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 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:


    You consider this woman a friend. She managed to have children, even when she was infertile. You object to her saying that it was a miracle! Well, it was. Thank God for modern science and the egg donor! And the reason her children look like her husband is because he was lucky enough to donate his genetic material!

    You, however, are nasty piece of work! Why the h*ll should you care what she says to her family about her family?

    She deserves a better friend!


    There are all kinds of hideous family issues. Your family is hooked up on food. My guess is that they aren’t going to get the food issues, even if they received a beautiful engraved version of what you can eat, and what you cannot. Signed in gold leaf, in perfect copperplate.

    Based on my own family experience, I’d honestly suggest staying away from them, and saying that it was because they couldn’t honor your dietary and health needs. Every few years, when they promise you the moon, in terms of behavioral changes, you can check them out.

    They’ll respect you the more that you stay away.

    Alas, my more hasn’t been the great good I hoped for, but it is better than it was!


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

    • avatar Nicole Thomas says:

      #2 I think staying away from your family over this issue is going a bit overboard.  And would make her seem hypersensitive.  It doesn’t seem like they are being purposely cruel.  If so, their cruelty would extend beyond this particular issue.  Not knowing her specific dietary restrictions, it difficult to judge, but if her dietary restrictions include common foods like dairy or grains then maybe the letter writer would be better off providing for and cooking her own food, rather than complaining about what is being “served” to her.   It sounds like the family just don’t fully understand the letter writer’s food issues, and she should have a serious talk with them about it.  Food allergies/intolerances are a fairly new diagnosis and I would think her grandmother just doesn’t understand the severity.  .   

  2. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: It’s definitely a miracle that The New Yorker still has a fact checking department, since so many pubs have virtually done away with editors, writers, and other staff professionals. Possibly what’s really bothering you is that your friend is still babbling endlessly about circumstances of her offspring’s births when the kids themselves are pushing puberty. As for looking like daddy, be glad they don’t look like the milkman.   

    LW2: Somewhere between dim and sum, as Margo says, I’d tell these mean-mouths to shut their tater traps or prepare to get a double scoop of whatever they’re dishing out tossed back in their faces.  “Why Cletus, given your blubbery belly, I’m surprised you’re still slurping up the gravy like there’s no tomorrow” and “Geez, Myrtle, aren’t you worried that chocolate truffle will aggravate your nasty skin condition?” 

    Be glad that you’re feeling so much better through disciplined food choices (I’m sure that’s not easy) and feel free to teach these morons to think twice before opening their pie holes.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I suspect that when LW#1’s friend was sharing her infertility struggles with friends, she never considered that someday one of them would be so petty and hateful as to resent her for choosing not to go into graphic detail about the method of conception years later.  I’m with Constance in stating that *miracle* is not an incorrect way to describe what occurred and believe that LW#1deserves a better friend.  Years ago, a friend of mine’s sons were concieved by artificial insemination.  At the time, I thought perhaps it was unwise for him to share thatinformation with so many people as he and his wife may not want their children to know the details and someone, someday, may divulge it unnecessarily and cruelly.  Fortunately, the people who were privy to that information have *forgotten* about it.  I suggest LW#1 forget how her friends children were concieved and that her friend forget about LW#1.  Really…the things that some people choose to occupy their minds with in order to make trouble for others boggles MY mind. 

    LW#2…gloating over being able to eat foods you cannot is indeed boorish on your relative’s part.  I think Margo’s approach is the best approach and I would try it before cutting them all out of your life.  On the other hand, if you are expecting them to refrain from eating foods you cannot eat in your presence, I think you are being unreasonable.  I would also show up with a load of items you can eat and prepare for yourself.  As your host/hostess they should be gracious enough to provide options you can eat…but perhaps they are unsure about the specific requirements of your diet.         

    • avatar Dani Smith says:

      So in other words……’re one of those delusional types that goes around changing stories and living in a fantasy world and letter #1 hit a little too close to home for you.  😀 Hence your harshly defensive reaaction.  Got it…..

      • avatar Katharine Gray says:

        Boy, who spit in your coffee this morning Dani?  Based on your reply below, it appears you are the one pasting your own experiences over those of the LW and her friend.  Sorry you have co-workers who are *delusional* but I see nothing delusional about a person not announcing to everyone the specific details of the medical procedures which enabled her to give birth to three beautiful children.  But perhaps you are the type of person who goes around telling everything about all of your business to the point where people want to run away screaming *TMI* or, worse, goes around telling everyone about everyone else’s business because you just want to *set the record straight*…in which case may I suggest you are deluding yourself as to your real motives. 

        Upon re-reading the letter, I think that LW#1’s real problem is the woman attributes the miracle to God and not to science and I missed that upon first reading.   Toni’s reply addresses this beautifully.


        • avatar David Bolton says:

          I kinda wondered what Dani was talking about as well, and finally concluded that she posted to the wrong reply.

          And Toni does sum it up well—the real issue here is that LW1 doesn’t agree with the way someone else thinks about something that is really None. Of. Her. Business.

          It’s no different that Mommy being proud of her child’s art ability and proclaiming him or her an “artistic genius” while someone else looks at it as completely missing the point of the 19th century Impressionism Period and being both maudlin and jejune.

          If we’re talking about reality—who is really the bigger asshat, the mother who glorifies the births of her children, or the woman who criticizes her methods for doing that?

      • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

        I don’t understand why LW1 has a problem with this. That is your friends’ “miracle”. Let her have it.  Unless your friend has a history of being a compulsive liar….I don’t understand how it matters to you what she says about how her children were brought into this world.

        Be happy for her and get a hobby. 

  4. avatar ZippyDoDa says:

    LW1…I guess the only thing I would be worried about is that kids will know the truth. The fact that they share no genetic link to their mom could be problematic in the future if they were to become ill or in need of vital medical knowledge. But I would venture to guess that they the donor information.

    So really, what’s the big deal? We live in a society that gives away too much information all the time. If this person considers her kids a miracle and chooses not to divulge the gritty details of their conception, who are we to judge? 

  5. avatar toni says:

    There’s been some bitterness towards LW1. Here’s the deal folks, she doesn’t believe in God and gets irked by what she sees as someone believing against ‘facts’. Dear LW1: some people see God in all things. Others don’t see Him anywhere. Others fall somewhere in between. And we still live in a country where that’s allowed. [we are lucky!] To me, the sun rising today is a Miracle from God! To you it’s e=mcc. It’s okay for both to be true.

    • avatar Mandy says:

      toni: I’m an atheist and wouldn’t dream of acting the way LW#1 is acting to her friend. LW is NOT being a good friend and deserves truth leveled her way, IMO. Level of belief or disbelief doesn’t excuse the petty attitude.

  6. avatar toni says:

    Dear LW2: I’m so sorry you are getting no support in this from your family. Sadly, what’s happening is that they don’t believe your diet was what’s making you sick. Way back in the 70s my sister turned vegetarian (out of choice not health reasons) and our grandma would cook steak and meat loaf, sure that would lure her back to the fold. It didn’t work. I am an ex-fattie and people still constantly try to lure me when I’m being good (which I’m not always being…) I would actually try a sweeter version of what someone else suggested. “that bacon is 50 calories a strip if cooked crisp. 75 limp. Uncle Joe I’m concerned you’re setting yourself up for a heart attack. Have you had your cholesterol checked?” “That bread DOES look delicious. If I eat it I will be up all night with raging diarrhea.”
    I like margo’s suggestion but doubt it will take. People are likely to drop it if you nicely bore them with facts that they will feel are critical of their own choices.

  7. avatar Lisa Cornell says:

    Well said Margo, on both letters.

    LW#1 I am not particularly religious, but I think the circumstances of these children’s birth qualifies as a miracle. Whether one considers it a miracle of God, science or both is up to the individual. I think the writer is a very poor friend and should either figure out why she is so resentful of her friend or terminate the relationship out of kindness to her friend who deserves people in her life that genuinely wish her well..

    LW#2 For years I suffered the eye rolling and the sneaking in of ingredients which I have an allergy or aversion to by my family. They used to do it over and over and then pronounce to all that I couldn’t really be allergic to something because I unwittingly ate it. For example, I can’t eat onions or anything from the onion family. My sister would put it in many dishes and all the family would laugh at my expense or if we were out at a restaurant and I asked the waiter if there were onions in something, they would loudly inform the waiter I wasn’t allergic to onions and it was all in my head, all the while making cuckoo motions with their hands. I solved this problem by refusing to join the family for Christmas dinner one year. I told them why, that their actions were childish and hurtful and that I wanted to spend Christmas not stressing that I was being sabotaged. I stuck to my guns. Had a lovely dinner, invited friends over and have stuck to that program ever since. My family has stopped their behavior and in fact I was at lunch with my sister the other day, and a lovely flatbread arrived with onions on it. My sister sent it back before I even had a chance to say anything.

    • avatar Cindy Marek says:

      I’m glad your family “came round” and are now conscientious towards you.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Lisa, gaaahhhhh! You were right to ditch your family’s Christmas dinner! That was apparently the wake-up call they needed. Even if it never changed their behavior – why subject yourself to it?

      I just don’t get it . Even if a person simply doesn’t like something, it’s really cloddish to keep thrusting it upon them.

      For foods that a person clearly and repeatedly says make them ill, it’s unforgivable. And for foods that can cause a lethal reaction – it’s criminal. Why do families decide that someone’s health issues aren’t real and then take it upon themselves to “prove” it?

      I wonder – in some families, the adults repeatedly force their very young kids to eat things they really hate, usually with the reason “It’s good for you!” (I think it’s actually a form of abuse to keep preparing it and making them eat it. Dang, there are other foods out there, and no one will starve if they can’t stand Aunt Bertha’s brussels sprouts). Yet, so many families will insist, again and again. Do you think that maybe what is happening with LW2, and what happened with you, is just a carryover from that sort of childhood mealtime tyranny?

    • avatar lebucher says:

      That was just rotten.  And while they are sitting there proclaiming that you just can’t be allergic to the ingredient hidden in the food they tricked you into eating, they got to be blissfully ignorant of the torment you’d suffer later on, as you are trapped in the loo getting RID of said ingredient. 

      At least you finally got through to them.  But really, it should not have come to that, because caring people don’t put others in that position to start with.

    • avatar Dararie says:

      My family is pretty good about my food allergies, my inlaws and a certain friend are not.  I’m basically allergic to any tree fruit except the tropicals.  Weird thing is I can eat them cooked but not raw,my allergy is actually a pollen reaction.  When people make rude comments about the fact that I don’t eat raw fruit, or give a pass on the chocolate cake, I merely state I”m allergic, if they persist, I say “What are you trying to do, KILL ME?”  since I go into anapylactic shock.
      Most people have caught on that I’m not kidding.
      My mother always said, you don’t have to give a reason for not wanting to eat something, and if people insist, they just don’t have any manners and you don’t necessarily have to have manners back.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I agree with Margo’s replies to both letters.

    L #1: Just grin and bear it. What are you going to say, “Hey — it was science, that’s it.” Yes she’s not being honest, but honestly? Don’t let it bother you so much.

    L #2: Speak up for yourself directly and pointedly. Or go, “Mmmm! Yeah, I’d like to have some of that…but I’d break out in hives; get throat constriction; become ill for 3 days after — okay??”

  9. avatar Dani Smith says:

    I totally understand letter #1’s position, having crossed paths with an increasing number of delusional people in life whom for them, facts are malleable, to say the least.  There’s a woman at my work where you apparently can’t believe a word she says about most anything…..even everyday mundane types of stories, because she’s just that much of a compulsive liar.  Everything’s a lie for her, and she was busted when people started trading details of her yarns and realizing she’s telling different versions of the story to different people, depending on the mood she’s in.   Nobody will confront her about it though, they just let it go and let her spin her wild tales.  Another coworker makes delusional proclamations about herself, basically what amounts to bold face lies about her body, personality and overall life situation to where it’s almost like she’s begging you to contradict her.   Nobody does though.  But we all shake our heads and think WTH? when she walks away.    Another coworker of mine who shakes her head about both of the coworkers just mentioned is also delusional herself, but in her own, milder way.  Totally in denial about many things about herself and her life, and where she’s also been busted bold face lying about certain situations.   It’s enough to make your head spin, when you have one delusional type warning you about another.  It’s like, is ANYBODY out there honest with themselves anymore?!

    I get why people are defending the woman who had fertility treatment and is now bending the truth, because in the big scheme of things it doesn’t matter.  But for the letter writer it’s the *principle* of it.  She’s obviously somebody for whom “facts is facts.”   And she sticks to the facts, and she’s perplexed by what she’s witnessing.   I too am perplexed by what seems to me to be an increasing number of delusional people out there in the world who are in total denial about the truth of themselves and their life situations.   They’re unable to face the music, so they make up stories or make bold declarations that are obviously false, almost daring you to challenge them.    For some it’s just a pathological need for attention, for others, they are literally unable to face the truth of things.  They start living in a lala fantasy world, rewriting their own history and personality as they see fit.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Someone sure does like the word “delusional.”

      LW1: Like what has been said earlier—there’s nothing wrong with adding the term “miracle” to something that for you, is a personal miracle. For some, it’s the sunrise. For me, it was a miracle that my mother quit drinking before she died. Whether the Catholic Church will canonize someone over it is irrelevant. To me, the insight and work necessary to create something as complex or world-changing as in vitro ranks up there with the purported “true” miracles sanctioned by the Church. Let it go and take THIS for a fact: you are risking damaging your friendship with your attitude.

      LW2: Set your stopwatch for 60 minutes. Wait until the next major family gathering involving food—Easter might be nice—and pretend to have the biggest, most dramatic and over-the-top allergic reaction you can possibly muster for an hour, and absolutely ruin dinner for them. Channel spirits and speak in tongues and roll your eyes and spit. A lot. Watch John Hurt’s performance in the movie “Alien” if you need inspiration. And when the hour is up, go have some pie (or whatever is gluten-free) and act like everything is completely normal.

      • avatar Dani Smith says:

        I love the word delusional, absolutely.  It can’t be used enough.  Too many delusionals running around in the world, with made up versions of their life and self. 

        And I think you totally missed the part where the writer of letter #1 clearly said:  “…she discusses it like it was a miracle of prayer…”

        She doesn’t say that the kids’ conception was a miracle.  She presents the situation as if she was able to finally get pregnant through a MIRACLE OF PRAYER.    ie, all she had to do was pray hard enough, and God and Jesus and the Angels would oblige.

        That’s not what happened.  She went to the doctor, and science made babies *for* her.   Prayer had nothing to do with miraculously giving her a baby.   Science did.  She’s misrepresenting the situation, much to the letter writer’s confusion.   

        I get what you’re saying, that hey, in vitro could be considered a miracle.  But again, that’s not what she means.   I’m not sure why people aren’t getting this about letter #1. 

        Oh yeah, and here’s one more for the road…………………..”delusional!”

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          “That’s not what happened. She went to the doctor, and science made babies *for* her. Prayer had nothing to do with miraculously giving her a baby. Science did. She’s misrepresenting the situation, much to the letter writer’s confusion.”

          Discussing something “like” a miracle of prayer and “as” a miracle of prayer are two completely different things. We don’t know for certain that the friend is saying (or truly believes) that her children are the direct result of a miracle. We know that LW1 says that she is comparing it to one.

          And for all we know, God & Co. opened doors for her and allowed in vitro to become a solution to her problem. I can understand why LW1 can become irritated—my aunt and her son treat every Facebook post as a method for glorifying God. Maybe this woman is like that—maybe not.

          It could also be that LW1 is one of those people who fact-check incessantly and show up at Star Trek conventions to one-up everyone with their superior knowledge.

        • avatar mac13 says:

          Yikes, what a joyless life you must have. She could have prayed for a solution and egg donation was the answer to her prayers.  In vitro doesn’t always work, to have it work 3 times is indeed a miracle. You insist on hard facts as seen from your point of view, as if your point of view is all that matters. 

          • avatar KL says:

            I don’t understand why it can’t be both a miracle of prayer and modern science. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I’d imagine for people that believe in god, prayer, etc., that they could very well go in vitro and pray at the same time — I certainly know I would.

            Shoot, I pray with all major medical things for me and my family. It’s not necessarily ALL God or ALL science — and who is to say that God doesn’t work through science as well (works in mysterious ways).

            I think the LW (and Dani) just has a much more limited version of god and science and is upset that her friend doesn’t follow her path as well. Get over yourself.

            Sometimes there is delusion, but sometimes it’s also a legitimate difference in perspective. The wise person can discern between the two.

          • avatar toni says:

            Bingo KL! And David too!

          • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

            Love this comment KL!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • avatar AOT says:

          er… she discusses it LIKE it was a miracle of prayer. Ever heard of metaphor?

          The kind of truth you appear to require at all times is the sort that is needed in law courts, contractual situations, and any situation involving science. Which is OK, but there is such a thing as “the art of living”, and for most of humanity that involves the use of imagination.

          Just out of curiosity, what do you do for a living?

    • avatar impska says:

      I’d be irked by it, just like the LW is. I wouldn’t say anything about it, but it would annoy me.

      Just like my sister in law who likes to tell people that she was a virgin until her wedding. Except anyone who does the math on her first child knows it’s an enormous lie.

      I find it strange that anyone would feel the need to lie about these things. They are adults, they made choices, they are happy with the results of those choices… so why rewrite history? I don’t like it when people aren’t truthful. That doesn’t mean they have to tell me things that are none of my business – but when they choose to tell me about those things, I’d like to be hearing the truth – not some fantasy they’ve made up.

      Ultimately, I can’t truly connect with someone who fills their life with fantasy and white lies. In many ways, it’s worse when I find out that they are lying about something innocent and insignificant. Does anyone care if my sister in law had sex before marriage? No. Does anyone care if the LW’s friend used an egg donor instead of the “power of prayer?” No. And if they’re willing to lie about something as silly as that, what else are they hiding about themselves?

      • avatar snowwhite4577 says: