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Sara Fredman

The Possessed: Dispatches from the Third Trimester

Illustration by Lily Padula

Sara Fredman | Longreads | October 2018 | 11 minutes (2,913 words)


In the second season of Stranger Things a tentacled smoke monster forces its way into poor Will Byers’ mouth, taking up residence inside his body. When his mother draws him a warm bath, he refuses. “He likes it cold,” Will intones creepily. The demon inside is invisible to others but exerts its will on Will, who is himself but also something else. As I watch the story unfold, the human being growing inside my body moves frenetically, as if it is popping and locking to a beat I cannot hear. This flurry of activity makes my stomach look like a potato sack with several distressed squirrels stuck inside; this is likely due to the cookie-dough ice cream I have recently eaten. I, too, have something inside of me; it also likes it cold.

“Pregnancy has every element of an alien invasion,” I read on the NPR website. “The human placenta is one of the most invasive placentas.”

We often turn to the extraterrestrial when we describe the phenomenon of growing a new person inside of an existing one. Early ultrasound images recall the classic imagining of alien form: a giant head attached to a smaller, translucent body set against a black abyss. It’s not just the optics. As pop icon and formerly-pregnant person JLo once remarked, “Pregnancy and giving birth are weird, strange. The growing life inside you — it’s like an invasion of the body snatchers.” I assume this creepy description reflects the way in which the growing fetus influences, commandeers even, so many of the bodily processes of its host. Google “alien” and “pregnancy,” and the least-frightening video that comes up will confirm: “Clearly, the fetus has no qualms about doing whatever it needs to do to get things for itself.”

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