Polyamory and Pregnancy: Planning for the Expected

I’ve done what I can with this post without taking it down and re-writing it entirely. When I wrote it I was really ignorant of the many forms polyam can take and was kind of focused on a hierarchy/group relationship dichotomy. I was also stuck in the normative cis-hetero mindset. Unfortunately, I don’t have the spoons for a full re-write, so I’ve revised this as best I can. Please take the built in assumptions with a grain of salt. Revised Dec 7, 2016.

polyamory planning pregnancy
You couldn’t take five seconds to decide who would catch?! Where’s customer service, I’m gonna return these parents!

With the advent of effective birth control, the stork doesn’t always come by surprise anymore. My earlier warnings about unexpected pregnancies stand. However, often either you’ve decided to forgo birth control, and let nature take its course, or you deliberately set out to have a baby.

If your polycule is considering either trying to start a pregnancy or let nature take its course, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.

Polyam Parents

Who are the birth parents going to be? If you are a primary couple with rare exception this will be you. But if you are a triad, quad, group, network, etc . . . who wants children? Are two of your polycule going to try to start a pregnancy? Is your group relationship comfortable with a free for all and see who gets pregnant first? Do you want to know the bio parents from day 1 or are folks okay with a paternity test later?

Living Arrangements

If you all live together, things are simpler in some ways, more complicated in others. Same for if you don’t live together. Say you are a cis-hetero quad with each couple having their own house. The obvious set up is couples that live together have children together, but fertility, finances, and personal preference can all throw in monkey wrenches. And for couples that live together and aren’t cis- hetero the “obvious” set up flies right out the window. If for whatever reason you end up having children across households, complications galore. If you all live together, there is no ’obvious’ set up for who has the children with who. So more complications there, but easier to support each other and raise the children together.

Be aware that if you are living in different households, a new baby can drive you apart. Babies need a lot of time and attention and cut into the time and attention you can give each other. You know ’love is infinite, time is not’? Well, babies take 24/7 care, which leaves very little time for anything else. On the other hand, if you all commit to taking care of the baby, it can bring you closer together. Even if it means getting out of work and going straight to your partners’ home, playing with baby to give live-in parents a break, and sneaking dinner together during nap time.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Pregnancy blog series.

For a more in-depth look at Polyamory and Pregnancy, check out the book.

Polyamory and Pregnancy: Planning for the Unexpected

Revised 11/6/16. Minor updates here, fixed some typos and that kind of thing.

I ran across a discussion on a polyamory forum once where a woman said she absolutely could not deal with the possibility of her husband getting someone else pregnant. A bunch of people were trying to reassure her of how unlikely it was, how with birth control, yadda yadda yadda.

They were right, but they were also wrong. There is no 100% foolproof method of birth control. Would be great if there was, and maybe one day we’ll get one. IUDs and implants seem to be heading in the right direction, but we aren’t there yet. There is no perfect birth control. Accepting that is part of accepting a polyamorous relationship.

Because pregnancy can be so life changing, it is important to discuss what you and your partners will do in the event of an unexpected pregnancy.


polyamory unexpected pregnancy
It can happen to just about anyone.

Each relationship will have to work out for themselves what options and possibilities they need to discuss. A lot of things will be specific to different polyamory relationship styles (a polyfi family that lives together, doesn’t need to worry about a secondary who lives across the country getting pregnant after a visit) and it would take several dozen blog posts to cover all the possibilities. But here are a few considerations to start you off:

Obviously, abortion is the mother’s decision. Knowing if they might want an abortion gives a starting point for the rest of the discussion. All the following assumes that the mother does not wish to abort.

  • If you have more than one relationship (primary/secondary, DADT, polyamorous networks, etc), discuss options with each relationship separately.
  • Potential mothers – there is no guarantee you will even be able to guess who the father is. Think about that.
  • Other potential parents – if your primary gets pregnant it WILL affect your secondary. And vise versa. Discuss it with them individually. (This applies whether or not you have a hierarchy, whether or not you live together. Do not kid yourself, life will not go on as normal if there is a baby on the way, it will affect ALL your relationships.)
  • I shouldn’t need to say it, but potential mothers, if you get pregnant it will affect all of your relationships, regardless of who may or may not be the other bio parent.

There is a lot to think about, and you don’t need to hash over everything down to what hospital you’d want to give birth at. If all you say is ‘How would we handle it?’ ’I don’t know, but we’d find a way,’ you both (all) know that you are aware of the possibility, and no one is likely to utterly freak out if it happens. That’s enough.

It should go without saying that ‘How would we handle it?’ ‘I refuse to discuss it because you will not let it happen.’ is an indication that you have a lot more to talk about it, though not necessarily regarding pregnancy.

What do you think needs to be considered when discussing an unexpected pregnancy in a polyamorous relationship? Please leave a comment with your ideas.

Originally posted June 30, 2011


Polyamory and Pregnancy

Revised 10/18/16. Not much changed here, though I did update the description of how pregnancy affects me and add the note on terminology at the bottom. Unfortunately, I was not aware of trans issues when I first wrote this series, so I’ll be changing terms as we go. Also some grammar fixes. And I have four kids now. Ironically, these updated posts will be going up Tuesdays, not the Thursdays of the original pregnancy series.

As a mother of three, recently postpartum, I can safely say pregnancy is a major, life-altering, relationship changing, huge-as-the-Mariana Trench deal. Bookstores have entire sections about pregnancy, and magazines are written just for pregnant mothers. We have one entire industry devoted to preventing pregnancy and another to helping people get pregnant.

And I promise, when you are throwing up from morning sickness (or holding your partner’s hair while they throw up) is not the time to deal with relationships gone haywire because you’re not sure who the father is! (Every person is different, and I make no claims to speak for every pregnancy experience. In my case, pregnancies trigger massive depression with all the associated problems. I warn people when I get pregnant that I will be insane for the next 9 months. They never believe me. NOT a good time to try to sort out major life issues whether it’s a relationship problem or a big move.)

That said, pregnancy in polyamory is just too huge for me to discuss in one post or one dozen posts. So, I’m going to try to expand my posting a bit. In addition to Sunday posts, I’ll be posting every Thursday about pregnancy in polyam relationships.

Thursday topics will include:

  • Planning for pregnancy
  • Coping with unexpected pregnancies
  • Contraceptives
  • Prenatal care with multiple partners
  • Birth planning with multiple partners
  • Living arrangements during pregnancy
  • And anything else I can think of that might be relevant, useful, or interesting to a poly relationship dealing with, or preparing to deal with, pregnancy.

Note on terminology: throughout this series, I will refer to people who are pregnant as “mothers” and everyone else as “parents” or “potential parents” regardless of gender. I realize this isn’t a perfect approach, but it’s the best I have at the moment. When I need refer specifically to the people who create a pregnancy, I’ll say “bio parents.” Readers are welcome to suggest alternatives.

Click here for the full list of polyamory and pregnancy blog posts.

The Polyamorous Misanthrope Reviews Polyamory and Pregnancy

Several awesome folks are blogging about Polyamory and Pregnancy this week. If you missed them, please check out Alan M.’s write up on Poly in the News and Olivia Grey’s post on Caught in the Cogs, which went up last week.

Today, the Polyamorous Misanthrope shares her take on Polyamory and Pregnancy. If you are not familiar with her, Misanthrope is a advise blogger “wielding the stick of grandmotherly kindness.” She will share her thoughts straight up and doesn’t pull punches. Check her out.

Polyamory and Pregnancy Launch

The Polyamory on Purpose Guide to Polyamory and Pregnancy is officially available today. This post is kicking off a week long blog tour, getting to word out to as many people as possible. Please check out the blogs hosting me on the tour, they are all worth following.

For my part, I want to share an except from the book with you. The one section that, if I could share it with every poly person in the world, I would. Whether you have children or not, whether you have any interest in having children or not, please read this and take it to heart.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead means sitting down together before a late period or broken condom and discussing what you will do if birth control fails. Planning ahead can be crazy complicated, or very simple, depending on how much detail you want to get into. And if you haven’t done it yet, I highly suggest you start right now.

Why You Should Plan Ahead

It’s a basic rule of life: sometimes precautions fail. You can take every precaution, do everything right, and something still goes wrong. Which means that there is always a chance that someone in your polycule will have an unexpected pregnancy.

An unexpected pregnancy is the same as any other surprise: easier to deal with if you’ve planned for it. Just like hikers make plans for what to do if they get lost, like parents make back-up plans for if they get sick, why and people draw up powers of attorney and living wills. All these ways of planning ahead provide some protection and security in case things go wrong. And I don’t mean false “it makes me feel better security,” but actual protection.

Discussing the possibility of an unexpected pregnancy protects your relationship. An unexpected pregnancy is wrenching. Even if you wanted children eventually, even if you wanted children with this partner, an unexpected pregnancy can destroy your relationship(s).

The only thing worse than dealing with the impact an unexpected pregnancy has (including feelings of fear, betrayal, hurt, anger, and confusion); is trying to deal with all of that when you had no plan. A plan gives you a cushion. It gives a bit of breathing room. Even if your plan ends up being utterly unworkable. Even if your only plan was “We all know it might happen; if it does we’ll deal with it.” Having a plan lets you say “Okay, we all knew this was possible, we all talked about it. We can deal with this.”

Actually, there are a few things worse than not being prepared for an unexpected pregnancy. One is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy when you had believed you were protected. When you and your partner(s) promised that you would not allow a pregnancy to happen, and then find out that despite your efforts and intentions, nature finds a way to get around you. Worse is when someone screwed up — forgot to take the pill for a week, skipped a condom “just this once,” etc. If this happens, you add betrayal, guilt and blame into an already difficult situation.

The best protection against something going wrong is to acknowledge that it can go wrong, and be prepared. Planning ahead, discussing what you can do if birth control fails, may make the difference between being thrown briefly off balance and falling apart.

Having the “What if?” Discussion

There are a lot ways you can phrase the ‘what if’ question. “What if I get pregnant?” “What if you get pregnant?” “What if she gets pregnant?” “What if one of us gets pregnant?” “What if he gets you pregnant?” They’re all the same question, phrased differently depending on relationship set up, gender, and personal bias.

What do we do if there is a pregnancy we didn’t plan for or want?”

This question frequently comes up when couples are discussing whether to open their relationship. It’s often accompanied by statements such as, “I couldn’t deal with it if you got another woman pregnant/another man got you pregnant.” When this happens, it’s not an actual “What if” discussion. It’s usually an “I don’t want to open our relationship” discussion.

Sometimes, this can evolve into an actual “What if” discussion. More often it turns into one partner promising, “I’ll make sure no unplanned pregnancy happens.” Since birth control actually does work the vast majority of the time, these promises usually are kept. If birth control fails, well, that’s when you wish you’d had an actual “What if” discussion.

A “What if” discussion is when you ask “What do we do if this happens” and then try find a real answer.

The most important part of a “What if” discussion is admitting that the “What if” can happen.

If you try to have a “What if” discussion about unexpected pregnancy and one or more people refuse to consider the possibility (“Well, you’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t happen;” “I promise I won’t let it happen;” “As long as we all use birth control we’ll be fine;” and so on) then you have not had a “What if” discussion, and someone is more interested in denial than communicating about a real (though unlikely) possibility.

How to have a “What if” discussion

Maybe I’ve convinced you how important a “What if” discussion is, or maybe you figured it out long before I came along. Either way, you decide it’s time to sit down with your partner(s) and pop the question. But… what now? How do you have this discussion? And with who?

This will vary depending on your relationship structure. But before I go into details, let’s look at the uber simple version of this discussion.

You: “What do we do if there is a pregnancy we didn’t plan for or want?”

Partner(s): “I don’t know, but if it happens we’ll cope.”

This is all that needs to happen. If these two things have been said, then you have had your “What if” discussion. Anything else is extra.

If you are interested in reading more, you can find Polyamory and Pregnancy on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

(Originally published March 2013)