Mon
Nov 5 2012 5:30pm

Keeping Tiny Secrets: The Secret Baby Trope

I am a fan of the Secret Baby trope; if the synopsis of a love story includes even a veiled reference to a secret baby, I feel compelled to read it. I love the forced intimacy caused by sharing a child. It's a tie that binds the hero and heroine together and forces them to overcome their personal difficulties for the sake of their offspring.

But I have to admit to occasionally being ashamed of my predilection because the idea of a woman keeping her baby a secret from her lover is, in my opinion, morally reprehensible under most circumstances. It's his child, too, and aside from situations in which he is abusive or dangerous, there are few excuses valid enough to prevent a woman from disclosing such life-changing information.

As a result, modern-day romance novelists have to be more creative with their secret baby plots to avoid offending readers and making them dislike the heroine. With so many potential pitfalls, how can an author make the well-loved trope work? It all depends on the reason for keeping the child a secret.

For example, if the daddy runs away and purposely falls off the grid before the woman even knows she's carrying his child, she can't very well ring him up and tell him. In Christmas Conspiracy by Robin Perini, Logan Carmichael is an ex-CIA operative. He knows how to disappear. So when Kat Nelson finds out she's pregnant and tries to find him, it's realistic that she doesn't succeed.

The Warrior by Margaret MalloryWhen it comes to tracking down the father, historical heroines would have had a much tougher time than contemporary heroines. She couldn't have simply typed his name into a search engine. A modern heroine's lame excuse of “I wrote him a letter and he didn't respond” might have been entirely valid for an eighteenth or nineteenth century heroine. For example, in The Warrior by Margaret Mallory, Moira, a Scottish chieftain's daughter, is abandoned by her lover Duncan MacDonald and forced to marry another man. Duncan returns seven years later to reclaim the now widowed Moira and his unknown son.

Aside from being reckless and potentially self-destructive, one night stands also provide a reasonable excuse for a woman not being able to track down her baby's daddy, particularly if she was inebriated and didn't bother to find out the man's name before she slept with him. For example, in Warrior's Bride by Nina Bruhns, Rini Herelius hooks up with a sexy dancer at a powwow but runs away from him after one steamy night together without learning his name. She's not able to care for her baby financially, so six months later, she goes to an adoption agency to explore her options where she runs into her lover again. The reunion is awkward, to say the least.

A Father’s Secret by Yvonne LindsayOur current era of advanced reproductive technology also provides fodder for secret baby plots. For example, in A Father's Secret by Yvonne Lindsay, recent widow Erin Connell was accidentally inseminated with a stranger named Sam Thornton's sperm, and now the billionaire wants to fight her for custody of his son. He ends up falling in love with her instead.

Some creative authors choose to avoid the whole “it's his baby and he doesn't know it” theme, and they focus on the mother instead. For example, in The Forest Lord by Susan Krinard, an older book that remains one of my favorites, the heroine Eden was told that her baby was stillborn and doesn't find out for six years that her son is still alive. In Where We Belong by Emily Giffin, successful television producer Marian Caldwell thought she'd put her past behind her until Kirby Rose, the daughter she gave up for adoption eighteen years earlier, comes knocking on her door. Finally, in Kade by Delores Fossen, Bree Winston is an FBI agent with amnesia who can't remember giving birth to her former partner Kade Ryland's baby—or getting pregnant in the first place. The fact that they both worked undercover at a disreputable fertility clinic nine months earlier is a big clue to the baby's origin.

Montana Dreams by Jillian HartAll of the aforementioned novels prove that it's possible for an author to create a justifiable secret baby plot. Unfortunately, too many novels feature heroines with totally lame excuses for keeping their babies' daddies in the dark. Some selfish ladies even keep their pregnancies secret as a form of revenge, without taking into consideration the best interests of their children. For example, Montana Dreams by Jillian Hart is a charming, small-town inspirational romance, but the heroine's reason for keeping her son a secret is difficult to tolerate. Millie and Hunter were both young and stupid when she got pregnant, and Hunter confessed to her that he didn't want to get married and didn't want kids (without knowing she was pregnant). So she ran away and didn't tell him about his son for close to a decade—and spends most of the book continuing not to tell him the truth, even though he's being incredibly kind to her.

It's also frustrating when contemporary heroines don't try very hard to track their lovers down. A phone call or a letter isn't enough. They need to get in the car and go knock on the man's door. For example, in Sweet Laurel Falls by RaeAnn Thayne, Jackson left town after high school without knowing his girlfriend Maura was pregnant. She tried calling him, but gave up. Nineteen years later, Maura's nineteen-year-old daughter Sage finds out who her dad is and drags him back to town to confront her mother. In other words, Maura spent two decades lying not only to her ex-boyfriend but also to her daughter for no good reason other than “he left me and I couldn't find him.”

A Baby of Her Own by Brenda NovakThe worst heroines of all, however, are the ones who use the hero to get pregnant on purpose without his knowledge. In an age of sexually transmitted diseases and easily accessible sperm banks, the idea of a woman secretly seducing a man is not only morally reprehensible, it's dangerous. For example, in A Baby of Her Own by Brenda Novak, Delaney lets her friend convince her to go to a bar in Boise, pick up a strange man, and have unprotected sex for the first time (she's a 30-year-old virgin) in order to get pregnant. This decision is wrong on so many levels. First, she could have easily contracted a disease, even though Conner says he's “clean.” Second, what was she planning to tell her future child about his or her father? If she wanted a kid that bad, she should have saved her money and used a sperm bank—an idea that was briefly discussed and discarded because she couldn't afford it. If she can't afford insemination, how's she going to afford to raise a baby?

In the end, I will concede that fictional heroines, just like their real-life counterparts, aren't perfect. They're flawed human beings who occasionally make poor decisions. As a result, if a heroine ends up keeping her kid a secret for no good reason, then the best course of action for her to take is to try to make amends. She needs to be honest and ask for forgiveness and not blame to hero for being angry, or try to tell him that her choice was his fault in the first place. Everyone makes mistakes, but sympathetic heroines are willing to grow and change in order to embrace true love and create a new family—which is what makes the secret baby trope so addictive in the first place.

 


Brittany is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist and small business owner who hopes that heaven will be like a bookstore with an endless supply of free books, free coffee and super comfy chairs.

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18 comments
Jennifer Proffitt
1. JenniferProffitt
One of my first books with the secret baby trope was Underfoot by Leanne Banks. I really liked her Bellagio series in general, although I haven't followed her into her category romances. The secret baby is revealed pretty early on in the plot, but I liked it.
Brittany Melson
2. BrittanyMelson
That sounds like a good book, Jennifer. Thanks for the recommendation!
Lizzie R
3. Lizzie R
I love the secret baby trope and a writer who really does it well is Rachel Gibson. In Simply Irresistible Goergie and John have a one night stand and then he actually dumps her at the airport. Although he's famous and easy to contact, she doesn't and he only finds out about Lexie about 6 years later. It probably doesn't excuse Goergie but I thought he treated her so shabbily that I understood her actions. It was really satisfying that when John did find out and then asked her what she had told Lexie about her dad, Goergie had invented this Texan military man named Anthony who had died a hero - the fake father was much better than the real one through most of the book.

In Daisy's Back in Town the secret baby is 13 or 14 when Jack finds out. Here the betrayal was twofold - Daisy married Steven (the 3rd friend in their little circle) and left pregnant. Her reasons were justifiable to an 18yr old - she's just found out she's pregnant at the same time Jack's parents die and he's dealing with taking over the garage and his younger brother. Daisy and Steven know they should tell him but every day they don't it becomes even harder and eventually it's 14 years later. I personally enjoyed this one much more.
Brittany Melson
4. BrittanyMelson
Those sound good, Lizzie R--particularly Simply Irresistible, because I love it when a hero is famous and/or notorious:)
Lizzie R
5. Wendy S. Marcus
I am a fan of the secret baby trope, but I agree, not when the heroine gets pregnant on purpose. So far I've used it in two of my books, Once a Good Girl and Secrets of a Shy Socialite. (And given the chance, I'll do it again!)

Oh, and I LOVED The Warrior! An amazing read.
Brittany Melson
6. BrittanyMelson
Hey Wendy, thanks for your comment. I looked up Once a Good Girl, and I realized another loophole for the heroine in a secret baby novel--if she was a teenager when she got pregnant. I should have included that on the list!
Lizzie R
7. Fiona Marsden
I love secret babies. I don't really like it when years go by and the dads miss out on so much. Funnily enough my NaNoWriMo story is a secret baby trope. Thanks for the list of interesting stories.
Vanessa Ouadi
8. Lafka
I'm so not into secret babies. Unless there is a very very good reason to keep the baby a secret, I generally think it sets the wrong ground for a relationship to grow on.

I've really liked Katherine Allred's Sweet Gum Tree though, but the secret baby is quite secondary It's the story of Alix and Nick, who are childhood secret sweethearts. She becomes pregnant but doesn't have the opportunity to tell Nick given that he disappears without a word. She marries another man and gives birth to her baby, but the baby dies a few months later. Years after that, Nick comes back to town, still unaware that he used to have a child and Alix doesn't tell him the truth straight away.
It was a good story, very emotional, dealing with keeping secrets, including about a baby, but it was different from the classic "secret baby trope".

I so agree with you about heroines who trick the hero into getting her pregnant on purpose without his knowledge. The argument of STDs can also be raised concerning one-night-stands turning bad _ that's kind of irresponsible not to use a condom, duh.

I read a book whose title I can't remember and whose entire storyline
was based on the heroine refusing to confess the hero that she slept
with him and she's pregnant with his child , and the hero refusing to confess the heroine that he keeps dreaming of the mysterious woman he slept with one night he was drunk and can't remember her identity.
Basically : the H/h are in love, the h is pregnant with the H's child,
the H marries the h thinking she's carrying another man's baby, the h is
haunted by the passion she shared with the H but won't tell him, the H
feels guilty for being a bad husband because he desires another woman
(or so he thinks), the H is mad as hell when he finally learns the truth
and they yell awful things at each other but they work on it and get
their HEA. To put it, it was quite much ado about nothing.
Brittany Melson
9. BrittanyMelson
@Fiona I also dislike it when the dads miss out on so much. It's not so bad if the heroine doesn't tell him when she's pregnant, but if 6 or 9 or 18 years have gone by--and the hero really loves the child--it's kind of depressing.

@Lafka If the baby dies, that's another legitimate (albeit depressing) reason to keep him/her a secret--I could add that to my list. And I absolutely can't stand when the only conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart is the heroine's inability to be honest with the hero--drives me bonkers. I love heroines who lay it all on the line.
Lizzie R
10. Alie
One of my favourites is Nora Roberts' Honest Illusions. I love the hero and heroine and add a secret baby in the mix and I'm there.

I'm a sucker for quite a few tropes so I don't even hesitate anymore to pick up a secret baby book.
Brittany Melson
11. BrittanyMelson
@Alie--Honest Illusion sounds like a good book. Thanks for the recommendation!
Lizzie R
12. Jamaicanjen
There is one book by Elizabeth Lowell (I can't remember the title) when the heroine discovers she is pregnant after the hero had left for some great adventure. She contacts his brother who sends her money to have an abortion. She takes the money because she is sort of destitute, her parents having just died in an accident, but decides to have the child and keep the information to herself. Years later he returns to the place where she has always been and they reconnect but she hides the existence of the child who is maybe six years old. He sees the child who resembles his mother and based on her age figures it out. Of course the ending is predictable - lots of misunderstanding, blaming - turns out his brother told him she demanded money for an abortion and he was angry about that, eventually they talked it out and had their HEA.
Brittany Melson
13. BrittanyMelson
@Jamaicanjen--That sounds like This Time Love. Good example of a secret baby story.
Ellen Hutchings
14. shadowmaster13
The real problem with the secret baby is that in a romance, the hero is well a hero. So there are rarely good reasons to deliberately hide the baby from him.
Lizzie R
15. JenM
I love secret baby stories, especially if the author can figure out how to keep the heroine sympathetic for not telling the hero. A book that I read recently that was very good for this was Seduction and Snacks by Tara Sivec. Basically, the heroine wants to lose her virginity, gets drunk at a frat party, meets a very cute and nice (and also very drunk) guy and they do the deed, but they never get each other's names. She sneaks out in the morning because she's pretty embarassed, then, when she realizes she's pregnant, she tries very hard to find him, but she doesn't know even his first name, and it turns out that he was crashing the frat party so no one there can tell her who he was. Because of this, it's realistic that she can't track him down. (This all happens in the first 50 pages, so it's not a spoiler). The book is pretty crude, but funny, and I would recommend it for lovers of the secret baby trope.
Brittany Melson
16. BrittanyMelson
@shadowmaster13 I agree with you completely. If the guy's bad enough to keep the baby a secret from, then he's not a hero.

@JenM At least the heroine in the Sivec book tried to track the guy down--that's what counts, I think. Thanks for the recommendation.
Shauna Comes
17. djshauns
One of my favorite "secret baby" books is Merciless by Diana Palmer. The heroine has been telling everyone for years that the father of her son is a friend who was home on leave who she had a one night thing with after they got drunk and things went too far. She pretty much tells people he died when he got sent back overseas. Of course, being a Diana Palmer novel, this is not at all the actual truth, and it is pretty easy for readers to figure out what the heroine's big scary secret is that is hinted at concerning her son. It turns out that the heroine and her boss had to attend a party one night as part of their job and he was drugged and they had a one night fling. She doesn't tell him when she finds out she is pregnant because his family is rich and she is afraid that he will think she is lying to get his money. {This whole excuse seems stupid considering it takes place in contemporary times when paternity tests are pretty easily done, and I can only guess that she really meant that the heroine thought he and his family would think she planned to get pregnant and trap him into marrying her.} She decides to have the baby and keep him because she has been carrying a torch for her boss from the first time she met him. Unlike most secret baby books, when the hero eventually figures out the truth, he is not at all upset about the secrecy and they quickly end up together as one happy family.
Brittany Melson
18. BrittanyMelson
@djshauns The fact that the hero's not angry sounds like a refreshing twist. Heroes can overdo it sometimes by running around pouting and trying to punish the heroine. What's done is done, right?
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