The Dangers of Mystical Pregnancy as Entertainment

Crystal ColemanPop Culture17 Comments


SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals plot details about various genre TV shows and films including Angel (seasons two and four), Charmed (seasons four and on), and the most current episodes of Doctor Who (as aired in the UK). You’ve been warned.

After 60 years and over 200 episodes, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has dipped into the most frustrating plot contrivance well for women: the mystical pregnancy. The mystical pregnancy (MP) is a cheap ploy that almost always serves to completely remove the character’s identity as anything but a vessel for the being inside her. Even worse, very rarely does the character gain her identity back, derailing any character development that had previously taken place. Unfortunately, this pattern of identity loss plays out as a dangerous metaphor for the state of women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. and the view of women in general.

Before we touch on Doctor Who and then finally what this plot contrivance means for real women, let’s look at some other instances of mystical pregnancy (including one done well).

The Bad:

Cordelia Chase (Angel). By season four of Angel, Cordelia Chase was no stranger to the mystical pregnancy. She’d already had a one-episode arc where she was impregnated by a demon, but these type of episodes (see also: Torchwood’s Gwen Cooper) serve more to fit the damsel-in-distress trope than the true MP plot conveyance. Cordelia’s real MP storyline came in season four. Through three seasons on parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and another three on Angel, Cordelia had, perhaps, the greatest growth arc of any female in the Whedonverse. She went from shallow cheerleader to suddenly poor to helper of the helpless. Things started going wrong when she was lifted to become a higher being. When she was returned, she wasn’t quite right,  and her memory wasn’t all there. In the creepiest instance of MP we’re going to have on this list, she found momentary comfort in sleeping with Angel’s age-accelerated son, Connor (whose diapers she changed only a year or two ago in her timeline – CREEPY!). Connor was a product of a MP himself (we’ll get to that in a bit), and it soon came out that even his own conception was all part of a Xanatos Gambit to get Cordelia, who was suddenly evil, preggers. After an accelerated gestation, Cordelia gave birth to a fully-grown goddess, Jasmine, who claimed to want to solve all the unhappiness in the world. Except that she was really a maggot-faced demon. After giving birth, Cordelia fell into a coma and other than being used for its special blood (or as a hostage), she was pretty much forgotten about until she was used as a plot device for the 100th episode before dying off-screen at the end of that same episode.

A similar MP/SuddenlyEvil combo happened to Phoebe in Charmed. After marrying the reformed demon Cole, it’s discovered that Cole isn’t really reformed at all. In fact, he’s now the Source of all Evil and wants to seal the deal with Phoebe to make her the Queen of all Evil: that means he has to knock her up with his demon seed. Even their wedding is disrupted by the potential of a baby, (THERE’S NOT EVEN AN ACTUAL FETUS YET) because he’s told that if they get married under one kind of moonlight, the baby will be good rather than evil. The prospective baby and eventual physical fetus become the focal points of the end stretch of episodes. When the fetus actually beams itself out of Phoebe’s womb (seriously, I’m not making this up), it’s revealed that Phoebe was literally a vessel: the baby isn’t hers at all. To me, that’s downright offensive, I don’t know about you. Phoebe does recover her character development post-demon-baby, although being granted with the power of premonition, it seemed like visions of herself with children were a frequent theme.

And then there’s the Star Wars issue: Padme and Shmi. Any woman whose story revolved around Anakin Skywalker was just doomed to tragedy. While Padme’s isn’t a strictly mystical pregnancy, it seems mystical to the viewer because we know that she is destined to become the mother to Luke and Leia, the most mythical twins in science fiction. From the moment she’s introduced, her accomplishments seem to go out the window. Nevermind that she’s a Queen, then a Senator (Oh, you strange Naboo political structure)… she’s going to be Anakin’s honey and Luke and Leia’s poor dead mother. I mean, Lucas couldn’t even bother coming up with a believable reason to kill her off – SHE DIED OF A BROKEN HEART, as if he basically said, “Oh, crap… how does she die? She’s sad, there you go, now on to the lava pit lightsaber fight! We have effects money to spend! And Darth Vader to introduce!” And all because of Darth Friggin’ Vader. The Chosen One to Bring Balance to the Force. So we know because he doesn’t even have a father. Shmi is a rip off of the greatest mystical pregnancy of them all (we’ll get to that later). She exists solely to have had this child, have him taken away, and then have a life-altering (for her child, of course) tragedy befall her. We know nothing about her that doesn’t relate to Anakin. She has no story, no life, outside of what will be beneficial to advance Anakin’s plot. Sucks to be you, Lars family.

The Good(?)

Going back to Angel, the seasons two and three arc with a newly human, then-vamp’d-again Darla actually served as a rare MP story where the character gained development with the pregnancy. Introduced on the parent show as Angel’s vampire sire, Darla was quickly dispatched by stake but often referenced, appearing in flashbacks. In the second season of Angel, Darla was brought back from death by the Big Bads to try and lure Angel back to the dark side. It worked, and a driven-to-the-brink Angel took a leap toward the abyss and slept with Darla before chucking her back out to the street, still, somehow, ensouled. The next time we saw Darla, she had a craving for innocent blood and a big ol’ baby belly ready to pop. The impossible vampire pregnancy is about as mystical as you can get, and various prophecies and cults spring up around it. Interestingly, the soulless Darla begins to share a soul with her unborn child, causing her to feel love that she’s never felt as a vampire. Her (dead) body begins to strain with the child, and she realizes that once he’s born, she’ll have no soul again: she won’t love her child. She tells Angel that their son was the one good thing they did together and stakes herself, leaving her child in her ash. Looked at just as its own piece of plot, this is actually a good example of MP done well. While Darla ends up sacrificing herself for her child, she gains development that she never had even when she had a soul of her own. Her child makes her a more complex character. It becomes problematic when the writers later decide that the Impossible Vampire Baby was all set up just to enable the Cordelia/Connor clustermess a season and a half later, negating the strides that Darla made herself.

Less problematic is Charmed’s Piper Halliwell. From the first episode, it’s established that Piper has taken on the maternal role over the sisters since their mother’s death. Following Piper and Leo’s courtship and marriage, she discovers that they might have trouble conceiving, what with her husband being a mystical being and not technically alive and stuff. After Phoebe’s debacle with Cole, the sisters are given the choice of giving up their magic. Sacrificing their potentially normal lives, all three sisters decide to stay witches, and one of the first things Phoebe has a premonition about is Piper being pregnant. Her future children become important plot points, the first one being prophesized to have great power and becoming a regular target of various demon sects before eventually turning evil (and then back to good), and the other being sent back in time (to before he was even born) to be the Whitelighter protector of his mother and aunts. Throughout all of this, though, we never lose Piper’s identity and character development. Throughout the course of Piper’s story, after she has her first child she goes through losing her husband, becoming an out-of-control goddess, becoming a valkyre, dating again, having a booty call with her husband (resulting in another baby), finding out that her protector is her adult second child just before he gets killed, reconciling with her husband,  and being the only survivor of a great final battle before going back in time to save her sisters’ lives. While some of her plots certainly center around her children, her own, distinct role to play as a powerful witch is never diminished.


And so we have mad, impossible Amelia Pond. Introduced in the revamped Doctor Who’s fifth season, Amelia Pond is a little girl who meets The Doctor as he’s just becoming who the Eleventh Doctor will be. He promises to take her away and she waits… 12 years. After their second meeting, she waits another two years, finally running away with him the night before her wedding. They travel, and there’s her fiance and sexy vampire fish and a Dream Lord and her fiance being erased from existence and all of time and space falling into a crack and bringing back her friend, the Doctor,  just from her memory and a wedding and dancing and promise of more adventures. That’s simplifying it a lot, and there are many things that are problematic about Amy Pond (but Steven Moffat’s Problems With Women are the subject of an entirely different article), but this season, the most problematic thing about Amy Pond became her Shrodinger’s Pregnancy. In the season opener, we meet a strange little girl who has pictures of a baby with Amy, and this little girl is later shown regenerating, just like a Time Lord. After Amy closes the opening episode cliffhanger with the revelation that she’s pregnant, she later claims to have been mistaken. The Doctor does a scan on her (without her knowing) and the scan keeps changing between Negative and Positive for a pregnancy. The second, third, and fourth episodes all end with this noncommittal scan (worst EPT test EVER). The only reason the fifth doesn’t is because it rolls into the sixth, and in the sixth we learn why the scan can’t decide: Amy is pregnant, but Amy isn’t around. She’s been replaced by a goo-doppleganger called flesh and has really been held in captivity in some unknown place for her entire pregnancy. She’s being held by people who want to turn her baby into the perfect weapon: a tiny time lord to defeat The Doctor. After waking up to discover she’s in active labor, Amy has the child taken away from her when it’s only a month old. As the Doctor and Amy’s husband (and baby daddy) Rory storm in to rescue her and the baby, they lose the child again. As they sit in shock from their loss, River Song, their old friend who couldn’t come help with the siege, comes upon the scene like a true deux ex machina. She reveals that the little baby, Melody Pond, will be perfectly fine. How does she know? Well, she’s Melody, of course… all grown up.

To really examine how incredibly messed up this is for Amy as a character, you have to look at how River is introduced. In the previous Doctor’s tenure, once Moffat had been named the future show runner, he introduced a woman called River Song, who was The Most Important Woman That Will Or Has Ever Existed To The Doctor, but she couldn’t reveal why because she was meeting him out of order (curse of the time traveller). The next season, Amy is introduced.
The main purpose of Amy Pond was always for her to be the mother of the magical child who would be both the Doctor’s Girlfriend and Ultimate Foe. This was Moffat’s long game. Her relationship with the Doctor was predestined not because of her own, unique self but because of what would be in her uterus. And Steven Moffat expects us to think this is the most amazing plot twist ever in the near fifty-year history of Doctor Who.

The Real Life Dangers

More than any of the physical horrors associated with mystical pregnancy (finding yourself ready to pop without any prior knowledge, alien babies inside you moving around, children being evil, children coming out not right, etc.), the most frightening aspect is the loss of identity. The mother is seen as just a vessel for the child, almost an afterthought, as the questions surrounding the baby-to-be are the important thing. Entire lives must be arranged, planned, and sacrificed around this baby, and whether the mother is on board with being the incubator for this sacred baby doesn’t even factor into the equation. The truly terrifying thing is that this is apparently how many legislators in real life view women’s role in pregnancy. The proposed bills in Utah and, more recently, Georgia, to consider miscarriages criminal offences unless proved otherwise are a testament to this mindset. The entire anti-choice movement is predicated on this line of thinking; how else could you explain the attempts to give the best wishes of a being who doesn’t even have the power to think yet more credence than the living, breathing woman with a life already in progress? It takes the voice, the choice, away from the mother, leaving her just a vessel to fight and politic over. Once you correlate that mindset with the religious beliefs behind it, though, the reason pregnancy seems too sacred is clear.

The OG

Mary is the Mystical Pregnancy model that all other models look to. She is visited by the angel Gabriel and informed that she has been selected to be the mother of Jesus, son of God. She marries her fiance and gives birth to the prophesied child, and three men follow a star to find the baby. Although non-biblical sources give Mary a life before Christ, there is no mention of this in the Bible. Quite often, Mary isn’t even mentioned by name, just referenced as the mother of Jesus (although, admittedly, this might be partly to distinguish between the myriad of Marys in the Bible). After Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary disappears. We know nothing about her, where she is born and when, what her life is like, what her life with Joseph (who is sidelined, as well) was like, if they had other children, how and when she died… nothing is canonical. For a figure that is so very important to many religions (just look at the amount of art that has been inspired by the Madonna), it’s surprisingly how little we actually know about her as a woman with her own unique identity.


Even when a modern pregnant woman’s identify isn’t being removed by “well meaning” legislators, this attitude that pregnant women just serve as vessels can be found throughout society in small actions. The number of lists detailing foods that will harm your baby in some way lends itself to public judgement if a mother-to-be has a glass of champagne in her second trimester or sneaks a piece of blue cheese or indulges in some sushi. The tendency of strangers to want to touch a pregnant woman’s belly makes many women uncomfortable and carries the unfortunate implication that their belly is no longer their own private property. The pattern of friends and family discussing nothing else about you for nine+ months other than the impending baby serves to alienate you from your own achievements and experiences. It should be no surprise that many women turn into helicopter parents; when your identity is taken away from you in lieu of your child, of course you’re going to hold them close. They’re all the identity you have left.

Thanks and Further Research:

Assistance with biblical references provided by QueenieManhattan. Thanks to dancing-with-goldman for reminding me of Star Wars.
Other Suggestions for Mystical Pregnancy in Sci-Fi Television:
Stargate: Atlantis (Suggested by BaseballChica)
Battlestar Galactica (Suggested by itsallabitharrypotter)

Writer’s Note: Edited 6/8/11 to correct the number of years Amy waited.

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Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses.
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Crystal ColemanThe Dangers of Mystical Pregnancy as Entertainment

17 Comments on “The Dangers of Mystical Pregnancy as Entertainment”

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  1. Profile photo of Priscilla

    Just wanted to put my vote in with people who don’t think Amy’s done for.

    As an adopted child, MP stories Actually Appealed to Me when I was young–I’ll leave that to the Subconscious Psychoanalyst to parse out–so I appreciate your pulling it all out (mostly on shows I’m not that attached to) so I could look at it.

    On the other hand, I agree with the person who said that Amy isn’t JUST River Song’s mum now–I mean, to me, she could never be. They could still write a bunch of episodes in which she is just a frantic mum or “TARDIS Madonna,” and wreck it for me, but for now, I have hope.

    P.S. River Song couldn’t show up until Baby Melody was gone…. can’t cross your own time stream.

  2. Profile photo of soitgoes

    Originally in season 4 of Angel, Cordelia was supposed to take on the Jasmine role and I don’t believe that Connor was supposed to play into the story in the way he did. Charisma’s real-life pregnancy necessitated a quick fix that wouldn’t force them to shelve the whole season arc.

    I guess this brings up an interesting sub-point: what happens when a sci-fi actress gets pregnant in real life and her character is not in a relationship and/or has never exhibited a desire for children? It’s not always easy or possible to keep going as if the actress isn’t pregnant.

  3. Profile photo of BaseballChica03

    A note, it’s the Vala arc in Stargate SG1, not Atlantis.

    This is an awesome post, and I have many thoughts about it but no time to post them now. But well done! It’s a very interesting look at something that happens all the time in scifi (and not so scifi).

  4. Profile photo of QoB

    Also, hello Twilight. Although Bella does experience some character development after the baby is born, that’s more a result of (a) being a vampire and (b) the lack of any character she had in the first place.

  5. Profile photo of [E] Slay Belle
    [E] Slay Belle

    Mythology is full of mystical pregnancies. Mary is just the best known, but she’s certainly not the originator of the idea. For instance, we have Zeus giving birth to a full grown Athena. Loki gives birth to a child while hiding in the guise of an animal (a goat, if I recall). The mother of the Minotaur probably counts, since she gets pregnant by a god-disguised-as-a-bull, as does Leta when she’s raped by the swan. Zeus forces his Titan father, Cronus, to rebirth his siblings, who Cronus had previously eaten.

    You could even say that Snow White’s mother has a MP because she only becomes pregnant as the fulfillment of a wish.

  6. Profile photo of [E] Slay Belle
    [E] Slay Belle

    Darla doesn’t come back as a vampire, she comes back as human. If I recall — Wolfram & Hart have her saddled with a disease so that her human form is dying, to try and bring Angel over to the dark side by having him embrace Darla.

    And then Dru does it instead or something. I really hated Angel. But, yeah, she’s a vampire when she was pregnant, eventually.

    (Angel, the character, keeps his soul because the curse isn’t that he loses his soul if he has sex, he loses his soul if he achieves perfect happiness/bliss. Sex with Buffy worked because he loved her, and after all those years of penance, he had someone love him back. He basically hate fucked Darla, so he gets to keep his soul.)

    1. Profile photo of freckle [M]
      freckle [M]

      Darla was sick when she was turned as a vampire. Syphilis, I thought. Because W&H turn her human again, the disease is back with a vengeance and she only got a couple of weeks left or something.

  7. Profile photo of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    I’m such a duff, it took me four paragraphs to figure out what MP means. Hello Dolly.

    I think Vessel Amy annoys me the most. I didn’t like her character all the time, but at least there was something. Now she is a Vessel and a One-Track-Minded Mother, no funny jokes, annoying questions and banter with Rory. Thank you Moffat.

  8. Profile photo of [E] Selena MacIntosh*
    [E] Selena MacIntosh*

    I get what you’re saying, but I’m still a little giddy about River being the Timehead Baby because I called it out months ago, and all my r/l Whofan friends were all “No! It’s can’t be that, that’s stupid!” and I like being right when they’re jerky.

    I’m not ready to give up hope on Amy continuing to be her own person, and more than TARDIS Madonna*, because she’s been a fairly rich character (troubled, perhaps, but not at all a damsel in distress) so far.

    I had to think a minute to figure out who on BSG had an MP, but that’s because I tend to block most of late series Helo and Sharon out of my memories, so I plum forgot Hera. Kara’s Missing Ovary could almost play into that, as well, but since Kara was whatever ethereal being she actually turned out to be and to the best of our knowledge the Cylons never created a Wee Starbuck, it doesn’t quite.

    There have been a few MPs on the 1989-present Star Treks, Kes on Voyager had an imaginary pregnancy, the Doctor and Seven of Nine’s technology got intermingled and they had a Mystical Doomed Child, although no one was ever actually preggers. I’m pretty sure there was at least one on both TNG and DS9, as well, but the details are escaping me.

    *I have an entire set of made up lyrics to the Beatles’ Lady Madonna in a TARDIS theme in my head now.

    1. Profile photo of Crystal Coleman
      Crystal Coleman

      And I have to admit… the execution of those moments was brilliant. The little looks between her and Matt Smith, Alex Kingston’s performance when she revealed it to Amy and Rory… Karen and Arthur’s reactions. The examination of all the previous moments that’s been happening in the fandom. It’s still really damn entertaining, even if the idea of it and the subtext of it frustrates me to no end. Damn you, Moffat!

      I knew Star Trek had dipped into that well a few times. I was genuinely surprised that Who never had until now.

  9. Profile photo of joanofarch

    The Doctor kept Amy waiting for twelve years. And then another two after the first episode. That’s fourteen years total. Not nineteen.

    Also, River steps in to explain things because the Doctor has suddenly disappeared on them. Again. Abandonment issues are a big part of Amy’s character, because the Doctor does it to her so frequently. River actually explains things while Amy holds her at gun point. Amy and Rory were not simply sitting in shock when they discovered their baby was not there, they jumped into action pretty darn quickly, considering the hell they had been through about that kid.

    I don’t watch the other shows you mentioned, so I cannot accurately express an opinion about them.

    I don’t want to go into a huge essay about my beliefs concerning Amy Pond’s character development, so I’ll sum it up as this: in Season 5, Amy was an immature little girl in a big body with nice legs. No way could she have raised kids. Seeing her with a baby now, post-character development? It fits. She’s a grown, beautiful, mature woman. She and Rory make a beautiful couple, and, after all they’ve been through on their adventures with the Doctor, seem more than ready to handle raising a kid (should they get the opportunity). That may seem like a blow to feminism to you, but there are many women who aspire to making a family of their own, and who will see Amy as a role model. I’m not personally one of them; I find the prospect of raising a child scary. Perhaps that’s why I find Amy’s character development so impressive; she taking on something I don’t think I ever could. And I think that’s great.

    According to this article, Amy has now been ‘reduced’ to being the mother of River Song, who will somehow take preference in the eyes of the audience on the principle that she was there first. I don’t think this is true. The way I see it, and I think the way Moffat intended for audiences to see it, is that River Song needs to live up to the legacy her parents set. Not only that, but it’s the fun and amazing thing about a show about time travel: we as an audience get to know the WHOLE family, and appreciate them each individually. We don’t have to sit through old Rory showin off his Centurion helmet like a football trophy, or hear Amy spout out one of those horrible “I was a looker in my days, I was” sort of comments (which personally I think would be MORE derogatory to her character). We WOULDN’T care about Amy and Rory if they were introduced as River’s parents: that’s why they were introduced as Amy and Rory.

    I think Moffat is also trying to make parenthood and the adventure of raising a baby comparable to running about the universe with the Doctor: big, scary, complicated, wonderful, worth every second. It’s an adventure that the TARDIS hasn’t had much of yet (unless something happened in ClassicWho that I’m not aware of).

    I’m frankly amazed at your attitude towards pregnancy. The moves in legislation concerning abortion and women’s rights have been downright medieval (redefining rape? Are you kidding me? I nearly started crying.) But I don’t think things are so bad yet that motherhood can be considered the worst fate of a woman, as this article seems to suggest.

    This article was really difficult to read all the way through.

    1. Profile photo of Crystal Coleman
      Crystal Coleman

      The Doctor kept Amy waiting for twelve years.

      True! Will fix that.

      I truly didn’t intend to imply that I felt that motherhood is a terrible fate. I do feel that MP used as a plot device is quite often a terrible fate for character development, because more often than not, it is. There are examples where it’s not, and I tried to highlight them.
      My issues with the correlations to real life aren’t having to do with motherhood itself, but with the disassociation between a woman’s identity as her own, independent self and her identity as a mother and the way that society perpetuates it. I don’t think that it’s necessary for a woman to completely lose their identity, achievements, and personal wants and needs just because they become a mother or a mother-to-be. I have a high opinion of motherhood; I’m a happy aunt and aunt-to-be and really can’t wait to have my own. But I also don’t want people to stop talking to me as a person just because there’s someone else growing inside me.

      Thank you for taking the time to read all the way to the end. Welcome to Persephone!

  10. Profile photo of wtfox?!

    Thank you for articulating what’s been bothering me about Who this season. Even though I’m quite new to the show (and don’t have quite as much invested in it as a lot of my other friends), it’s always depressing to have one’s introduction to something new be constituted, in part, by a hackneyed and worn-out plot device.

    A couple of sort-of unrelated things: It strikes me that the MP is, in some ways, a myth of deferral: the problems of this generation can’t be solved by the generation itself, so a woman is burdened (literally) with the potential of a solution–the weapon, the Chosen One, the Redeemer, etc. etc. So the woman isn’t only the vessel, whose identity is subordinated to the fetus, but also a conduit between the abjection of Now and the hope of a better future Some Day. And that’s a great way to keep women in a perpetual state of subjection to their bodies, to subordinate their needs not only to those of the fetus, but to the hope of the Next Generation. The MP is more or less the apotheosizing of that attitude.

    Another text/show you might add to your list is Supernatural. Although the pregnancy itself is not mystical (no Holy Spirit/vampire/otherworldly sperm or infusion involved), the circumstances of the main characters’ mother (Mary; seriously, that is her name) falling in love with their father (John; again, seriously), and their subsequent marriage, are very much engineered by supernatural forces. Later on, Mary sacrifices herself to save her children (Dean and Sam), and that sacrifice sets her husband and sons on the road to the fulfillment of prophecy. The series in general has a lot to do with the nature of agency and free will when you have very powerful beings that are more or less able to impose a deterministic universe on you, but the story of Mary Winchester is pretty disturbing in terms of the co-opting of one’s body and agency.

  11. Profile photo of SkittleKicks

    The whole thing with Amy frustrates me to No End. And I would love to see the other article about Moffet’s treatment of women, because my current attempts to explain it to my husband end with me ranting incomprehensibly.

      1. Profile photo of CherriSpryte

        Oooh, let me know if you wind up writing this. If not, I’d love to look into it, as I have a really hard time reconciling my love of Moffat’s complex plotlines with his uneven treatment of female characters/some of the quotes attributed to him.

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