The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Unable to conceive. What next?


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My wife and I want to have children. However, after a year of trying, we haven’t been able to conceive.

Now we have a philosophical impasse. In my mind, this means perhaps we are meant to be childless, or to keep trying for another one, two or five years. For my wife, this means we should see a fertility doctor.

I’d like to have a child, but it seems like biology is telling us no. I believe this is our fate; my wife thinks this is something we should actively change. How do we bridge the divide?

Having children

Which is it more important for you to please, the Fates or your wife? Not a complete answer, just a thinking point.

Re: Fate:

Has biology told you “no” before? Think about things like wearing glasses, using an inhaler for asthma, taking medicine for allergies, etc. Would fertility treatments be much different from ignoring biology’s “no” vote in those cases?


Ding ding ding.

Re: Fate:

Yeah, glasses, inhalers and allergy meds are great advances — for your own health. But upending normal biological functions for the purpose of creating another life falls into a different category. You’re not just enhancing a human condition, you’re creating a human. That means a lot of ethical, moral and spiritual nuances to consider.

On the side of biology

True, but not in all cases. A blocked fallopian tube, for example, does not strike me as a powerful message from the genetic gods. Consider the nuances yes — but refuse even to learn what they are? That makes no sense to me.

To: Fate:

Is there a small part of you that’s secretly relieved to have a “no” decision made for you? I say this as the end result of my parents’ painful years of fertility treatments.

Anonymous 2

The own-it vote — applicable beyond fertility. Thanks.

Re: Fate:

Maybe it’s fate for you to get fertility treatments. Maybe the doctor you’ll choose is someone you’re destined to know, or the ordeal will give you and your wife strength you’ll need later or . . . the possibilities are endless. Who are we to decide when our free will ends and fate begins?

Anonymous 3

The sense of higher-power backup is reassuring.

But that was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it.

Re: Fate:

I don’t think someone is necessarily looking for an excuse to not have a kid. If I couldn’t get pregnant, I wouldn’t have a kid, or I would adopt. Not everyone wants to go through that process and it’s that simple.

Anonymous 4

Fair enough, but sometimes the obstacle to pregnancy is a minor one, and “that process” ends after a routine office visit. It’s not a simple either-or, either you get pregnant within a year or you spend $40,000 over years of IVF. There are a lot of possibilities for both obstacles and treatments, and when both partners want children and one wants to check with a doctor, then it seems to me the other half owes at least an open mind and an office visit.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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