WiHM 12: The Horror of ‘Spawning’ By: Deborah Sheldon
The Horror of ‘Spawning’
By: Deborah Sheldon
I’m a mother, but I’ll confess it anyway – the very idea of pregnancy is creepy. Way back in 1999 when my husband and I decided to try for a baby, visions of the chest-burster from Alien kept nudging at me. The parallels are undeniable since screenwriter Dan O’Bannon deliberately infused his story with sexual metaphors: the chest-burster is a parasite robbing sustenance from the host, while the host plays second fiddle to the parasite’s need to grow, thrive, be born at any cost. Pretty accurate, right? Childbirth is risky. The closest the human body can come to death, apparently, without dying…I read that somewhere.
Oh, you bet I was scared.
Not of parenthood – an unknowable, nebulous, abstract concept at the time – but of childbirth. However, I figured that during pregnancy I would mellow out as hormones and the maternal instinct kicked in. I’d come to terms with the promise of torment and blood, turn into a philosophical Earth Mother type and no longer be afraid. Ha. After my waters broke and my husband drove me to hospital, I spent just two seconds listening to the chorus of screams in the maternity ward before I burst into tears.
“No, no, I’ve changed my mind,” I begged. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
A midwife laughed. “Too late now, dearie. Should’ve thought of that nine months ago.”
As a teenager in the 1980s, I used to go to the cinema every Saturday with friends. We often picked horror films. Generally, female characters were expendable fodder, there to flash some T&A before adding to the body count. Or they were damsels to be rescued by men. Or absent altogether, pushed out of the story by male characters with rippling muscles and guns. I sat back and enjoyed the films. (And still do, by the way.) Of course, there were exceptions – Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson – but not many.
I’ve never understood why female characters aren’t front and centre in horror because our anatomy is ripe for exploration of body-horror narratives. We have relentless biological imperatives: menstruation, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, menopause… That’s a lot of processes outside one’s control. And at its heart, isn’t body horror about loss of control?
My love of writing dark fiction, my enjoyment of horror films and literature, and the experience of becoming a mother were some of the reasons behind my idea for the upcoming anthology Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies. I’m proud of my literary baby and the 23 stories that explore the darker, bleaker, bloodier underbelly of reproduction. This anthology features Australian writers only – subsequent anthologies will be open to writers first in Australasia and then worldwide – and while the stories I chose offer a range of topics, subgenres and styles, they have one thing in common. Creepiness.
Bringing life into the world is a beautiful thing, yet birth is rooted in gore and the potential for disaster. No other biological rite of passage is such a gruelling exercise in blood, pain and shit. Many Spawn stories reflect that physical ordeal. Others focus on the existential dread of reproduction as it straddles life and death. And unlike most horror films from my youth, the female characters aren’t expendable fodder, objects of sexual titillation, damsels in distress, or left out altogether. On the contrary, each story features believable female characters in various states of crisis, transformation or deliverance. Nearly half of Spawn contributors are men. Reproduction is a powerful and shared human experience that is felt marrow-deep, regardless of sex or gender.
But let’s revisit my maternity ward for a moment. As I was close to giving birth in 2000, panting and pushing, I shouted at my obstetric GP that I’d had enough. There must be an easier way to do this, a better way. (John Hurt’s character in Alien endured one minute of agony. I’d been through hell for a day and a half.)
The doctor kindly patted my knee. “Deb, the only way out is through.”
Did he actually say that? Or is my memory putting words in his mouth? Regardless, it’s good advice for anyone who wants to read Spawn because once you begin, you’ll have no choice but to grab hold for the ride until you’re shot through to the other end…unsettled, disturbed and creeped out.
SPAWN: WEIRD HORROR TALES ABOUT PREGNANCY, BIRTH AND BABIES, edited by Deborah Sheldon, will be released worldwide by IFWG Publishing Australia on 3 May 2021. The anthology includes work by best-selling and multi-award-winning authors Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren and Sean Williams. https://ifwgaustralia.com/2020/09/26/toc-reveal-spawn-weird-horror-tales-about-pregnancy-birth-and-babies/
DEBORAH SHELDON is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia, who writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award. Her fiction has also been nominated for various Australian Shadows and Aurealis Awards, and long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award. As editor of Midnight Echo 14, she won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award. Other credits include feature articles, non-fiction books, TV scripts and award-winning medical writing. http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com
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