Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” explores the risks and rewards of childbirth and how they motivate characters, specifically the protagonist Gan. Although the short story does not deal with childbirth in the exact same way we know it, the T’lic-birth that Terrans experience is similar in some ways to that which women experience in our society. What prevents me from comparing the two more accurately is that we, as readers, do not know what a healthy, normal T’lic birth looks like. We only know what this birthing process looks like when it goes wrong. And I, as a woman, do not know what childbirth looks like when it goes wrong. I have only witnessed it go as planned. I am trying to keep this in mind as I evaluate the risks and rewards that Terrans experience in giving birth, versus those which women in our society experience.
The birth that Gan witnessed in “Bloodchild” was disturbing, to say the least. Gan says, “I felt as if I were helping her torture him,” (pg. 15), “her” being T’Gatoi, the T’lic Gan is very close with, and “him” being Lomas, the man giving birth to the worm-likeT’lic creatures. Gan explains that he “had never heard such sounds come from anything human.” (pg. 15) Gan’s referring to Lomas shrieking in pain. Alarmingly, this statement reminded me of my older sister Grainne. Grainne gave birth to her daughter Naomi when I was 15 years old and she was 19 years old. At 5 am on a Monday morning, I woke up the the sound of Grainne moaning and screaming in pain from her contractions. My parents fled the house with her in the same swift, focused way T’Gatoi retrieved Lomas. We saw Grainne later in the hospital before she gave birth. She was sweaty, groaning, and absolutely exhausted. By the time our little Naomi was born that night, my other sisters and I were convinced that having children of our own was not worth the pain. Although I did not feel the urge to puke like Gan did, I was frightened. Grainne described the pain to me as being so intense that with each contraction, she thought she was going to die. She couldn’t believe her body could handle it. Fast forward to Naomi’s first birthday and my mother, my other sisters, Grainne, and I had all already caught Baby Fever. We were dying for one of us to have another and I was even looking at baby names!
It is important that my view of childbirth changed so drastically once Naomi was only a few months old because it highlights the rewards of childbirth for women. We do face risks like Terrans do. We face pain and fear, we sacrifice our bodies, we put complete trust in our partner and our doctor (or T’lic), and we even face the possibility of dying. Terrans experience all the same. But the rewards is where Terrans diverge from us. What is the reward of birth for them? For Gan, the reward is to save his sister from experiencing the birth. “Don’t do it to Hoa,” he tells T’Gatoi. “Do it to me” (pg. 26). Protection is his main concern. Presumably, this may be a concern for other Terrans who are impregnated. Not only this, but Terrans and T’lic may be very dependent on each other. Gan confesses that he wants to keep T’Gatoi for himself (pg. 28), showing that although she needs him for practical reasons, Gan needs T’Gatoi emotionally. Hopefully T’Gatoi cares about Gan emotionally, but it seems like her primary reason for needing him is to impregnate him. On page 25 we see that she is quick to leave Gan and depend on Hoa instead. I assume other Terrans feel the same way about their T’lic that Gan does, especially if they were introduced to each other at a young age like he was. It is arguable that Gan may love T’Gatoi, but I don’t think that the partnership between the two is built on love. I think it is more appreciation and dependency. If T’Gatoi loved Gan, she would not put his life at risk by impregnating him. She would risk her own population before she would hurt Gan, and she would not let him witness such a terrifying, gruesome birth as Lomas’s. The reward for T’Gatoi in this is the reproduction of T’lic, and the reward for Gan is protecting Hoa and keeping T’Gatoi close to him. These aren’t worthy rewards considering what is endured. In our society, the love a mother has for her child goes far beyond the appreciation and dependency T’Gatoi and Gan have for each other.
The reward of a woman birthing a child is a lifetime of mutual love, respect, and care. There is dependency in this partnership as well, but that is not its main purpose. Each day that a mother sees her child breathing, thinking, learning, and growing, she is rewarded for the pain she endured and the energy she continuously puts into her child. The risks that a mother had to face amplify the rewards she receives, which is why a mother who truly loves her child would never let them experience such a dangerous pregnancy or witness a traumatizingly gruesome one. Although many mother-child relationships are not as healthy and caring as I am painting them to be, I do believe that the rewards of childbirth are well worth the risks. I do not see the rewards of T’lic-birth being worth the pain and risks Terrans are forced to go through. And most importantly, Terrans have no choice but to go through it. In our country, childbirth itself is consensual (and may the Universe help women in other countries where it is not).