|Birth of Athena|
Ever since I started this series of posts, I keep coming up with more ideas. Today, I want to look at birth.
Most modern concepts of birth involve a long, difficult, horribly painful experience where a woman remains mostly stationary and births lying on her back. Pain mediation is a must for a lot of women. Yet this has not always been true, nor is it the case throughout the rest of the world, but it infuses much of our fiction and our image of birth in general.
While we can only speculate from rare accounts, a few medical documents, and images, obviously there are differences between modern American birth and historical birth, not to mention birth in other cultures. Yes, there are people and places even in our culture that don’t use the standard approach to birth. Options abound, but here, we’re concerned with the average, stereotypical image of birth and how it affects fiction.
We forget that women can walk, do chores, and mind children during much of labor. Yes, there is pain—I’ve had children through two separate forms of labor management and so I know this—but it does not have to be the incapacitating experience so often depicted. While in labor with my second child, I enjoyed an enchilada dinner out with my husband while we waited for my contractions to get close together. We also forget that a woman can assume a number of positions during delivery. She need not bring a child into the world on her back only. We also must remember that birth need not have complications or life-threatening moments. Yes, it can and does happen and offers more opportunity for conflict and tension in fiction, but an uncomplicated birth can also come with conflict: a woman who doesn’t like her midwife, a girl birthing without the support of family or a husband, circumstances around her like the coming of an army or a famine can add just as much possibility for conflict without resorting to the often overused idea of labor and delivery complications.
Let’s also not forget the superstitions and customs of other times and cultures. Most of the time, in fantasy, authors are pretty good about remembering that, until modern times, most attendants at a birth were female, but what about other cultural aspects that make the bringing of a child into the world unique? How does a fantasy culture think of a child born still in the amniotic sac? Real world cultures have thought of this from anywhere between terribly unlucky to blessed, even an indication of special gifts. Does the mother eat a piece of the placenta like some real world women? Does a mother have to cleanse herself before entering the intensive stages of labor? Are there superstitions about what a woman can and cannot do during pregnancy and childbirth? These are all things that occur in real world cultures yet are often forgotten in fiction. Just because they might seem silly or outdated doesn’t mean that they can’t be interesting in fantasy fiction, especially because, in fantasy, we can make any superstition true.
I would love to see more stories that explore other possibilities in birth than we are commonly familiar with in modern American culture. Have you read any? I’d love a few recommendations.