The Pregnant Heroine

ackermanmorningAs so many of us have blogged about our reading preferences lately, I began thinking about my own romance likes and dislikes.   As I’ve gotten older or simply have read more, I’ve noticed differences in my reading preferences and have often wondered why those tastes change.   Way back in the day, I loved the pregnant heroine, but now, not so much.   I don’t know if it’s because I’ve passed that period in my life – a been there, done that  attitude -  or maybe it’s simply that there aren’t as many pregnant heroines  in Romancelandia  these days.

When I began reading in my early teens, I could only get my sneaky little hands on my mom’s books and, sadly, those were the old bodice rippers of the 70s, 80s, and even into the 90s.  The ones I remember the most were mainly the Woodiwiss and Lindsey books where the heroines were usually pregnant or at least ended up that way for a good portion of the book.  They weren’t the only ones, of course, but those are the ones that standout in my memory because of the pregnancies, or maybe even because of the violence.  I’m not terribly scarred – I promise. Regardless, for a younger me marriage and pregnancy were the goals I wanted to obtain after I completed my education and established my career and I gobbled up those books.

There are so many reasons to like a pregnant heroine and she’s one that is often done well.  She enables the writer to show how the heroine is cared for by the hero; it allows him to be heroic.  Linda Howards’s Mackenzie’s Pleasure is a perfect example of this with Zane, a tough guy hero (and one I love!), taking care of his woman, Barrie, and unborn child. It’s the ultimate culmination of a romantic relationship for many readers.   A pregnant heroine can also force a couple together and cause tension/angst and sometimes humor within the story as with Kevin and Molly in This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

However, as I’ve grown older (or maybe because I’ve since had two of my own babies) I can’t seem to make myself turn off reality and find the pregnant heroine sexy.    When the heroine discovers she’s pregnant, my mind automatically goes to prenatal vitamins, folic acid, or even birth defects.  I can’t help it; I’m a worrier.  I think about nausea, vomiting, and the even more unpleasant things that go along with late pregnancy.  Yes, pregnancy is a beautiful and a life-changing experience for which little else can compare, but it’s also physically draining at times and at others downright unpleasant.  For me, nowadays, it’s just not romantic in a sexy, steamy way.

But to be honest, I don’t know if I specially avoid pregnant heroines or if there simply aren’t as many out there as there used to be.   Other than the Harlequin lines, the only recent pregnant heroine I can think of was a Mary Balogh heroine.

Are there fewer pregnant heroines out there?  Do you like the pregnant heroine?  Or, have your reading preferences changed since you’ve been reading romance?    Please, tell me what you think.

- Heather AAR

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37 Responses to The Pregnant Heroine

  1. Abi says:

    I haven’t read about a pregnant heroine (before the last page or epilogue) in a long, long while. I think I enjoy pregnant heroines though so maybe I’ll go search for some that are non-Harlequin.

    I would say that there are definitely less of them.

  2. Snickersbar says:

    It rarely works for me, but not, I think, because of the pregnancy itself, but because pregnancy seems to dictate plots I don’t like. SEP’s Nobody’s Baby was, for instance, an unholy alliance of accidental pregnancy (from his perspective, at least), secret baby, and weird mystic femininity/pregnancy and reproduction as the acme of female existence (I remember Jane sitting on the porch “growing her baby” and just thinking WTF happened to the brilliant physicist?).

    And I don’t like the fact that babies are often pitched as bringing together strangers or saving bad relationships, and all heroes can’t wait to marry the girl they knocked up… I don’t know where they’re finding these guys but it doesn’t ring true for me.

    I would be fine with a pregnant heroine in a book with a plot like “On the run… and pregnant” or “Stalked by a vampire… and pregnant” but book like “The heroine is pregnant… so the conflict is…. she is pregnant!” is just kind of boring to me.

  3. SNH says:

    I HATE pregnant heroines. Probably without exception. There has never been a moment in my life where I’ve wanted children. I get that for other women it’s oh so special and romantic and perfect and great, but for me? Nope. I’ve actually tried to read books where pregnancy and children are involved – I guess because I’m twenty-eight and I want to see if maybe that maternal thing is buried deep down in me somewhere. But apparently it isn’t. I quite simply cannot identify with a pregnant woman – and especially not with a pregnant woman in a romance novel, because they’re always so darned happy about it!

    For me, romance is about love between the couple. Pregnancy and the reality of children kill the romance for me.

    To be blunt, I hate it.

  4. Darth Clavie says:

    I think the only Pregnant heroine that I’ve truly liked was Kate from Cheryl St. John’s His Second Hand Wife, otherwise I don’t like this plot so much.

  5. Claire says:

    I was about to say I hate this plot but then you mentioned the Linda Howard book and the SEP book and I love both of them. I don’t buy them now though if I can avoid it and I think its the things you mentioned about having already gone through that phase in life. I wonder what the average buyer age is for pg heroine books. I would think younger.

  6. AAR Lynn says:

    I’m not big into the pregnant heroine in contemporaries. It rarely works for me. Though if you like pregnant heroines, they can be found in the various H/S lines.
    However, in historicals, I have to admit that I’ve read at least a few with pregnant heroines that worked. Usually, the ones that work for me show up in Western plots where a pregnant woman has been widowed or otherwise left alone in the harsh frontier, and then along comes a hero…
    Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner is a recent Western historical with a pregnant heroine that I enjoyed quite a bit.

  7. Sue S says:

    I can deal with a pregnant heroine in a historical — but a pregnant heroine in a contemp simply destroys the character for me. Unless she was attacked, it moves her firmly into TSTL, careless, drunk/druggie territory — no one I’m interested in knowing, let alone liking. :P

    Contraception is just too easy these days, and unprotected sex in general just too risky. I want to like and admire the heroine, not try to squelch the “how could you be such a total dim bulb?” feelings.

  8. trish says:

    I like a good – I said “good”! – pregnancy storyline, but they are few and far between these days. Even in historicals I’ve noticed fewer and fewer pregnant heroines – even in epilogues. And for me, that is not realistic. We get these heroines in historicals running around and having sex, but miraculously, they never conceive!

    I do not have children, but nor do I hate reading about pregnancy or children in romances if they add anything to the relationship or story. And, though yes, contraception is readily available in the form of the pill, etc, it amazes me to hear of so many people out there still having unprotected sex (meaning no condoms). You hear about these guys that cheat (Tiger Woods, Jesse James) and these women they sleep with claim that they had unprotected sex with them. If true, that’s really amazing to me. But bottom line, I can’t remember the last romance I read that had a pregnancy, historical or contemporary.

  9. JulieLeto says:

    Sue S, not every pregnant heroine got that way “accidentally.” I read something recently (title escapes me) where the heroine was pregnant, but her husband died. II read another where the heroine was pregnant with her fiance’s baby and everything seemed perfect until he took off right before the baby was born and she was on her own. (Could have happened if they were married, too. She was abandoned.) Both were poignant stories, though the second was women’s fiction…it definitely had a great romance in it eventually.

    Oh, wait! What about Robyn Carr’s heroines? They’re always pregnant! And trust me, they are PLENTY sexy even when they can’t have sex. I love how she handles pregnancy in her books…she runs the whole gamut from easy births to problems.

    Pregnancy isn’t always awful. Some women feel great the whole time and also the ramp in their hormones has them feeling quite randy. I wasn’t one of those women (thank you, placenta previa,) but I do know they exist!

  10. Laura says:

    I like pregnant heroines.
    I like the storyline where 2 people are thrown together because of it, and somehow find their HEA,
    I totally agree that in RL this probably never happens, but romance is fantasy, and this is a fantasy that I like.
    The strange thing is that there are very many other plot lines that I can’t stand because I find them so implausible, yet this one doesn’t make me suspend disbelief.

  11. chris booklover says:

    We need to distinguish between pregnancies occurring at the end of a novel (or in the epilogue) and those that occur early in the story. A pregnancy at the end is part of the HEA. It appeals to some readers but not to others – but this applies to almost any aspect of the HEA.

    Pregnancies that play a significant role in the plot are a device that can be handled well or badly by the author. The argument that pregnancy or the pregnant heroine is “not sexy” is debatable, to say the least. Many women (and men) would disagree strongly. Moreover, perhaps the point of the pregnancy in a novel is NOT to make the romance more steamy, but to illuminate the hero’s/heroine’s characters, force them to clarify their relationship, advance the plot by bringing them together in a marriage or convenience, etc. All of these are worthwhile ends, irrespective of how well or badly they are achieved in any particular book.

    Sue S – Despite the widespread availability of contraception today even smart and responsible people may have to deal with unplanned pregnancies. I spent half of my adult life in elite universities and lost count of the number of very bright colleagues who had to deal with this predicament. And as JulieLeto commented, not all of these pregnancies are accidental.

    Trish – you’re right. It’s amazing how in recent historicals heroines can have sex without conceiving. The absence of reliable contraception was an important driver for the attitudes towards pre-marital and extra-marital sex in those days. This is one reason why so many historicals seem anachronistic in terms of the behavior of their main characters.

  12. Heather AAR says:

    Like others have written, a pregnant heroine is much easier for me in a historical than a contemporary. I expect it in a historical.

    From a personal perspective, I just remember I was so tired during the first part of pregnancy and so round during the last part I didn’t feel romantic in any way, shape, or form. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help but project my own experiences on to characters when I read, which gets in the way sometimes.

  13. CEAD says:

    I’m with SNH: I don’t have a maternal bone in my body, so I have no real interest in pregnancy storylines. There *are* authors who have done it in ways that worked for me, but generally the moment I see “pregnancy” in the synopsis for a book not written by one of my auto-buy authors, I avoid it. The same goes for stories with prominent roles for children; if it’s an author I trust, I’ll read it, but otherwise I try to avoid those.

    That said, I don’t think it’s just my lack of maternal feelings that turns me off in pregnancy-themed books. I usually only read historicals, so maybe this doesn’t happen in other sub-genres, but I’ve noticed that a lot of books in which the pregnancy theme is prominent feature heroines doing things that I find improbable or irrational at best – like, refusing to marry the hero and thus condemning her child to life as a second-class citizen because she loves him and doesn’t think he loves her. That one always gets me. I don’t like plot-induced irrational behaviour as a general rule, but when there’s a poor baby’s future at stake, it bugs me even more than usual.

  14. Virginia DeMarce says:

    As usual, Janice Kay Johnson pulled it off (With Child; Harlequin SuperRomance). There’s no sugar-coating; Mindy has very little money, and deals with having to find an affordable place to live and go back to school for a degree while she’s pregnant with her late husband’s child.

  15. Cora says:

    I have no children and no desire to ever have any. However, I do enjoy the occasional pregnant heroine or romance involving babies and small children.

    What I enjoy about these books is that they allow the hero to show his nurturing and protective side. And contrary to others, I prefer pregnancy plots in contemporaries, because the high risk associated with pregnancy and childbirth in historical times destroys the illusion for me. Contraception is a dicey issue, but I don’t mind a contraceptive failure as long as it is well handled. Besides, single women do get pregnant on purpose, too. Or they weren’t single when they got pregnant. As for the “pregnancy is not sexy” issue, not all women feel bad all the time and besides, I don’t necessarily need sex in my romances anyway (though it’s a nice extra).

    What I’d like to see more is at least addressing the issue of the morning after pill or abortion. The heroine doesn’t have to go through with it, but if a women finds herself pregnant in difficult circumstances, most would at least think about it. And please, no moralizing. Just let the heroine make the decision that is right for her.

    What I hate, however, is the “miracle miscarriage”, when the heroine finds herself pregnant, finally decides to have the baby (often after much deliberation) and sometimes even marries the father and then “conveniently” miscarries before the pregnancy can upset the plot. This is actually more common in TV shows, but I’ve seen it in books, too (there’s a very popular contemporary with a “miracle miscarriage”) and I hate it, because it’s often used to get the writers out of a plot corner and because it cheapens the pain women/couples experience after a miscarriage in real life.

    Interestingly I enjoy pregnancy books even more when the hero is not the biological father of the child. Probably because it heightens the protective/nurturing aspect of the hero that I like. When the hero is the father, there’s often a shotgun wedding feel to the whole situation and I don’t like shotgun weddings (which is why I don’t like the two SEP pregnancy books). I prefer the couple to get to know each other before they get married, pregnant or not. Frankly, if they must get married, I’d prefer not to read about it at all. Weddings are to me what babies and pregnancies are to many others here, a plot element I intensely dislike.

    The Robin Carr books are generally good and deal with pregnancy in a realistic way, though the birth rate in that small town does get a bit extreme by now. Another recent pregnant heroine book I loved is “One Night Stand” by Julie Cohen. There are also some pretty good Harlequins with a pregnancy theme.

  16. Traci says:

    I don’t like or dislike any story based on specific plot lines–generally if I can identify with a character then I am hooked–romance, fantasy, mystery. But I can think of several romances with a pregnant heroine storyline that I liked. And several that I disliked.

    One pregnancy story that completely worked for me: Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer. The heroine is a pregnant widow with a farm and no money, the hero is an ex-convict drifter. Ellie advertises for a husband and Will applies. It is one of the most poignant and satisfying stories I have ever read.

  17. Janet W says:

    I thought I knew my Balogh — what pregnant heroine? Lots of them get pregnant, are pregnant for some of the book (like Cassandra, wife of Stephen) … is that the heroine to whom you refer?

    What pregnant plot that always seems a bit “real life” incongruous is Having Sex for the First Time in the 8th month book (this, of course, is when the man marries a pregnant woman … semi-staple of Western pregnant romances). Not that I dislike the scene per se, just having had 3 myself, hmmmmm :)

  18. Heather AAR says:

    @Janet W – Yes, I was referring to Cassandra and Stephen. That’s the only somewhat newly published book I’ve read recently where pregnancy was an issue.

  19. Kristy says:

    I dislike the “oops I’m pregnant” storyline in contemporaries especially because it makes both the heroine and hero look clueless and irresponsible. There is no excuse for them not to use some form of birth control in 2010. (unless it is an inspirational romance, which is a whole other genre, imo.)
    Accidental pregnancies in the historical realm are far more believable but still seem like a contrived way to throw two people together. I was so disappointed that Mary Balough used this in her book about Sydnam and Anne (can’t even remember the name of it now) because it seemed like such a mundane way to bring together these two incredibly strong characters. And not all accidental pregnancies end up with a HEA. Bringing a baby into an other wise untested relationship can either make or break it. I like my romances to be a couple falls in love based on each other rather than unfortunate realities such as unprotected sex.

  20. Janet W says:

    Oh Kristy, I agree about Sydnam and Anne and also, to be honest, Cassandra and Stephen (altho not so much with C&S since C thought she could not carry a child to term) but why oh why couldn’t Sydnam and Anne have a more romantic ending. Sigh. That whole Simply series, with the possible exception of the first, is a pale azure for me … I think she should have walked about from the Bedwyns and switched to the Huxtables. And I adore MB and read everything she’s ever written … and just finished A Secret Affair. I think everyone will like it but I don’t think Con will be one of her heroes you can’t ever forget. I like her laughing heroes — Kit for one.

    One Balogh with a pregnancy that is fairly controversial, The First Snowdrop: Anne, the heroine, really grew a spine and well she should because Alex treated her horribly. IMO.

  21. AAR Lynn says:

    @Kristy – In contemporaries, I would agree with you sometimes, but I can see that storyline working if handled well. This may be because I’ve known women in real life who still got pregnant despite taking responsible precautions.

  22. Danielle says:

    I love books with a pregnant heroine. I don’t have kids and I’m not married. Who knows, I may not ever have kids. But I still like this theme. I like that the authors show the good and the bad to pregnancy, and how it can draw a hero and heroine together when they are expecting a child together. I will be honest and say that I don’t like it as much when the heroine is pregnant by another man.

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  24. reader says:

    I enjoy the occasional pregnancy plot line, and I also enjoy the occasional infertility or miscarriage plot line too. Childbearing is a very real part of most women’s lives today, and certainly was almost always a part of women’s lives historically (thanks to the absence of effective birth control methods). I enjoy historicals mainly, and fertility is a key expectation of most of the aristocratic marriages I read about. So whether or not the heroine conceives can be a big deal.

    The pregnant, single heroine is actually a favorite of mine. Until recently, an out of wedlock child was a deal-killer for respectable women. So, I think that the pregnancy plot line heightens the drama because it can add a degree of desperation and resourcefulness for the heroine. And, in this day when so many children are born and raised without fathers, I find it comforting to read about men who “do the right thing” and take responsibility for these women and their children.

    I am annoyed by the plot lines where (1) the heroine didn’t conceive in her prior marriage until she met the hero (apparently she just needed his sperm in order to procreate?), (2) by scenes where the hero pulls out early to avoid pregnancy and this is always effective, and (3) where the heroine knows some magic herbs or secret trick to keep her from conceiving. I suppose each of these scenes is plausible, but they turn me off.

    I must say that I am taken aback by some of the prior comments that seem to suggest that in our current times there is simply no excuse for pregnancy–suggesting that birth control is always the right choice, and always effective. I guess I know way to many married friends who have ended up with an “oops!” baby even while taking preventative measures. Sex leads to procreation sometimes despite all efforts to the contrary.

    • CEAD says:

      reader: I am annoyed by the plot lines where (1) the heroine didn’t conceive in her prior marriage until she met the hero (apparently she just needed his sperm in order to procreate?)

      This bothers me too. I kind of wish there were more historicals featuring infertile heroines who are truly infertile rather than merely requiring the hero’s sperm. Given the emphasis on fertility in earlier time periods, I think it’s extremely romantic if a hero, especially a titled hero, shows that he still loves and is devoted to the heroine when she really can’t conceive. When she turns out to not really be barren after all, the hero doesn’t get a chance to demonstrate that kind of devotion.

      • chris booklover says:

        This bothers me too.I kind of wish there were more historicals featuring infertile heroines who are truly infertile rather than merely requiring the hero’s sperm.Given the emphasis on fertility in earlier time periods, I think it’s extremely romantic if a hero, especially a titled hero, shows that he still loves and is devoted to the heroine when she really can’t conceive.When she turns out to not really be barren after all, the hero doesn’t get a chance to demonstrate that kind of devotion.

        But in a society where women are expected to produce heirs infertility is likely to be at least as depressing for the heroine as it would be for the hero. The HEA is not credible in these circumstances, unless there is already an heir or they don’t want children.

        • CEAD says:

          chris booklover:
          But in a society where women are expected to produce heirs infertility is likely to be at least as depressing for the heroine as it would be for the hero.The HEA is not credible in these circumstances, unless there is already an heir or they don’t want children.

          Is there any reason not to write a story where there’s already an heir or the couple doesn’t want children? I think the credibility of a HEA depends a lot on what seems true to the personalities of the characters. Some people need biological children to have a fulfilling life, but that’s not the case for everyone.

          In societies where infertility tends to be regarded as the woman’s fault, even if it isn’t, there’s a lot to be said for a hero who doesn’t blame or guilt-trip his wife (or repudiate her entirely, in societies with that option) when they prove to be infertile. That means he really, really loves her. If that’s true, and if he already has children for her to mother or she doesn’t want children, there’s no reason she can’t have a HEA despite being infertile.

  25. I actually wrote about a pregnant heroine. Unplanned pregnancy, contraceptive failure, and the guy who ‘owns up’ to it is not the biological father. In fact, it is a tabloid and paparazzi furore that brings these two unlikely people together.

    I like pregnancy themes, but I do agree that pregnancy isn’t just rosy and perfect. It’s not an ‘end-all’ in itself. But it happens. And sometimes it brings people together. HEA may not be marriage but it can bring them close for a while. Doing the right thing today to me sounds more like the child should be taken care of, not just the couple getting together coz it’s the right thing to do (shotgun wedding, staying together just for the kid’s sake).

    If you’re interested, check out my book Storms in a Shot Glass. It’s got all this in there. Thanks.

  26. R. O'Connell says:

    I like pregnancy themes in my romance books. I like to know the characters have kids or are going to have kids, this means in the romance world that they are still together. Shotgun Wedding by Maggie Osborne is a great book. Sweet Lullaby by Lorraine Heath and books by Laura Lee Guhrke and Pamela Clare all feature heroines that are pregnant before they meet the hero. I think it’s very romantic when the hero steps up to be a father to another man’s child. Also, Mary Balogh has several books where the hero has gotten the heroine pregnant and finds out and must do the right thing.More Than a Mistress, the Web of Love, Seducing An Angel, Irresitible, A Precious Jewel, Simply Love and A certain Magic. Although, I will agree, it’s not a theme that works as well in a contemporary.

  27. mdegraffen says:

    I’m not a fan of the pregnant heroine. I think it helps a bit if you have ever been pregnant yourself, and I have not. While I neither need nor want to totally identify with the heroine, I do like having something I can relate to, and for me pregnancy in a heroine just doesn’t work. I get bored and skip the descriptive parts or the book becomes a wall banger.

  28. Wendy L says:

    I don’t like the pregnant heroine theme. I like a lot of sex and violence, excitement, in a romance and pregnancy just doesn’t seem condusive to those types of endeavors. Also, I’m a realist, and while I enjoyed being pregnant very much, I know about the gas, the peeing when you sneeze, the swelling, the increased sweat output, the hurting breasts, etc, and can’t find any of that sexy.

  29. reader says:

    As I have thought more about this topic, I think that for me a good romance is about characters and drama, more than it is about sex. That’s why I don’t mind it if the heroine is in her third trimester and lumbering around in ugly dresses.

    I started reading romance as a teenager when a lot of books still didn’t contain much purple prose, and that has skewed my perspective somewhat. I don’t need sex between the hero and heroine in order to love a book (in fact some of my favorite books are the old Patricia Veryan novels which have very little sex but have tons of self sacrificing romance). More than anything, I like authors who write longing between the characters. Forbidden loves and impossible situations for which there are real societal obstacles to achieving HEA.

    To respond to pp on the infertility plot lines, I think one of the Julia Quinn Bridgerton couples had fertility issues. It’s the steamy novel about the sister whose first husband dies tragically and she later fights her attraction to her late husband’s best friend. I seem to recall that the heroine had a hard time conceiving with her husband and then had a miscarriage, so she wasn’t certain she was fertile any more. This was hard because she really wanted a baby.

  30. Cinquetta says:

    I love pregnant theme especially when she is carring more than two babies. Bset one I read J J Massa book her Montgomery series Acting Like Family, Montgomery Family Chronicles, #1 and A Night to Remember by Eve Vaughn. One stand she ends up pregnant few years later the bady daddy find them and really sh##happens. I love story with that type of plot…hell give me more…..

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