The Surprise Baby Trope: some folks absolutely adore this trope.
I’m not one of them.
If you’ve known me or followed me for a while, you probably already know why. But if you don’t, I’m going to let you know below and give you some simple things you can do to care for your readers if you choose to use this trope in your romance novels.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And this blog post is in honour of the parents who have experienced these terrible tragedies and live on every day remembering their children that didn’t get to grow up and missing the children who never got to be.
Have you figured it out yet? Why I can’t read the surprise pregnancy trope?
If you scroll through my blog pages, you’ll see a whole collection of posts under the Infertility and Pregnancy Loss category. For years, I regularly blogged about my journey through infertility and loss. Because after years of keeping silent and pretending it didn’t hurt, I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I needed to talk about what I was feeling, let other folks experiencing it to know it was okay to feel what they felt, and I felt it important to try to educate those who had never experienced these devastating losses.
So while I know that surprise pregnancies do happen in real life. And they can often be incredible miracles full of joy. It’s not something I want to read about. Because watching that happen to people while I battled and lost, was incredibly painful. And I read romance novels for joy, not for sorrow.
I am one in four. I have experienced miscarriage. Multiple times.
I am one in six. I have experienced infertility and being unable to get pregnant, despite following all the tips and even using medical assistance.
I am one in 175. I have experienced stillbirth. I held my beautiful, perfect son in my arms knowing that he would never breathe a breath.
And while I now have a beautiful, living daughter. Her presence doesn’t erase the absence of the babies who didn’t get to stay or the hard road we had to walk to get her. If I ever have the opportunity to try adding another child to our family, it won’t be a surprise. It will be an intensely managed series of medical interventions. Because an unplanned pregnancy could kill me.
Romance readers want an escape from the hardships of life with the promise that things will all work out in the end.
Many romance readers pick up these stories because they are a balm when life is hard. They soothe our souls and remind us that things can turn out okay. They distract us from the hard stuff in our own lives and give our minds and our hearts a break for a few minutes or a few hours.
Now imagine you’re going through a devastating pregnancy loss, cramping and bleeding, knowing that this baby you’ve already started planning for, maybe even shopping for, will never be. Or you’ve been trying for three years to have a baby and you’ve peed on 17 pregnancy test sticks because your period is a week late and every single one of them is negative. Two hours later your period shows up…and your coworker announces to the office that they’re pregnant again, for the second time in those same three years. And then the romance novel you picked up to distract yourself and give your eyes a break from the tears, shoves a surprise pregnancy in your face on page 231.
Imagine how that feels? It sucks. It sucks so, so, so much.
I’ve been there. Too many times.
I’ve thrown books across the room and then sobbed for hours. Overreaction? Maybe. But that’s what I was feeling in the moment.
I’m grateful for the friends in my life who tell me when a book has surprise pregnancy, infertility or pregnancy loss in it to help me make an informed choice about whether or not I want to read the book.
Because being surprised by it…is really painful.
Not so fun fact: Two weeks after my son died and was stillborn, I was reading a romance novel that had a surprise plot point—her first husband left her and kicked her out because their baby had been stillborn and he didn’t like that she was grieving the loss. This was both a surprise pregnancy (no one other than her mother knew she’d been pregnant) and a surprise pregnancy loss that was eerily similar to my own son’s death (his heart just stopped beating in utero).
If your novel includes the surprise pregnancy trope, give your readers a subtle warning.
Am I telling you not to use this trope? Nope. Not at all. If you like the surprise baby trope and it makes sense for your story, use it.
What I am asking, is that out of kindness to your readers, you add a simple content note at the beginning of your novel. It can be as simple as:
This story contains references to unplanned pregnancy.
If you’ve experienced infertility or pregnancy loss, please protect your heart.
It doesn’t give the secret away. It doesn’t ruin the surprise. Most readers will forget they read this. But it does let readers like me, who often find these types of stories hard or painful to read, the chance to choose if it’s something our heart can handle. It gives readers the ability to make an informed choice.
And if you are including infertility or pregnancy loss in your novel, also consider not only a slightly more clear content note but also hiring a sensitivity reader or two who has experienced those things to read and advise on how you’ve handled them. Everyone experiences these things differently, both emotionally and physically. And no, I am not volunteering for this service.
If you’d like to, please join me and many others around the globe for the annual Wave of Light on October 15 at 7pm (in your own timezone). Light a candle and leave it burning for at least an hour in memory of all the babies gone too soon. You can share a photo of your candle with #WaveOfLight on social media. I will be lighting candles for my three angel babies, including Hudson who was stillborn at 25 weeks gestation.