Still not entirely happy with this post, but… it’s an improvement. In the early days I spent a lot of time writing about hierarchy, because it’s what I was seeing. Most posts that focused on hierarchy I have been able to re-write to have a more general focus. This one… This one’s about the hierarchy. I have never seen the sheer sense of shock and betrayal in a non-hierarchical polycule that seems to be the loudest (if not most common) response to a pregnancy occurring in the “wrong” dyad of a hierarchical relationship set up. Revised 2/19/17.
The title of this post comes from a search term that regularly brings people to my blog. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by how common this problem is – but seeing it as one of the more common searches used to find this blog actually did surprise me. And made me realize that I had left something important out of this discussion. As great as it is for me to say ‘talk about it before it happens’, that doesn’t say anything about coping with it when it happens. Note that just because the original search term was gendered doesn’t mean this problem only comes up in a male spouse’s secondary link. Pregnancy can happen in any link that includes PIV sex. Calling that link “secondary” doesn’t change that.
Most of this post is directed at the people in a hierarchical primary link, because, well, that’s who is using this search term. But the info/ideas here can be helpful for secondary partners and much of it can apply to any multi-link network.
First Things First:
So, the first thing to do with any unexpected pregnancy is – BREATHE. If you didn’t plan for the possibility (and even if you did) this can be a really difficult, painful and complicated situation. Panicking really, REALLY, doesn’t help.
Second, by all that is holy do not jump to conclusions or start assigning blame. I’ve seen this way too often, but it seems most common in hierarchical multi-links where someone thought promising (or demanding a promise) that a pregnancy would never ever ever happen seemed like a good idea. As someone who got pregnant twice using birth control, and once [twice] with a person who tested as sterile, I can promise you that an unexpected pregnancy does not mean the secondary deliberately set out to trap you/your partner, or that anyone has been lying about the use of birth control. (Seriously, I know of at least two cases within 2 degrees of separation of me where a pregnancy happened after someone got their TUBES TIED. Shit HAPPENS.)
Ditto, just because someone is excited at the idea of being a parent, does not mean this was deliberate. (I promise from my own experience, sometimes, after the shock wears off, the biologically programmed excitement does set in.)
Perhaps most importantly on this point, unless the pregnant person opts for an abortion, this is something all three (or more) of you are going to need to deal with together – starting out by attacking each other, no matter how justified you may feel, just makes things worse.
Ok, so we are breathing, we are not panicking, and we are not tossing around blame. Where do we go from here?
Time to discuss options. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are a few of the options that can be considered:
Work out custody:
Raising a child between two homes is practically normal these days. Which doesn’t say it is easy or necessarily a good idea – but it isn’t a bad idea either. Yes, this means you and your (or your partner’s) secondary partner will be tied together for the next 18+ years. Given the number of divorcees who absolutely hate each other and have managed this, I promise, it can work.
Move in together:
I do not recommend this option without a lot of soul searching, heavy discussion and compromise, but IF you can make it work, it is one of the better options out there. A very viable alternative is you can afford it is to buy or rent two halves of a two family house. This way you all have your space, both bio parents can be involved daily in the baby’s life, and life can go on as close to usual as possible with a baby coming/here. (Pressuring your spouse/primary partner into allowing your secondary partner to move in with you when they are opposed is a recipe for divorce court/break up. Pressuring your secondary partner to move in when they are opposed is a recipe for drama and possibly/probably a break up followed by custody battles.)
if both bio parents seriously aren’t into the whole parent thing, this can be a very good option. There are a number of options available, including both private and public adoptions. Some arrangements can allow you to still be a part of the child’s life. Alternatively, if one of the bio parents aren’t ready to be a parent, they might be able to arrange an adoption with one of the other bio parent’s other partners.
Give up paternity:
if the bio father is not ready/want to be a parent, it is often an option for them to give up their parental rights to the child. If they choose to do this, they will not be liable for child support, and will also have no legal right to be a part of the child’s life. (You know the comment on moving in together above? Same applies here. Seriously, this has to be THEIR decision, do NOT push for this one.)
Self Care is Important
Now, while this blog is usually focused on the practical aspects of polyamory, I’m gonna detour into the emotional. If your partner and their secondary partner come to you and announce a pregnancy, no matter how tactful they are or how gently they break the news, you have every right and reason to a whole host of negative emotions. ESPECIALLY if they were foolish enough to promise this would never happen. Even worse is if either A) you had agreed that you were never going to have children, or B) you have been trying to have children and haven’t been able to. In either of those cases, this can go beyond a punch in the gut.
There are no good answers here. But I would seriously suggest that you take the time to cry on a friend’s shoulder, take a weekend away, blow a bunch of money on a spa day (if you can afford it without harming your living situation) or WHATEVER YOU NEED to feel at least a little better, and be able to approach this at least somewhat calmly. You do not need to decide how you feel today. You do not need to decide what to do today. You have nearly 9 months to figure things out. So give yourself that time.
So Is Not Being an Asshole
And as hard as it may be, try to have some compassion for the secondary partner in this mess. They are probably scared, confused and uncertain too. Do not ask your partner not to see them/spend time with them while you deal with your feelings. That is taking away one of their sources of emotional supports during a very difficult time, and generally being an asshole.
The above also applies if your secondary partner has just told you they are pregnant and you are upset about it.
And if you are the person who has just done the telling, recognize that the other people involved may need time and space to sort out how they feel about this unexpected change.
If you are the secondary partner in this situation, it can be very scary, and you can feel very alone. Obviously all of the above options as far as what to do are open to you. On an emotional level, don’t be afraid to say to your partner ‘look, I know this is a shock to you, and I know you/your spouse need time to sort out how this affects you, but I need some support here too.’
This post is part of the Polyamory and Pregnancy blog series.