|The REPORT Newsmagazine |
United Western Communications
April 24, 2000
Pregnant on the sly
The practice of falsely attributing fatherhood is rising among women
by Walter H. Schneider and Candis McLean
When 32-year-old Paul Johnson of Calgary went to college, he became involved with a 27-year-old woman who told him she was barren and in the throes of a divorce. Although he had initially insisted on birth control, eventually he threw caution to the wind and engaged in unprotected sex. After all, she said she was infertile.
Six months into the relationship, Mr. Johnson was invited to supper with his lover's family. In retrospect, he thinks he was being paraded for reasons he wishes he had known sooner. After the family dinner, Mr. Johnson's lover took him aside and revealed she was pregnant by him. "But I thought you were barren," he protested, to which his lover replied that she had actually said she couldn't have children because her husband was impotent. Nor was she interested in any further relationship with Mr. Johnson.
That was 10 years ago, and Mr. Johnson has never once held his son in his arms, or indeed even seen him. He now waits for him to turn 18 in the hopes his son will come looking for him. "I've attempted to launch a complaint in a variety of ways, even considered laying criminal charges against [the former lover], but I soon found nobody had any interest in my plight of being duped into becoming a sperm donor," he says. "Yet she raped me with the intention of getting pregnant. It was a form of sexual assault based on misinformed consent. I would love to be married, but those children will never exist. I have a great deal of difficulty in trusting another woman; in fact I'm incapable of performing out of sheer anxiety that I will lose the child due to a whim or a lie on the woman's part--even if I were married to her. If 10 years later she changes her mind about wanting me in her life, the child I've loved for 10 years will be ripped from me. I'm not willing to go through that."
Known as "Pregnancy on the Sly," the phenomenon is as old as mankind, but in the past 20 years--some relate it to the chiming of single female baby boomers' biological clocks--it has become a cultural phenomenon. DNA testing is such a growth industry that websites advertise the "fastest and easiest solution to your problem" with "direct to the public DNA paternity testing from just a few strands of your hair at accuracy greater than 99.99%." Sneaky conception has become the subject of chat lines, soaps and movies. In the 1998 film The Big Lebowski, for example, millionairess Maude seduces aging hippy Jeff Lebowski and then announces that her goal was conception. "What did you think this was all about?" she asks. "Fun and games? I want a child." When he protests, she clarifies the situation: " Look, Jeffrey, I don't want a partner. In fact, I don't want the father to be someone I have to see socially or who will have any interest in raising the child himself."
The practice of attributing fatherhood to the wrong man--for a variety of reasons--is not uncommon. The rate of wrongful paternity in "stable monogamous marriages," according to the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany, ranges from one in 10 with the first child to one in four with the fourth. In contested paternity cases, where the alleged father wants to be sure of his paternity before allowing himself to be committed to a life-time of supporting a child to whom he may never have access, the rate of wrongful paternity is one in three in Texas and 36% of all cases in Florida.
An article in the March 27 issue of the Melbourne, Australia, daily, the Age, claims, "About 3,000 paternity tests are carried out a year in Australia. In about 20% of cases the purported father is found to be unrelated to the child. This figure is estimated to be 10% in the general community." The article continues, "The New South Wales privacy commissioner, Mr. Chris Puplick, said the practice [of DNA testing children without the mother's permission] was unethical and an illustration of the need for formal guidelines about genetic testing and access to genetic material. The consequence for a man of finding out he was not the father could be devastating, he said."
Adding to the devastation is the fact that in North American courts, the law requires a man who is not the father of a child to pay child support if he has been supporting that child for a particular period of time--even if the real father comes forth and attempts to claim his rightful paternity. In Los Angeles alone, 350 cases are added each month to the list of men required to support children who are established by DNA testing not to be theirs, according to an October 1998 investigation by the L.A. Times.
It is also difficult to fathom the anguish of a man who has been duped into paternity when he discovers the truth while preparing to donate a vital organ to his child. According to Barbara Rothman in Recreating Motherhood, "Some physicians doing tissue typing for organ donations estimate that maybe 20% of people are not genetically related to the men claiming fatherhood."
When a woman is caught in an act of adultery, she can claim rape. Men accused of rape who fail to prove they had consensual sex are routinely sentenced to long prison terms. According to a 1996 report, "Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science," released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI has found that for 25% of men serving time for rape with aggravated assault, DNA tests later revealed that there was no match between the DNA of the prisoners and that found in semen recovered from their alleged victims. The 28 individuals whose stories are told in the report who successfully challenged their convictions using DNA tests had served, on average, seven years in prison. "Indeed," the report concludes, " there is a strong scientific basis for believing these matters represent just the tip of a very deep and disturbing iceberg of cases" and that "DNA exonerations are tied to some strong, underlying systemic problems that generate erroneous accusations and convictions."
After 10 years of research, Mr. Johnson concludes that the issue boils down to: "Women have the right to decide when and with whom they have a baby. That is the radical feminists' achievement. Or is their ultimate achievement keeping those rights from men?"
Games women play.
This exchange from a closed Internet chat room, "Pregnant-on-the-sly," contains the original spelling and punctuation:
My name is Sarah. I'm 20 years old and I live in Kansas. My husband is 27 and although we planned to have children before we were married, he has changed his mind. Raising children is such a significant goal in my life and I cannot imagine not having any.
Please excuse the personal question, but how do you gals ttc [try to conceive] without your partner's cooperation? My darling uses
condoms and ky jelly with spermicide. I've read everything I can about the failure rate and I'm afraid that our chances aren't so good. Advice?
choose a guy who has the characteristics your would want your baby to have ... one of the same criteria you use in considering a marriage...then develop a relationship w/him that will *definately* lead to sex, * obviously* on the sly :) then simply screw him during your ovulation phase. after you are pregnant, you explain to your husband that the improbable ( but not *impossible*) happened ...i envy your situation, actually...it's not quite that easy for me (and maybe for others who do not use
condoms, spermicide and other gadgets) ...i am totally NFP [natural family planning] and have never made a "mistake" about where i am in my cycle. so explaining my pregnancy to my BF [boyfriend] and to my parents is going to be ruff.
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