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Understanding the Trauma of Pervasive Pregnancy Denial in L’enfant que je n’attendais pas

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Trauma and Motherhood in Contemporary Literature and Culture


This chapter focuses on the poorly understood phenomenon of pervasive denied pregnancy in women, that is, showing no signs or awareness of pregnancy and often until the abrupt onset of labour. It centres its analysis on a very recent screen representation of pregnancy denial, the French tele-film L’enfant que je n’attendais pas [The Unexpected Child], directed by Bruno Garcia and first aired in 2019. By engaging in a close reading of this tele-film, the chapter examines in detail the various forms of trauma that arise from such a cryptic pregnancy. As the argument unfolds, it becomes clear that the trauma is not only limited to the new mother but also affects the immediate family and, moreover, the unexpected newborn. This chapter also considers the role played by society in the reinforcement of the trauma, primarily through an unwillingness to recognize the validity of the new mother’s atypical pregnancy narrative and an intent to inflict punishment through ostracization and, even more severely, criminalisation. Finally, this chapter demonstrates the need for an improved understanding of the traumatic experience of a denied pregnancy and demonstrates the potential for screen representations in educating audiences about the phenomenon.

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  1. 1.

    Our societal representation of the maternal role and the idealized expectations that we have of motherhood which, in turn, demand that the mother is always “good” without exception (all translations from French to English are my own).

  2. 2.

    Unthought/Unthinkable pregnancy.

  3. 3.

    That a woman did not want to see what was real.

  4. 4.

    Pregnancy denial engenders a whole host of received ideas concerning the demographic that it affects, ideas that are hard to deconstruct, even within the medical domain. For example, denial primarily concerns female adolescents, women with mental health problems or women from the lower classes. This is all false. Denial can affect any woman within the procreating age bracket.

  5. 5.

    The persistence of these stereotypes is interesting. It plays a protective role, perhaps. It’s as if discovering and accepting the absence of a typical profile would mean suddenly confronting the more difficult, darker aspects of maternity, recognizing that each and every woman harbours ambivalence, at times lethal, in relation to pregnancy.

  6. 6.

    What baby? What are you talking about? It’s impossible. I’m not pregnant.

  7. 7.

    You have confused me with someone else. I’m not pregnant.

  8. 8.

    My wife is not pregnant.

  9. 9.

    A collective mechanism.

  10. 10.

    A series of participants, from the immediate entourage to social and medical workers.

  11. 11.

    Just like their partner, they have undergone a denial by not recognizing the very discrete signs of pregnancy.

  12. 12.

    It is also the gaze of the Other that allows a woman to see her pregnancy.

  13. 13.

    A deceitful woman who refuses to assume her maternal role.

  14. 14.

    A liar, crazy or, even worse, irresponsible.

  15. 15.

    Why did you hide your pregnancy? Why did you try to kill your baby?

  16. 16.

    Tell me the truth.

  17. 17.

    Why did you hide that you were pregnant from me?

  18. 18.

    The term hide implies intention and premeditation.

  19. 19.

    When you’re pregnant, you know.

  20. 20.

    To not have been properly in tune with her body.

  21. 21.

    Mrs. Solis is not an idiotic young woman who doesn’t know what the signs of pregnancy are.

  22. 22.

    But that kind of thing doesn’t happen to women like me. It happens to women with problems.

  23. 23.

    Questioning, demanding a response at all costs is the first reflex when faced with these women. Everyone wants an immediate explanation.

  24. 24.

    Pregnant women don’t get promotions.

  25. 25.

    Women who experience denial … force us to enter an incomprehensible world that we want to escape from. … We cannot tolerate these bodies that do not change despite expecting an infant; we cannot accept a woman telling us that she didn’t know anything about her pregnancy.

  26. 26.

    By classifying them monsters, we deprive them of humanity.

  27. 27.

    I feel like it’s not me.

  28. 28.

    It’s as if it wasn’t me.

  29. 29.

    The majority of these women are suspicious of their bodies from then on. They are worried about another pregnancy denial. … They no longer have any confidence in a body that hid from them something that it should have revealed.

  30. 30.

    But I need to know that he exists.

  31. 31.

    It’s as if it’s someone else’s baby.

  32. 32.

    The baby.

  33. 33.

    Becoming a mother is not simply about giving birth.

  34. 34.

    Society expects these women to act as loving and protective mothers. It expects them to lift the baby to the breast, keep it warm, show it attachment and tenderness. Because this is how a mother behaves.

  35. 35.

    An infant born of a denied pregnancy is an infant for whom no preparation whatsoever has been undertaken. The infant arrives suddenly, and when the denial persists up until the onset of labour, both the lives of the mother and the infant are thrust into grave danger.

  36. 36.

    What am I supposed to do? Start my life all over again as if nothing has happened?

  37. 37.

    The bin-bag syndrome.

  38. 38.

    This child … who has never existed as a separate being.

  39. 39.

    An attempt at survival … fighting so as not to die.

  40. 40.

    Is generally treated as a waste product that have removed and erased.

  41. 41.

    The state of panic, stupor and confusion that these women find experience.

  42. 42.

    An accompanied journey, where they are not stigmatized or treated as liars and monsters or, even worse, potential murderers.

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Correspondence to Julie Anne Rodgers .

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Rodgers, J.A. (2021). Understanding the Trauma of Pervasive Pregnancy Denial in L’enfant que je n’attendais pas. In: Lazzari, L., Ségeral, N. (eds) Trauma and Motherhood in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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