Pregnancy in horror and sci-fi can honestly be a bit of a crapshoot: you can either have a pregnant female character that is punished for having the audacity to be pregnant (too many zombie movies do this) or you can literally be carrying the Spawn of Satan himself like our good sis, Rosemary! To be blunt, pregnancy in horror is viewed more as a handicap and inconvenience by a leading casts that is usually men whispering about how in the hell are they going to deliver a nuisance that will surely attract the Big Bad to where they are (poorly) hiding at.
However, I have always had an agenda when it comes to this trope and it can be simply titled, “Please, Oh Please, Dear God, LET THE PREGNANT WOMAN LIVE,” or you can tweak it down to “The Pregnant Survivor.” The Pregnant Survivor does not have to fit in any sort of a specific basket of tropes, but to qualify them as a Pregnant Survivor, they must: survive to the end of the film, their pregnancy is not compromised in any way by the antagonist(s) or antagonistic forces, have some role in the conflict of the film that goes beyond them being pregnant, and if the baby is delivered in the course of the mayhem, the baby must be a survivor as well.
Since we have laid the groundwork of what exactly qualifies as a Pregnant Survivor, we will look at two films that employ this trope in spades: A Quiet Place and Train to Busan. While they are not comparable on the levels of genre (one being a sci-fi psychological thriller while the other is a traditional “running” zombie movie), they share a key detail: their main cast contains a Pregnant Survivor in Evelyn and Sungkyung respectively. Evelyn and Sungkyung truly belong in the sisterhood of Heavily Pregnant Women With VERY Competent, Hunky Spouses, but they are two women who are ready to pop as soon as things go to s--t.
Beginning with Evelyn, A Quiet Place opens with Evelyn, her husband and their three children, but tragedy strikes when their youngest turns on a toy that triggers the sound-sensitive aliens. The film does a time skip to show us that Evelyn is heavily pregnant as the viewer is made clumsily aware of when the camera zooms in on her denim clad pregnant belly and some menacing music. As viewers, we can interpret Evelyn’s pregnancy as her and Lee, her husband, trying to replace their dead child, but that seems hollow because even in an alien-induced apocalypse, people will still want to have children, but they must face even stricter consequences and challenges as they prep for a delivery that will not attract the alien hoard surrounding them.
The violent loss of their child drives is ultimately the pathos of Evelyn’s desire to not only assure the safety of the new baby, but so the viewer can interpret her carefulness as a coping mechanism for her guilt. This is evident when she and the baby are taken to their designated shelter by Lee and in a moment of adrenaline and sadness, she sobs, “I didn’t have anything in my arms. I could have carried him.” Admittedly, the place of survival guilt almost seems to lie squarely on the female members of the family, but Evelyn expressing sadness that she could not protect her son is a rather raw emotion that is sadly real when it comes to parents losing their children in violent ways.
While Sungkyung can be categorized as a Pregnant Survivor who was truly on interested in surviving the apocalypse, Evelyn’s pregnancy was displayed with care as we see her providing her own prenatal care such as checking her blood pressure, ensuring that the birthing room was in order, and trying to have as smooth as a delivery one could have in a world where one small noise causes blind aliens to find you and kill you. Imagine trying to stay silent during one of the most painful moments a human being goes through such as childbirth WHILE an alien is in your house!
If you have seen the trailers for A Quiet Place: Part II, we see that Evelyn has fully slid into her Pregnant Survivor (Sawed Off Shotgun Edition!) after she must become the protector of her family. But one truly remarkable thing that has been present in the promotions for the film is that she is carrying her baby while her older children are right behind her. I commend them not going the lazy direction of aging up the baby so everyone’s hands are empty enough to shoot or distract the monsters. No, they’re making it very clear that this woman is now on her own with a newborn, two children and a will to live.
With Sungkyung, she resides in a film that is ultimately about a distant father learning that maybe spending time with your child should happen BEFORE the zombie apocalypse happens. Compared to A Quiet Place, we have three mothers present in the film, but Sungkyung is the only dynamic mother that drives the plot. Seok-woo’s (played by Gong Yoo) ex-wife and his mother are there, but they ultimately meet violent demises off screen after Seok-woo and Su-an are on their way to Busan. Matter of fact, we do not even see the ex-wife at any point as her character exists in the form of phone calls. Seok-woo’s mother simply only takes care of his daughter while he is at work and genly scolds him that he must do better when it comes to Su-an. Well, halmoni (Korean for grandma) is downgraded to a phone call as well as Seok-woo hears her turning and one of her last words as a human was calling the ex-wife a bitch. YIKES.
If Evelyn is the demure, domestic goddess Pregnant Survivor, Sungkyung is Pregnant Survivor (EXTREMELY Competent Edition!). Sungkyung is just as fiery and capable like her husband Sang-hwa. Unlike Evelyn’s rather quiet pregnancy until things went to s--t near the last half of the movie, Sungkyung’s pregnancy is more of a thing that exists than a thing she acts on. From her introduction of her cussing her husband out for rushing her in the bathroom, she is constantly in the action, helping to outwit the zombies and keeping a group of survivors alive after a disastrous stop caused them to get separated from the others.
While Sungkyung could very much be characterized as belonging to a typical character archetype that is popular in Korea — tough-talking woman who melts when her man rubs her on the head — she is remarkable because she subverts the expectation of “pregnancy = instant zombie bait.” There is no sudden delivery or her turning where in either scenario, men were going to make the “difficult” decision to put her and her baby down. No, Sungkyung was just a heavily pregnant woman juking the s--t out of some zombies and one of the key survivors in the WHOLE movie!
To wrap this up, the Pregnant Survivor is not an inherently radical character type that I want to see in any and all horror and sci-fi media, but it is something that I want to see more as a reality in worlds that do not allow mothers the option to eliminate their pregnancies in a safe manner. Pregnancy does not have to be seen as monstrous nor as a hindrance to survival. Let the pregnant lady live for once, media!