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Dear Prudence, Here’s What You Should Have Said

I usually like Slate’s Dear Prudence column.  I like advice columns in general, and I like Prudie specifically because she usually doesn’t coddle or mince words.  She gets to the point quickly, and that’s how I like my advice from strangers.

By covering each situation quickly, she can get through multiple situations in the same column.  Two days ago, I was reading about a girl who doesn’t think she is pretty enough for her boyfriend and a big-breasted woman who wanted to go bra-free, when I came to a conundrum that hit a little closer to home (not that I don’t have big breasts, but I don’t want to go bra-free): a sister who is requesting funding for IVF.

Namely, her sister asked the family for funding in lieu of baby shower gifts in the future, and some of the family members had concerns.  The woman asked Prudie if she should tell her sister the family’s concerns.

And Prudie answered:

Of course people have concerns when they get a mass email requesting money to help fund someone else’s personal activities—such as, I’ve got my own needs to take care of, and this is out of line. Your sister’s request was presumptuous and very unlikely to come close to funding what would likely be multiple procedures. What people would spend on a few onesies is not going to cover IVF. You should direct your sister to Resolve, the support group for people dealing with infertility. They have a Web page about getting loans for IVF, and that’s the way your sister should go.

There was so much wrong with Prudie’s answer.

One, family building isn’t a personal activity.  Running a marathon is a personal activity.  Writing a book is a personal activity.  But family building is actually a group activity because the person produced becomes part of the… wait for it… family.  In other words, they become another member of this social system which was created for the sole purpose to collectively share resources and provide mutual protection and comfort.  Humans invented this concept of family, and families need members to be replenished in order to keep existing.  This doesn’t mean that every member needs to reproduce — that would cause the family to explosively grow and need to fragment out into smaller groups.  But it does mean that family building ceases to be a “personal activity,” as Prudie labels it.

Requesting money is not “out of line.”  It’s just a request.  The sister isn’t holding the family hostage or threatening to leave the family if she doesn’t get her money.  She is merely stating her need and asking the family to step forward to help.  Again, we created this system of family for precisely THIS type of situation: someone has a need and other people come forward to fill it.  This is the way all animal groups work.  And while we’ve expanded where we draw comfort, joining into communities that are beyond the family, the core group that the vast majority of people turn to first and foremost is family.  So, no, not “out of line,” Prudie.  Nor is it “presumptuous.”

I agree that it’s unlikely that small donations will add up to enough money for multiple IVF tries, but IVF loans through fertility clinics (which are the plans listed by Resolve) is not a great idea.  In fact, SLATE (yes, Prudie, your publication) had an article about fertility financing just a few years back pointing out the problems with these loans.  Resolve has a note on their site that they don’t endorse any of these programs; they list them for the benefit of users without comment.  Better to recommend a book such as Budgeting for Infertility, which covers the financial side of infertility, and allow the sister to come up with additional ways to fund her treatments.

Here’s what Prudie could have said:

A: You’re obviously close, so yes, voice the concerns of family members in a non-judgmental manner.  Your sister may not have thought through all the possibilities in her request, and alerting her to questions could help her chart the best route through infertility.  As you know, treatments are very expensive.  A book such as Budgeting for Infertility would be a good starting point to helping your sister think outside the box in funding IVF.  All that aside, it sounds like your sister trusts family and wants to perpetuate the family by producing more members, the sort of people who will be taught to turn around and help out the next generation.  So congratulations to your family for remaining so close in a time when families are increasingly splintered.  And good for you for wanting your sister to succeed rather than making the “lack of funding speak for itself” which is what my totally thoughtless alter-ego would have said.

You know, something like that.

17 comments

1 nicoleandmaggie { 10.30.14 at 9:23 am }

The original questioner came back and let Prudie know that she hadn’t answered the question the OP had asked. Prudie is pretty cold.

I do think it’s a breach of etiquette to suggest that someone is going to be buying you a baby shower gift (or any kind of gift, with the exception of “in lieu of flowers at the funeral, a donation…” general announcements), so asking for money in lieu of that is impolite, but compared to the sorrow of infertility, that gaffe is pretty minor. And, as you say, it’s among family.

2 earthandink { 10.30.14 at 9:26 am }

This brings up bigger issues for me than just IVF, although I consider IVF to be an excellent use of money and if my sister or cousin or friend needed a gift (not a loan) of money to help her be able to do this, I would be 1000% behind it.

My short answer: I think you’re absolutely right. The only thing I would add to it is suggesting the sister making the request start a GoFundMe or IndieGoGo account. Anything that had a flexible funding option where you keep the money if you don’t hit your target amount to raise. I realize not everyone is going to be comfortable with being this public … any medical situation is very private. And crowd-funding, by it’s very nature, is very public. But it’s an option if someone were comfortable with it.

3 earthandink { 10.30.14 at 9:36 am }

Also, I wouldn’t carry the family’s “concerns” to my sister. The fact is, I don’t think people have a right to have concerns about this unless the sister is in some sort of trouble. Extreme trouble. Being battered or using drugs trouble. Or huge medical problems that mean her life would be at stake. Since that’s unlikely or I think the sister would have used it as her reason not to donate, there are no other appropriate concerns that I can think of. (If the sister writing in has children, I’m sure she didn’t conduct a poll in the family to find out if she should do so or not.)

4 nicoleandmaggie { 10.30.14 at 10:48 am }

Also: I think part of Prudie’s response here is that she’s seeing infertility as if it’s not a real medical condition. She’s thinking of it like one would think of strictly cosmetic breast-enlargement surgery rather than surgery to fix a cleft palate. The former is inappropriate to ask family for help on, the latter is completely appropriate.

She probably also thinks the sister should, “just adopt” and “go through foster care.” And all those other things we hear whenever IVF is brought up.

5 manonymous { 10.30.14 at 12:01 pm }

I’ve never really been impressed with Prudie’s answers to infertility/reproductive questions. She reminds me of a well-intentioned friend who once read a novel with an infertility subplot and thinks she “gets it” now. We are currently saving for IVF and I kind of wish I had the guts to approach my wealthy-ish grandparents for a loan/gift. I just don’t know if I could deal with all the strings that would be attached. Anyway, your answer to the question much better than Prudie’s! Maybe you should start an advice column?

6 a { 10.30.14 at 12:46 pm }

No one is ever going to be enthusiastic about a request for money. Perhaps the questioner should respond to the family and friends by suggesting that their concerns should be less about the money request and more about the health and mental state of her sister. Obviously, her sister is having a hard time, and needs the support of friends and family, both monetarily and otherwise.

7 fifi { 10.30.14 at 1:08 pm }

It’s not just immediate family and friends, though. The sister “sent out an email to about 50 family and friends”. If, for example, my brother and sister-in-law asked me in person for financial help to conceive, of course I’d offer support (and not just financial). But if a distant cousin sent a mass email asking for the same, I’d find that a bit weird.

Also, people are naturally going to be concerned about someone undergoing medical treatment. Especially if they don’t know much about that treatment (which most people don’t).

But yes, Prudie could have shown a lot more understanding towards the sister in her answer.

8 Cristy { 10.30.14 at 1:19 pm }

This answer and the one she gave to the man who’s pregnant wife is pissed off about the response her friend struggling with infertility gave her following her suggestion she “just relax.” So very wrong on both.

I haven’t been overly impressed with Dear Prudence when it comes to infertility. This is a woman who had ZERO fertility issues (sounds like she conceived right away) and is better suited for discussing being a second-wife than dealing with infertility.

You’re answer is spot on.

9 Mary { 10.30.14 at 1:53 pm }

Sorry I totally disagree with you. Although it’s become much more common for people to beg for money openly from people, this doesn’t make it polite or acceptable. Also the desire to have a child by IVF is still a private activity in that it’s something personal that the individual wants -it’s a personal desire, not a charity that helps others. She is asking for financial help for herself. It’s fine to say that there’s nothing wrong with asking, but keep in mind that people will be offended by being asked to shell out money like that. If you don’t care about offending other people, then I’m sorry to hear that. I understand that IVF is more compelling than someone wanting a new car and emailing everyone to ask for money, but it’s the practice of having you hand out that makes people react negatively. It’s long been socially taboo and years ago it was considered a good thing to be poor but proud and it would be an insult to accept charity if others needed that money more than you. It’s only in very recent years where something seems to have shifted there, which is reflected in your attitude, but you have to at least be aware that not everyone is on board with this shift, so anyone who is crowdsourcing risks damaging relationships – not sure what price you want to put on that.

10 m. { 10.30.14 at 3:59 pm }

I really like what a. said. (But I dig your answer too, Mel).

11 Mali { 10.30.14 at 5:49 pm }

What an awkward situation. I will admit though that I didn’t like the initial response. I was more concerned with a question on the next page – a couple got pregnant accidentally, but were happy about it. The pregnant woman’s friend was having trouble conceiving, and spoke about it in a group of friends. The pregnant woman said “take time and relax” (or words along those lines), and the woman who was ttcing said “that’s easy for you to say, you’re pregnant with a baby you didn’t even want.” And of course the pregnant woman is most put out. Prudie’s response didn’t even acknowledge the feelings and hurt of the infertile woman, or the fact that maybe telling someone who is trying to conceive to wait and relax isn’t the best advice when you’re pregnant. Argh. I only read her when you single out a post – on the basis of these, I need to stay away from her.

12 Mel { 10.30.14 at 6:01 pm }

I couldn’t even touch the second one. “Lucy’s remark was unconscionable, especially in front of a group of friends at a social event.” What about his wife’s remark? If Lucy’s response to it was unconscionable, it was a match for the rudeness of his wife. I know, who was just being “helpful.” Well, so was Lucy.

13 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 10.30.14 at 8:16 pm }

Totally agree and love your alternate response. Maybe asking for money is tacky, but the sister should address it directly in an understanding way.

On the other hand, people ask for money for fundraisers and school trips, have showers and birthday parties where gifts are generally expected, and invite you to MLM “parties” so you can buy kitchen gadgets or candles or purses. So it’s not like we (as a society) never ask family to shell out cash on our behalf.

I think the biggest difference here is the lack of some kind of cultural norm/tradition. Infertility is such a taboo topic, and it’s only been in recent history that money could do anything to help resolve it.

We need some kind of ritual around this. Like maybe after a year of TTC, the family gathers around the couple and brings over food (like after a funeral). No advice is allowed, only pledges of support.

I know. I’m a big dreamer. 😉

14 Amel { 10.31.14 at 6:51 am }

Hmmm…I think I personally have problems with asking for money like this because I’ve been taught from a young age that a loan is a loan and you’d better not take someone else’s money for granted, no matter how much you need it. If you can’t afford to buy something, then just don’t go buy it.

However, if you’re in such a condition where you just have to ask for a loan, you have to make sure you pay every cent back because it’s someone else’s money (but still think twice before getting any kind of loan because you have to make sure you’re able to return it back). Even with family members (sibling or mom or dad), a loan is a loan whereas a gift is a gift. I feel more open about asking for money from individuals if I sell something or exchange the money for my service (anything the other person may need that I may be able to do).

15 chickenpig { 10.31.14 at 8:25 am }

I always go with the replace infertility with cancer response. Would asking your family to help with paying for cancer treatment, bone marrow matching, or just help around the house be out of line? NO! In fact, in my town there are fund raising dinners and dances etc to help pay for all kinds of things, from cancer treatments to weddings, and they aren’t even for family. When it comes to infertility, though, it falls into “that’s yucky and personal” category. Maybe because it involves sex….sort of. If you are comfortable with your family asking all kinds of personal questions, than go for it. And for those who can’t afford to help, there is always driving to appointments, dog sitting, what have you.

16 KeAnne { 10.31.14 at 9:59 am }

I have no problem asking family for money (we did) or even doing a GoFundMe type of thing, but I wouldn’t be comfortable sending a mass email asking for money to friends and family. I agree that the negative perception is likely due to IF still being a taboo topic. Even if you “just adopt,” I don’t think people realize how expensive that is.

17 kate { 11.11.14 at 12:03 am }

Money and family is always dicey. Her answer was crap, but I don’t know that most would give a better one. As someone who went over a bit of a financial edge, I’d advise against loans – whether from banks or friends. If and when it all fails, you hate those payments even more.

The whole infertility cost is the worst part in a way. If you succeed, of course, it’s worth it. What wouldn’t you spend to have your miracle, to start your family? When it fails, all you think is money down the drain. Expired meds, spoiled embryos, peed on ovulation sticks, sharps containers, time off work, medical bills up the ass. And the kicker? You keep paying it off every month, thinking I’d be 6 mos pregnant by now, I’d have a 1 year old now, etc.

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