Sunday, March 20, 2011

Childbirth in speculative fiction


There’s an episode of The Outer Limits called “The Surrogate”, where a woman is implanted with an embryo that – unknown to her – belongs to an alien race living secretly among us. I was waiting for it to burst out of her belly like something from Aliens, but at the point of childbirth, the embryo took her body over completely, erasing any mental vestiges of the host.

“She” was quite calm and happy afterwards. That was the creepiest part.

Childbirth, the sometimes dangerous process that separates one life from another, has been a source of fascination and mystery for thousands of years. In Macbeth, the titular character is assured that “none of woman born” can harm him, but at the end of the play Macduff tells him that:

Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripp’d.


Probably hinting at a primitive Caesarian section – if the mother’s life couldn’t be saved, someone decided to see if the baby could be removed alive. That makes me wonder, though. Could any special powers attach to babies who are delivered in this way, either because of the method of the delivery or because (in a medieval world) mothers would almost certainly give up their lives for it, whether voluntarily or not?

In The Verdant Passage, human/dwarf hybrids also result in the death of the mother during childbirth – plus, the hybrids are sterile. Realistic touch.

Males of the alien Tectonese species, in the television show Alien Nation, accept the developing embryos from females and then carry them until parturition – the seahorse principle, in other words. While this helps cement a pair-bond, it also means that the presence of both parents is required for the production of young, which may not be ideal.

Speaking of marine organisms, other humanoid species could mate as fish do. Deposit eggs, fertilize them and leave. The lack of parental care means they’ll have to produce thousands of eggs to ensure that at least a few of them survive, but that has other consequences too. What if humans discovered such an egg cache?

Childrearing in speculative fiction is next.




5 comments:

dldzioba said...

Strangely that wasn't something I'd really given thought to even though I've got a very pregnant changeling and barrenness is a theme in my novel.
Definitely food for thought.

Deb said...

"Speaking of marine organisms, other humanoid species could mate as fish do. Deposit eggs, fertilize them and leave. The lack of parental care means they’ll have to produce thousands of eggs to ensure that at least a few of them survive, but that has other consequences too. What if humans discovered such an egg cache?"

It's funny to read this in someone else's blog, since it's a question I've been pondering for my WIP. At the rate I'm writing currently, I'll have at least a few months to tease this out and reach a (hopefully) sound conclusion.

ralfast said...

The description of the Twilight Zone episode sounds like a variation on the Changeling/Doppelganger tradition of switching children soon after their born with some enchanted substitute.

I though about using that in an upcoming short story/serial about wizards at war with humanity. One of the charges leveled at wizards (which is partly true) is that they steal magic endowed babies from their parents and substituted them with simulacra that lasted a few days before "dying."

Also that some forms of postpartum depression are a form of magical rejection, the mundane mother tends to reject their magical child because of its "aura" which is incompatible with the mothers and makes her uneasy.

Marian Perera said...

dldzioba - I'd like to see what a pregnant changeling would give birth to, if they have that ability from infancy.

Deb - That was inspired by the start of Finding Nemo. :)

ralfast - Interesting idea about post-partum depression being secretly self-protective.

Though now I'm wondering why fairies felt the need to steal human babies and replace them with changelings. I'm sure there's a reason beyond simply malice.

gypsyscarlett said...

eek! That Outer Limits ep sounds decidely creepy.