Recently, on Google+, a friend posted a collection of Sage Advice columns from old issues of Dragon. Of particular note were the questions about what to do if a character were to become pregnant. The answers could be summed up as this: a pregnant person cannot realistically be an adventurer, and the best course of action is to retire the character.
While issues of Dragon magazine from twenty-five years ago can hardly be said to be the pulse of modern gaming, it’s worth noting that very few games deal with pregnancy, or if they do, the answer is generally that the PC ends up off-screen for some or all of the time. This is a reflection of the modern popular imagination — we don’t think of pregnant women as heroes. If pregnancy does show up on fantasy or science fiction, then the pregnant are generally portrayed as either victims (body horror provides many examples of this) or as victim-heroes (such as Sarah Connor from the first Terminator film).
But is there any reason why pregnant people shouldn’t be the heroes of our stories? I don’t think so. While it is likely that this happens as a result of (relatively modern and Western) notions of pregnancy. We have that the pregnant are extremely vulnerable during pregnancy, and most avoid almost any exertion possible. While there is certainly medical truth to the notion that some sorts of exertion, particularly during the third trimester, will be harmful to the fetus, our notions that a woman is completely helpless throughout her pregnancy and that the life of the unborn must be protected at all costs are products of post-industrial Western society.
And lest you think that the idea of pregnant women going on fantastic adventures a load of insufferable, modern, politically correct nonsense, let me introduce you to Janet.
Janet is the heroine of “The Ballad of Tam Lin, ” a Scottish ballad that was first recorded in 1529. In case you don’t read the poem, let me tell you about Janet. Janet is a mouthy teenager who disobeys her father to go pick flowers in the woods. She meets a young man named Tam Lin, who says that she shouldn’t be out in the woods picking flowers. She tells him that this is her forest, and she’ll do whatever she wants. She and Tam become lovers. She goes back to her home. Eventually, it becomes obvious that she’s pregnant. A knight chastises her for her supposed indiscretion, and she fires back:
‘Haud your tongue, ye auld fac’d knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I’ll father nane on thee.’
Her father, the lord of the manor, speaks up, but she won’t hear any of it — she says that Tam Lin is the father of unborn child and her true love, and she’s not going to marry anyone else.
She returns to the forest and searches for Tam. When she finds him, Tam tells her that they cannot be together, because he’s the Faerie Queen’s slave, and he’s going to be sacrificed to Hell come Halloween night.
What does Janet do?
She decides to win him back from the Faerie Queen.
The nature of the contest varies from version to version, but often, Janet chases down the faerie process on horseback, knocks Tam off of his horse and wrestles him while the Faerie Queen transforms him into a variety of deadly shapes, such as a lion, an adder, a bear, or a rod of molten iron. Of course, Janet wins the day, saving her true love from Hell, and the Faerie Queen shakes her fist at them. Not only does she do all of this while pregnant, but she does all of this while she’s far enough along in her pregnancy that it’s obvious to everyone around her. In some versions, Janet even gives birth the day after she wins Tam back from the Queen.
So the next time you see a pregnant woman, don’t think of her as a helpless, delicate flower. Think of Janet, and think of adventure.