First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage...
Except when it doesn’t! In the tradition of mimicking real life situations sometimes the hero and heroine face one of the consequences of having sex—a baby on the way.
For the most part, long gone are the days of eight pound preemies and fudging on the actual marriage date. Still, there is a societal expectation that a couple are together and in love, that he hasn’t just knocked her up and is now going to fly the coop. Even in liberal Hollywood, stars tend announce that they are engaged and then the baby news, as this recent Page Six article illustrated. And this social norm finds its way into the books we read.
Now rarely in romance novels are the couple in a committed relationship when the heroine discovers that she is pregnant, even though unexpected baby on the way can be a big stressor and with both concerns about parenthood and financial matters. There is just not enough uncertainty or angst. But let the line turn blue on a non-committed couple like friends with benefits, or a casual fling, or heaven forbid, a one-night stand, and watch the emotional turmoil skyrocket.
An unplanned pregnancy in a story about friends with benefits or a temporary relationship can happen any time in the story. But it seems more often than not, that it is a late conflict; maybe temporarily driving the couple apart, before the happy ending. Since I sure don’t want to spoil a story, I am going to concentrate more on stories where the pregnancy is mentioned in the first couple of chapters and is the major conflict of the book—which leads me to one-night stands.
One-night stands can have all sorts of negative connotations like promiscuity, desperation, loss of control or even being used. The morning after exit even has an off-putting, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek saying of “walk of shame.”
So how does an author take on the challenge when a baby results from this scenario? One way is using love at first sight or, in the words of the old Hollies’ song: “Just one look, that's all it took” and of course one earth shattering night together, for both to know that he or she is the one.
Next up is a big misunderstanding or separation, sometimes with neither one knowing the other’s name. Typically the story can progress to three different scenarios: they meet again, and the heroine keeps her status a secret because she wants the hero to want to commit without the pressure of his pending fatherhood; or they meet again and she is obviously pregnant, and she doesn’t believe that he cares for her, but he is just trying to do the right thing; or the secret baby route where she has the baby and they meet months or years later and the hero discovers that he has a child.
Susan Andersen used the latter scenario in her book Hot and Bothered:
“Don’t pull that ice princess crap on me, Tori. You know damn well what this is about.” He took a step that left him towering over her and Victoria swallowed dryly at the banked rage she saw burning in his eyes.
“Esme. I want to know who that little girl belongs to and I want to know now.”
“Me.” A healthy surge of anger roared through her and her back snapped straighter than a yardstick even as her heart settled down to a more manageable tempo. Tilting her chin up at him, she met his furious gaze head-on. “Esme belongs to me. She’s my daughter.”
“And mine,” he snarled. “A not-so-minor little detail I never would have known about if I hadn’t come here today.”
Of course, the couples can get their wires crossed. One of the individuals can romanticize the encounter while the other person is on a different page. Typically one feels flattered and special by the other’s attention, believing that there is a real connection between them, not just lust. In most scenarios it is the woman who misreads the situation and because of this, she deviates from taking it slow and cautious, like Georgeanne Howard from Simply Irresistible by Rachel Gibson:
Last night John had behaved so unlike the indifferent man who’d awakened her this morning with a Bloody Mary in his hand. Last night he’d make love to her repeatedly, and she’d never felt closer to a man. She’d been so sure John had felt close to her, too. Surely he wouldn’t have taken such a risk unless he cared. If he’d felt nothing for her, he wouldn’t have jeopardized his career with the Chinooks. But this morning he’d behaved as if they’d spent the night watching reruns on television instead of making love. When he’d announced that he’d booked her a flight to Dallas, he’d sounded as if he was doing her a big favor. When he’d helped her into the corset and pink wedding dress, his touch had been impersonal. So unlike the hot caresses of her lover the night before.
In Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey, Beth Hanson discovers she is pregnant after a night of steamy sex with Kevin Kolwalski, but she is not buying into his “I thought you were special” spiel. She's not ready for a relationship, and she knows he just feels obligated toward her because she’s having his baby. And she sure is not having his baby as a lovely way to say how much she loves him!
I'm not sure I would call it the road less traveled, but the hero and heroine sure have a rockier start when both were just in it for sex. Sarah Mayberry puts her own spin on a one night stand with More Than One Night. Both Rhys Walker and Charlotte Long have big career plans and long term personal goals. While Charlie is taken aback at this new direction, she comes more easily to terms with becoming a mother. Rhys, well, now that is a whole different story. In fact, Rhys is pretty clear about how he feels:
He studied her small, neat features, some distant part of him surprised anew by how different the reality of Charlie was from his memory of her. But maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. It had been a long time, after all. And they’d known each other only a few hours. In effect, the woman sitting across the table was a complete stranger, despite that fact that he’d been incredibly intimate with her.
Despite the fact that, according to her, she was pregnant with child.
He couldn’t process it, it was so huge. So life changing.
“Are you sure?” he asked, thinking out loud. “I mean, are your sure it’s mine?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
“I take it you’re planning on keeping it?” he asked.
Because she wouldn’t be here otherwise, would she?
“Yes. It’s not something I was exactly planning for….But there it is.”
“And what do you want from me? I mean apart from money, obviously. I assume you have it all worked out.”
This was not part of his plan. Not even close. A baby with a woman whose last name he didn’t even know. A child who would be a part of him forever…
It’s a freaking nightmare, that’s what it is. I signed up for one night of fun, not a baby.”
Pretty frank language!
Kathleen O’Brien in For Their Baby is not afraid to explore very realistic emotions and fears. The heroine, Kitty Hemming, and hero David Gerald, are struggling to find common ground. After David’s ex-girlfriend and best friend announce they are expecting, Kitty realizes that she will never experience the joy that they are experiencing now. It passed her by:
She couldn’t help it. She tried to control her face, but she failed. She looked at David, who had turned to look at her. Even as the crowd surged past them pressing toward the stage to offer their congratulations to the royal couple their gazes held for a minute.
And in those few seconds, a thousand thoughts were exchanged. He knew how second-rate she felt. He knew that she ached for her baby, who would never be celebrated this way, who would never be wholeheartedly embraced as a perfect, joyous blessing.
Talk about not being sugar coated!
Do you have a favorite one night stand story that resulted in pregnancy? What did the author do that make it so special for you?
(Editor's note: If you enjoyed this post, check back for Part 2 later this week!)
Leigh Davis, blogger