Choosing To Stay

I’m going to write to you about the night that a major decision was made, and that decision wasn’t mine.

Colin and I aren’t married, we aren’t even engaged. But I can confidently say that…we’re there. He’s it. I’ve almost never had to question it, not even in the midst of three years of long-distance dating. But this story is about the one night that I did.

There’s a back-story here—I am a cancer survivor. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them—I’m twenty-five, I’m healthy, I ran a half marathon last year! But the truth of the matter is that when I was nine years old, I lost an ovary to ovarian cancer. I was lucky, I didn’t have to get chemotherapy and I was back on my feet (albeit, slightly bent over) within a month. But, in the end I lost an ovary, which is why it was so devastating to find out that there is a tumor in my remaining ovary right now.

To be clear, my doctor found this second tumor when I was sixteen years old, and we’ve been monitoring it since. It hasn’t grown very much, it’s not cancerous and, until recently, it’s been much too small to remove without a significant chance that I would lose the ovary, and with it any chance that I would be able to have my own children “naturally.” This is why it was a big deal in October of 2012 when my doctor told me that the size of the tumor was large enough that it should be removed and that the surgery should be scheduled soon.

I came home from the doctor’s office that night sobbing and called Colin immediately, telling him the full story. In the midst of my panic I asked him a question that I hoped he would answer to my satisfaction—answer it “correctly” and help me feel better about what was happening. I, in my panic and fear, forgot that I am dating quite possibly is the most earnest and logical person on the planet and I asked him, “If I couldn’t have kids, would you still want to be together?”

You also must understand that Colin is going to be one of those amazingly naturally good dads. Kids and babies love him, and he doesn’t even have to try. The first time I took him to meet my friends at a cottage in Northern Ontario, he ended up showing two six-year-olds how to throw a football instead of partaking in the drunken debauchery of May Two-Four weekend (ask any Canadian what that is, they’ll understand what is expected on Victoria Day). I’ve seen him make a face at a crying infant on the train that silenced her immediately. Colin would not measure his life as a success without having his own kids, and I have always known this. And, more importantly, I should have remembered this before I asked him the question that had been swimming dangerously in the back of my mind ever since we started dating, and I especially should have remembered this before asking him this question at the absolute worst possible moment.

I asked him to relieve my greatest fear about our relationship over the phone right after I had been given some horrible news. And, as he is wont to do, he answered me as honestly and logically as he could: “I don’t know. I need to think about this. I need to talk to my dad.” And he ended the conversation and hung up the phone.

It took him two days to give me an answer. He called his father and asked his opinion. He did extensive research on fertility solutions that might work for us. He asked me a million questions and made me write them down and take them to my doctor. We talked about every scenario and our hopes and wishes for a future family together and how we would handle getting such terrible news. It was absolutely excruciating, but also, it was absolutely necessary.

You must understand that now, I am so glad that I asked this question because I needed to know. And more importantly, Colin needed to know, and find out his decision completely and on his own terms. And it was also important that he took this question seriously and didn’t just indulge me in a bad moment to make me feel better. We still don’t know what the results from this surgery will be (the tumor has shrunk in size since then and I have high hopes that it stay small and docile for a long while yet) but now I know what would happen in our relationship if the absolute worst-case scenario happened.

He would stay.

Editor’s Note: In addition to making us think about the big conversations we should all be having, this post also made us wonder how many of us have our own relationship deal breakers. Do you have them? Does your partner? What do you think of them? Do deal breakers protect us from potential heartache, or are we shutting ourselves off from possibilities before they are realized? Let’s discuss!

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  • Hugs to you. I hope the tumor will shrink / disappear and that your future will be full of joy, and happiness and the family that you wish for. At 19 I was diagnosed with degree IV endometriosis… and I got the scare of my life.
    It turned out (I had a laparoscopy a year ago) all of that has disappeared, but we still have not been blessed with our pregnancy / baby.
    We are currently undergoing fertility treatments, and hoping, but I just wanted to say that though this stuff is very hard, you will make it together.
    I wish you all the best, and I am very very glad to hear the cells are not cancerous.

  • This is going to sound odd, but it was so refreshing to hear his curt response to a delicate question and that the conversation ended without some perfect answer. (This is what my husband would do.) This hits the monthly theme on the head and I appreciate you sharing your wonderful not-a-rom-com story. I wish you the best but also know that you will get through whatever scenario comes up, with grace.

  • Emmy

    So sorry to hear about your situation. It strikes a chord with me. On our second date, my now fiancé told me he’d had a vasectomy. I’ve always wanted kids and appreciated his forthrightness, but didn’t think much of it. It was way too early and we weren’t serious.

    But as we quickly got more serious, it started to become an issue. My parents didn’t think we should stay together. We did so, so much research. We visited a urologist and got bad news. Many, many tears. We just visited another urologist who specializes in reversals and got much more hopeful news. He has his reversal surgery scheduled for May, so we’ll see how it goes. One step at a time.

    After we left our first (bad) urology consult, I was sitting in the car sobbing uncontrollably. And I told him, “This doesn’t change my mind. I love you and I want to marry you.” The thing is, life is wonderful, but it’s also bitterly, bitterly hard. All relationships have struggles, and people (usually) get through them. This is our struggle, and your struggle, and we’ll get through it. With the love and support of our partners.

    • Kate

      “The thing is, life is wonderful, but it’s also bitterly, bitterly hard. All relationships have struggles, and people (usually) get through them. This is our struggle, and your struggle, and we’ll get through it. With the love and support of our partners.” Beautiful!

    • I hear you. On the road trip that officially started our relationship (though we’d been emailing daily for months) my now fiance told me in conversation that he didn’t want kids. Really, really didn’t want kids. He gave the strong impression that this was a subject he was not prepared to move on, and that this was my warning and my early out if that was going to be a non-negotiable for me.

      Well, I’ve always wanted kids, but I never have wanted to be pregnant (or deal with adoption). However, I always figured that, when I found the right guy, he would want kids and we’d get past my thing about pregnancy. Only…if I stayed with this guy it wasn’t going to happen.

      I struggled with it for a bit, but after a while, I made peace with it. This could be my sign from the Universe. And given that my birth control has never failed me, this is another sign. Now I’m happy to be engaged to marry this man, and to be able to give my love and support to the other children in my life, including my nephew, who I love like a son.

    • SD

      My fiance also had a vasectomy over 10 years ago at the insistence of his ex-wife, who thought that two-kids-were-quite-enough-thank-you. So he has two (lovely) teenagers, already – who I love dearly, but I’ve always wanted kids of my own. He’s not opposed to the idea of having another, but isn’t *quite* so keen that extreme measures appeal to him. Also, given his age and how long ago he was snipped, the chances of a reversal are slim at best, and its probably not an avenue worth pursuing. So we’re still figuring this one out, and realistically I don’t have a lot of time to decide which way we should go with this one. And its not like it can be a compromise. Its do or do-not. Which makes it an incredibly difficult situation. One we’re still figuring out how to deal with, and probably will be for some time.

      • Emmy

        If we’ve learned one thing through this experience, it’s that there are many options, with a range of costs and success rates. We’ve been heartened by our experience with a clinic that specializes in vasectomy reversals (it’s called the Vasectomy Reversal Center of America, naturally) and have learned that there is another way to have children that genetically match both partners, where a doctor removes sperm from the testicles and uses IVF. And then there’s artificial insemination with donor sperm. Or adoption. Just more food for thought as you make your way through this difficult decision. Good luck!

  • Granola

    I am also someone who craves reassurance, especially in a dark moment (though fortunately I haven’t had to deal with anything quite so serious). It’s taken a lot of work to learn not to as the “needy” question in that moment because I know I won’t get the answer I want and it will just start a fight. So kudos to you for recognizing that happening and to your guy for not giving in when you were upset.

    Hugs to both of you and I hope it turns out OK, either way.

    • KB

      Totally. There are so many times that you just want your partner to say the right thing, dammit. I have definitely had moments where I ask a question, my fiance answers honestly, and I pause before saying, “You’re SUPPOSED to say ____” (but it’s usually something to do with “Does this make me look nice?” or “Is this a good idea?”). There’s a balance between wanting that parental-type comfort of unconditional love and saying all the “right” things, and then realizing that what you actually NEED is honesty because the truth fosters more trust in the end.

      • Granola

        Or, I think to myself “I can actually make this decision or judgment call – and feel good about it – without needing another person to think or feel the same way.” And then if I really do want an honest opinion, I reframe it and ask for it that way.

      • BB

        I have just started telling my FH what I want/need from him in that exact moment. i.e. “Tell me there is nothing to worry about, my thesis project will succeed.” Rather than “I’m so worried about my thesis project, I don’t know if it will work, what do you think?” This avoids him telling me that he thinks there is no chance it will work, or even hesitating long enough to make me think he is implying that. It also helps me identify what I really want/need from the interaction. I think that both of us employing this technique has really helped us comfort one another. I am not very good at just saying “everything’s going to be okay.” I would rather brainstorm solutions, but sometimes you don’t want solutions, you just want comfort.

        • I actually had the same issue/conversation with Colin when I was in grad school, especially as I was getting ready to defend. The honesty and bluntness that was so great in the situation I talked about above was absolutely brutal when it came to school, enough so that I had to start framing my questions differently, from “I’m at a loss what should I do!?” to, “I need some support here, please tell me you think I can do this” Asking straight out for comfort and support instead of being vague and hoping for the right answer has made a big difference in how we communicate.

          • BB

            That being said, I think that as torturous as those couple of days must have been for you, you really can be confident that he gave you a thoughtful and genuine response. I’m glad that you two have found each other, and good luck in the future! :)

        • Aubry

          Yup, I do this all the time when I am looking for comfort only. In my experience all men, and especially my FH, really want to fix things. This can lead to some silly arguments that only exist cause I’m upset and he is now “telling me what to do”. I find asking this way helps guide him, and also takes away the panic around wondering what I want him to say. If I want him to tell me everything will be OK I tell him so, and if I’m looking for an opinion I will ask for it.

          That said I do often appreciate his logical IT-guy mind. He often says what I need to hear, rather than what I want to hear. This is especially important for big life stuff. I would hate to have him comfort me but know it wasn’t thought out, and then have to re-hash the whole thing later to get to a real answer. This way a decision is well and truly made, and we can move on in confidence.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be to share, but it’s so important. We need more examples of this- of real love, marriage, and dealing with the difficult situations. We need to share our stories, so we feel less alone when we run into situations that oppose the Hollywood-styled “Happy Ever After.”

    Thank you so much for sharing. I hope the tumor shrinks and doesn’t affect your plans for the future. You’re in my thoughts.

  • Bubbles

    Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you the best of luck!

    My relationship deal breaker would be if The Boyfriend ever got arrested for doing some stupid shit. My father was arrested, and that’s just not something I’m willing to go through again.

    Fortunately, The Boyfriend does not have the issues my father has, so the possibility of that happening are slim to none.

  • never.the.same

    I assume I have deal breakers, but have come to accept that I don’t know what they all are. There are some I think are absolute (abuse) and some I think are semi-absolute (infidelity), but most of the rest? I hope I never find out what they are, but I realize they probably exist. If I felt profoundly unsafe, if my partner didn’t support the direction I wanted to take in my life/career, if he stopped, in some way, contributing equally to our mutual responsibilities… I can see those things causing me so much unhappiness that I’d leave. But for me it’s not so black-and-white that I can say with certainty what those scenarios looked like.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. After 3+ years together, I think the rose-colored glasses are gone, but I still can’t imagine a dealbreaking scenario actually happening. Like you said, they’re probably out there, somewhere. I just think it would involve a complete change in personality in one or both of us. Possible, but hopefully unlikely.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I had what I thought were dealbreakers before I met my husband, but things are so different in the abstract than when you’re actually dealing with a real person you know and love. At this stage in my life, I’ve changed my mind so many times on religion, politics, money, sex – all the big things – that I think more in terms of priorities than dealbreakers.

      True love and the human spirit are incredibly resilient.

  • Martha

    You know, what I love about this post is the research and thought Colin and his father put in to their decisions. I recently went through pre-cana (marriage prep for the Catholic church) and found the baby-making section a little lacking.

    I think a really important thing to address as a couple, prior to marriage, is not just whether or not you want children, but what you are willing to do to achieve that dream should there be road-bumps. Are you willing to even see a fertility doctor? If it gets to expensive, painful, what-have-you, is adoption a viable option? (I say this having an aunt with no children who definitely never addressed these issues and went through years and years of no babies with a husband who wasn’t willing to do anything about it, either medically or adopting).

    Having seen this, I was sure to discuss this myself with my fiance – but I think it’s super important to get this out in the open prior to marriage.

    Good luck to you Heather! You are a strong woman with a great man by your side :-)

    • Angela-Benangela

      I agree with you. I have several friends that are currently trying to conceive and are hitting the “road-bumps” you mention. Some of them are doing quite well, but a few of them are hitting some major road blocks in their relationships due to the fact that these things weren’t discussed earlier and, most importantly, before the marriage.

      I believe clarifying your expectations is essential in every marriage. Every person has expectations for their spouse, their marriage, their children, and you cannot expect your spouse to know what those expectations are unless you tell them!!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I agree with Martha and Angela


      Infertility is an area where a lot of people really can’t work out their feelings and plans ahead of time. Will infertility treatment be covered by insurance, or will it eat up all your retirement savings? How painful will it be? Will it require lots of time away from work? Will foreign countries begin prohibiting adoptions to your country? Will the Tax Code change, effectually making adoption $13,000 more expensive?

      And that’s just the factually known unknowns, looking years in advance. How you’ll react emotionally to these realities when you get there (and before marriage it’s also usually if you get there) is just impossible for me at least to determine.

    • At some point there’s a limit to how much of this you can work out in advance. It’s important to have the discussions and to be on the same page of just how far you’ll go, but when it comes to conception a lot of things have the potential to change once you’re in the situation. My husband and I had a lot of talks before we started seriously thinking about babies about what we would be willing to do, and I’m finding a lot of those opinions shifting as we get more into the situation.

    • I’m echoing others here already, but yes to approaching the topic prior to marriage….and triple yes to there being only so much you may be able to foresee about decisions — as with anything in life, planning is one thing, arriving at the crossroads is another. It’s like when my husband and I traveled to Belgium and had reservations at a B&B — confirmation via email, we were set. Until we got there and it was empty, vacant, and definitely no longer in business. We could have talked about what we would do if that happened prior, but the odds seemed like that wouldn’t happen, and were we going to research all hostels everywhere as backup?

      We talked about adoption prior to marriage, but it was more of a, hey in the super long chance we would turn to it, how do you feel? How about transracial? That was the extent. It’s different actually telling your parents they may never be biological grandparents. Different to research countries. Different to be marketed hope by fertility clinics. The road down the mountain is slippery and we chance paths and that’s ok. Planning helps, but ultimately I think you can only make decisions when you are on the road, making them and living with real outcomes. Aaand I’m gonna be late for work if I don’t stop rambling. Plans, good. Road, real test.

      • * the above isn’t meant to say, ye who have not been there don’t know nothin’ — rather, if you make plans, then find out you feel differently once you get there, or your partner does….that seems normal, and not something unfair of one person or the other.

  • I know my husband really wants to be a dad. All of the friends who were married around the same time we were are now pregnant. We’ve been trying for a long time, and the last three months I’ve been taking clomid. My doctor just told me that he doesn’t believe the clomid will work for me and we will need to see a specialist. Which isn’t covered under our insurances. So.

    This week we are coming to terms with the fact that we very well may not be parents. And that is devastating for him. Through it all, he keeps telling me that he loves completely and we’ll get through this. It is incredibly painful as we do, though.

    • Granola

      I’m sorry. That sounds really heard.

      Also, quite cruel if insurance is the main hurdle.

      • Insurance and infertility are a hellbeast. I’m currently in talks with my OBGYN about how to code a test without touching infertility with a ten foot pole to the insurance company. If the insurance company wants to be a shit, I can play dirty too.

    • B

      do you read A Blog About Love? Its a blog thats stemmed from a couples infertility and she talks about overcoming the process and keeping hope.

  • Thank you for sharing this. Conversations like that can be absolutely terrifying and incredibly difficult, but also the most rewarding. It forces you to look at your relationship in a way you might not have, and really get to the heart of why you’re together.

    I have cystic fibrosis, a disease that is terminal and will likely shorten my life. Because of this, my now husband and I had many hard conversations about our future before we got married. But I truly believe it made us stronger as a couple. And more sure of what we’re doing in this life together.

    However things turn out for you, you’ll have each other.

    • dawn

      My sister-in-law has CF. While reading this post and the comments, I keep thinking of my brother’s comment, in response to a friend’s fertility issues, that most couples don’t think ahead much about any major health issues and are then blindsided by them when, inevitably, they come up.

      In regard to the original story, I kept wondering: What if they were already married when she got her bad news? What if they were engaged? How would that have changed things?

      Although I see the point of the piece regarding the need to take things seriously and not just provide easy answers, predicating a relationship on good health seems….somehow off to me, not just in a “it’s shallow” kind of way, though I think there’s an element of that. I guess it seems unrealistic to me. Lots of couples have no idea that they will face infertility.

  • Wishing you the very best in terms of your tumor shrinking. I imagine those days waiting for a response from your boyfriend had to be hard, but he sounds like an amazing man – researching and really thinking. If he had come back right away and said, “Of course I’ll stay” I would have worried (if it was me) just because something like this can be a big deal. While my husband and I tried for our first kiddo we sat down and had a very real discussion about what would happen if we couldn’t have a child and it was a bleak moment, but as hard as it would be, we would carry on. We started making lists of things we would do that might not be as easy with children and decided that it might actually be easier (if not a little selfish) to maybe move away from family for a while and spend time rediscovering ourselves. Shortly after, we very happily conceived so no Plan B was necessary, but these types of conversations are so important. No one wants to take about the what-ifs, but you can find out so much about yourself and the both of you as a couple when you confront them.

  • KateM

    Such a hard situation to be in. Wanting kids was a deal breaker for me, as it was something I have always wanted. Watching my sister struggle with infertility was a huge wake-up call. When my husband and I got together before we were engaged we had major conversations about it. How if we didn’t have kids by 35 we would adopt. This was a huge deal to me and after having been with someone who wouldn’t adopt, I had to know Dave would. Fortunately he was 100% on the same page, but it was so important to talk about it before we got married. With infertility rates being so high, and it kids/no kids being such a huge part of your life, I am amazed and somewhat appalled by how many people don’t talk about the possibility of this before marriage. Not just are we going to have kids, but how far are willing to go/spend on fertility treatments, is IVF on the table, is adoption. Hard conversations sure, but how much harder to resent a partner down the road.

    • Daisy6564

      My bf and I had this conversation about 3 months into dating. For some that may have been way to early. For me, I decided at 25 (and very single!) that I was going to be a mom no matter what. At the time this meant adoption to me. It was a way to squelch my “biological clock” fears that had just begun to surface as my friends were starting to get married and I had never had a serious boyfriend.

      Fast forward a year and bf and I were just in the getting to know you phase. Still, I knew/know that motherhood is important enough to me that I did not want to fall in love with someone only to find out later they were not on board. So I laid it out to him: “I want to be a mother, no matter what, and I am not (personally) super down with going to extreme lengths to have a biological child. Should infertility be an issue, I want to adopt.”

      As with most of these crazy big conversations, bf rolled with it and told me he was down. We have since rehashed the conversation many times and now think that we will use adoption as part of out family building whether or not we have bio kids.

      I applaud the poster for having this hard conversation pre-engagement, and echo others in saying that your bf sounds like a wonderful, thoughtful man.

    • Anon

      Oh man. This is happening to me, too. I am right there with you, sister.

      I don’t know what the specific issue is, but I can tell you how much I feel for you! This may not be an option, but in my case, I learned to accept it and let it go. I asked and asked and pleaded and begged, but did not get what I wanted. Yes, he agreed to do it but then didn’t follow through, so I married him anyway. Do I love him the same? Of course…but this one thing is very hard for me to reconcile with.

      If I do not accept this thing, realize that it’s not going to change despite my best efforts, and move on with life, I fear that stress and anxiety will literally continue to tear me apart. So I am doing my best by focusing on my job and the positive things that my husband has done. For example, he has been sober for 4 years after a very messy legal situation (bad DUI) and I am so proud of him for giving up alcohol in the name of having a healthy life and a healthy marriage.

      I want this one thing to change—-so badly—-but through therapy and by talking to other married women, it’s pretty much impossible to change your partner post-marriage (or pre-marriage, for that matter) unless they themselves want to make that change. It’s hard to stare this in the face, especially for me, but I am working on coming to a place of acceptance and freedom from feeling like I need to control his behavior. Because, in any case, I cannot control his behavior.

  • I have a deal breaker issue that we’ve been dancing around for a while and shortly before the wedding I told him how important this was and if it wasn’t fixed, I wasn’t going to want to marry him. This week I had to tell him that the lack of movement is tearing me apart and that this was a deal breaker issue for me, meaning I would leave if he didn’t want to/wasn’t capable of working with me on it. Now I have to wait and see if he will step up as he’s promised. So far I can see him trying and I am doing everything I can to help and to work myself because no matter the problem, there’s always something both parties can do to help fix it, IMO.

    We don’t often get credit for ultimatums or laying everything on the line, deal breaker style. But I wish we did because for some of us, insecurity can keep us trapped in bad situations or terrible relationships (I know mine certainly has in the past). Sometimes we just can’t live with what we’ve been offered but we’re taught it’s not ok to ask for more. It’s not easy to say to someone you’re already afraid will leave you if you’re too difficult, “I need you to change to make me happy.” If you’re lucky, the change is something they want too and it betters both your lives.

    It’s also incredibly scary to ask someone else about their deal breaker or hardline stance as Heather has. Because either way, you’re asking someone, “How much do you love me?” That can be the most frightening thing imaginable, but its also completely necessary sometimes. I applaud Heather and her husband and all those couples out there who have looked into the black pits of their relationships and said, “Let’s figure this out together, because THAT’S how much I love you.”

    • Anon

      Oh man. This is happening to me, too. I am right there with you, sister.

      I don’t know what the specific issue is, but I can tell you how much I feel for you! This may not be an option, but in my case, I learned to accept it and let it go. I asked and asked and pleaded and begged, but did not get what I wanted. Yes, he agreed to do it but then didn’t follow through, so I married him anyway. Do I love him the same? Of course…but this one thing is very hard for me to reconcile with.

      If I do not accept this thing, realize that it’s not going to change despite my best efforts, and move on with life, I fear that stress and anxiety will literally continue to tear me apart. So I am doing my best by focusing on my job and the positive things that my husband has done. For example, he has been sober for 4 years after a very messy legal situation (bad DUI) and I am so proud of him for giving up alcohol in the name of having a healthy life and a healthy marriage.

      I want this one thing to change—-so badly—-but through therapy and by talking to other married women, it’s pretty much impossible to change your partner post-marriage (or pre-marriage, for that matter) unless they themselves want to make that change. It’s hard to stare this in the face, especially for me, but I am working on coming to a place of acceptance and freedom from feeling like I need to control his behavior. Because, in any case, I cannot control his behavior.

      • Good luck! Truly. If you can let it go, then more power to you. This is not something I can just accept, unfortunately. Thankfully he’s shown he can put more effort in in the past, its sticking to it and keeping it a priority that has been the problem, so I’m very hopeful.

  • Anon

    The idea of not being able to have children naturally terrifies me. When I got engaged in 2011, I immediately started talking to my now husband about what we would do in the event that we could not conceive naturally. His response kind of worried me, because he said: ‘Well, if we can’t have them on our own, then that’s what God intends for us.” And I guess that’s true for us in our marriage: we are both deeply spiritual people and I think our religion, in the end, would be a source of great solace for us.

    The thing that worried me the most about this statement, though, was that it seemed like he didn’t fully realize what not being able to have children would do to us emotionally and mentally. I know couples that get married and never even consider the prospect that they won’t be able to have kids. Then, infertility hits and the unexpected devastation is, well, devastating to the marriage. I have great fears about this—about what infertility could do to my marriage.

    The other day, I was reading about foster care and adoption through the social services office in my state. It occurred to me how many beautiful, deserving children need good homes. And I felt a sense of peace knowing that if we can’t have our own children, for whatever reason, there is a child out there who would make our lives incredibly special and amazing. <3

    Hugs for the author—thank you for your courage. xoxo

  • Alex

    Chiming in here because I often feel like those of us who are hoping & working NOT to get pregnant are under-represented.

    That’s a tough conversation too, and I hope that anyone who might be reading this comment doesn’t feel quite so alone and embraces not wanting the sweater!! (

    It’s funny to think about how wrapped up we get in our own problems. The most common thing we hear is “Female Partner A and Male Partner B cannot get pregnant, this is devastating, let’s find Plan B!” But I can only imagine that for homosexual couples, this is one of the first discussions. “There’s no assumption that we will get pregnant, so let’s decide now how we want our family to be shaped.”

    For my situation, neither of us want any dependents that aren’t furry, 100 pound sweeties who are perfectly capable of being left home alone for 6 hours. But that was a conversation, and we had to come to it together. For us, it was the fact that we do not, not, not, not want kids, and while we agree, we have chosen to add in a line that reads, “IF someone should change their mind in 1, 2, 5 years, there will be a conversation.” Kids aren’t completely off the table. I know if my “biological clock” starts ticking into overdrive and makes me want something I’ve never lucidly wanted in my entire life, then I can talk to him about it.

    So, for any of you who are choosing to be child-free, THAT’S OKAY. It’s hard to hear our voices in this baby-obsessed world, but you can believe we’re just as eagerly checking that pregnancy test stick each month.

    • I really hope that this didn’t come across as condemning those who don’t decide to have kids at all! Personally, I think I could be happy as someone with or without kids, but for my partner it’s a non-negotiable issue, and I respect and support that.

      But yes, choosing not to have kids must be incredibly hard, if only because so many people won’t believe/understand you, or even judge you, and that’s deserving of a post in itself (and I think there have been some).

      I think I was trying to hit more on how this off the cuff question I asked in a moment of duress became almost a defining part of my relationship because my partner decided to take me seriously and refused to come back to me with a decision before he was absolutely certain that he could live with the consequences of that decision. I assume there are people who have gone through similar situations with deciding not to have kids and having their relationship changed/strengthened through similar conversations as well!

      • Alex

        Yes, exactly! I am 100% with you on your post, and I think the meat of it, the part where he stepped back and really thought about his answer to you, is straight-up beautiful. I feel like I am often saying, “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me what you want to say!” The fact that Colin stopped and thought must have been heart-wrenching, but man, how worthwhile!

        I definitely did not feel condemned, I mentioned what I did mostly in response to the comments that came flooding in with your post. It IS hard to be two perfectly capable, financially responsible, great-with-kids grown ups that have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I just felt like giving a little solidarity fist bump to the readers who saw what I already referred to as the “meat” of your post (communication! self-awareness! especially when it’s hard!) and then saw all these comments that are about the (very real, very hurtful) tragedies of infertility.

        Does that make sense? I don’t mean that as minimizing the hurts you and these other couples are going through (which I cannot imagine, and feel very deeply for those struggling). I mean it as, this AHA moment the post is centered around, is in inside a situation of infertility, and so automatically that sends up signal flags and folks are resonating with that.

        I wanted to resonate with the AHA moment, and just felt lost in a sea of ladies-wantin-babies, and wanted to shout out to all my ladies-wanting….their period.

    • Aubry

      I LOVE that sweater post! So cute and right to the point.

      I don’t think anyone is feeling bad about their decisions (I hope not anyway) and instead taking the post as what it is – an life example used to demonstrate the point about discussions, big decisions, etc.

      I hope for a day when any decision regarding kids is respected equally, and we can all feel good about our choices. Thanks APW for moving us in that direction!

      • Alex

        I agree, Aubry, it’s about knowing what you want and need and having that discussion. Kudos to Heather for shining the spotlight on that! :)

    • Steph

      Love that link! The “sweater-free”talk was a big deal when we were first deciding whether or not to move in together. I told him I had no desire or intention to have children, and can’t foresee myself ever changing my mind on the issue. Like the OP my hubby would make a great dad and prior to our conversation had assumed that he wanted to be, someday. I told him if he wanted to break up because he wanted kids in the future I would respect that. Fortunately he said that he wanted to be with me regardless of whether or not we had kids.
      As for deal breakers, I have a couple things that hubby and I have talked about (including infidelity) but all of them are things I don’t see him as ever capable of doing (really horrible things like physically abusing me or harming children or animals) otherwise I wouldn’t have fallen for in the first place.

      • MDBethann

        EEEPPP! Sorry – meant to hit “Exactly” and accidentally reported it. Didn’t mean to do that.

  • T.

    My dealbreaker is addiction. I know what it does to marriages, to families, to the other people in your life, because I watched it as a child. I told my husband upfront, way before we ever got married, that I would leave him in a heartbeat if his drinking ever got out of control. I meant it then and I mean it now, more than 7 years later. I know many people will disagree and would think that they would and should help their partner through the addiction and into recovery. That is fine. But for me, we’ve talked about it, he knows my history and the reasons why, and he knows it is my dealbreaker. If he makes those choices anyway, knowing all of that, then it would have been his choice to end our marriage. Reading this, it sound so harsh, but I really feel that strongly about it.

    • This doesn’t sound too harsh to me, it sounds HONEST. In a perfect world we would have no deal breakers, we’d be able to forgive anything or live with any issue and make it work. You’re human, and you’re smart enough to know what you can’t live with. I think its intelligent and appropriate to have these conversations in modern relationships.

      • T.

        Thanks, Kristen. It’s hard to be that honest and say those things outloud. It is easy to think you are being to harsh or unreasonable, so I thank you very much for what you said.

        • It’s definitely ALWAYS easy for me to be too hard on myself, so I feel you. I’ve spent a long, difficult time working on becoming the kind of person I wanted to be, versus the kind of person I was raised to be.

          I’m at the point now where if I truly feel at my core that I’ve done nothing unnecessarily mean or harsh or cruel but instead just expressed something someone doesn’t like – I’m not going to feel bad about myself. I’ll feel bad I hurt them or upset them, but I don’t need to get down on me as a part of that. And that’s the tough lesson (or at least for me it was) to learn – Just because you don’t like what I have to say, doesn’t mean I’m wrong for saying it.

    • Not Sarah

      Thank you for sharing this. I would do the same thing, but I have a pretty low tolerance for how much I’m willing to watch someone drink around me, so I think my level is a lot lower than yours (addiction). My sister has tried to tell me I can’t control that, but I just…I can’t really trust anyone that will drink to the point of getting drunk as a partner. Surprisingly, there are a lot of people who don’t drink at all, so I’m hopeful that I’ll eventually fall in love with one of them :)

  • Daisy

    I love everything about this post and I love the way that Colin approached this heart wrenching question. I feel that the natural reaction for a lot of people would have been to answer you yes, without thinking and soul searching, because it’s an easy answer and easier to hope that it doesn’t happen and that you won’t have to face that obstacle. But he went the hard road, he didn’t give up, he found answers and solutions that would help him answer these questions. That must have been so extremely difficult.

    It speaks wonders about your significant other and his sincerity towards all the important things in life. I don’t even know you but I am thrilled and overjoyed for you. You have found a wonderful man and I hope that you will find something that satisfies you both in the event that you are unable to have children. Best of luck to you in your journey together.

  • THIS is why I continue to return to APW (almost) two years post-wedding. Thank you Meg, APW staff, and all you wonderful Team Practical women for continuing to publish great content.

    Heather, it sounds like you and Colin are a winning combination. Nice work :)

  • Not Sarah

    My main deal breakers are that the guy must not drink to the point of being drunk* or smoke. I think that a lot of things can be worked through, but not those two.

    *I’ve always phrased this something like “If you get drunk, you’re sleeping at your own place. Do not call me. Do not text me. Do not show up at my place.”

    I have my reasons and these are two of the few things I will readily explain to someone.

  • In regards to “dealbreakers”, I don’t think that they are a bad thing. I think that they are boundaries we put in place that safeguard the essence of ourselves that we will share with someone else at some point. I do think, however, that sometimes you can change your mind about dealbreakers. In this post, for instance, Colin always thought in terms of having kids. You’d think that the specter of infertility would be a dealbreaker, right? But he evaluated and considered, and decided that it wasn’t an immediate deal-breaker, that there were options and ways through this hard thing.

    There are some dealbreakers that are absolute, of course, like abuse. But the thing is… people change. Priorities change. What you think you cannot live with or cannot live without now may be turned on it’s head in a year’s time.

    I, as an active and devout Christian, was not EVER going to marry someone who didn’t share my beliefs, even to the point of making sure that I married within my denomination. And now? I’ve gone on a crazy spiritual journey in the last year, and two weeks from this Sunday I’m marrying an avowed atheist. It was a dealbreaker for me initially, but I had to think, agonize, consider, and really talk through the hard stuff with him right at the beginning as we considered getting serious. I realized that the person he IS has nothing to do with what God he acknowledges or does not acknowledge, and I also realized that the person he is makes the person that I am a better person.

    We’ve been thrown our share of things to work through… two miscarriages (what if I can’t ever have kids and you have been working towards setting up for a family for years and what if I can’t give you that family do you still want me?), wading through childhood abuse and dysfunction (do you still love me when I’m depressed? how are we going to raise our kids because I don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not?), dealing with my chronic illnesses (medical bills– can you handle them?), the onset of a new and totally disabling chronic illness (the house is dirty and I can’t work and I’m in bed a lot… is this what you envisioned?)… but through it all, he’s decided to stay. He’s decided to move forward. Even in the face of my insecurities and my fears and my absolute certainty that he deserves SO much better than this… he’s choosing to stay. And I love him so much more for that.

    • hugs! I hope your (beautiful, I’m sure) wedding goes smoothly (or as smoothly as these things go) and your marriage goes even better

    • Kristen

      This is seriously a beautiful and moving story and I am so happy for you. It was also wonderfully written and I so appreciate your thoughts on changing your mind about deal breakers and finding ways to adapt so it no longer feels like a thing you can’t live with or without. Thank you for reminding me that the counterbalance to boundaries to protect ones essence, is absolutely compromise. Plus, compromise is in my mind, a necessity to living in tandem.

  • Dealing with this reality now, although married and not a deal breaker. I still feel programmed to feel like it should be, or that I’m something less because I may not be able to give him a family. Key word: give. Shouldn’t it be ‘share with’ or ‘have together’? I have to let that guilt go, because it’s silly and not what someone should be giving to their partner who chooses to stay.

  • Katie

    I just don’t understand how this is choosing to stay. Just because you can’t have kids naturally doesn’t mean that you can’t have kids. Any man that would reject you for that deserves to be kicked out of the dating pool.

    • I disagree, in that I think if someone truly only wants biological children for whatever reason, they are entitled to that desire without scorn. If it were truly important to one partner should they be required to pretend otherwise, living pretending it doesn’t matter deeply to them? I think particularly as this is before the in sickness and in health vow, it’s important to decide.

      • Katie

        Ehhh. At a certain point, you can discuss your desires, what you want in life but- life isn’t fair and you don’t always get what you want. How far do let this go? Do you get infertility testing before you are married? I think your love should be stronger than that. How early into dating do you mention that you want to have a giant family? What if you fall in love first then have that talk?
        You love one other person. No matter what. You can plan on having kids biologically. You can plan on having IVF if you can’t. But then maybe the time comes and you don’t have the money. At the end of the day you are choosing to face life’s challenges with this person. Any competing life plans you had previously have to have a winner and loser at some point in the relationship. You change plans to be with someone. That someone should be so amazing that you don’t feel like there is a winner and loser at that point because you are just happy to be together.
        It is different for this couple, and many others, because they know ahead of time. But I would still say that man doesn’t love her that much if he had chosen to leave over that.

        • For me, the difference that makes it okay to say it’s fair is that it’s pre marriage — that’s a time in which many choices are made, and sometimes love in and of itself is not a sufficient reason to commit. Once you hit marriage, then yes, absolutely you are committing to face life’s challenges which can’t all be seen coming. But prior to that commitment, you have to choose whether the mountains you see ahead and the life you might have is one you can wholeheartedly commit to. To me, marriage is about building a life that you both want to live out together, and if there’s a difference that just can’t be overcome, like the desire to have biological kids, then I would argue it isn’t a lack of love, but a lack of fit. Sometimes love may not be enough — I would rather go into marriage knowing we are on the same page about the things we can at least see on the horizon, than to ignore them and hope our love is enough to get us through.

          • Laura

            A couple of years ago I would have agreed with Katie, but I had an experience that taught me that love does not necessarily overcome every obstacle. When I’d been dating my husband we ran up against a huge roadblock of incompatibility (I wanted to go live abroad as a family, he didn’t). It wasn’t nearly as major as the issues faced by the OP and her fiancé, but it was definitely enough to be a dealbreaker. As much as I loved him, I knew that our relationship would ultimately fail if I had to pretend to change my nomadic nature to please him. I knew I would end up hating myself for it, and by extension I would eventually come to hate him too. I couldn’t bear the thought of that. There are no words to describe the love I felt for that man in that moment, but i knew full well that love alone was not going to be enough.

            Fortunately, that is exactly what I ended up saying to him: “I love you, but I can’t change the fundamentals of who I am, because if I did I would no longer be the person you love now.” I’m not saying it was easy, but after that we were able to work out a compromise (we will wait until our youngest child is in kindergarten and then we will go live abroad). There are moments when I still struggle with staying put right now, since my wanderlust is intense, but having been upfront with my husband means that I can talk to him about it now. If I hadn’t been upfront I would have felt as though I had to repress my urge to travel. What a recipe for misery!

            Regarding the OP’s situation too, I think there is something to be said for both of them in this scenario: that she had the maturity to give him a choice in the face of this potentially life-changing news, and that he took the time to determine exactly what it would mean for him. Not a pleasant experience, definitely not, but necessary. And the fact that he maturely weighed the factors and came back, to me, that is love.

    • I think it’s choosing to stay because for him because he really wants to have biological kids, and he had to recognize the reality of the situation and decide if not having that option would work for him, as someone who has always pictured himself having his own children.

      I mean, there’s something to be said for being with someone even if the partnership you would have together doesn’t have all the aspects that you wanted for your life, but the wish and drive to have your own kids is a very deep rooted one and one you can’t ignore. I’m glad that Colin decided to stay with me, but if he hadn’t I would have understood – I’d much rather him be honest to his own wishes and goals than stay with me from some other motivator and then resent the reality of what this situation means for us.

  • Kara

    You have a good man. And, it seems, a solid relationship. I hope the tumor continues to stay SMALL and that you continue to navigate life together.