There’s still only one way to bring a new person into this universe. Many science fiction/fantasy stories have featured the drama of childbirth... and some have done it better than others. Here are the best and worst SF/fantasy childbirth scenes.
Note: We’re leaving out most of the “human gets pregnant and gives birth all in the same day” stories, which are like their own weird little genre. (Troi on Star Trek: TNG, Cordy on Angel, Gwen on Torchwood, that woman on Fringe, etc.) With that out of the way, here goes...
V: The Final Battle:
Robin gives birth to her half-alien offspring... in a jail cell. This infamous scene features a very shocking end, including gross-but-totally-fake-looking alien babies, including the one that has a shocking snake tongue just when you least expect it, and then the green veiny one that crawls out of Robin under its own steam. Truly a high water mark of hideousness:
V (the remake):
The same scene in the new V is a lot less stomach-churning, but is actually worse in some ways. Val dies in childbirth, off screen, after being hustled off early on in the episode — after this bit, we don’t see her again until she’s dead, and it feels like she’s just being written out in the speediest, most convenient fashion:
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith:
Here’s another scene in which a female character is killed off in childbirth. Padme’s been basically a walking plot device throughout the prequels, and now she gets to see her babies super briefly before she snuffs it. Special points for the turquoise cone of birthing privacy. The way in which Padme’s childbirth and death are juxtaposed with Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader make it clear this is really all about Anakin. (And it’s weird, because the original trilogy includes vague hints that Leia remembers her mom from when she was little.) For more on why this scene is messed up, here’s a discussion from a homebirth site:
Peculiarly, the droid says they need to perform an operation to save the babies and then in quick succession whips out two babies from between Padme’s legs! Huh? ... Umbilical cords, placentas? Ah, bollocks to that. The blood was being saved for Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader.
Also kind of underwhelming is the birth of Han and Leia’s twins in the Expanded Universe books.
An alien impregnates a schoolteacher with a baby that will grow up to be the “Eve” of this alien species. The birth scene does feature a high-tech tricorder-looking thingy, but otherwise, it’s just a collection of birth-scene cliches, punctuated by weird flashbacks:
Village Of The Damned:
The 1995 John Carpenter remake, based originally on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, gets singled out for more mockery from that homebirth site. Eight women get mysteriously knocked up, and then give birth all on the same day, in a converted barn, with their beds arranged in a weird semicircle, albeit with privacy curtains. It’s a “birth orgy,” as the Homebirth site puts it:
The scene is a fairly typical movie birth, woman on her back, lots of screaming and instructions to push. In fact, I think this birth scene may hold the PUSH! world record. Anyone care to count? Oh, and Mark Hamill is in it and we know he was an absurd birth, so no wonder this one is not much better.
Allusions to the birth of Christ, when done well, can be powerful. And then there’s this. Casting the Lone Gunmen in the role of Magi is not the way to achieve emotional resonance with the Book of Luke. And given how much mileage this show got out of reproductive hysteria, you’d have thought the pivotal birth scene would be more compelling. Here’s a fanvid that includes a few birth scene snippets:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:
If you were listing all the things that are wrong with William Shatner’s directorial debut, chances are this birth scene would not even be on the list. But that says more about the movie than this scene. They’re in some kind of a shadowy cave with a ceremonial headdress and a sinister baby silhouette. It’s got a sort of ancient Egypt vibe. And Spock’s dad is wearing his best golden childbirthing Nehru jacket. Just kind of... odd.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn:
This is the grand-daddy (so to speak) of ooky birth scenes, the one against which all others will be judged. Bella becomes pregnant with Edward’s half-vampire baby, which breaks her ribs when it kicks, and she’s forced to guzzle tons of blood to nurture the widdle thing. Then Edward has to chew through Bella’s womb to get the baby out, and then Bella gets turned into a vampire as she’s dying as a result of the messy childbirth. And then when the baby is still a newborn, Bella’s other love interest, Jacob “imprints” on baby Renesmee, basically claiming her as his mate for life, whether she likes it or not. That’s romantic! Here’s a fanvid:
And then.... there’s the comedy version of Twilight, with Dan Aykroyd biting through Jane Curtin’s umbilical cord. Plus tons and tons of fluid and craziness. We weren’t sure whether to put this in “best,” “worst” or just “weirdest.”
Here’s another one that we don’t know whether to put in “Best” or “Worst.” Depends how you look at it, I guess. Thanks, SpammerOvTheGods!
Space Island One:
This criminally under-praised British/German/Canadian TV show set on a space station capped off its first season with an episode in which Henrietta “Harry” Eschenbach is trapped in the hydroponics lab and gives birth to her son. It’s a tense, dramatic scene, but also the producers seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to make it look realistic — Harry is upright rather than supine, and my friends who’ve done homebirthing have praised this episode for its believability. This also sets up a great storyline about the “first baby born in space” and all of the commercial exploitation possibilities this baby opens up.
Dune by Frank Herbert:
The birth of Alia Atreides is awesomely aware, because her mother drinks the Water Of Life while pregnant. As a result, she’s born a fully fledged Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother — in spite of some people who want to get rid of her before she’s born. She’s already as intelligent as an adult, which makes her trip ex utero strange and unique and totally mystical.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The powerful birth scene in this novel makes Atwood’s point very clearly. The way this society treats birth is meant to dissolve any connection between the biological mother and her child, keeping her as a brood mare rather than a Wife. There are parallel deliveries: The handmaid gives birth, surrounded by other handmaids, then the infant is handed off to the Wife, surrounded by other Wives. The work of reproduction and child-rearing are split right down the middle, denying the mothers any influence over society’s future.
Star Trek (2009):
That homebirth site also didn’t like the birth of James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ new Trek movie, but we felt it was a beautiful scene that worked dramatically. If you didn’t get a bit torn up watching George Kirk sacrifice his life to stop Nero while his wife gave birth in the escaping shuttlecraft, then you’re probably a Vulcan. Or maybe a Horta. It’s just such a brilliant piece of drama.
Star Trek: The Next Generation:
There’s also Midwife Worf. It’s a long-time television cliche to make the most incongruous character help someone give birth, and TNG fully goes for it here:
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars:
Thanks to everyone who pointed this out! As Emma C. Moore puts it:
She’s laying down covering fire with a machine gun during most of the labor, and gives birth in a fountain. Plus, the bit where she and Crichton marvel at the little boy is, like, the one nanosecond of unrestrained joy they’ve had in their entire relationship thus far.
The birth of Aaron, towards the end of the first season, was one of the more touching moments of the show, with Claire dealing with her fear that Aaron would know that she was going to give him away, somehow.
Dragonriders of Pern:
The opening chapters of Dragonflight really drop-kick you in to Pern. There’s grass growing on the ridges (an open invitation to the Thread), there are spiders creeping around the Great Hall, the concubines haven’t bathed in so long even their perfume is rancid. It’s easy to see why Lessa is so very angry, and it’s clear why F’lar is so serious all the time—these two have a lot of work putting this world back together. But what really crystalizes the world-building and Lessa’s character is when Lady Gemma gives birth to Jaxom. A sample:
But the woman’s agony was so intense she could scarcely breathe. Her eyes seemed to start from her head. Lessa, hardened to all emotion save revenge, was shocked to the deeper feminine instinct of easing a woman’s pain in her extremity.
The scene is violent and awful and evocative, making it clear however these people got to Pern, we’re deep in the Middle Ages now.
We’re a sucker for scenes where a human helps an alien give birth, but this one is especially hilarious, as the alien George instructs his human partner in the complex mechanics of childbirth among his people. As the Chicago Sun-Times put it back in 1990, the episode “nuke(s) the laws of nature as we know them by having the father give birth to the child.” I love that George is telling Matthew to push and to breathe, instead of the other way around.
Oh, did we mention we’re suckers for scenes where a human helps an alien give birth? This is the all-time classic. It’s the culmination of the relationship between Davidge and Jeriba, and it’s utterly emotional and intense as Davidge pledges to take care of Jeriba’s baby and come before the council to recite his lineage. And then Jeriba ups and dies, leaving Davidge to save the baby.
Men In Black:
And then there’s the comedy version of the “humans help an alien give birth” scene... in which Agents J and K pause to help a pregnant alien out. Will Smith is pretty amusing, Tommy Lee Jones plays the straight man with his usual drollery, and the octopus-like alien baby is hella cute.
2001: A Space Odyssey:
And then there’s the all-time classic, when Dave goes into the space/time warp and emerges as a fetus in space, the next stage in human evolution. Also Sprach Hell yeah.
Thanks to everyone who suggested this one. The birth of Connor is just amazing, with Darla literally staking herself to save her baby. Darla vanishes and her baby is suddenly there, out in the world, for Angel to protect to the best of his ability. Which, you know... Angel.
Children of Men
This whole movie is amazing, but the birth scene in particular had to be good or it would have sunk the entire production. It’s the moment where we see how far Theo has come as a character—he starts the movie a borderline alcoholic, and here we see him use the last of his booze to wash his hands for the delivery. The protagonists, Theo and Kee, are in a filthy, tragic refugee camp and civilization is disintegrating around them. But the birth goes off without a hitch and then they’re just laughing with relief and it’s such a triumphal moment. The scene manages to evoke the human elements from the story of Christ’s birth, without descending into preachiness.
Miracleman #9, “Scenes from the Nativity”
Extremely graphic and extremely detailed, this birth scene is legendary. This deserves to be on list just for sheer refusal to flinch. Other great comics births include Tefe in Swamp Thing and John Constantine in Hellblazer, but they’re nowhere near as epic. As Comics Should Be Good notes:
Alan Moore had been deeply moved by the birth of his own child and wanted to somehow put the joy of that moment across in this story. It was the only issue of the series to put a parental advisory note on the cover– a note editor Cat Yronwode said was only meant “ironically,” but as it turned out, it gave them some coverage and probably saved their bacon.
More graphic imagery from the issue at the link.
And that’s the roundup. Did we miss anything? Or incorrectly categorize anything in the “best” and “worst” categories? Let us know in the comments!
Update, 4:52 p.m., May 5, 2020: This post has been updated to remove a broken video embed.