Aug 28 2017 1:00pm

A Baby Carriage Doesn’t Have to Be Part of the Happy Ending

Temporary Duty Assignment by A.E. Ash

Today we're happy to host A.E. Ash (Temporary Duty Assignment) on Heroes and Heartbreakers. Once upon a time, the happy ending of a romance novel meant the hero and heroine rode off into the sunset... with a baby, however, that's not a dream representative of what all women want now. A.E. is here today to talk about that changing dream and diversifying the romance genre. Thanks, A.E.!

In many of the romance novels I read when I was younger, the culmination of the romance arc emerged from wedding bells and showers of confetti directly into delivery wards and happy family celebrations. Cut to today: while marriage and the baby carriage may be experiences many readers relate to and adore, I hear more and more of my friends talking about their own experiences in romance and I can’t help but notice that a lot of them are a far cry from the wedding bells and babies HEA we read growing up.

I am so excited to see the popular media landscape changing as it has begun to do. With LGBTQ-friendly presses cropping up, #OwnVoices and We Need Diverse Books campaigns shedding light on the critical need for representation across the board, with protagonists of many different ages, the options of what constitute an HEA have certainly opened up. Not every love story requires pregnancy. And since love does not look the same for everyone, it makes sense that relationships and how they’re portrayed in fiction would be a spectrum as well. With all of the types of love that exist, as varied and nuanced as humans themselves, are we discussing issues like infertility enough in romance?

SEE ALSO: Sex and Liberation, or Why Sex Scenes in Romance Can Matter

I’ll back up and say, I love reading romance fiction for a very specific reason: it gives me hope and a place to play. Happily ever after, or at least happily for now, is something I come back to time and time again because I need to hold onto the idea that people can work towards happiness…that love can overcome obstacles that feel insurmountable. For women with infertility issues or who for whatever reason cannot or do not want to pursue having children of their own, I think this kind of hope is incredibly important. I don’t just mean narratives of trauma survival, either. I mean capital “R” Romance replete with happily-ever-after and reading-as-escape factors.

I did some searching and found that there are some threads for fiction focusing on specific issues like women struggling with infertility or other issues that disallow having children, and some of those threads are even centered on romance narratives. I have some reading to do, it seems (but that’s always the case, and yay for more, more, more books). I can’t answer if what is out there is remotely enough since I’m still so new to even thinking such narratives might exist in the first place…I’d think not, since there are a lot of issues pop culture is only now starting to address. I know for sure that I need to look around more diligently than before, and to promote and support hope-driven narratives representative of a diverse array of readers/writers whenever I get the chance.

With increased connectivity and awareness of the magnificently multi-faceted world around us, I feel that there is a need for more stories that reflect this diverse reality and women who either cannot or do not want to have children (for so many reasons). It is my fervent hope that these women find more ‘screen time’ and hopefully as much dignity and empathy from readers as they give the traditional HEA with growing family. Since the romance genre and all of its wonderfully varied subgenres and relational dynamics already gives a lot of us readers hope, what could writers like me be doing to serve this greater purpose? Romance narratives are stories that are not only cathartic, but which make us feel happy, and give us a means of escape from the pressures of everyday life. Why not have such joyful escapes gently nudge the world with a kind reminder that not all women’s paths look the same? We all deserve to see a part of ourselves in the Happily Ever After.

As a writer and a reader, I want to see an entire spectrum of experiences reflected in popular media and fiction for women—narratives not just reflecting who we are but which foster positive change and provide hope for those who have been marginalized. Representation of race, religion, sexual orientation are vital. I would also add that issues of women’s health and fertility, neurodiversity and mental health issues, and diverse physical ability all deserve places in stories where people are falling in love. We all deserve to know we are enough, that being ourselves is everything, and reflecting the variety of experiences women face in the world in romance is a huge part of this.

That being said, I’m always looking for more awesome, empowering, and fun romance narratives that reflect reflect the experiences of underrepresented readers. I do hope you’ll leave some suggestions of your personal favorites below.


Learn more about or order a copy of Temporary Duty Assignment by A.E. Ash, available now:

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A.E. Ash is the author of the new novella, Temporary Duty Assignment (Book Smugglers Publishing). You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @dogmycatzindeed, and

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Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I get annoyed with books that miraculously "cure" whatever ails the protagonists in order to deliver the HEA that includes marriage and a baby carriage. These things have their place, but shouldn't be forced into every story, in my opinion.

One of my favorite romance is "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie. She includes all types of HEA in her story: the main couple don't want to have kids; two others do; there's a gay love story and there's also one who doesn't want to get married at all! Talk about covering all the bases.
Jennifer Proffitt
2. JenniferProffitt
@bungluna, I hate that too! I was so pleased when I was reading a historical recently where the heroine didn't want children (she was older, so a bit past the traditional child bearing years as well) and there was an epilogue and I thought, "Oh great, here it is, she didn't want children but the hero's magical sex swayed her to that side" and then they didn't have any children!

I feel like it's shortsighted of the width and breadth of female desires (when it comes to childbearing) when author's assume that every woman wants a child... they just don't know it yet!

Thanks for a great post, A.E.!
3. carmenlire
@bungluna J Crusie was the first author that came to mind when talking about unconventional HEAs! Like you said, Bet Me is the romantic fairy tale with a twist-- the couple doesn't have kids and in the epilogue set several years into the future, they still don't have any children! They didn't magically decide that they had to have kids to fulfill their fairy tale. In Anyone But You there's a ten year age gap between the couple (with the woman being older!) and it's established very early that the hero never intends to have kids and neither does the woman. Honestly, that's all I can think of besides some BDB couples (I'm on a rereading binge so they're immediately in my head lol).

I have to admit that I love the HEA with wedding bells and a baby carriage but as I'm getting older I've noticed that my views on that are changing. When I was 16 and reading romance voraciously I couldn't get enough of the typical romance ending. I'm 23 now and the thought of having kids within the next few years seems unlikely and kinda abhorrent because 1) I'm totally not prepared and 2)I want the independence to do what I want when I want without having a kid to take care of. So now, reading a romance where it's just the hero/heroine is very alluring.
4. Suzeor
In my younger years, I was perfectly happy with the baby carriage ending as well. Now that I'm pushing 50, I could not care less about the characters having babies, and I prefer it when they don't. At the very least, give them a few years together to strengthen themselves as a couple before throwing diapers and midnight feedings into the mix.

There was one historical that I read years ago - I don't remember title or author, but I would love to find it again - where the couple gets married with the usual expectation that she would provide an heir to his title, but no babies ever happened. The pressure from both families started getting a little out of hand and the hero eventually told everyone else - very publically, "I don't give a damn about an heir, she's my wife and I love her and I'm staying married to her even if we never have children." (I'm paraphrasing.) And the epilogue showed them, several years later...they never were able to have children, but they were happy and the estate was going to go to some cousin's kid - who was being shown the ropes so he'd know what he was doing when he inherited - and a point was made to show that their life turned out just fine and dandy, sans offspring. More of that, please, authors!!!
5. Lucy Woodhull
Thank you so much for this! When in the midst of our infertility hell (no miracles here, welp), I had to give up romance completely--even though I'm a romance author. When most books have a baby at the end, the overwhelming message becomes that if you have no baby, you have no HEA. And it sucks great donkey balls. Romance was my escape, and it became too difficult for me.

For my own books, I will never have a pregnant heroine or kids of any kind. I want to be a safe, reliable baby-free space for infertile folks like myself and childfree women. Some of my heroines are childfree, some infertile. I even wrote an infertile superheroine--basically my own a few awesome super powers I totally wish I had. Women of all kinds need heroines and deserve love. Plus, it seems to me that an exasperated mom might want a book that's escapist!

BRB, sharing this immediately! <3
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