Saturday 17 November 2018

Ask Brian: My girlfriend's choosing to remain pregnant - can I opt out of being a dad?

Our no-nonsense agony uncle gets straight to the point of your most pressing issues

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly

I've been seeing a girl for a few months and we recently found out she's pregnant. This pregnancy was unplanned. The fact that we did not want kids was something that was expressed explicitly in conversations throughout our time together and implicitly in our use of contraception.

After the initial shock, she has decided she wants to keep the child. I, meanwhile, have no interest in becoming a father. I have been clear about this from the outset and, although I respect her decision to keep the baby, I believe that I should have the right to opt out of parenthood.

I voted YES in the recent abortion referendum in part because I believe that a woman should not be forced to become a mother.  Equally, I believe that a man should not be forced to become a father. Women in Ireland now have control over their lives in the event of an unplanned pregnancy such as this, while guys like me are forced to take responsibility for the choices made by another person.

I know from talking this over with friends and family in the recent days and weeks that this is not a popular opinion. I will undoubtedly lose friends and alienate family and will be viewed as a "deadbeat dad", but f*ck spending the next quarter of a century reluctantly raising a child I don't want. I intend to follow through on my pre-existing plans to emigrate later in the year in order to escape all of this. The judgement and stigma is going to be intolerable if I stick around and I'm not involved in the kid's life.

I know the law is not on my side in terms of my responsibilities to this child, but the law has things arseways in a myriad of different respects. To me, it's not right that someone else's decision can dictate how I live my life for a huge chunk of my time on earth. Shouldn't I be able to "legally abort" (i.e. opt out of responsibility for) a baby in the first few weeks of a pregnancy in the same way a woman can physically terminate a pregnancy? Or am I just a responsibility-shirking c*nt like some of the people I've confided in seem to think?

Thoughts and advice much appreciated.

 

Brian replies:

I understand that being thrown into a situation that you didn't want is an overwhelming experience.

Plenty of couples don't plan to have children - but no method of contraception is 100pc effective so unless you remain abstinent, pregnancy is always a possibility. 

I know you feel you had an agreement that neither of you wanted children - but it's a bit of a leap to suggest that it was implied should she fall pregnant she would seek a termination. There's a massive psychological difference between preventing a pregnancy and ending one, and you can't force your girlfriend into it.

You voted 'Yes' in May's referendum - that was a vote to give women the choice of what they do with their own bodies. I'm sure she knows your feelings, and I'm sure she has taken them on board - but ultimately it is a choice for her.

You say you shouldn't be forced to take responsibility for a choice made by another person, which I take issue with. It takes two to tango - when you choose to have sex, even with contraception, there is a possibility of pregnancy. I don't think you're saying she forced you to have sex against your will. The baby is just as much your responsibility as it is hers. Unless you're going to have a vasectomy there will always be a chance.

There was an infamous voicemail leaked several years ago during which the recipient is told to 'zip up your mickey' - that's basically the only way to 100pc guarantee you won't become a father. 

Look, there's absolutely nothing to stop you being a deadbeat dad - in that you have a choice. I mean, it's a pretty horrendous choice to deliberately be one rather than fall into it by being a terrible parent, but there's nothing stopping you doing it in theory.

You can board a plane later this year and attempt to leave all this behind. But the fact you have written an email tells me there is a degree of self-doubt there. Yes, you may feel trapped - but you also feel in some way duty-bound.

I really don't think you've emotionally engaged with what is about to happen you. Things become a lot more real for a mother sooner due to the physical changes she experiences, it might still be an abstract concept for you.

You seem to think you can shirk responsibility and haven't fully thought through all the consequences. Yes, you're aware you might be shunned by some friends or family over it. But what happens when some years down the line you start to wonder about your child? What happens if in ten years you have a child with someone else and realise what you've missed and neglected to do for the one you're having now? You will never get a second chance.

I think you need to step up to the mark here. If you need to as a coping mechanism, why not tell yourself you're postponing immigrating for one year and see how fatherhood sits with you? I really think once you emotionally engage with this, and hold your child, all these doubts will leave you. Biology is a powerful thing.

And hey, if in a year's time you know fatherhood isn't for you then you can live your dreams of being a deadbeat dad, sending birthday cards six weeks late and responding to your child's texts with 'new fone - who dis?'.

Fatherhood isn't for everyone, and in some cases it's better for the child if a father is out of the picture (as in some cases it's better if the mother is absent). A five paragraph email isn't the best way to judge a person, but you seem to be intelligent and open minded, qualities which would serve you well as a dad.  

I really commend you for being so honest with this, and I hope it sparks conversations among other couples. Many have agreed they don't want children; few have a discussion on what they'll actually do if pregnancy happens unexpectedly.

I think your best move right now is to speak with a professional. Crisis pregnancy counselling isn't just for expectant mothers, an expectant father can also seek help. It will give you the space to freak out a bit about it in a safe environment with a professional, rather than dumping your worries and concerns on your partner.

You can find a list of services throughout the country by visiting www.positiveoptions.ie. 

 

Do you have a problem you'd like some advice on? Email askbrian@independent.ie  to submit in confidence.

Twitter: @Brian_O_Reilly

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