Can we be honest about pregnancy and childbirth? It’s horrifying.
In my first post, I promised (or threatened) to explore the horror of postpartum depression in the pages of this blog. But I think we need to start with square one: the horrifying miracle of birth.
In my day job, I teach fiction to undergraduates who don’t particularly care about the subject. So, I teach what I like. Someone’s gotta be having fun, right? One of my favorite novels of all time is John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Even though it was published in 1945, it still holds some surprisingly relevant nuggets of truth. Plus, there is a lot of drinking. Undergrads can relate to that if nothing else.
When introducing the noble-yet-good-for-nothing residents of Cannery Row, the narrator drops this little gem: “Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Every-body. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said: ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”
Now let’s apply this same idea of looking at something through a different peephole to pregnancy, shall we?
Peephole 1: A woman and those who love her anxiously await the arrival of a new life. She begins to feel different, but even in times of discomfort, the new sensations are welcome. Her family and partner watch with joy and wonder as her body expands, swells, and reconfigures to make room for a tiny person to form, grow and move around. When the tiny person is able to live on their own, the woman’s body miraculously begins the process of moving the tiny person out into the world from her protective womb, where she will nourish them from her own breasts and help them slowly become independent of her. A whole person conjured out of love and sent into the world to make it a better place.
Aw. Hopefully this was your experience. Peace, love, and organic baby food.
Peephole 2: A woman has intercepted a particular brand of bodily fluid. The result is subtle at first–some sleepiness, some queasiness, maybe some sore boobs. Enough to be dismissed as normal hormonal fluctuations, right? But then, something more intense and far less deniable starts to happen. The woman’s body begins to change dramatically. Her abdomen swells and even changes shape. The thing growing inside of her begins to move her organs around, preventing her from eating one day and from pooping the next, as it stretches its scrawny limbs. Soon, she can feel something moving inside of her. Towards the end of the creature’s incubation, it will even shift its position within her, moving under her skin like a goblin beneath a bedsheet. Her skin is stretched to its limit to contain the creature; it now bears scars from its effort to hold the thing in place.
Then, one day, water gushes from between her legs without warning and painful spasms wrack her body. If she’s lucky, the creature will burst forth with only a little blood and a few stitches needed. If she’s not, hours of painful grappling with the thing will result in it having to be cut from her womb as she lies paralyzed on a cold table. Not that this has ever happened to me. Twice.
But it’s not over. She must now sustain this creature with milk that is painfully produced and forcefully extracted from breasts that are now stretched as thin as her belly once was. She is beholden to it all hours of the day and night, as this parasite has now stolen her health and vitality and is worshipped for doing so.
(Yes, yes, I know about formula and bottles and fathers and partners and all of that. But come on, it doesn’t really fit well into this version of the story. So suspend your disbelief for a second, ok?)
My point is this: peephole #2 is simply a visceral horror movie. You know, body horror stuff. Movies with grotesque mutilations, bodies maimed and deformed, very little anesthesia (like most births in the 70s and even now in the crunchier circles) and lots and lots of blood.
Is it any wonder that the sequel will be a psychological horror?
And don’t worry. I (mostly) viewed my pregnancies through peephole #1.
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