Dear Margo: When Fudging the Facts Is Acceptable

My friend used an egg donor (science) to have her kids but she calls it a ‘miracle.’ Should I say something? Margo Howard’s advice

When Fudging the Facts Is Acceptable

Dear Margo: I have a friend, “Sally,” who years ago went through infertility issues with her husband. After several years, they elected to use an egg donor and successfully had three beautiful children (who look mostly like daddy). Now, years later, when discussing the past, she discusses it like it was a miracle of prayer, not science. I don’t want to ask her why she’s changing the facts of the past, but she’s so convincing with her story that it’s starting to make me wonder if I’m crazy. All of her friends go along with her story, too. Am I making too much of this? — Stickler for Facts

Dear Stick: Well, what is her story? You do not specify exactly what she is saying. That no egg donor was involved? That these kids were born in a manger? From my knowledge of couples with fertility problems and endless rounds of treatment, I suspect three beautiful children could, in fact, seem like a miracle.

While I understand your taking issue with your friend’s rewritten version of history, where, really, is the harm? This should not be an irritant to you, unless you are a fact checker for The New Yorker. You might want to think about why you are so bothered by a friend’s touched-up version of what must have been a distressing period in her life. She is not, after all, fobbing herself off as a Vanderbilt heiress; she is merely blurring the history of how she came to have three beautiful children. — Margo, miraculously

Passive Aggressive Behavior/Food Division

Dear Margo: After suffering for much of my life, I found out a few years ago that I have some severe food intolerances and allergies. It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that my diet will always have to be quite limited, but I am now beginning to enjoy my newfound health, and I’m creatively coming up with new ways to eat well.

My issue is with my family. I don’t visit them very often, as I am a student in a different city, but when I do, they never seem to get that I just can’t eat certain types of food. Without fail, I am served something I can’t eat, or they make it and eat it in front of me, raving about how good it is and it’s too bad I can’t have any, poor me. Even my grandmother does this. It makes me feel that my family is incredibly insensitive, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it. I don’t want to act like a victim, so I just smile and carry on. Is there a tongue-in-cheek way to let them know I have had enough before I lash out at one of them? — My Way

Dear My: I would stop smiling. What is going on is somewhere between dim and mean. While I am generally in favor of using humor to defuse uncomfortable situations, I am not recommending it in your case because this aggressive effort to push food on you that is harmful is beyond someone saying things that are merely thoughtless. No offense, but these family members are either incredibly thick or strangely unconcerned with your health.

The next time this happens, I would ask: “What part of my doctor’s orders do you not understand? And why would you want me to eat something that would cause a serious reaction? While you are free to eat whatever you like, I would consider it a favor if you would not rave about something you are enjoying that you know I cannot have.” When people seriously misstep, I have no interest in sparing their feelings. — Margo, directly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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72 comments so far.

  1. avatar Ghostwheel says:

    For LW1: Depending on how your friend refers to her miracles, you can go with this definition: : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

    If the friendship means a lot, “That’s nice.” is always appropriate. If you are good enough friends, you can ask why she thinks they are miracles in answer to her prayers. (I have a good friend I can ask these things of). If the miracle story is excessive or bothers you too much, maybe you are seeing too much of her. (just a thought).

    Of course, if it is all about the prayers being the reason it happened, that can be hard to understand for people who:
    Don’t happen to believe in God
    Believed that God gives us life then lets us make our life decisions on our own.
    Don’t understand why God would help person A, but not person B, especially when person A might be thought of as not being as worthy as person B. (Believing in God does not mean you cannot wonder why things are the way they are)
    Or a host of other reasons too lengthy to list here.

    I know it is extremely hard to listen to someone talk about how their prayers were answered and some family member was cured or helped in some way, when I’ve known very devout people who have gotten the short end of the prayer stick, no matter who prays for them. So instead of telling LW1 how not fun their life must be, or what a miserable person they must be (just because you don’t believe prayer helps anything doesn’t mean you are a miserable person), how about telling her WHY what her friend says would make sense to you, or wouldn’t make sense to you, without all the barbs? We all only have our own life experiences to work with.

  2. avatar Mandy says:

    So your friend sees a miracle in her 3 children, LW#1? Big deal! Call me to snark and roll your eyes when she starts seeing miracles in her toast. Also, the word miracle might have “god” connotations, but that’s not the only definition:

    miracle – n. – A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment.

    I’d say finding an egg donor, the sperm and egg doing their thing just right, being able to carry the child and give birth to three children when your own eggs can’t is pretty damn extraordinary. Wouldn’t you? An infertile woman having three children was once considered improbable.

    This atheist says: It’s a miracle your friend got to be a mom, now be a friend and be happy for her happiness.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I personally believe LW1 should tell her friend exactly what she thinks and direct her to this column.

      Not only will she have her own cards on the table in word AND deed, but if they still remain friends afterwards—that indeed will be a miracle.

  3. avatar Daniele says:

    I can understand LW1 a bit on this. I find myself frequently irked when people revise history to say that “God made it possible” or some variation of that when, in fact, it was some, mundane human thing that was responsible. That’s because of a variety of things on my part. I’m an atheist, for one. When I was Christian, I was a pragmatic one, with a hands-off kind of God. I’m also mildly OCD. Facts are facts and romance is romance and ne’er the twain shall met. God didn’t do it, the fertility doctor did it.

    Of course, my irk never lasts. People interpret life in different ways and because their interpretation of facts does not match my own, that does not make them wrong. LW1, yes, you are making too much of it. For “Sally”, the fertility doctor and the science s/he used *was* a miracle of God. God’s the one who gave people the ability to figure these things out. God’s the one who gave “Sally” and her husband the ability to afford such treatments. God’s the one who gave the egg donor the ability to be so giving. God’s the one that allowed the egg to be fertilized, to then be placed in “Sally”, and then to maintain itself as a viable pregnancy until birth. So, to Sally, people are merely the agents of God when answering prayers. There is no revisionist history going on, just a different philosophy of how life works.

  4. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#2: When it comes to food sensitivities and allergies, I am mostly sympathetic. I am allergic to bovine milk products…not lactose intolerant…allergic. I have been tested. I am slightly more tolerant of goat and sheep’s milk.

    Both of my son’s were highly allergic to milk of all kinds as infants…even my breast milk. It wasn’t due to my nervousness, diet or medication. My older son was gaining weight and an excellent feeder…but he was also constipated (no other diet but breast milk), constantly gassy and utterly miserable. He was tested, I was tested, the milk was tested. Allergic…despite La Leche’s insistence that this is impossible. My younger son fared even worse, weight loss, horrible diarrhea, unable to sleep, cuddle or rest. Tested. Diagnosed. Allergic.

    The grief I took from those who claimed…and still claim…that this is impossible was endless. My younger son is brilliant, coordinated, bonded closely, has a few mild allergies (we live in Houston…no surprise) , had one ear infection his entire life and is not fat or diabetic. My older son is autistic and has issues…but it is not the result of formula (his was extremely exclusive, made in the USA, very carefully manufactured, and unfortunately hard to find and expensive). People are constantly telling me to just use Lactaid…and refuse to believe that it just doesn’t work.

    I am also allergic to gluten. We maintain a healthy, low cholesterol, very low meat, alcohol free, low salt, Mediterranean diet. I cook like this for the holidays too. When encouraged to “splurge”, I just decline. If people visit, and want to bring their own snacks…all I ask is that they take the left-overs with them when they leave.

    But I do have certain reservations. We had a friend who suddenly announced that he was allergic to a number of foods…among them gluten. He had not been diagnosed by an allergist…but by an acquaintance who was an “expert” on bio-feedback…supposedly. The difficulty ensued when as a group he, and a group including ourselves and other friends, wanted to go out for dinner. This place wouldn’t suit…it served bread. And this place served something else…and this other certain other taboo dishes. The issue wasn’t that there was a lack of variety, or that he was being taunted…it was that he felt it was grossly unfair that we go anywhere at which he might have to resist eating a favorite food that might have a negative impact on his system.

    Which is tantamount to me telling everyone “NO, you can NOT have that ice cream! How cruel!”. If people want coffee, or ice cream, or bread, or pasta…or alcohol…it isn’t my place to tell them that I resent their ability to enjoy those things because I cannot. I don’t attend parties at which there will be excessive drinking…and I draw the line at venues that allow smoking.

    And I serve all except alcoholic beverages in my house…I just don’t eat the things that bother me. I also can cook vegetarian…and vegan…and would respect these things. And allergies. They’re very unpleasant. My own family can be very mean-spirited…and often are. Especially when it comes to food.

  5. avatar Briana Baran says:

    @ghostwheel: You give a neat, concise list of possibilities. I especially was fond of “maybe you’re seeing too much of her”.

    I have never understood the religious, I am an iconoclast, and prayer, in MY opinion, is the most arrogant and loathsome of occupations. Even as a very young child I refused to pray for anything or anyone, for fear that god would notice me (and I was nominally raised Roman Catholic). No one taught me this suspicion, I entertained it on my own. By third grade, I was certain that there was no “god” (as described in ANY portion of the Judeo/Christian Bible) to pray to, in view of the entire mythology’s utter insanity and innate cruelty. Man created god in his own image.

    I do understand how people can feel that their prayers may be answered…but not the prayers of those they label as “unbelievers”. Human nature in the raw. Us and them. But it perturbs me when someone wants to pray for ME. I am not an aetheist…I am an agnostic, and I have a sense of “other” that does not involve deities, angels, devils or demons. Or being abducted by aliens, if you must. I have a dear friend, a truly decent and good person, who overcame cancer. She believes this to be A Miracle. She never mentions the hours of intensive care given by doctors, specialists, nurses, etc., at M. D. Anderson…when she says “Miracle” she means Divine Intervention. And now everything requires prayer…because “it works”.

    I don’t question her, because she is A Believer. I am not mocking her. But I do not visit her anymore, though I speak to her and feel affection when I see her. I am very disturbed by what I see as fatal irrationality. What will happen the first time that her prayers fail to achieve their goal in some uniquely, horribly devastating way? She is NOT a strong person. Why doesn’t she see at all the ***human*** effort that saved her? Every success for her is measured in terms of Faith and God’s Power. But what happens when god doesn’t save her?

    In vitro conception is no more of a “miracle” than that which happens in the more…conventional manner. No god led human researchers to discover that they could cause an ovum to be fertilized in a test tube…that was purely human ingenuity, curiosity and drive. And if in vitro conception fails…so does intra uterine conception…regularly. It is not a miracle if either succeeds, it’s just the male zygote in a hospital medium successfully penetrating and fertilizing the female zygote. The rest is still up to the woman’s reproductive system to support the pregnancy.

    And please, don’t get start of the “tragedy of infertility”. I miscarried my second pregnancy late in the fourth month. Was I saddened? Yes. I was 37 years old…I chose to have my children late. However, I gave myself a window (with my husband’s agreement)…one year of trying, and then we’d adopt. The same held true of my first pregnancy. What held us back from adoption? An intra-uterine conceived pregnancy, even with my absolute need for c-sections, was less expensive than adoption.

    And adoption is far less expensive than in vitro, and I have a great difficulty with the concept of there being an enormous difference between an adoption…and a pregnancy conceived with one, or both zygotes derived from someone other than the biological/genetic parents. it gets even more bizarre when both zygotes are donated AND there is a surrogate involved…but I digress.

    One more interesting point before I close. When the LW stated that her friend “…discusses it like it was a miracle of prayer, not science…”, I believe that the “like” in the sentence was a descriptor used to indicate how her friend talks about the experience…not that her friend is using a simile (not a metaphor). In other words, her friend is saying, “My children are a Miracle of Prayer!”, not, “My children are ***like*** a miracle of prayer”. The latter is not intrinsically disturbing…but I can see how the former could trouble someone…especially if the friend has neglected (I am NOT saying she has…but if she’s reinventing the past…) to tell her children that they are not genetically hers. It is curious to me that the same group who believes in god, prayer, dogma…and the revoking of a woman’s rights to contraception, reproductive choice and free will also are the ones most likely to make use of the medical science that derives from the ***same scientific and medical research sources that they condemn*** to produce their “Miracles of Prayer” via fertility treatments, in vitro and donated eggs and sperm.

    Curious, isn’t it?

    LW1, I suggest you leave your friend alone…beyond asking her (if she’s never told them) in as non-confrontational a manner as possible…when she’s going to clue her children in on the facts. That’s a potentially lethal power-keg. It’s no use questioning her sanity…but mind your own. I dislike being prayed over. I truly love my friend…and so I see less of her. I can’t change her and wouldn’t dream of trying, and it would hurt her to see my irritation.

    BTW, my children are not miracles, regardless of the dictionary definition of the word you choose. They are my beloved sons, I love them fiercely, I worked hard to be healthy during my pregnancies, and I counted on humans to get me through (mostly successfully, sometimes not). I am human, and so are they. I lost one…and I didn’t blame god, or the devil, or the doctors…or pray for better luck next time. I don;t pray or wish…I only hope.

    That’s all that was left in Pandora’s box.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I think miracle is just a term loosely used by many to say they overcame the odds. Those with religious bearing contribute to their savior of choice. Your cancer survivor friend would be one. I would not worry too much about her expecting another miracle. Most people who are granted miracles -by their definition, feel they deserve no more.
      Moving on, you may be onto something about religions & infertility. The friend telling the tale may belong to one of the lovely, Christian sects that frown upon fertility treatments & that may be her reason for concealing or painting a different story. I agree with you that the children most certainly need to know. BUT it’s not the mother’s friend’s place to say so. “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”-Walter Scott

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Ah, Lym BO. Too often I’ve found that those to whom “miracles” have been granted quite arrogantly believe they are destined for, and wholly deserving of the same in every circumstance until their god calls them home. My friend is dear to me…but she does believe that her lord and savior smiles upon, and favors her family, and always will. I haven’t the heart to ask her about the millions of innocents upon whom he apparently frowns. Why her and hers?
        The religious are not a mystery to me at all…but when it gets to that point, I want no part of it, or them. It only saddens, and sometimes angers me. How do the faithful balance their prayers being answered when their child wrecks his car while driving under the influence, but survives with only scratches against a boy of the same age, with equally devout parents, who watch him dragged from the rubble of an earthquake shattered building beside which they have prayed all night for his life…and the life of the sister he went in to rescue?
        Nevermind…I know. God works in mysterious ways. The devout can have him…I prefer a little sanity in my life.

  6. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    I believe that the human mind is a miracle. I believe that scientists reading the history of the cosmos –the story of hydrogen clouds exploding into stars, stars exploding into planets, planets with their minerals and water somehow, some way, providing the stage for life — I believe these scientists are reading the story of creation written not by the hand of those who are inspired but written by the hand of God. I believe that God does not play dice with the universe.

  7. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: I get it on a couple levels. Without going into great detail, we did infertility for 4 years (it was terrible & life changing), we adopted twins then miraculaously birthed two babies. The story of adoption, infertility & then fertility gets a bit tiresome sometimes. AND from some of the posts in some of teh adoptions blogs, some ladies are still truly and deeply bothered by their inability to carry a baby to birth. And most who have been through it, will not forget it.
    LW1’s friend sounds as if she is one of these gals. Basically, it still bothers her that the children are not genetically hers and/or that she was never able to conceive one of her own. I’m not sure why she doesn’t just say, “We did the infertility route then with intervention we were able conceive my three beautiful children” It’s the truth & no one needs to know more-except her children. However, that explanation can lead to more questions about the intervention… Pretty much all babies are a miracle. Stigmas of infertility maintained by many folks don’t help. Insurance companies don’t believe it’s a failure of a normal body system as most don’t pay.
    Friend should understand there are reasons she tells this story. She knows her friend knows the truth and is banking on that remaining private. The best thing the friend could do is ignore it–unless miracle mom wants to talk about it. I’ve known a few delusional people who change stories bc it was so painful they have to so they can deal. I would guess the kids may not know either… It’s rather difficult to tell your children something like this for all involved. Imagine the shock if they haven’t always known! I told my kids they were adopted in toddler terms when they were two. It was factual & to them they’ve always known it & it just seems normal.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      @Lym BO: You mentioned that there is some stigma attached to infertility. There may be. but I’ve never noticed this…in fact, it seems almost fashionable of late to have a multiple birth as a result of fertility treatments or in vitro involving more than one ovum. I thank that this stigma has been mostly relegated to those of certain very narrow fundamentalist religious sects…and certain very traditional…and very anachronistic…Old World families.
      One other point. Infertility may be a biological/physiological malfunction…but is it necessary for the health of any given individual to produce a child…especially if that child will be conceived with donor zygotes…and even potentially carried in a surrogate’s uterus? Because, if it is, then there should clearly be financial aid of an insurance variety (ie: not a loan) available for couples or singles who make the decision, infertile or otherwise, to raise another set of genetic material donors’ child, or children, through adoption. 
      We were too poor to adopt, but not too poor to conceive a child through normal sex, have excellent pre and post natal care, and afford a planned (not for convenience, out of absolute necessity) c-section as we had insurance. It still hurts me that we could find no financial aid to help us adopt a toddler (we didn’t care about gender or race or a newborn infant)…and that the process inevitably asked about our religious beliefs…as if this made a difference. If you’re going to ask for insurance for the infertile…than ask for something equivalent for adoption. There are millions of children waiting…
      And yes,I noted that you adopted, and I applaud you with all of my heart. By the time I had my second son, my oldest had begun to have such extreme behavioral issues that we felt it unfair to bring another child into our home (to the other child…my younger son has not had an easy time of it). But I still ache for the loss of the life I might have given to someone.

  8. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW2: Pretty simple. They don’t believe you have allergies & they think you’re a bit of a head case. Their line of thinking is you never had a rash, hives or couldn’t breathe so it can’t be true. They also think your doc is a fraud. You can either try to teach them all about it & hope they can understand or bring your own stuff.

  9. avatar cablanken says:

    LW1 – As a person that went through IVF/donor egg with my husbands sperm 2.5 years ago, I would like to offer my opinion. I was extremely vocal about the process, always wondering how this will affect my children in the future (I have boy/girl twins now). As of this moment I plan to explain to them how the were created, when they are old enough to understand the details.

    I would like to let you know that the thought of the future scares me. I dread the day that my little girl gets angry as a teenager and tells me that I’m not her real mother anyway. Thinking about this, I honestly question my approach. I may change my mind as my children grow… that’s my choice, not yours!

    I think you should take a step back, view the situation as if it were your own, and then determine how you would feel if the shoe were on “your” foot. If a friend of mine wrote this letter, I’d tell her to take a hike personally!

  10. avatar cablanken says:

    I apologize, I was off topic a bit… what I would like to add is that, regardless if it’s by prayer or by science, it’s still her decision, as a friend, you should go with it.

  11. avatar Fortuna says:

    My understanding of the first letter is that the new mother is delusional, she really thinks that there was no in vitro fertilization and everything happened naturally.  I think she is looking LW1 in the eye and says: “Are you crazy? There was no egg donor!”
    It’s as if someone you know dropped out of school in 8th grade and now she’s telling everyone she’s a Harvard graduate.
    In that case, for argument’s sake, what would Margo’s answer be?