Take a good look back at film history and pick some of your favourite horror or supernatural movies of all time. Chances are pretty high that you will pick movies with a pregnant lady or a child in it. Think, for instance, of The Unborn, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense or the recently released A Quiet Place 2. In these movies, pregnant women and children are either haunted by a ghost or possessed by one. There seems to be a strange link between pregnancy, childhood and stories about the supernatural. What is it that makes pregnant women and children the ultimate ghost magnets?
Perhaps, it has something to do with the mystery of creation, child birth and childhood linked to the mystery surrounding afterlife. Traditionally and historically, we see childbirth as a miracle. Women with their ability to bring forth children, are seen as having almost supernatural powers of creation.
Although Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is not strictly a ghost story, it does have elements of horror and the supernatural. The novel is considered to be a seminal piece of horror writing. But an interesting fact about this novel is that it was written by Mary Shelley while she was pregnant. As Ruth Franklin writes in The New Republic, “…not only was Mary Shelley pregnant during much of the period she was writing Frankenstein, but she had already suffered the birth and death of an infant.”
Some literary critics have stated that Mary Shelley put her own wonder, fear and anxieties about pregnancy, childbirth and maternity into her novel. She added the fear and anxieties over childbirth, which can be quite a painful, dangerous and traumatic process, even more so in the old days. Mary’s own mother died while giving birth to her. Then there is worry over how the child will turn out. It may be a monster, physically or psychologically. Dr. Frankenstein’s horror at his own creation mirrors the horror and anxieties of a mother over the health and normalcy of her child.
Thus, the carrying and making of another human being in one’s body becomes akin to haunting or possession by something that is not quite in your control. It takes over your body and changes you. As for children, they were seen as gifts from God. But since childhood is remembered by adults in a haze, children are a bit of a mystery to adults. Children who are a bit more quiet or sombre than others become the focus of these ghost stories since we see them as behaving differently from our stereotypical expectations of a child. Since they behave in an ‘unchildlike’ way, they must be possessed by something. And so, the adult imagination spins horror stories around these children.
Also, children, especially our own children, always remain something of a miracle, a mystery and a surprise to us, even though they live with us. As a parent there is great joy in positively embracing these feelings of wonder. However, from a darker perspective, children look like us, but are not us. Their creation and birth are still seen as mystically enigmatic. They live with us but are not always obedient to us, nor do they always behave the way we want them to. In short, they are like possessed creatures who cannot be totally controlled.
Horror tales filled with ghosts and supernatural occurrences actually arise from our everyday anxieties. Pregnant women and children are also society’s most precious and vulnerable members. They symbolise innocence, family, fertility, growth, a safe future, happiness and hope. They are the literal seeds that a society bets its future on. When a ship is sinking, pregnant women and children are always the first to be evacuated.
Therefore, many horror stories tend to be centred on pregnant women and children as a way to tap into our most primal fears about the safety and health of the people that make up the very foundation of our society. Thus, it’s no surprise that pregnant women and children also become the focus of our fears.