Motherhood Makes for Great Horror

Remember how last week I said we’d talk about how writing in a real-life historical setting was hard? That was a lie. I have nothing to say about it that someone with, y’know, actual experience hasn’t already said. Instead, I want to talk about the specific sort of horror that comes with motherhood.

My main character is a pregnant woman who has previously experienced a stillbirth, and I’ve enjoyed mining the horrors of pregnancy and birth to compliment the supernatural horror in the story. I feel like the very real nature of one lends weight to the fictional nature of the other.

I usually try to be egalitarian when referring to the work and stress of parenthood, because a lot of the it is experienced more-or-less equally by both sexes. Both parents (and stepparents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, etc) experience the loss of identity, lack of sleep, fear of physically or emotionally damaging another human beyond repair, the anxiety of the world around you doing it even if you don’t, etc. And I do think that playing on those fears in my story is interesting.

But motherhood as an experience of building and carrying a baby has some special layers of horror that non-carrying parents don’t personally experience. I will sum up the most obvious with this gif:

Pregnant Woman, Baby Kicks Glass


My fascination with mixing the body horror of pregnancy with the holy-shit-elation that comes with having a baby isn’t new. Back in 2012 I wrote a piece of m-preg (yeah, fight me) that culminated in the magic wearing off (long story) and both the father and baby dying. (Except not! Because angels fixed it. Supernatural-ex-machina for the win.) Writing the sequences wherein the main character was in the process of dying traumatically were fascinating.

That said, while I have a weird fascination with the body horror — it’s easy. The hard stuff is psychological. Having a baby will fuck you up mentally. Something like 10% to 20% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression or worse. In particular, I’ve been reading about postpartum psychosis — wherein women have hallucinations and many other symptoms, and can ultimately end up harming themselves and their child.

What does all of this have to do with my NaNoWriMo project?

Right, so, I’m 4,000 behind par as of this morning. It’s… well, it’s week two. I’ve fallen down a bit of a rabbit hole in my novel. I have two important subplots, one I’d planned and one that’s sort of fallen into my lap.

The first in instrumental to the plot. My main character, Nora, is a rich man’s second wife — his first wife died “in an accident” ten years previous, which tragically also killed their newborn son. Nora comes to learn throughout the story that the “accident” was that she leaped off the roof of their home, believing something to be coming for her and the baby. I was telling August last night that this subplot is interesting to write, because Nora unfolds this bit by bit, thinking that the woman’s death was caused by the supernatural. However, I want to unfold in such a way that the reader can see the truth: Amelia was just very sick and not getting the help she needed because her family didn’t want to overreact.

The second came in one of those day-one scenes: my main character goes to visit a casual friend who has newborn twins, and is obviously (to the reader) suffering from PPD. Recognizing this in her friend, and trying to find a way to help is one of the first autonomous steps Nora takes in the story.

Unfortunately, I’m having trouble digging out of that second subplot and getting to the actual plot of the novel. The further I get into this portpartum mental illness plot, the more I start to get overwhelmed by imagining the scope of my edits. I was telling my friends the other day that I’ve never successfully edited a novel, and the more I look toward that inevitable end-point for a story I really like, the more I shrink back.

So tonight, I need to go back and find the spot where I diverged away from “Nora decides to get her daughter back,” because she’s too far from that plot. I think once I get back into the main plot, I can recover better.

I’ll report back in a week and let you know how it went.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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