Q: I am 24 and have been told by my doctor that I am unable to have children. I now have a boyfriend and we plan to marry after we both finish school. He doesn’t know about my fertility issues. I am scared to tell him because this may not be something he can or wants to deal with. What is your advice?
A: Life isn’t fair and it isn’t predictable. There are all sorts of tough issues that people must confront. Sometimes they know what they will be facing and sometimes these issues don’t come to light until later.
Most women, for example, wouldn’t find out about their infertility until they tried to have a baby. You happen to know this beforehand.
Certainly it’s a difficult issue to work out with a future spouse. But there will always be difficulties to surmount. And, while it takes work, a good relationship remains healthy — even thrives — despite such challenges.
Infertility doesn't mean you will never be able to have children. There are always options, including adoption or treatments like surrogacy and egg donation. Some couples choose not to be parents.
Nonetheless, at this juncture, these options may feel beside the point. The bigger issue is that your ability to conceive and be pregnant — something most women expect to do with relative ease — has been taken away.
Once you have come to terms with this distressing news yourself (with professional help, if need be) you may find it easier to decide whom and when to tell.
If, however, a wedding is in the offing, you should tell your boyfriend. A failure to reveal something so significant starts a marriage off with dishonesty.
(If you were not in a relationship and were wondering when to tell a new romantic partner, I would suggest you not do so immediately. This is something you share once you have an intimate, trusting foundation and a potential future.)
You should sit your boyfriend down and say, “Before we go further, there’s something I need to tell you.” Then, disclose this information as you would disclose any other significant personal issue: you have multiple sclerosis, you come from a family of alcoholics, you are declaring bankruptcy, or whatever private difficulty you face.
Your man’s reaction will be telling. He might be so in love with you that he is okay with the inability to have biological children with you. He might say: “I don’t like this, and would never choose this, but we will cry over this together. I love you and we will figure this out.”
If he ditches you because of this, or strings you along, he is probably not somebody who would have been good for you over the long haul because this may not be the hardest issue you will deal with in a life partnership. You need someone who can work things through with you and wants to.
What if you had a disabled child or were injured in a car crash? What if you lost your job? What if your house burned down? These things happen, which is why a couple committed to staying together takes vows for better and for worse.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Life throws you curves. How a potential mate reacts to unfortunate and unexpected news is a sign both of his feelings toward you and his potential for dealing with such news in the future.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by . It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.