It’s not just strangers, family or friends who see me differently now; every aspect of my life and view of myself has been altered by the fact that I’m a mother. During pregnancy, I’d wonder about the magnificent and cruel world around me, and how I’d teach my daughter its better lessons as a guard against the negative. I’d rehearse whole conversations with my daughter in a future still years or even decades away. I wanted to be brave and face the tough questions, because I felt like I was still in life-training to be someone’s mother. I wanted, needed a frame of reference for who I would become. Consciously and subconsciously, I examined anime for ways to make new sense of the changes I was experiencing, my longing and fear for the day I’d give birth and transform into something beyond myself.
I spent those months examining the ways of parents in anime, the foreign creature I knew I could metamorphose into any day. Watching Made in Abyss, I saw Lyza as a role model so close in some ways, yet unattainable in others. But I also viewed the pretend pregnancies, framed as hilarious distractions, with new misgivings. In tsuritama, our fishing friends’ purveyor of tackle Misaki fakes the onset of labour when the gang need to pull a fast one. Trigun’s big girl with a bigger heart, Milly Thompson, bundles a young girl being pursued by goons under her skirts to pass them by. Much as the dummy pregnancy may seem foolish or borderline insulting now, it’s hard to deny that having a pregnant belly is an attention-grabber. In the later stages I’d draw the kind of looks that betray a stranger’s anxious amazement. They’d look at me like I could pop at any moment, leaning back where they stood like as though an errant hangnail could burst me.
I couldn’t blame any stranger their apprehension, because I was just as unsure of what I was becoming. Such wonder and uncertainty, all pinned on the visceral anticipation of labour, is why I’ve been raising a disapproving eyebrow at series which feed on pregnancy and birth as a sort of safe taboo. This drama machine reaches its sinister zenith in School Days, in which high schooler Sekai Saionji pronounces that she is pregnant as the final dramatic sting in a precarious three-way between her on-off boyfriend Makoto Ito and close friend Kotonoha Katsura. She has missed a period and is suffering from morning sickness, but all Kotonoha sees is a grab for Makoto’s undivided attention, which tips her over into murderous envy.
Even Sekai’s phantom pregnancy, as it is revealed by Kotonoha slicing open her empty womb, is an incitement to terror as a change which puts an end to the mother’s life, one way or another. This is especially apt in the context of teenage pregnancy, explored in a handful of anime and manga in-keeping with this undocumented issue in Japanese society. In a situation where a teenage girl became pregnant, didn’t marry and didn’t want an abortion, the one acceptable course of action would be to withdraw from school and from public life to escape the stigma of childbirth out of wedlock.
The ecchi end of matters ups the outrage in a different direction. When it comes time for moe harpy Papi to lay a solitary egg in Monster Musume, the idea’s innocent enough in being natural – quite literal birds and the bees stuff. The show leverages that, pushing the ero further. She sits legs spread on the edge of the bed as the egg descends, sweating and quivering, crying out in ecstatic agony. Your average viewer-insert protagonist Kimihito Kurusu is there the whole time, presumably for support, though he barely knows her. Pure necessity brought her to live with him, as protection from bigots who oppose monsters’ equal rights with humans. He has no right to be there, but he watches the whole thing happen, a tender hand on her tense, pained body.
His presence alone is presumed a comfort, but no perfect stranger’s touch could have eased my labour. At times I would have lost all determination to pull through without my partner beside me. The night contractions started, when we both tried to sleep through my pain, were the hardest and longest hours to bear. He needed his rest for the next day, but I felt so alone.
That dark time of emotional and physical anguish, where there is only the agony for company and no end in sight, is the mark of a lifetime’s misery in Berserk. Guts’ lynched mother gives birth to him with her last dregs of life, leaving him dangling by the umbilical cord to be found by Shisu. A mercenary believed to have been driven insane by the miscarriage she experienced, she raises Guts as though he were her own, until she too dies of the plague before his eyes when he is only three years old. Gambino, his adoptive father and Shisu’s lover, blames the boy for her death. He believed Guts a bad omen the moment he saw him hanging from his mother. As he takes up the mercenary mantle, his only means of survival, Guts comes to trust that his life was always cursed. His sole purpose is to bring death to any adversary that crosses him.
The same doomed paranoia had a way of creeping into and poisoning my happiness when I was pregnant, knowing I wanted my baby but feeling my shared body squeezed by fear at times. What if this, this joyful transformation, was the worst thing I could ever do for my daughter, myself, or both of us? If I couldn’t love her the way she deserved, not only would I have destroyed my life, but I would have brought my child into a world where she was some nightmarish creature I couldn’t banish.
I have to believe what I’m doing is right, though. That tiny life who pressed her body against every bit of me she could reach when she was inside me, so long ago it seems, is mine to keep from hurting. I turn back to NANA at this new stage in my life, and see how clear and unquestionable Nana Komatsu’s decision to keep her baby is, in her mind. She can’t keep being so juvenile and helpless, relying on others to see her way through life. At some point, something like this was going to happen, something to force a change. Something she could either grab and give thanks for, or hold in the shadows of every room she slept in for the rest of her life as a ghost, the troubled presence of who she and her child could have been.
In the final moments of the series we’re shown a flashforward of sparklers, of a smile on a child’s face that doesn’t yet fathom how happy she is to exist. Like her mother, I doubted. I was surprised, then numb, then dug up my courage. What I have suffered and sacrificed, and will come to in the future, is nothing compared with what I’ve already been gifted through love. That’s what brought me the happiness Nana was too scared to imagine, looking at that positive pregnancy test.