September 11, 2014

Ask Me Anything: On Unwanted Pregnancy & Family Secrets. {Weekly Advice Column}


Dear Elephants,

Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, where no question is out of bounds!

To submit questions for next week, email me at [email protected] or private message me on Facebook.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Dear Erica,

I have a niece to whom I am very close—she is 18, I am 29. She just told me she is pregnant.

She hasn’t told anyone else and doesn’t want to keep the baby. The father was just some guy she hooked up with a couple of times and she hasn’t even told him.

The problem is, she’s waited too long to make her decision and now she can’t terminate the pregnancy so she is planning on giving it up for adoption.

Erica, I have two kids and I know once she has that baby in her arms she is not going to be able to let go. I have told her this, but she won’t listen to me. She wants to go to college, and I understand that, but she has no idea what she’s getting herself into—a lifetime of sadness and regret.

I feel so angry with her for waiting this long to address the pregnancy and upset that she has put me in the position of keeping this secret. I know she needs her parents help and insight, but she made me promise not to say anything to them.

I have considered offering to adopt this child myself, but I am barely getting by as it is. On the other hand, the thought of my own flesh and blood out there in the world with who knows what kind of parents makes me feel sick.

My husband says there is no way we can handle it. (Yes, I told him what was happening even though I said I wouldn’t.) I feel like, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

How can I help my niece to see what’s really at stake?

Flesh and Blood


Dear Flesh and Blood,

I understand your deep and complicated feelings surrounding this pregnancy. Unfortunately, none of this is up to you.

Your niece has every right to make whatever plans she feels will work best for her—all you can do is offer your love and support.

From experience, you know that the fact of a baby is a lot different than the concept of a baby, and it is possible that your niece will have a change of heart once her child is born. Should that happen, you need to non-judgementally help her do whatever she needs to do—whether that means giving the child up for adoption or helping her figure out the logistics of keeping it.

You should not discuss this with anyone else unless she expressly tells you it’s okay. Your niece needs to know she can count on you to keep your promises.

As far as the possibility of you yourself adopting this child, as a mother myself, I can certainly see your point about wanting to keep flesh and blood in the family. You might consider suggesting this as an option to your niece if you haven’t already. Of course, your husband would have to be 100% on board first—there can be nothing clandestine about any of this.

If your husband is not able to welcome the child into your family, and if your niece is determined to let the baby go so that she can take time for her education and all the other things 18 year olds should ideally be doing, then you are simply going to have to accept the situation with as much grace as you can muster.


Dear Erica,

I am in what I think is a very unusual situation.

My family is a normal, middle class family—my mom and dad have been married for 25 years, they had my brother, my sister, and me, a few dogs. My mom gardens, dad builds furniture down in the basement—stuff like that.

I am out of the house now, the last one to go. Recently, my mom had me come back home to go through all the stuff I’d left behind there and clear it out. While I was in the attic doing this, I came across some very weird things.

Suffice to say, it became very obvious to me very quickly that my parents have each been cheating on each other for a long time. And I think somehow they are both aware of it. The stuff I found was not really hidden, but just all bunched together in a way that anyone could find it. I’m talking pictures, letters, airplane tickets, a journal (my mom’s), you name it.

I have no idea what to do or think. I’m certain my brother and sister know nothing about this. I almost feel like my mom wanted me to see all this stuff, but why or how could that be?

I feel very uncomfortable knowing what I now know and wish I could un-see what I saw. I feel like I don’t even know my own parents.

They seemed so happy and normal all these years. What is going on?

Secrets in The Attic


Dear Secrets,

I have no idea whether your mom wanted you to see these things or if she simply forgot they were there, but either way, you can’t “un-see” what you saw. Now you have information about both of your parents that profoundly changes how you see them and their marriage, and to the best of your knowledge, you are carrying this burden alone.

The fact is, however, this is your parents’ marriage, not yours. There are things that go on inside marriages that no one outside of them is ever privy to, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad or dysfunctional. Problems may have arisen and been solved, unique arrangements may have been agreed upon between parties (think Frank and Clair Underwood from House of Cards and their “secretly” open relationship), or there may really be some unresolved unethical behaviors from one or both partners.

Whatever the case may be, I urge you to take a step back and try and process this information privately. Observe your parents in light of your new knowledge, try to be compassionate in your mind toward both of them, and understand that they are just two flawed people like everyone else trying to do the best they can.

If you sense that they are basically the same parents you’ve always known and loved, who have given your siblings and you a happy childhood and home, try to let to go. It will get easier with time.

If, on the other hand, you sense that your mother really did want you to discover their secrets and that perhaps she is asking for help in the only way she can, then you might want to start a difficult conversation with her. You could say, “Mom, when I was cleaning out the attic as you asked, I stumbled on some pretty disturbing stuff. Did you want to talk about that?”

If she does, she does, and you’ll have to take it from there. If she doesn’t, move on. It’s not your job to be your parent’s keeper.


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Editor: Travis May

Images: Pixoto/Martin Brown

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