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Miss Conduct

Twin probe

Handling questions about conception, plus hyphenated last names and birthdays for relatives.

By Robin Abrahams
November 21, 2010

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I am 35 years old and pregnant with twins conceived with assisted reproductive technology. I get asked all the time if the babies are “natural” or if I had fertility treatments. I find these questions beyond rude. I am not ashamed of using such technology and have discussed with close friends how I conceived, but isn’t it my choice who I tell? What do I say to those people who ask, but with whom I don’t want to share my method of conception? S.L. / Milton “I don’t talk about baby making with people I don’t know well [or in the middle of Starbucks],” uttered in a friendly-but-steely tone of voice, ought to do it. Then change the topic: “I do talk about books, though. Have you read Freedom yet?” or “What’s a good blender for pureeing baby food?” or “How about them Pats?” If these people persist or go off into agonies of self-conscious apologies for having asked, cut them off and redirect. If they say they are interested for personal reasons (e.g., if they are considering it themselves), give them the name of a good informational book or website and then move on. You can be helpful without having to violate your own privacy.

Regular readers will know that Miss Conduct always points out to pregnant women that soon they will be mothers and in need of a good “Because I said so” voice, as well as the ability to refocus another person’s energies into appropriate outlets. In his infinite wisdom, God gave you pushy strangers to practice on. Tackle those training dummies now, so you’ll be in good shape when the game starts for real.

Is it appropriate for a woman who is remarrying to maintain her former husband’s name and hyphenate it to the name of her new husband? I shall anxiously await a response, as my best friend is about to marry and plans to use the last names of both husbands for the “sake of her children and granddaughter.” C.B. / Boston And you are awaiting my response . . . for what reason? In order to know if you should address and refer to a grown woman – nay, your best friend – as she wishes to be addressed and referred to? It seems to me the sort of thing a person old enough to be best friends with a grandmother ought to know.

My brother’s son recently got married, and his wife’s birthday is coming up. What obligation am I under regarding the acknowledgment of the young lady’s day? Should I call, send snail mail, or e-mail my greetings, or simply offer my good wishes the next time I see her? If I am invited to a birthday party, do I bring a gift? What governs here: how close I am to the birthday girl (not so much), how offended my bother may feel (he is kind of sensitive), or my regard for my nephew (rather high)? M.W. / Winthrop This isn’t exactly a question of obligation, nor is it one that can be answered by a mathematical formula, although your presentation of the problem makes it tempting to do so. Rather, it’s a matter of family custom and individual preference. Does your family, in general, make a big deal of birthdays? Are you, in particular, a “birthday person”? What do you typically do for your nephew, birthday-wise? I’d say do for your new niece-in-law whatever you do for him, whether it’s a card, e-mail, or nothing at all. (If there is a birthday party, of course, some sort of gift would be appropriate, unless the invitation specifically requests no gifts.) You don’t know her well now, but you will as the years go by, so you ought to treat her as you treat other members of the family.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live every first and third Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

  • November 21, 2010 cover
  • Nov. 21, 2010 cover