This week’s romance trope is Secret Baby! Which has to be followed with an exclamation point, because … well, SECRET BABY!! This plot usually centres around the hero and heroine having a baby that one of them (usually the hero, but sometimes, unexpectedly, the heroine) doesn’t know about … yet. Enjoy the first installment!
by Anna Clifton
Is it time to retire the ‘secret baby’ in contemporary romance fiction?
The secret baby trope has been around since romance fiction’s earliest days, and no wonder. It’s an absolute gem for ramping up the emotional conflict between two lovers who are already star-crossed.
In historical romance fiction especially, secret babies have been gurgling, giggling and burping their way through storylines for eons. They still are, given the many credible reasons why a parent in bygone times might have hidden a child’s birth from the other parent: the stigma of single motherhood, arranged marriages, class expectations – the list goes on and on.
But what about secret babies in contemporary romance fiction? Is there still a place for them given our rapidly changing world?
When you think about it, smart and independent female characters have been moving to the foreground of contemporary romance stories for a long time. This is a fabulous outcome…except that this new literary landscape makes it much harder to imagine circumstances where a smart, independent, decent woman has the need (or the will!) to hide a child from a father who is smart, independent and decent himself.
Add to this the dramatic relaxation in social morés over recent decades and the ‘secret baby’ trope becomes even more challenging.
So are there dynamics still in play today that could morally justify or excuse a mother hiding her baby from a decent father? This was the question that niggled at me as I put together my ‘what-if’ scenarios for the manuscript that would ultimately become my second novel, Adam’s Boys:
What if…a high-profile English lawyer and philanthropist – the ‘golden-haired boy of London society’ – had a brief but emotionally charged affair just weeks after losing his publicly adored wife to cancer? What if Abbie fell pregnant during this affair, but on travelling to London to tell Adam, discovered the newspapers and internet riddled with coverage of his perfect marriage and his grief over losing his beloved wife? What if Abbie resolved that the only way she could protect an already shattered Adam from reputational and emotional ruin was to keep their son a secret from him, for now…
Strangely, as Abbie’s and Adam’s predicament unfurled in my mind, I became more and more convinced the secret baby trope had contemporary magic left in it yet.
Unlike eras pre-dating the internet, the highs and lows of contemporary love affairs are now splattered across digital media with an immediacy that leaves your head spinning. Most affected by this spotlight glare are the rich and famous: members of royal families, stars within the entertainment industry, the extremely wealthy, the extremely influential. With relentless scrutiny their relationships are stalked, dissected and held accountable by internet ‘tabloids’. Falls from public grace, regardless of the truth behind them, are irreparably damaging for families, careers and reputations.
Women’s independence and standards of behavior may have shifted over the years, but turn on any connected device and you will see globalised public opinion policing these standards with a rigor equal to any other time in history. In this strange new digital world of ours, it seems that the secret baby trope has plenty of fertile ground in which to adapt to modern times. But in one respect it can never afford to change: there must be, as always, a morally bulletproof reason why our gorgeous secret babies were kept secret in the first place.
With only mistrust and pain to bind them, can Abbie and Adam ever find a way through regret to love and the family they could be?