Dear Doula -
My fiance and I did genetic testing and found out our kids might have some serious issues. Now I don't want to marry him. How do I tell him?
Sincerely, Engaged To The Wrong Genes
Dear Wrong Genes,
Let me just say: YIKES. I certainly do not envy you now! You’re in a predicament, my dear, and it’s not one you can escape easily. For that, I am sorry.
Your message to me didn’t include some details I wonder about. Does your fiance know the results of these genetic tests are in? Have you discussed them together? If not, I recommend you do so right away. Cancel your plans, this is serious family-meeting level stuff here. What does this mean to your fiance? Get the conversation started.
But before you do that, realize that there are only a few outcomes to that conversation. You might decide to stay together, that your genetic risk is irrelevant. Or, you may end your relationship and engagement then and there! Worst of all, you might avoid the topic entirely and try to kick the can down the road. Protip: “I’ll deal with it later” is rarely the best option. Go into this chat with your partner knowing that it’s potentially a life-changing moment for you both.
Maybe this issue gives you pause. Something about the decision you have to make feels like a false dichotomy. Almost like there’s an option C that you never imagined you’d consider. I encourage you, NOW is the time to consider that option. Before your fiance becomes your husband before your husband becomes a father before your current partner plans to grow even more of their life intertwined with yours.
Ask yourself the hard question here: will you resent your partner if you don’t bear their biological child? Becoming pregnant through unprotected sex and then birthing a child is not the only path to parenthood. Try to reserve your judgment against yourself. There’s no wrong answer here; if you feel you absolutely will regret not walking that particular path to parenthood, then you shouldn’t set yourself up for disappointment. End your engagement immediately - and gently.
Maybe you want to carry a baby - have you asked your partner if they’d be willing to use a sperm donor to conceive your children? This might be the happy compromise that surprises you both! In the same vein, discuss all your options: IVF, surrogacy, adoption, fostering. Do you have agreement on any of these options as a way to build a family together? If so, congrats! You don’t need to break up!
Of course, you may choose option D: roll the dice. Dance with the one who brought you. Perhaps this open and honest discussion will help you remember why you wanted to build your life with your fiance in the first place! You seem pretty set on ending your engagement, and I support that choice as valid. But I have a hunch you’re looking for any reason not to make that choice. If I may, I’ll remind you that staying with your partner and building a family together, even against genetic odds, is also a valid choice. So long as you both accept the real possibility of this heartbreak, you can face it together in marriage.
Because that’s the hard truth: leaving your fiance now does not ensure you will avoid this potential tragedy. Even childbirth itself is risky without genetic odds! It will not make it easier to find love, to build a partnership with someone, to create a family together. The only thing it ensures is that you will not have a child - any child - with THIS person.
I’m so sorry, Wrong Genes. I wish I could tell you there was a simple solution, one that doesn’t leave emotional marks. That’s just not the way life works, and it’s certainly not the way parenthood works. It’s all a gamble. Maybe this gamble didn’t work out in your favor, or your fiance’s. If you decide to split, understand that it doesn’t have to be vindictive. Eventually, you will be able to see this hard moment as a learning opportunity and a new beginning. But for now? It just stinks.
Do you have a burning pregnancy or parenting question that you want some advice on? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and rest assured that your identity will be kept anonymous.