What happens when a hero finds out about the biggest secret his woman can keep—a child?

I’m thirty-six weeks pregnant, and my pregnancy is definitely no longer a secret. When I went to vote a few weeks ago, one of the very lovely volunteers actually asked me if I was having twins. (I’m not. Oh well.) In our society, pregnancy is usually highly visible and very public. More often than not, a pregnancy involves both sides of the future baby’s family, with a barrage of baby showers, gender reveals, photo shoots, and six or seven people in the waiting room at the hospital.

Babies aren’t usually a huge secret, right?

And in romance novels, it’s often not secret either.

In the books we love to read, the state of pregnancy acts as a tie that binds two people together, as it often does in real life. But, because we’re talking about books, pregnancy also serves a vital role in the plot. Pregnancy can scare the heroine or hero, put the heroine’s life in peril, draw her away from her family—or it can act as a part of the happy ending we all love. The hero and heroine, having overcome the obstacles that prevented them from being together, are expecting a baby at the end of a book. They have their marriage, their house, and a family on the way. The end. Everyone is happy.

We know that plot. We’ve read it. And quite often, we love it! We expect it.

Recently, I know you’ve seen this other type of baby plot—the secret pregnancy or secret baby plot. This trope hasn’t just been hot this year—it’s been hot as long as there have been stories. If you’ve read The Thorn Birds, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Secret babies are a thing, appearing far more frequently in television, movies, and, of course, in romance novels, than in real life.

Why the fascination? Let’s go back to the initial interest in pregnancy. It’s a satisfying plot point—and sometimes when two characters don’t know that they’re right for each other, a pregnancy can be the thing that brings them together. The secrecy aspect is what makes it more interesting. After all, a book without some kind of conflict is no book at all. Having a child is life-changing, life-affirming, terrifying, and heartwarming all in one. If that event is kept secret for any length of time, it can truly surprise our characters, make them grow and develop at lightning speed, and test the strength of their love.

As Juliana Conners’ blurb for Ramsey states, “A baby wasn’t part of the plan.” This idea resonates with anyone who has had a surprise child—or anyone who knows someone who has. That surprise can test anyone’s strength, and it certainly can test the strength of a relationship—or strengthen ties that were once broken. In Broke by Alexandra Hunt, a pregnancy serves as a reminder of love in a second chances romance. Mother Trucker by Piper King uses the secret baby plot to tie a rambling bad boy down—and show him what it means to truly love someone. In just about every case, the secret baby plot presents an opportunity for characters to evaluate what should happen in their relationship and find out where they can go from that point on in the story.

Having a child is life-changing, life-affirming, terrifying, and heartwarming all in one. If that event is kept secret for any length of time, it can truly surprise our characters, make them grow and develop at lightning speed, and test the strength of their love.

If the hero of the novel is especially powerful—a mob boss, billionaire, or the head of a motorcycle club—a secret pregnancy can also serve as a reminder of the character’s humanity. His reaction to the secret can help to show his true colors and make him “worthy” in the eyes of the reader. In Phantom’s Baby by Holly Hart, the secret pregnancy presents a chance for the mafia prince hero to evaluate who he really is—and what he really wants. In this story, the hero has been in prison for years, and when he emerges, it’s his former lover’s child who reminds him of his need for love and compassion. For the powerful, and sometimes power-hungry, male main character, a secret baby can demonstrate the hero’s inner workings and abolish the mask he presents to the world. Isn’t that what parenthood does to all of us? There is nothing that can break us down to our basic emotions and needs faster than the pure love we can have for a child. This seems especially true for men, who are often raised to be stoic and hardened to feeling. And when we get a glimpse of that bad boy’s protectiveness and love for a child? Well, we as readers are even more in love with him.

The “big reveal” of the pregnancy and the male character’s reaction to it are the driving forces of this subgenre’s success. These storyline events serve not only to keep the reader’s attention but also to pull on their heartstrings and sympathize with the lovers who have been brought together by a surprising, and often confusing, turn of events. The secrecy aspect taps into another human emotion—curiosity. What happens when a hero finds out about the biggest secret his woman can keep—a child? We always want to know, and we always want to read more.

Because romance novels generally provide happy endings, readers are generally safe from the upset that comes from characters breaking ties or abandoning one another for greener pastures. When we read a secret baby romance, we get to fulfill our own nosiness as well as our desire for a sweet, fulfilling relationship between the two main characters. The baby is a happy ending in and of itself—it’s already provided for the reader. There’s no waiting to see what happens to the hero and heroine after the end of the novel. We already know.

Their future involves a lot of diaper changing, late nights, early morning wake ups, and years of trick-or-treating and first-day-of-school photos. This future, though not everyone is interested in it as a life choice, is a deeply integral, emotional, and biological part of the human experience. And when it comes to love and family—it’s often a happy, if sleepless, ending that satisfies for many years to come.

Books Mentioned in This Article

Lexi Whitlow

Lexi Whitlow is originally from the middle of nowhere in a tiny county in Virginia--though now she's enjoying her days as a suburban romance writer in a neighborhood with a big, shiny pool. She spent her early years growing up between Virginia and her grandfather's farm in North Carolina. She's Southern by heritage and a world-traveler at heart. Writing books allow her to travel to distant, unexplored lands in her mind, but she spends most days chasing her six-year-old and shouting at her dog to stop sneaking onto the sofa while she's writing. She holds a master's degree in English literature, and her mom is so proud she's "using her degree." Lexi harbors a not-so-secret love for bad boys. She loves fighters, dirty princes, crooked cops, and criminals. Her husband is a scientist... but he has the heart of a bad boy. She spends what little free time she has crocheting, painting, and occasionally cooking for her family. On big writing nights, everyone is happy eating cereal.

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