Sometimes, it seems as if all romance roads lead to parenthood. Ending a romance novel with an epilogue, one which depicts the hero and heroine years later, their happiness and content signaled by their production of offspring, has become so common that readers have given a name to the trope: the babylogue.
Given genre romance's roots in the comic mode (in the Northrop Frye Anatomy of Criticism sense), the babylogue makes sense: comedy focuses on the reform of, or integration into, society, the success of which is typically symbolized by the marriage that occurs at a play or novel's end. An epilogue showcasing that married couple's fecundity simply extends the symbol, providing proof that the newly formed society is already thriving and prospering.
Is this why romances featuring heroines who have had abortions, or who contemplate having an abortion, are so very rare? The question occurred to me while reading Ros Clarke's latest contemporary, Flirting with the Camera. Though it is a novella (a form about which I've expressed my reservations), Flirting has much to recommend it, especially its plus-sized heroine, Hattie Bell, who is incredibly comfortable in her body, and in her sexual appeal. What really made me stop in surprise, though, was a scene in which Hattie tells Tom, the photographer with whom she hopes to work and to whom she is very attracted, about her "tawdry love affair." Her year-long relationship with an office coworker ended when Hattie found herself pregnant, and her lover informed her that he's married. When Tom asks her what she did, Hattie says: "He gave me some money and told me to deal with it. So I did" (55).
Clarke uses Tom's response to signal to the reader how s/he should respond to Hattie's matter-of-fact, but for a romance story, very surprising, declaration:
She was staring at him fiercely, daring him to pity her. Or judge her. He wouldn't do either. He could only admire her courage, then and now.
"And you're telling me he didn't break your heart? You're a strong woman, Hattie Bell.
"He didn't and I am. Thank you for noticing." (55)
Hattie isn't lying here; though Tom senses "the layers in her voice. Bravery concealing the old scars of fear and hurt" (54), nothing Hattie says or does suggests that being duped by her former lover, or terminating a pregnancy, has broken her, emotionally or psychologically. A difficult and painful life decision, yes; a choice that makes her ineligible for future romantic partnerships, decidedly no.
The Centers for Disease Control report that in United States in 2009, for every 1,000 live births, 227 pregnancies were terminated. The majority of women terminating their pregnancies were in their twenties. Many of these women, like Hattie, are likely to engage in romantic relationships and marriages in the years after their abortions. Their experiences, however, are notably lacking in our current romance literature.
Can you think of any romance novels that feature heroines who have had abortions, and who are not judged/scarred for life by the experience? Or a romance in which a couple works through the decision together about whether to continue an unwanted pregnancy, or terminate it? Can you imagine a romance novel in which a couple chooses an abortion, but still remains together at story's end?
"I had an abortion": The Phoenix