opportunities. In reality, everyone your age is making decisions right now that will unknowingly set them on particular life paths. Your eyes just happen to be wide open as you make yours.
On giving “gentle suggestions” to a partner
“Hello angels!! How do you *respectfully* bring up constructive criticism or maybe even a helpful suggestion to a sensitive partner? I often feel like the only way for me to bring specific things up is if I nonchalantly say it as a thing I’m doing for myself, and then add in, ‘you should do it too! it’ll be fun!’ These examples are probably annoying and superficial, but one is to incorporate more movement into our schedules. I approach it as, ‘let’s go on a walk together every morning,’ instead of ‘I think going outside once a day would be good for you’—because he would automatically take that as an attack, even though I truly am just wanting him to feel the benefits of blowing wind and sunshine and moving his body a little! (He is a proud indoor person, which I love!) Another example is bringing up teeth-whitening, I could never ever bring it up unless it was something I decided to do for myself and he decided to join in. Writing this out makes me sound terrible—am I??”