Recently, over dinner with a long-time friend, we got into a discussion about some not-always-obvious double standards. This friend (I’ll call her “Sue”) has been with her husband (we’ll call him “Dave”) for about 12 years. When the relationship became serious and it looked like they were headed down the aisle, people started asking her when he would be popping the question. She would calmly and humorously refer them to her boyfriend, saying, “Guess you should ask Dave.”

Well, they got married and as soon as they returned from their honeymoon, people started asking Sue if they were trying to conceive. “When are you going to start a family?” Dave, on the other hand, rarely got such questions. If he did they were often in the context of his wife’s wishes, e.g., “So, is Sue about ready to start a family?”

Both Dave and Sue worked at full-time jobs. Over the years, both changed jobs and found themselves with work colleagues who knew little about their personal lives. Most of Sue’s new co-workers seemed to assume she had children because she would often get questions like, “How old are your kids?” Dave’s co-workers, on the other hand, tended to ask, “Do you have kids?”

Fast forward to their tenth wedding anniversary; Sue and Dave still have no children. Sue still gets the “How old are your kids?” and now answers that they do not have children. Almost invariably she sees bewildered uncertain looks and hears comments like, “Why not? Don’t you want kids? You’d be such a good mom.” As for Dave, whenever he tells someone they don’t have kids he usually gets a response like, “Oh.”

The different questions posed to Sue and Dave show a clear double-standard. Dave is treated almost as a bystander waiting for Sue to make the decision; Sue gets the direct attack, with questions implying, “No kids yet? What’s wrong with you, honey?”

Even though people may just be trying to make conversation when they ask Sue about kids, she still gets upset over what she considers very personal questions. The fact is she and Dave have been trying to conceive for years. She has endured three first-trimester miscarriages and one intentional termination for health reasons. She can’t even recall all the invasive procedures and home remedies she has pursued in an effort to get pregnant.

Sue’s gynecologist is stymied, and fertility specialists have no answers. The Psychic Network gives vague platitudes. The few friends and relatives in whom she has confided typically do the same, e.g., “It will happen when it’s time.” Others tell their own hardship-turned-success stories, e.g., “Bob and I were trying for like a year and then one day when we weren’t even planning on it – pregnant!” Many offer suggestions, e.g., “What about adoption? My cousin couldn’t get pregnant but then adopted a kid and suddenly she was pregnant too!” “Have you tried [random ‘miracle’ fix]?”

Dave tries to be supportive and sympathetic toward his wife, but the bottom line is that he just doesn’t understand the physical, emotional, and social anguish she suffers. He can’t quite grasp that Sue is wracked by guilt and shame, and is rapidly losing hope.

Sue has stressors coming at her from various directions: Others upset her by prying into her personal life; well-meaning friends and relatives frustrate her with their advice; she has suffered multiple miscarriages; the medical experts have no answers. What can Sue do to cope?

We invite our readers to offer their comments on coping strategies for Sue. We will post them plus our own suggestions.

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