Bringing up Baby

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing an article about people – both male and female – who undermine an agreement not to have children without the consent of the other party. There’s a Desperate Housewives storyline which interests me as a gender-role-reversal; in it, youngish couple Gabrielle and Carlos Sollis agreed before they married that they weren’t going to have children; each is too selfish to want them, and Gabrielle likes her size-00 figure, thankyouverymuch.

Except then Carlos decides he wants a baby, no matter how much Gabrielle protests. He goes to the length of sabotaging her birth control, which I think should be considered some kind of crime; undermining a woman’s right to her body.

Gabrielle, as you can imagine, is furious, but there’s not much she can do about it, given she’s Catholic and doesn’t believe in abortion. But then she miscarries (through no fault of her own) and Carlos almost immediately goes back on the offensive about Gabrielle having a child. At one point, he threatens her with an annulment if she doesn’t agree to have a child.

An annulment? Excuse me, mister you agreed you didn’t want children. Defences for annulment are based on fraud, insanity, being underage/under the influence of something – basically, one or both parties didn’t go in fully informed. When you go in not only knowing but agreeing you won’t have children, that isn’t fraud, that’s changing your mind.

Or is it only fraud when a woman refuses to have a baby? I guess it’s not when men don’t want children, because, you know, they’re men, they have that right to choose.

And what if the woman’s had her tubes tied, or is infertile? Is that still grounds for annulment? Yes, Judge. I knew she couldn’t have children when I married her, and I was happy with that, ‘coz I didn’t want children either. But now I’ve changed my mind and I want an annulment ‘coz she can’t have children.

I really hope that’s some soap plot device (you know, the made-up legalese that soaps enact to move a storyline forward) and not actual grounds for annulment in the US. Mind you, if I were Gabrielle, I’d tell Carlos, annull away, I’m an attractive young woman who can have any man she chooses – you go have your kids with someone else. Maybe if women stood their ground and made men aware you can’t change the rules that were agreed on at the start of the game at half-time without both people agreeing, men would be less likely to go into something thinking they could change the rules to suit them; God forbid, they might actually start to think I have to stick with these rules, so maybe I should be upfront about what I actually want.

On the flip side, there was an episode of All Saints which dealt with a woman who asked a doctor to reverse her tubal ligation – without her husband’s knowledge. I assume that they’ve come to some agreement – possibly based on her entering the marriage having already had the ligation done – that they wouldn’t have children. Except she’s then gone and decided she does want them, just without hubby’s knowledge. There’s an assumption as well that hubby is very against having children that she feels she can’t be honest with him.

This, to me, is blatantly deceitful and got me wondering if the husband would have any rights if he wanted nothing to do with the child. Would he be able to get out of support payments if he could argue that he went into the marriage not wanting children and being secure in his wife’s inability to have them, and she went behind his back and reversed her tubal ligation? It wouldn’t be something like the pill, which she could argue just didn’t work – accidents happen – and you couldn’t prove otherwise. No, she went to great lengths to have a child she said she couldn’t have, and this could probably be proven.

What possesses people to go to such lengths to make their partners have children they don’t want? It seems to be an awfully big gamble to just hope the unwilling parent falls in love with the kid as soon as they see it – haven’t they learnt a lesson from Woody Allen and Mia Farrow?

And I don’t think this is an exclusively female thing either, or even close, aside from the fact that, surgical options aside, condoms are the only male-oriented form of birth control, which isn’t all that viable in a long-term, committed relationship, so women are in a better position to sabotage birth control then men. But surgical procedures can be reversed and diaphragms can be poked with sharp objects; pills and injects are a little harder to tamper with (although Carlos managed it) but where there’s a will, there’s a way”¦ I’ve met plenty of couples where one partner was more keen to have a child the other, and I’ve come to the conclusion, based on what I’ve seen of the world around me, that women want children no more or less then men, that they are equally rejecting or embracing of the idea, and that there is no such thing as genetic maternal instinct.

Someone once said (and if it was your blog I pilfered this from, email me and I’ll credit it to you) that marriage, like any contractual agreement, is entered into on the basic that you expect so many things. As time passes and your values change, sometimes your stance on issues changes and becomes a big issue; when your stance on too many things change, or your stance on one thing has changed drastically enough – for example, in a previously anti-child couple, one partner stays anti-child and the other desperately wants a child – then this is the time to walk away from the partnership and move onto someone who is in closer agreement with your values.

But instead, we see one partner resorting to all manner of subterfuge to get the other to go along with what they want. Such subterfuge seems like an awfully big risk. How do you know they’re not going to resent the kid, and the time it takes away from you? How do you know they won’t refuse point-blank to make the sacrifices that need to be made, leaving you holding the baby, so to speak? Isn’t it more mature to either accept that you will never have a child with your partner for the love of the partner, or leave the partner for wanting a child? Forcing someone to do something so drastic against their will seems like little more then a recipe for misery.


  1. Gategrrl says

    This is interesting that you brought this up. In a comic stip that I read, “For Better or For Worse” one of the secondary characters married a full-out business woman (who is portrayed as being uberselfish, but that’s another topic). The husband in this marriage, who we’ve known for a long time, wants a child. So his wife agrees -reluctantly- to have one, but of course, maternal instinct isn’t a thing every woman *has* – and she ends up leaving him with the child HE wanted but SHE didn’t want. He had agreed to stay home and deal with the baby, since she didn’t want to. It wasn’t her “thing”.

    Yes, it is an interesting topic.

  2. scarlett says

    Well the reason I mentioned Allen and Farrow was that she, as you know, is absolutely crazy about children, pratically has her own orphanage, she’s got so many. And Allen’s not too fond of them, and apparantly was very vocal on that. So according to the movie they did on it, she went and got pregnant anyway, maybe hoping he’d fall in love with the kid once he saw it.

    Instead, he left her for her adopted daughter. It was despicable, but I can’t help but think she should have seen it coming. I think very little has been achieved in relationships by having a kid against the wishes of one partner.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    In my opinion, it is absolutely wrong to trick another person into having offspring he/she doesn’t want to have. Morally, it’s no better than impregnating through an act of rape. Which means that the person who wants this child so badly is unfit to be a parent, which means the child is perhaps the biggest victim of the scam, since s/he will be born into this nightmare situation with no control or choice.

    I’m very minimalist when it comes to laws: I believe society functions best with as few laws as it needs to establish basic order. But I could fantasize about a law that would make it a crime to use someone’s DNA against their will to create a child. I decided as a teenager never to have children from my own DNA, because there are some inheritable conditions in my family that simply should not be perpetuated by anyone with a conscience and the awareness of what these conditions can lead to. I can’t imagine how I’d react if someone used my genes to make a child.

  4. scarlett says

    I can definitely relate to that, because (of four children) I have two sisters who are mentally ill and a brother who seems to have some dissasociative issues, which makes me think that the four us all have mental illnesses to some degree… I wouldn’t want that on any child.

    But I have huge issues with any person going to deceptive measures to have a child their partner has adamently said they didn’t want. As Beta said, how different is that to raping a woman and expecting her to carrying your chidl?

    There was an issue in the latest Marie Claire (Aust edition) about the rights of the father in sperm doner agreements between friends. It was a very interesting issue about the rights of women to have children and shove aside the men who had provided the sperm, but I wasn’t sure if it really belonged here.

    Well, that I a have a dozen or so articles still waiting to be published :p

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