Dear Jane: Aaron and I tried for 3 years to have a child before essentially giving up. No more charting, temping, opk's, testing, ultrasounds, nada. Just old-fashioned sex. At this point I'm mostly hoping that we won't get pregnant because I'm liking our life as it is. That being said, I still find myself touchy on the subject of having children and sometimes have a hard time being around those that are pregnant. This includes my best friend.
My oldest nephew (by marriage) and his pregnant fiancee are moving into our house. That will take the number of people in this house to 6 1/2 (plus 2 dogs and 3 cats). My best friend is due mid-October and the fiancee is due in November. The nephew is talking about the idea of living with us permanently. Am I really expected to entertain this idea? Me, live with a baby that is not mine? Listen to it cry and wail and coo and know that I am not the cause or solution to any of it? I think that I might go crazy...yet my husband hasn't told them no outright. He's hoping they'll change their minds and tells me that I have to give them a shot before I decide that. Normally he's pretty understanding and he doesn't really want them here either, but it's family, and he's always there for family. I also don't know if I should introduce my best friend and the fiancee. They're due about a month apart, and the fiancee is really young, where as my best friend is a second-time mom.
I'm so at a loss as to what to do with all this. I want to run screaming, I feel like I'm at my wits end and how dare anyone ask me to do another damn thing where family is concerned--especially the pregnant ones. My best friend is like family too, but at least she's learned to be sensitive. I'm going to have to teach yet more family members what to do and not to do but do I really have the right to do that to them, since we're not really trying any more? How do I move past this stage? Help please!!
Signed, The Frustrated Hostess
Jane's characters were not only skilled hostesses, but in Austen's world, family came first. Jane was extremely close to her sister, Cassandra, and this relationship influenced many of the sisterly relationships portrayed in her books. A focus on self at the expense of family would have been considered a major character flaw.
At the same time, manners are everything and the way characters behave towards one another reveal their relationships and status in one another's life. But manners serve another purpose--they help conceal opinions and frustrations. After all, who can tell how much you're seething on the inside if you're smiling sweetly and pouring your guest a cup of tea? When you think about it, manners rarely reveal your true thoughts--instead, they are a dull grey coat you can throw over your bright orange dress, ensuring that you choose who is allowed to see your true colours.
Therefore, if unmarried Jane's nephew moved into her house with his fiancee and wedding planner in tow, she may have been secretly frustrated with the situation and silently cursing the fact that he has what she has been desiring, but she would have prepared him not only dinner, but a huge ball to welcome him to the estate.
That's what Jane would do.
But what should you do?
The reality of infertility is that the emotions almost never end with any of the paths out of the situation. Children cure childlessness, but they don't cure infertility. The problem still exists whether you're trying to conceive or not.
You're really between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, this is family. While friends come and go, family is a lot more complex to navigate--we're judged harshly for our actions and the expectations run higher. At the same time, you need to take care of yourself because no one but you knows exactly what you need. Though John Donne wrote, "no man is an island" we do have to put ourselves central if the goal is to maintain our own sanity and happiness.
Putting yourself central means setting some limits. The situation may not make you ecstatically happy, but you need to find a space where you can balance the expectations everyone has about family with your own peace. And this means being upfront--pleasant, but firm. Being too vague or letting things unfold too much removes any control you have for directing this cohabitation. Once you make the decisions with your husband behind the scenes, they're not really up for discussion and they're stated in such a way that doesn't leave them open for discussion. Perhaps you can live with a two week visit while they get their bearings, but you need them out of the house after that. I would kick off the visit with a dinner telling them how happy you are that you can put them up until they get their bearings and you'd love to help them with any aspect of house hunting since you know it's difficult sometimes to do things when you're pregnant.
It sends a clear message as you serve that roasted chicken and potatoes--welcome to my house, we're happy to have you while you look for your house. The chicken is the grey coat hiding the orange rage underneath a cloth of manners.
If having the fiancee in close proximity is one of the stressors, introducing her to your best friend only provides more entanglements. This introduction probably won't relieve you (at least initially) of interactions with the fiancee--instead, it will make it more difficult to create a child-free space for yourself when you need it. Not only will you be inviting over your best friend, but when you're not up for the company, the fiancee could still be inviting her over too.
Your obligation to family is to provide the essentials: food, housing, and, at times, emotional support. You do not have to be her social director or feel guilty that you're holding apart two pregnant women. Family is not code for all limits flying out the window. You need to navigate a child-filled world every day--your home should be a sanctuary and not an additional stressor in your life.
Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Hostess's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Hostess elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.