I think my baby is my ex's -- and my husband doesn't know

The truth could destroy our marriage -- should I do the DNA tests anyway?

By Cary Tennis

Published October 27, 2006 10:30AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I had a one-night stand with my ex. I took Plan B, life carried on as normal, I told my husband what had happened. It was tough but we got through it.

That month I skipped my period. I went for a lot of early scans, which date the embryo to the day. The dates and the fact I took Plan B made me as sure as I could be that the pregnancy was a result of my husband rather than my ex. I lied about the dates, though I had confessed to cheating. We decided to continue the pregnancy.

Then we found out, at 20 weeks pregnant, that the baby has club-feet and dislocated hips. My ex was born with these conditions and there is an extremely strong genetic link. There is no history of either of these conditions in my or my husband's family.

So the baby is probably my ex's. My husband doesn't know that my ex had these conditions, and it's unlikely (though possible) he will find out. Finding out the baby is not his will destroy our relationship -- which was floundering at the time I conceived, but during the pregnancy has become an incredible, strong unit. Not a unit that could withstand being founded on a lie, though.

The baby is due in a week. I don't know what to do. Have a DNA test done and find out for sure? Never mention it and hope the baby doesn't look too obviously like my ex? I can't imagine spending my life with my husband raising a child who isn't his and never telling him -- but I can't imagine raising the child on my own either, and I am pretty sure that's how it'd end up. I don't want my husband to leave me.

My ex is now happy with someone else and has made it clear he'd rather forget we ever had a relationship, let alone the interactions we did earlier this year.

Facing a Big Choice

Dear Facing a Big Choice,

I do believe that your husband has to know the truth. You will want to choose the time and place in which to tell him. But he does need to know. So at some time after the baby is born, yes, I think you ought to have the necessary tests performed.

You don't know for certain yet whose sperm created this child, but you do know whose child this is: This is your child, certainly and without question, no matter what the genetic heritage. This is also your husband's child, no matter how he came into being. He is your husband and you are giving birth to a child that is his. He is the father of all your children, whether his sperm gave them genesis or not. The children deserve no less. They had no say in this. They deserve to be loved no matter whose genes they carry.

That is the way I would look at it. The fact that you lied to him is unfortunate. If you have the ability to look deeply at your own behavior and find a way to change, I suggest you do so. It seems that you lied out of fear, and out of a mistaken belief that lying would make things better.

But I'm not suggesting you be cast out in the street and stoned. People can get pretty emotional about these things, but throughout history the species has renewed itself in just such ways more times than we need to count. Babies want to be born; the species wants to endure; it finds ways to make more of itself. It uses us in spite of ourselves. Give it an opening and life will sprout. There are powerful forces at work here.

You did not really do the right thing, but it was understandable what you did. The right thing would have been much harder, and sort of counterintuitive. But none of us is perfect. We do stupid things. Sometimes the stupid things we do don't matter. Sometimes they matter in the most profound and unalterable way. You can't always tell in advance -- though I would say that in matters of birth and paternity, it can be assumed that any action we take has a better than average chance of falling into the profound and unalterable category.

I think your husband will be profoundly upset to learn what has happened. Powerful and cogent arguments can be made that genetic provenance is not just an abstraction but is, on the contrary, to many people, utterly central to their reasons for marriage and procreation. So I will probably get many letters this time, urging this or that more uncompromising solution.

My own bottom line is this: Your husband does have to know if this child owes its genetic existence to the other man. Maybe not right away. But soon. He needs to know that you haven't told him the truth. I hope that doesn't destroy your marriage. It doesn't have to. There is no law that says your marriage has to fall apart. People live through all kinds of things. You made a mistake. But now there's a situation that calls for compassion and commitment.

That said, will you allow me just a short musing? The reason I do not place so much importance on the genetic inheritance of the child is mainly because I myself do not expect to earn any kind of immortality by producing children that carry my genes. I do, however, if I am honest with myself, have some such expectation that my work will be read by people after I am gone and that a part of me therefore will live on in that way.

Fate has dealt you a difficult hand, and in trying to make things a little better, you appear to have made things a good deal worse. I suggest you come clean soon and endeavor to make the best of a trying situation.

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