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Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism

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There used to be such a stigma on young women becoming pregnant out of wedlock that the woman in question was often smuggled away from the family to have the child (or, in some cases, to have an abortion). It was considered shameful, so to avoid gossip and embarrassment, the family would make excuses, such as:

  1. She's studying abroad.
  2. She's joined a convent.
  3. She's visiting her aunt/sister/old family friend, usually out in the country.
  4. Rheumatic fever or some other illness that requires isolation and a long convalescence.
  5. She's on a Bible retreat.
  6. She's gone to summer camp.
  7. She's on a mission trip or is volunteering with an organization such as the Peace Corps.
  8. She's visiting The Old Country.
  9. She's attending boarding school.

If the mother doesn't abort the pregnancy, these tropes may result after the baby is born:

  1. The most common one involves the baby being shipped off to an orphanage, which results in Missing Mom for the kid, if the kid ends up mentioned again.
  2. Family Relationship Switcheroo: Another member of the family raises the child as their own. The most common one involves the baby's grandmother taking on the role of mother and raising the newborn in the false belief that their birth mother is an older sister. Depending on your interpretation, this may result in Mind Screw for the child when the deception is discovered.
  3. False Widow: The mother never returns to her hometown. She lives among people who don't know her past (commonly staying with distant relatives) and passes herself off as a widow.
  4. In particularly gruesome scenarios, the mother or one of her relatives kills the newborn, either directly or by abandoning it somewhere where it is unlikely to be found.

Largely a Discredited Trope in works set in the modern world, it still appears from time to time thanks to its former Truth in Television status, particularly in period pieces and medieval-style fantasy settings. See also My Secret Pregnancy.


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  • In one of his standup specials, Chris Rock summed up the consequences for a child raised in the your mom is your sister solution.
    If a kid calls his Grandmama Mommy and his Momma Pam, he's going to jail.

    Comic Books 
  • Shortly before being thrown off a bridge by the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen Stacey spent some time in Europe. This was later revealed to be because she had slept with Norman Osborn and become pregnant. The twins she gave birth to were artificially aged rapidly, gained superpowers, and eventually returned to New York to attempt to kick Spider-man's ass. It made about as much sense as that sounds.
    • Though Gwen's (canonically nigh-impossible) disappearance was due less to propriety and more to ducking the psychotic Norman Osborn.

  • In the X-Men fic series Stars from Home this is mentioned as an option for 16-year-old Katherine Summers. She's told that there are "places for girls like you" and that as long as she claims she said nonote , she'll give away the baby and things will go back to normal. She refuses.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the musical version of Hairspray, Tracy auditions for The Corny Collins Show because one of the regular dancers is taking a nine-month leave of absence.
  • An unusual version takes place in The Great Lie; an unlikeable diva of a classical pianist, who doesn't want a kid to slow down her high-flying lifestyle, goes away for months accompanied by a more sympathetic rival, under the cover story that it's the rival who is pregnant (by her recently departed husband, respectably enough) and in need of a break. After the birth, the rival is the official "mother".
  • This is the whole plot of Susan Slade, where the child is passed off as his grandparents' son.
  • Jody, in To Each His Own, has her baby in New York, saying that she's visiting a friend of the family. She also has a convoluted plot to take her baby with her without people suspecting she's the mother.

  • Older Than Print: A really weird example appears in The Arabian Nights. A Jackass Genie brings a man from Damascus to Cairo, where he falls in love with a woman (the daughter of the Vizier of Egypt), marries her, and sleeps with her. Then the Jackass Genie brings the man back to Damascus, which leaves the woman in a bit of a predicament when it turns out she's pregnant. She tells her son that his grandfather is his father, but the lie is revealed when the boy becomes very cocky and goes around telling everyone that his father is the Vizier of Egypt. Wanting to put a stop to this, his schoolmaster tells him that the Vizier is his grandfather and that nobody knows who his father is. Of course, his mother is reunited with his real father eventually.
  • My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding and My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon each have stories like this.
    • In the former title, a story told by a snooty rich man described one of the young women in his acquaintance as "studying abroad" (including the quotes) until they determined that it was a false alarm.
    • In the latter, a woman had been sent away "to study" due to an unmarried pregnancy.
  • This is a plot point in I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein. Eunice in high school had "rheumatic fever", which involved an extended visit to a relative in another area.
  • In One Hundred Years of Solitude Fernanda Del Carpio sends her daughter Meme to a convent after the latter had an affair with a poor worker, and some months later the nuns send back a baby boy to the distraught grandmother.
  • In Vivian Vande Velde's Never Trust a Dead Man, the protagonist ends up magically disguising himself as Kendra, a girl from his village who recently left to join a convent (supposedly). To his great surprise, as soon as Kendra's friends and family see the disguised protagonist, they start asking what happened to her baby.
  • In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the favorite terms are "to get (or get a girl) in trouble" and "shame". An Italian "gets in trouble", and her father locks her up so the neighbors won't "see her shame increase". He also sees that she only gets starvation rations of bread and water in hopes that she and the baby will die in childbirth. Childless Aunt Sissy feeds the girl and eventually takes the baby without the father knowing. She also fakes a pregnancy since her husband refuses to adopt.
  • In The Shadow of the Wind, Penelope Aldaya's father locks her up and starves her after learning of her pregnancy; her father's isolation and deprivation works, and Penelope and the baby both die.
  • In Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Teri, a neighbor and classmate of the narrator, is more or less responsible for raising her two-year-old brother Mikey. After he dies suddenly, we find out that she's actually his mother — but most likely his sister too.
  • In The Bad Mother's Handbook by Kate Long, elderly Nan has flashbacks to when she adopted Karen, with the real mother (a young teenage girl abused by her stepfather) leaving town with the excuse that she was going to London to become an actress.
  • In the historical series Daimyo, the heroine (a Dutch noblewoman) finds herself pregnant by her Japanese lover. Her best friend (sister to the baby's father) has just gotten married to a Scottish knight, so they use a lengthy business voyage to conceal the pregnancy and pass the child off as the married couple's child (conveniently explaining its clearly multi-racial appearance as well).
  • Averted in An Irish Country Doctor. A young unmarried woman arrives at the local GP's clinic with a missed period, and when the pregnancy test comes back positive, she refuses to reveal who the father is (though it's greatly suspected that she's been molested by her employer, a town councilman with a reputation for debauchery). As she'll be shunned in the community for having a bastard child, the senior physician makes plans for her to go to Liverpool, to a convalescence home for "Piffies" (short for "Pregnant From Ireland") where she can give the child up for adoption and no one will know. Happily, the plan is averted by another scheme of the doctor's, which results in the councilman getting his comeuppance, the real father stepping forward, and everyone living Happily Ever After.
  • Elemental Masters series:
    • Played with in Reserved for the Cat. The Big Bad cannot become pregnant since it's not human, but intends to let people think she was off giving birth during the time she was trying to kill Ninette.
    • Also alluded to in The Gates of Sleep: Doctor Pike's sanitarium does not deal with "nervous disorders" that result in childbirth.
  • A book called The Girls Who Went Away tells real-life stories of teenage girls sent to "unwed mothers' homes" (where they would then give their children up for adoption) in the years before abortion was legalized.
  • In The Outsiders, Ponyboy is surprised to learn that Sandy, his older brother Sodapop's girlfriend, "went to live with her grandmother in Florida." When he asks why, Sodapop's friend Steve gets annoyed that he doesn't get it, and mentions that the only other choice was getting married (which Sandy's parents objected to). We later learn that the baby wasn't Sodapop's and that it was Sandy who apparently rejected his Honorable Marriage Proposal.
  • A few examples in the works of V. C. Andrews:
    • In the Cutler Series, Dawn's sent away to have her baby at the home of Grandmother Cutler's sister Emily, on the pretext of recovering from a serious car accident (she was hit by a car, but had minor injuries and the baby wasn't harmed).
    • Alicia in Garden of Shadows, Belinda in Olivia, and Gabriel in Tarnished Gold are all kept in seclusion during their pregnancies in order for the planned adoptive mother to have a Pillow Pregnancy and pass off the child as hers. It's likely that some polite explanation for their absences would have been given in order to keep up the charade, although the reader never hears what that excuse was.
    • In Pearl in the Mist, when Daphne finds out Ruby is pregnant, she instantly pulls Ruby out of school claiming that Ruby is suffering from grief after the recent death of her father. The trope's ultimately subverted when Daphne tries to demand that Ruby have an abortion rather than go through with the pregnancy (She doesn't.)
  • One of Jack Vance's murder mysteries is driven by this: a daughter of a respectable family turns up pregnant, the town gossip sees her mother buying pregnancy-related supplies and the mother resorts to faking her own pregnancy (as well as murder) to cover it up.
  • Leafpool in Warrior Cats. She accidentally gets pregnant after she briefly elopes with Crowfeather. Since she's a medicine cat and they're from different Clans, this is a huge deal. In the later part of her pregnancy, Leafpool tells the Clan that she has to search for a vital herb, and she leaves with her sister. She gives her children to her sister to raise, using the excuse that Squirrelflight had left before finding out about her pregnancy. The truth eventually gets out, and it does not end well for anyone...
  • Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Gardener" begins with the protagonist going to spend a few months in the South of France to recuperate from lung trouble, and coming back with a baby boy who is introduced to the neighbors as the orphaned son of her Black Sheep brother, who went abroad years earlier and was never heard from again. She raises her nephew until he dies in WWI, and goes to visit his grave. The story ends with the Wham Line "I will show you the grave of your son."
  • In The Wakefields Of Sweet Valley, a young woman is sent away by her father so that she can recover from the trauma of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. She's shocked at the revelation that he expects her to give up her baby, telling her that she can't go away to supposedly recover from a nervous breakdown and return to town with a baby.
  • In the novel Doctors, as Laura and Barney desperately try to decide what to do about her unwanted pregnancy, she cites a classmate who was able to sneak away to another country to have an abortion and that the trip was simply explained away as her summer vacation. When they finally do get the name of a reputable abortionist (the book is set pre-Roe vs. Wade), they plan to sneak off by telling their respective families that they are taking a day trip to the countryside.
  • The Secret of Platform 13 features a villainous InversionMrs. Trottle kidnaps the baby Prince to raise as her own son. To hide the truth, she immediately goes on a year-long overseas holiday, playing it off like she discovered her pregnancy and gave birth while she was away. To her own surprise, this actually happens—she discovers that she's pregnant with Raymond, and thus foists the kidnapped baby onto Nanny Brown to raise.
  • In Dean Koontz's Whispers, an odd variant comes up. When Katherine Frye becomes pregnant by her own father, non-consensually, she and her father decide to hide her pregnancy by her staying in the house and binding herself up with a girdle as long as she can, then she leaves town, intending to bring her baby back as her "adoptive child", claiming that the birth mother was a (fictitious) college classmate who had died in childbirth. This presents huge problems when Katherine gives birth to twins, after announcing that she would be bringing back one baby.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

  • Many meta-examples exist, wherein an actress gets pregnant, but her character actually does go on an extended vacation. This was more true in the more puritan '50s and '60s but still happens when an in-character pregnancy doesn't work. One example was Katey Sagal from Married... with Children, whose prior pregnancy had been written into the show, but ended with a tragic miscarriage. For her next pregnancy, her character visited family and appeared occasionally during phone calls home, shown only from the shoulders up.
  • In Hispanic Soap Operas written before The '80s (and those set before that age) this plot happened fairly often and was the most common origin of the Heroic Bastard heroine. The most famous example was El Derecho de Nacer, born in The '50s: a High-Class girl becomes pregnant, and her father tries to force her to abort. When she refuses, her father hides her in one of his mansions, and after the baby is born he sends her to a convent; meanwhile, he orders the baby to be killed. The girl's nanny, horrified, flees with the baby boy and raises him as her own son. The boy then grows up to be a medical doctor, and unknowingly falls in love with a (non-blood-related) cousin.

By Series:

  • Played for laughs on 30 Rock. Liz has a disastrous Valentine's Day with Drew where they keep being forced into situations that are too emotionally intense for a first date. She accompanies him to the hospital where his mother is on her deathbed, and when he leaves the room for a second, the mother grabs Liz and tells her she's really Drew's grandmother and his "sister" is his mother, adding, "You have to tell him, or I won't get into heaven!" and immediately dies.
  • Inverted in American Horror Story: Freak Show. The morbidly obese Barbara's mother is so ashamed of her daughter's weight that she lies that Barbara is away having an illegitimate baby when she's really in a private clinic on a weight loss regime.
  • Cold Case had this in "The Goodbye Room". Both the killer and the victim were these. Nuns were selling babies in an illegal adoption scheme. When the victim found out, she tried to run away with her baby girl, but was caught by the killer whose son was sold earlier that week and didn't think it was fair that the victim was planning to keep her child when she couldn't.
  • In the third season of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Manny is terrified of telling her parents about her pregnancy because her cousin (back in the Philippines) was shipped to a convent for getting pregnant.
  • In Desperate Housewives, Bree sends her pregnant daughter away while pretending to be pregnant herself. It ends up being for nothing, as Danielle decides to take the child back later.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Doctor Dances": One of the characters learns that the person he's always thought was his sister is actually his mother.
    • "The Unicorn and the Wasp": The backstory of Lady Eddison includes a spell laid up for six months with "a bout of malaria".
  • In Downton Abbey, Edith's illegitimate pregnancy is excused as her going on a long trip to Switzerland with Rosamund to learn French. Even her parents and sister don't know the truth.
  • Frasier: Discussed, but ultimately not used, after Roz gets pregnant in season five. When Roz reveals she's decided to raise her baby as a single mother, Martin launches into a speech about how prevalent this trope used to be.
    Martin: Boy, things have really changed since my day. Back then, if a girl got in trouble, her family would send her away to relatives in another state, and if anybody asked, just lied and said she went to Europe. Then when she came back, they'd raise the baby as a little sister. Not like today — we had morals and values back then.
  • In the pilot of Gossip Girl, this is rumored, wrongly, to be the reason for Serena's sudden departure for boarding school.
  • Seen multiple times in the Law & Order:
    • "Merger", an episode of Law & Order has a politically motivated Rich Bitch force her daughter to do this when she became pregnant as a teenager, and then murdered her troubled granddaughter when said granddaughter learned the truth. Because this is Law and Order and she's rich, she got away with it.
    • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
      • An episode shows the aftermath of this, though not the actual pregnancy itself. The Perp of the episode is a deeply disturbed young man who was sexually and emotionally abused by the woman he thought was his mother; the twist is that his sister is actually his mother, who was thrown out of the house when she got pregnant at 14.
      • On another episode "Patrimonial Burden", a Duggar-like family faces scandal when one of the daughters ends up pregnant with their pastor's baby, then finds out that the 15-year-old daughter is the mother of the youngest child, who's two years old, and covers up the pregnancy by saying that the daughter and mother are visiting their aunt in Michigan.
    • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: An episode had the detectives realizing that a woman was so desperate to cover up the fact that she'd molested her 14-year-old stepson that she had labor induced and passed off the baby as full-term—thus allowing the husband to believe it was his—when it was actually 2 months premature.
  • An example of the second version was seen on an episode of The Love Boat, where the "big sister" ends up telling her daughter the truth.
  • While the specific trope isn't quite invoked in Mad Men, there's a flashback in which Peggy's mother is telling callers that her daughter, who's just given birth, is being quarantined for TB.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Bad Tidings", Noel and Lynn are Lily's biological parents. They fooled around while Matthew was away about three years ago, and she became pregnant. Cassie and the group decided "to close ranks; act out a lie." Lynn disappeared from the village to "visit her mother in New Zealand"; at the same time, Rachel "went to London to give birth to her baby," so that they could cover up the pregnancy and birth. Rachel keeps Lily secluded at her house so no one sees that they don't look anything alike.
  • One episode of Murder, She Wrote included one of the suspects, an actress, abandoning her career and disappearing "abroad" for "almost a year", thirty years earlier. As Jessica quickly realises, "nine months is almost a year".
  • In The Nanny, Fran asks what finally convinced her father to propose to her mother Sylvia. Sylvia tries to dodge the question, but when Fran persists, she finally blurts out "Your sister, all right!" Fran merely looks at the camera and says, "I always wondered how she could have been a 13-pound preemie", referencing the preemie-as-code-for-shotgun-wedding mentioned below.
  • In Season 9 of The Office (US), Angela tells her coworkers that her baby is premature, however, when Oscar, Erin, and Kevin visit the baby they find out that the baby is 9 pounds and definitely not premature by any means. Angela (who is puritanically Christian) claims that it's because she and her husband had sex out of wedlock, however Dwight suspects it is his baby and later in the season it is revealed that it is.
  • In Orange Is the New Black, Black Cindy's little sister is actually her daughter. The child is raised by her grandmother because Cindy was way too irresponsible for motherhood.
  • When Lois gets pregnant on Pobol y Cwm, her mother, the local headmistress, tells her to stay home "sick" from school until she can arrange for an abortion. When Lois refuses the abortion, Gaynor wants her "transfer" to another school until it's born.
  • Lily was packed off to a convent in Pushing Daisies when she fell pregnant with Chuck. Her cover story was that she was in Paris, apprenticing at a world-class fromagerie. Naturally, when Lily turns up at the same convent umpteen years later with Olive in tow, the nuns immediately assume that she's pregnant too...
  • In Reaper, Sock attempts to cheer Sam up by telling him a story about a girl he knew in 11th grade who got shipped off to convent school for getting pregnant in high school.
  • In Reba, Brock suggests sending his pregnant teenage daughter, Cheyenne, to visit a "friend" for 9 months.
  • On Riverdale, Betty's sister Polly is said to have had a mental breakdown after Jason Blossom broke up with her, and is in a group home. Turns out that she's actually pregnant with Jason's baby, and her parents want her to give the baby up for adoption.
  • Inverted in Rome due to Values Dissonance: Niobe uses her unwed 13-year-old daughter as a cover story for the baby she had while her husband was away at war.
  • Inverted in That '70s Show; when Donna goes on an extended road trip, Jackie does her a "favor" and explains her absence — by telling everyone Donna went away to have a baby. By Donna's reaction, this is a far worse explanation.

  • "Mandy Goes To Med School", by the Dresden Dolls, is a song from the speculative perspective of a doctor specializing in abortions... sort of. One lyric goes "How about a nine-month-long vacation and a two-foot coffin?".
    • Hilariously described on the band's website as:
      "The Dolls have not lost their sense of the absurd, however, and the blacker-than-black-humor on Mandy Goes To Med School finds Palmer imagining a scenario in which she and drummer/cohort Viglione play a lighthearted and childish game of let's-pretend-we're-back-alley-abortionists."
  • Bruce Hornsby And The Range's "Valley Road" is about a hired farmhand who gets the daughter of the plantation owner pregnant. "Somebody said she's gone to her sister's / Everybody knew what they were talking about."
  • "Sylvia's Mother" by Dr. Hook implies this, as most of what Sylvia's mother tells the singer are standard euphemisms for hurrying a daughter who is probably pregnant out of town.
  • "I Believe In Doing Things In Moderation" by Ronnie Barker includes the couplet "My engagement to the Duke of Diss was broken off in May / And he sent me to the South of France for nine months' holiday."

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible: After the Virgin Mary becomes pregnant in The Four Gospels, she immediately leaves her hometown of Nazareth to visit her much older (probably late 30's or early 40's) cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, many miles away. She is said to have made the journey all by herself, and possibly on foot. One interpretation of this is that she was sent away by her family to avoid shame and stigma, at least until they could figure out what to do with her, or that she chose to go away to avoid stigma until the time was right. Another is the visit's length was meant to prove the child could not be his. The mainstream interpretation, however, is that it was a purely altruistic visit to help her cousin with chores and possibly assist in some capacity during the birth. She stays for 3 months until John the Baptist is born, and then she returns home to face her fiance.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Pathfinder; the Iconic Cavalier, Alain, was the cause of a number of young women of the court going on nine-month "vacations" to a nunnery.

  • In The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Olive's mother can't come to the Bee because she's on a nine-month spiritual retreat in India. It's not confirmed that it's an example of this trope, but the stated length of her absence, along with Olive mentioning that her father is really angry at her mother about something, is certainly suggestive.

    Web Animation 
  • Sam & Mickey: According to Skipper, Barbie went into hiding while pregnant with Krissy, under the pretense of "going to Antarctica to study penguin cuteness patterns".

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in American Dad! when Stan took Steve to Mexico to "remove the inside zit" after getting pregnant by Roger.
  • An episode of King of the Hill had the high school principal ask where a certain cheerleader was. One of the male students says "She went to Oklahoma!" while suggestively stuffing a basketball under his shirt.
  • Dermott Fictel of The Venture Brothers was raised by his grandmother as his mother's little brother.