A tingling sensation washed over her… happiness! She opened her eyes only to find her feet weren’t on the ground. In fact, she didn’t have any feet at all! She was a strawberry on the bush she had been kneeling over just a few moments ago. The tingling sensation was so strong that she started singing and dancing. She couldn’t help it! Everything around her seemed brighter and more beautiful.

The strawberry in disguise began to cry. She had lost so much, and in turn became lost herself. But she also remembered what the wise strawberry said, “…you’re still sweet and sunny and bright.”

As hard as it was, she let go. The little girl let go of being afraid, and worrying about what other people could do. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let go.

One of Teratology’s foundational pillars in the Middle Ages was how to avoid giving birth to a monster. Chapter eleven of Ambroise Paré’s On Monsters and Marvels (1575) is called “An example of monsters that are formed, the mother having remained seated too long, having had her legs crossed, or having bound her belly too tight while she was pregnant”. While obstetric teratology in the medical field has remained focused on studying fetal deformities, specifically how to do avoid doing so, cultural teratology has recently shifted the focus to the monstrosity of pregnancy itself. Movies like Prevenge (2017), Rosemary’s Baby (1986), and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1986) focus more on the anxieties and physical transformation of the mother rather than on the developing fetus, soon to be born baby.

In Prevenge, Ruth is driven to kill people she deems guilty for the death of her boyfriend by the voice of the developing fetus. Scenes depict the protagonist in various states of mania and delusion punctuated by visions of a demonic woman mimicking a film she had watched. As the birth nears, her mania increases as she struggles to maintain her autonomous identity that has become conflated with “widow” and “mother”. The other two films depict the protagonists trying to maintain control over their own bodies as the pregnancy process has been co-opted by outside demonic forces. In many cultures, Western and Eastern, women in misogynistic cultures find that their bodies are even less their own once they become pregnant. What they ingest, how they move or position their bodies, how much they sleep, and all sorts of other aspects of their lives come under the scrutiny of partners, doctors, families, friends, and even strangers. If we accept Aristotle’s claim that women are deformed men, then the pregnant woman is even more so and subjected to more constraint for fear of what it is capable of.*

Thanks to feminism and the efforts of countless individuals, many women are now in a socioeconomic position independent of families and partners for whom they have traditionally relied on for survival. With this autonomy, they can now voice their anxieties, fears, and horror regarding pregnancy. Philosophers from Judith Thomson to Amy Mullin have questioned traditional models of pregnancy which tend to either trivialize the process phenomenologically, as if it had no bearing on the subject, or focus solely on the importance of children and childbearing as if the pregnant woman suddenly lost her subjectivity to the fetus. As more scholars and artists take up this subject, the experience of pregnancy qua the woman will become less taboo to discuss and more of its elements, monstrous and otherwise, will come to light.

*The Generation of Animals, Book 2, 737a: “For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

She also remembered slowly becoming scared that one day someone would take her off the bush. They would take her away from the sun, the earth, the water, and the air. The fear grew until she was no longer a strawberry. First her color faded from a bright red to a dull orange. Then she grew heavier as the weight of her fear pulled her down. By the time she touched the dirt, she had already grown little feet and little arms. Too heavy for the small bush to hold, she popped right off.  Not knowing what to do, she wandered away and became lost.

There is something under my bed,

it makes strange noises at night,

and won’t let me rest my head,

nor allow me peace or respite.

It twists my body strange angles,

my thoughts are shaken dizzy,

every quiet moment it strangles

and keeps my resolution busy.

If I perchance stumble on nerve,

taking a peek despite my dread,

with desolate despair I observe,

I’m the monster under the bed. 

 

Excerpt from Persephone Unleashed

As she sat thinking, a memory popped into her head. She was singing, and she seemed to be smaller and very plump. Others were singing with her. Was she hanging from something?

Suddenly, she remembered! She had been a strawberry! Those other voices were strawberries too! She remembered the warm sun on her face, the fresh air, and the cool, clean water. 

The little girl wiped her tears and thought about what the strawberry said. She had always felt sweet and sunny and bright. But little by little, people would do things that made her afraid. Without even realizing it, she had started to only think about what other people could do. Eventually she forgot how to sing and dance. She forgot how to be sweet and sunny and bright.

The big strawberry said, “We can recognize one of our own no matter what form they take. I give you my word by the stem I hang from, that you are indeed a strawberry. Sometimes strawberries forget who they are and can get lost. The world can be scary and if that’s all you think about, you will forget who you really are. But you haven’t changed, you’re still sweet and sunny and bright.”