Polyamory and Pregnancy: When Primaries Have Children

Minor edits here. This post references a post about an earlier post about secondary partner’s becoming pregnant. That post needs a complete re-write and will (hopefully) be up sometime next week. Revised Feb 15, 2017

This isn’t one that generates the sheer Google traffic of a secondary partner getting pregnant, but I think it deserves just as much attention.

The thing is, hierarchical relationships tend to focus on what affects the primary partners. Of course, everyone fully sympathizes when a secondary partner becomes pregnant and the primary is floundering to figure out how to handle it. However, a secondary who finds out their partner is having a baby with their partner’s primary is affected as well. (For this post I will be referring to ’primary relationships’ as opposed to ’primary couples’. Some people have primary triads, quads or other set ups)

Like many things, I’d like to think it is self-evident that a primary relationship that decides to try to have a child should inform their secondaries. (It’s part of that whole ’open and honest communication thing’). However, even if every primary relationship in the world did this, there would still be the unplanned and expected pregnancies.

Every polyam relationship is different, and “primary” and “secondary” are used for such a wide variety of arrangements. So these situations can vary widely. The primary partners could discuss the possibility of a pregnancy with their secondary(s), asking their opinion and approval. They could inform the secondary(s) of their decision. And sometimes they inform the secondary(s) that they are seeking children and have decided to end all secondary relationships.

Personally, I think that last is a shit thing to do, but some people do it. And it is their right to end their relationships anytime they want for any reason (or no reason).

Equally, some secondaries won’t care what the primary partners do or decide, some will have very strong feelings/opinions, and some may feel threatened or left out. Caught on the outside looking in.

If you are a secondary partner in this situation, a pregnancy in a primary relationship will affect your relationship with your partner(s). But it doesn’t have to be a negative effect. Your SO(s) will need a great deal of support and help, especially at the end of the pregnancy and right after the child is born.

If you choose to back away from the pregnancy as ’something that doesn’t involve you’, then your relationship will definitely lose intensity. It may end as the baby becomes a major focus of their time and energy. This can be healthy, if the relationship has run its course and you are ready to move on, or if you decide it is the best thing for you. Or it can be unhealthy if you feel resentful of the ’wedge’ that the pregnancy has driven in your relationship(s).

However, you can choose to be involved as a friend. If you do, you can offer to help with transport to doctor’s appointments, help set up the nursery, or babysit (or help with the dishes) so baby’s parents can get a break. If you do this, then the pregnancy and child can become not something that drives a wedge in the relationship, but another way to have a relationship.

If you are a part of the primary relationship in this situation, try to keep your secondary(s) in the communication loop. Maybe they want to be involved on some level, maybe they don’t. Maybe you want them involved, maybe you don’t. IMO, within reason, the pregnant person should get what they want during pregnancy (they’re the one going through hell). But be considerate of the other people who are affected.

All of this is pretty much the same if the pregnancy is unexpected, except that it’ll be coming at everyone as a surprise. As I believe I’ve mentioned in earlier posts; take your time deciding how you feel about it, and don’t make any major decisions immediately. You usually have nine months or so to figure everything out.

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

Metamours and “Disrespecting the Primary”

We’re taking a tangent away from etiquette this week. I got a response to last week’s post that deserves some attention.

A person on Twitter asked me if they were wrong to not want to meet their metamour. I told them they need to do what is right for them, but I think meeting their metamour is a good idea—if only because meeting them standing over their spouse’s hospital bed would be worse. This person replied their metamour would never show up at the hospital if their partner was hurt. That would be disrespectful to the primary. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said that we have very different definitions of “respect.” But again, they need to do what is right for them.

Why did I need to pick my jaw up off the floor? Because the idea that your metamour showing up at the hospital bedside is disrespectful to you is actually you being crazy disrespectful to both your metamour and your partner. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Someone, and for the life of me I can’t remember who, said that there are two kinds of respect.
“You will respect me” can mean “You will treat me as an authority/superior/having power over you.”
“You will respect me” can mean “You will treat me like a human being (with rights, agency, and a reasonable expectation of common decency).”

Which is why “I will respect you if you respect me” can be so fucked up. For many people, it means “I will treat you like a human being if you treat me like an authority.”

If I need to explain why this a problem in relationships, you are reading the wrong blog.

So, let’s break down how showing up at a loved one’s hospital bed can be “disrespecting the primary.”

If your husband (my lover) is in the hospital and I visit them, am I denying you the common courtesy and decency I offer all human beings? No.
Am I infringing on your rights as a human being? No.
Am I taking away your agency and right to make decisions regarding you life and your body? No.
Am I denying your feelings, attacking you for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm you? No.

So that definition of respect doesn’t apply. A metamour visiting their partner in the hospital bed is NOT disrespectful to the primary in terms of treating the primary like a fellow human being with rights, agency, and a reasonable expectation of common decency.

If I show up at your husband’s (my lover’s) bedside, am I somehow undermining your authority in some way? If you think you are the only one with a right to a “real” relationship with your husband and everyone else gets the scraps you allow them, then yes I am undermining your authority. I am flouting your “right” as his spouse to be the only one offering him solace, support, and help in his recovery.
Remember that last sentence, we will come back to it.

I think we’ve established that “disrespecting the primary” isn’t about harming the primary or treating them badly, and is about the primary enforcing their authority. Personally, if my partner ends up in the hospital (again) I’m gonna have better things to do than defend my relationship with him. Like, I don’t know, making sure he survives so we can still have a relationship? Making sure the kids are cared for and the rent is paid so he has a home and family to come back to? Oh, I know, dealing with the hospital bureaucracy and medical bullshit so he can focus on recovering and not stress about how we’re going to pay a 5 figure hospital bill? Yeah, I think those will require a bit more of my attention than defending my status as his one and only primary partner.

Now, let’s look at how barring your metamour from you partner’s hospital bed might be disrespectful to your metamour and your partner.
Your spouse (my lover) ends up in the hospital. It is understood that I am not supposed to show up because it would be disrespectful to you.
Are you denying me common courtesy and decency? Yes, you are denying me the chance to be with someone I care about when I am worried about their well being.
Are you infringing on my rights as a human being? Yes, you are restricting my freedom of movement in a public place.
Are you taking away my agency and right to make decisions regarding my life and my body? Um, yeah. Yeah, you really are. Taking away my agency is the whole point of this little “understanding.”
Are you denying my feelings, attacking me for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm me? Yes, you are denying my grief and fear and/or demanding I suppress them in your favor. You are potentially causing me mental and emotional harm. (Speaking from experience here. I was not allowed to see my grandfather before he died because it would be “too traumatic.” Yeah, um. Not being able to see him to say goodbye was a fuck ton worse.)
So yes, saying that your metamour would be “disrespecting the primary” by visiting your mutual partner in the hospital is disrespectful to your metamour. You are not treating them like a fellow human being with rights, agency, and the reasonable expectation of common courtesy and decency.

Now let’s look at your partner. Cause this is where it really gets fucked up.
Are you denying your spouse common courtesy and decency? Yes, you are denying them access to people they care about and dictating who they can and can’t turn to for support.
Are you infringing on your spouse’s rights as a human being? Debatable—you aren’t dictating to your spouse or denying them anything directly. But you are infringing on their right to socialize with, spend time with, and ask for help from whoever they wish.
Are you taking away your spouse’s agency and right to make decisions regarding their life and their body? Um, yeah. Yeah, you really are. You are not allowing them to make decisions about their recovery and how they will manage the emotional and mental stress of their injury/illness.
Are you denying your spouse’s feelings, attacking them for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm them? Yes. You are denying them access to resources (your metamour’s time, energy and attention) that can aid in their recovery. You are insisting that during one of the most stressful and difficult times of their life they not get help from someone they love.

In short, if you are more worried about “disrespect to the primary” then in doing everything and anything to help your spouse recover, which may mean including your metamour in their recovery, you are saying that protecting your place in their life is more important than their health and well-being. Remember that sentence we said we’d come back to? By insisting that you are the only one who can offer your spouse support in their recovery, you are denying your spouse support that will make their recovery easier. Think about that, a lot.

Now, that may be the kind of relationship that everyone in your polycule wants. In which case, do what makes you happy.

But be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. It’s not about “disrespect”. It’s about defending your primacy, no matter what the cost.

P.S. The hospital bed is an extreme example, but the same logic applies every time someone says a metamour or their partner shouldn’t do something because it would be “disrespecting the primary.”

*If you are in the hospital and do not want one of your partners to visit you, for any reason, that is your right. You saying “I don’t want you to see me in the hospital” is completely different from saying about your partner, “You can’t come see them in the hospital because it would be disrespectful to me.”