Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Accidental Pregnancy

When we were discussing our goals for this year, Holly said she wanted to talk about the accidental pregnancy trope even though she hates it. So here we are! 

As usual, we’re starting the month with a discussion of the trope, but we have to say in advance…none of us is super pumped about it. If you’re an accidental pregnancy trope lover, we’d love to hear from you about your faves and why you love them!

Accidental Pregnancy

Covers of romance novels:
Make Me Yours by Katee Robert
I Think I might Need You by Christina C. Jones
Scoring the Player's Baby by Naima Simone
Books we’ll be reviewing this week

Bottom line: Do you like the Accidental Pregnancy trope?

Erin: I don’t not like it, but I often don’t like the way that certain heteronormative and parenting expectations are written into it. If it doesn’t have those pitfalls, I usually am very entertained. 

Holly: I loathe it. There is nothing good about it.

Ingrid: What’s not to like about taking what’s possibly the most terrifying moment of a woman’s life and adding the uncertainty of a budding romance? (Everything.)

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as an Accidental Pregnancy trope?

Erin: In the course of the story, one MC knocks up another MC, and instead of the pregnant MC getting an abortion or having a secret baby, the two MCs agree to co-parent, and as part of that agreement, they work together to get through the pregnancy as well, eventually catching real feelings for each other. 

This can also exist as a surprise pregnancy that occurs later in a book where the protagonists are already entangled with each other, in which case it’s more like a plot bomb than a full-blown accidental pregancy trope with all the emotional journey that involves. 

Holly: I will say that I am sometimes ok with the plot bomb pregnancy surprise books, because at least the characters have some kind of established relationship at that point.

Ingrid: Some part of the integral part revolves around dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. So, for example, I’m not talking about “baby makes three” endings–the pregnancy has to be a chaos factor or a plot thickener.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: It’s an excellent forced proximity situation for two protagonists who want to be involved parents from the get-go. There’s an obvious reason that they can’t be together right now—they barely know each other, so they can’t possibly love each other—but they are both willing to be together, at least socially, because they both want to be good parents. 

Holly: Ok, but…at least in the versions I’ve read, the “both willing to be together” is a little murky. I sometimes get the sense that the uterus-haver feels coerced into a relationship with the penis-haver because “it’s the best thing for the baby,” even if it’s not the best thing for her.

On the fun end, an accidental pregnancy surprise toward the end of a book can be a great catalyst for the characters to examine what’s going on in their relationship. 

Ingrid: I think that there are very few things in life that can cause normal people to change suddenly and drastically like a surprise pregnancy. So it’s interesting to see this unfold in books–sometimes characters fall apart, sometimes they pull themselves together. 

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: Uff da. There is so much problematic about this trope. 

Most of the time (in my reading) the pregnant character writes off getting an abortion because they just personally can’t do it. Which is fine in theory, but when it’s the case in every single one of these books, it’s creating a moral sense that it’s not okay to get an abortion because there’s no other underlying reason for this decision. I really appreciated that in Scoring the Player’s Baby by Naima Simone (review *this week), Kim had some personal history that made her decision make sense when another woman in her position might not have – from a pragmatic standpoint – made the same choices.

Having a baby is really hard. It’s exhausting on its own, and also it magnifies any troubles in a relationship and often brings forth new ones (just read all the AITA posts talking about pregnancy and newborn problems). Starting a relationship based solely on “we’ve both contributed DNA to a new human” is not a great idea, just the same as getting married for the same reason is not a great idea.

I have never seen one of these books that’s not cis M/F. Since it’s an “oops, I knocked you up” trope, that’s not totally strange, but there are alternative options…where are they? This particular trope is extremely heteronormative. 

And, when this is a plot bomb, it tends to exist in one of two spaces. 

  1. To take away some choice from the protagonists about whether or not they should really be together. We’ve spent X amount of the book building this relationship and we’re wondering how things are going to shake out and then BAM! Pregnancy. Are the protagonists making choices for themselves at this point or for the sake of the future child they expect to have? Can we ever be sure? Can they? Which brings me to 
  2. Pure drama. Can I tell you the number of accidental pregnancy plot bombs that result in a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy? A lot. A lot is the answer.

Holly: Everything Erin said. 

But when I take a step back and set aside my personal rage at this trope (this usually looks like me yelling “Get an abortion!” or “Don’t be with that douchebag!” or “Intimate partner violence increases with pregnancy, why are you moving in with a stranger!”), I can acknowledge that the mess is kind of the point. The pleasure is precisely in flying in the face of “realism” and imagining that if the condom breaks, everything will work out.

Ingrid: I kind of have to lean into Erin’s response because I feel like I’m honestly not in the best place to unpack this. If you can’t fathom how this would be problematic, well…you might need to check the news.

Holly, why did you decide to have us read and discuss this trope if you hate it?

Holly: Well, when I initially suggested it, I did so thinking that doing a deep dive and discussion with my fellow Smut Reporters might help me see the pleasure in the trope. Even if I find it cringe, it brings joy to other readers and I wanted to explore that. 


Given the timing (which was completely by accident, Erin schedules our trope weeks *months* in advance, thanks Erin for making the schedule) I am not at all in the right headspace to find joy in this trope.

Erin: Me. Neither.

I read one book for this week a couple months ago, and it was well done, so I enjoyed it. We’ll see how I feel about our buddy read now…

Holly: Romance author Kate Canterbary recently posited that we’ll see a marked decrease in accidental pregnancy romances if Roe v. Wade is overturned, because choice underpins the pleasure of the trope. I don’t know if that’s true, but maybe that explains some of my headspace.

Ingrid: I mean, we kind of have a thing about examining everything in an open-minded way, so I think it’s great we’re doing it. Too bad we didn’t schedule this a little earlier…

How does this trope’s execution compare to the more “realistic” exploration of accidental pregnancy in Kennedy Ryan’s Long Shot?

Erin: I think the thing about the KR vs the trope is that there are SO SO SO many reasons she should have gotten an abortion. She had a ton of personal goals plus about a million red flags from her partner. It was all extremely obvious to the reader. Somehow none of that comes up within the trope. Everything is fine, and there won’t be any career impact, and they can somehow afford housing, food, and childcare without even thinking about it, and they’re mentally ready to be responsible for another human and, and, and…

Holly: Yes, absolutely. The characters who get accidentally pregnant are never worried about their careers—even when, say in Make Me Yours by Katee Robert, which I’m reviewing later this week, the heroine has a job that relies heavily on her physical body (she’s a personal trainer and spin instructor).

I will say that the question of economic stability does come up, but only insofar as it creates an opening for the billionaire-CEO-prince-rock star to swoop in and rescue his unborn child from life in a one-bedroom apartment.

As a sidenote, in the interest of precision (since Erin didn’t finish Long Shot), that was more of a forced pregnancy situation, as the bad boyfriend later reveals that he sabotaged the condoms to tie Iris to him. However, Iris does not have this information when she chooses to stay in a relationship with this guy and give up her dreams, all the for the sake of her baby.

Ingrid: The thing about Long Shot is that the very fact that the reader is left hopelessly wishing Iris would have made other choices is that she didn’t want to. She made the choice. And that happens–it’s real, and it’s gut wrenching, but in most abusive relationships, the victims aren’t being shown what they’re in for down the line until it feels like it’s too late. And then they’re left with all of those “should have done” and “could have done” thoughts, and it’s a terrible burden to carry. I think that the thing about this trope is that it doesn’t just create a forced proximity–it creates a forced vulnerability. And in some cases, that can be really sensationally tender and thrilling. But in other cases, it’s terrifying for good reasons.

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Erin: For a full book accidental pregnancy trope, I enjoyed Deep by Kylie Scott. Lizzie is younger than Ben, and there’s stuff going on with their relationship that is so messy, but Lizzie’s maturity throughout the pregnancy is the rock against which a raging sea of uncertainty and unasked for opinions ultimately cannot shift. 

For a surprise pregnancy, The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan handled the trope in a nuanced way. Both Ivy and Gray take the time to really consider what their choices will mean for them as they look past college graduation.

Holly: Knit, Purl, a Baby, and a Girl by Hettie Bell features a young woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with her flaky ex-boyfriend—but her love interest is her Planned Parenthood escort. Poppy sometimes thinks that she should involve her ex in her child’s life, but…well, there’s a reason he’s her ex and not the love interest. I liked that Bell used Poppy’s accidental pregnancy as a jumping off point for Poppy to find herself and also find the *right* person to be with. One book pushing back against the heteronormativity of the trope!

For a surprise pregnancy, Paradise Cove by Jenny Holiday. Nora’s accidental pregnancy, for which Holiday carefully lays the groundwork throughout the novel, results in one of the most gutting black moments in romance I’ve ever read. 

Oh, and for an interesting historical take on the accidental pregnancy, I highly recommend The Rakess, though I don’t recall the baby being a huge impetus for them deciding to choose each other in the end. I guess that’s what makes it interesting—there’s an accidental pregnancy, but it doesn’t fundamentally change their relationship.

Ingrid: I actually avoid these like the plague, so the only one I’ve read and enjoyed was The Best Thing by Mariana Zapata…but I argue it’s more of a secret baby than an accidental pregnancy.

Feeling anxious about accidental pregnancies and love romance? There’s currently an auction of excellent romance swag happening, with proceeds benefitting National Network of Abortion Funds’ Collective Power Fund. Closes tonight (May 23rd), 7:30 PM PDT!

Or you could check out this excellent anthology of romances, with proceeds going to NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

Books we mentioned in this discussion:

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