Being pregnant and giving birth are both unfamiliar things for me. I’m grateful for my ignorance so far; now that I’m 23 I’ve successfully avoided being a teen mother. However, pregnancy remains one of the things that goes bump in the night, as it’s a state all the older women in my family have experienced and I believe I’d like to experience it myself (one day). My boyfriend and I talk about it sometimes, how strange it is that a mother’s body creates new tissue, muscles and sinew, inside of her until it’s done, well, cooking.
My darling, what wonder have we wrought here?
It’s weird and it’s wonderful, dear
An ankle, an earlobe, an elbow bone
It’s weird how it wonderful grows
And it was only me and you
That made this three come out of two
Pregnancy was even more mysterious before medical advancements allowed us to use clear jelly to look at our baking fetuses (I assume this is how ultrasounds work, based on what I’ve seen in movies). I imagine that’s where early ideas of pregnancy came from, mindsets that set women apart while they were menstruating or baby-incubating.
Immaculate conception has always interested me. I loved the image of the Virgin Mary trapped on a sheet of stained glass, and my idea of being a mother one day looked like the end of Matilda where it’s just her and her lithe adoptive mother Miss Honey frolicking around. No men, no penises, no sperm – that was my ideal when I was ten.
Of course, if religious folk believe God would impregnate a woman, there are those believe his nemeses would do the same thing (for different reasosn, I hope?) Judeo-Christians interested in demonology have long believed that demons were capable of fornicating with human women, but no one knows exactly how that would play out. (Horrifically is my bet.)
Human woman + monstrous entity = ?
Though not fully a “demon” in the theological sense, incubi were said to seduce or assault human women in the interest of impregnating them to grow their numbers. (re: I am legion). The use of women’s sexuality here is problematic, as with most vampire stories, because it implies that a pure, virginal woman wouldn’t succumb to the will of the incubus. Either that or she’d be tragically ruined by the monster’s advances, typically left with a demon pregnancy in the incubus’ wake. There really wasn’t a great course of action available for women preyed upon by demons.
Demon pregnancy mirrors the realistic feelings a woman might have about her pregnancy, whether she intended to become pregnant or not. First is the loss of control, and awareness of one’s inner workings. Is that why gore frightens us so much, because we’re seeing something outside of our bodies that is supposed to stay inside? Infants are both; in a sense they’re like living guts. They’re cells derived from the larger cell which have their own organelles, and somehow their parts add up to some unfamiliar whole.
One of the scariest sentences you can hear from someone is “don’t worry – it’s perfectly natural.”
For instance, my mother tells me that her body responded to the sound of my crying when I was an infant. She’d be in the other room and I would cry audibly somewhere in the house, and she’d physically feel breast-milk move downward in her breast. I don’t know where the milk was coming from exactly, and you could argue that my ignorance has to do with my patriarchal public education (or something). My point is, babies are beautiful and also terrifying. The connection between infants and their bio-mothers is still mysterious to us, and that grey area is where monsters are born.
Another tale from my mother: she said her contractions felt alien, like her body had been trained to do something with its muscles that she had never consciously practiced or heard about. Her body, the one she had inhabited for twenty some-odd years, was working on its own to expel a tiny, blood-covered person from her. That person would eventually end up writing a blog on the weekends, which is probably the scariest part.
In 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, a woman who has recently been bit by a zombie gives birth to her baby as she dies. The baby absorbs zombie juice, assumedly through the umbilical cord, and is born as the living dead. This, of course, is a picture of something many women fear: will my baby be like me in the worst or best way? What is inevitable, and what can I protect a baby from, in utero?
Not all monstrous pregnancies in film are due to the victimization of the mother, but most are. How many times have we watched the same assault on a woman by some creepy being which results in her giving birth to something unfamiliar and possibly evil?
More interesting to me are the monstrous pregnancies caused by female ambition or curiosity. Even if the female characters are being punished for having agency, they are, at least, actually doing something to move their plot-lines along. I’m talking about Ellen Ripley witnessing an alien (male) pregnancy in Alien, Original-Lisbeth-Salander experiencing her own alien pregnancy in Prometheus and the nightmares of Veronica Quaiffe in The Fly. In the first two films, the female characters’ ambition (the gaul! really!) leads them into space as explorers and scientists, and they uncover an alien threat.
I would argue that being impregnated by an alien (or fly-hybrid) is frightening for the same basic reasons that normal, human pregnancy is frightening: your body is changing without your control, giving half your nutrients to the “thing” growing inside you. It has fingernails, and it kicks at the inside of your stomach. You know two variables in the equation, either you and your partner’s genes or you and the genes you chose at the sperm bank, and you make estimates based on the combined factors to anticipate what sort of person your baby will be.
Sidenote on the Alien franchise: Although I certainly wouldn’t want a chest-burster incubating inside me, I am relieved that, for once, the monster in a movie is more of a male, phallace-inserting, impregnating threat, as opposed to the many, many monsters out there that resemble a vagina (post coming on that in the future).
One might also remember the terrible Outer Limits reboot episode where Kim Catrall experiences a miscarriage and “tries again,” cloning her dead son’s nerve cells and brain tissue to create her fetus 2.0. Things go as well as you might imagine.
Or, more successfully, the fantastic movie Splice, which no American production company would sign onto because of the film’s disturbing content. Here we see a woman injecting her own DNA into a spliced creature, against the advice of her boyfriend (a fellow geneticist) and the will of the board financing her research. Although this character is never pregnant with the creature, she “nests” and protects it as if it was her offspring, up until the point it seduces her boyfriend, switches genders and rapes her.
In most cases, the baby itself is not a direct threat – only the possibility that it might be a threat causes fear in the viewer. We’re dealing with creatures that are unfamiliar, not necessarily evil. After all, if Brundle-Fly impregnates Veronica Quaiffe, the resulting infant would be part Fly, part adorable Seth Brundle and part Veronica. The equation could turn out fine, or it could turn out ungodly horrible. The question is what scares us (and Veronica).
My research on “demon babies” also led to the Tiyanak from the Philipines, an evil spirit said to take the form of a helpless infant until an unsuspecting woman allowed it into her home. There were, of course, many examples of a demon throughout cultures whose job it was to terminate or complicate the pregnancies of human women. Further, some Japanese spirits are supposedly the spirits of women killed in childbirth, making them ancillary monsters to their monster-hybrid offspring.
Why demonize the mother and child, telling stories about everything that could go wrong? Is it simply because we don’t understand how connected these two entities are? The infant and the mother are connected by the umbilical cord, a line between them that digs in like a fish hook, into the mother’s emotions and sense of self. Scientists have discovered children’s cells living in the brains of their biological mothers; we’re still not sure what connections like this suggest. How much of your body is you? How much of your baby is the other half of the combo – your partner, the child’s bio-dad, or whatever demon you were exposed to?
In closing, my research on this topic also led me to a few discussion boards on demonology, where several women discussed their experiences with evil spirits. One woman posted:
“I am left with the obvious question: Was the second conception from my husband or from this vile creature. While the overall sexual experience was great, the baggage associated with this creature was dreadful. I could feel its rage.
Feel free to comment. I will keep you posted on the status of the pregnancies. I can even put up some ultrasounds sometime if you really want to see those. Pretty amazing! Thanks for reading!”
Pretty amazing indeed.