Maternal mortality in fiction

Maternal death in fiction is a common theme encountered in literature, movies, and other media.

The death of a mother during pregnancy, childbirth or puerperium is a tragic event. The chances of a child surviving such an extreme birth are compromised.[1] In fictional literature the death of a pregnant or delivering mother is a powerful device: it removes one character and places the surviving child into an often hostile environment which has to be overcome.


18th century

  • In Cao Xueqin’s novel Dream of the Red Chamber, Xiang Ling, the maid and concubine of Xue Pan, dies in childbirth, giving birth to her daughter Ning Xiner. However, this plot only appears in Gao E's continuation. The original author only demonstrates her fate is death, in a poem.

19th century

  • In the Grimm Brothers' Snow White, Snow White's mother died in childbirth. Soon afterwards, her father took a new wife who was beautiful, but very vain, and who possessed supernatural powers.
  • In Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Liza Bolkonskaya, wife of Prince Andrei dies giving birth to a son called Nikolai.
  • In Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist the title character's mother, Agnes, dies giving birth to him.
  • Another Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, Scrooge's younger sister Fan dies in childbirth giving birth to his nephew Fred. Scrooge's father blames him for his mother also dying in childbirth.
  • In the 1891 play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind and the same-named contemporary musical Wendla dies from a botched abortion.
  • In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, the author ridicules the convention of heroines having mothers who die in childbirth, by beginning the novel: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother... were all equally against her... Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on."
  • In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw goes into early labor and dies after giving birth to her daughter, Catherine Linton.
  • In Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, when the heroine is a young girl, her mother dies in childbirth along with the baby, deeply affected by the grief of her sister Esther's disappearance, leaving Mary to be brought up by her father.
  • Fanny Robin in Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd also dies in childbirth along with the child, who was fathered by Frank Troy, Bathsheba's husband.
  • In Henry James' Washington Square, Catherine Sloper's mother dies shortly after her birth and the death of his beautiful and talented wife permanently alters Dr Sloper and causes him to be cold and unfeeling towards Catherine.
  • Lucetta Farfrae (formerly Lucette Le Sueur) in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge has a miscarriage and dies, following a seizure induced by the public revelation of her love affair with Michael Henchard.

20th century

21st century

  • In the final book of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events book series, the character Kit Snicket dies after giving birth to her daughter (the father of whom is never revealed).
  • In the 2003 novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, the mother of the protagonist Amir dies during his birth.
  • In the Nicholas Sparks novel At First Sight, the female protagonist Lexie Darnell dies giving birth to daughter, Claire.
  • In R.A. Salvatore's novel The Highwayman, Sen Wi, realizing that her newborn son will die, uses a healing art to save him at the cost of her own life.
  • In George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire, the mother of Tyrion Lannister dies giving birth to him. He is considered responsible for her death by his father and sister throughout his life. In this series, there is also Daenerys Targaryen, whose mother died during her birth. There is also Mance Rayder's wife, Dalla, who dies in childbirth as well.


20th century

  • In Satyajit Ray's Bengali film, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) (1959), Apu's wife Aparna dies during childbirth, after which Apu falls into despair and abandons their child Kajal. Years later, Apu eventually acknowledges Kajal as his son and takes responsibility for his upbringing. It is based on the 1932 Bengali novel Aparajito.
  • In the motion picture The Mask of Zorro (1998), the antagonist Don Rafael Montero, enemy of Don Diego de la Vega, lied that Esperanza de la Vega died in childbirth, but Esperanza de la Vega was actually gunned down instead. Then Montero raised her daughter Elena.
  • In the science fiction film Contact (1997), a woman died giving birth to the film's protagonist Eleanor Ann "Ellie" Arroway, portrayed by actress Jodie Foster. Arroway's father died when she was nine years old.
  • In Mi Familia/My Familia (1995), the wife of the character played by Jimmy Smits dies while giving birth to their son.
  • In the Canadian movie The Red Violin (1998), Anna Bussotti dies after a stillbirth in the opening act, leading to the creation of the Red Violin as a tribute.
  • In the motion picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), Victor Frankenstein's mother dies giving birth to his little brother, William. She dies of illness in the original novel.
  • In the horror film The Seventh Sign (1988), Demi Moore's character dies as a result of giving birth to her child. Actually, she offers her soul because "she finds out that the prophecies lead up to the birth of her child who may not survive because there will be no more souls left for the newborns unless someone offers their own."
  • In the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire, the wife of Louis de Pointe du Lac dies in childbirth.
  • In the coming-of-age film My Girl (1991), Vada Sultenfuss' mother died a few days after giving birth to her.
  • In Disney's 1994 version of The Jungle Book, Mowgli's mother is said to have died giving birth to him (Mowgli's father Nathoo is later killed by Shere Khan).
  • In the supernatural horror film The Craft (1996), Sarah Bailey's mother died while giving birth to her.

21st century

  • In the film Jersey Girl (2004), Gertrude Steiney, the character of actress Jennifer Lopez, dies during childbirth.
  • In the film Whale Rider (2002), the main character's mother and twin brother die while she lives.
  • In the film Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), Padmé Amidala dies after the birth of her twins Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa on Polis Massa, not because of poor health, but because of the complete loss of will to live and a broken heart. Her husband Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side of the Force and became Darth Vader.
  • In the film Pan's Labyrinth (2006), Ofelia's mother, Carmen, dies during the birth of her and Captain Vidal's son.
  • In the film Sherlock Holmes (2009), Lord Henery Blackwood, the main antagonist's mother died giving birth to him.
  • In the film Space Between Us (2017), Gardner Eliot, main protagonist's mother, died during childbirth shortly after landing on Mars.

Other media

Anime, comics, and video games

  • In manga and anime series One Piece, Ace's mother Portgas D. Rouge died when giving birth to him.
  • In the 1980s manga and anime series Kimagure Orange Road, Kyosuke's mother Akemi died shortly after giving birth to his twin sisters Manami and Kurumi.
  • Square Enix's Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series of video games have mentioned maternal death in several games:
  • In SNK's King of Fighters video game series, the Yagami bloodline is cursed with maternal death. The mothers of the Yagami clan heirs are cursed to die giving birth to the clan heirs.
  • In the 1997 manga series Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Episode Zero, Quatre Raberba Winner's mother Quatrina died giving birth to him.
  • In manga and anime series Naruto, Gaara's mother Karura dies giving birth to him.
  • In the 1998 video game Metal Gear Solid, Psycho Mantis' mother died in childbirth, prompting his father to blame him for her death.
  • In Key's 2004 visual novel Clannad, Nagisa dies of a constant fever while giving birth to Ushio, after which the father Tomoya falls into depression and gives his daughter away to Nagisa's parents. Five years later, Tomoya eventually takes responsibility for Ushio's upbringing, but the latter catches her mother's fever and dies as well; then time is altered to where Nagisa survives giving birth and lives a happier life with her husband and daughter. It was later adapted into a film and anime series.
  • In the video game Jade Empire, Sky's wife dies giving birth to their daughter, Pinmei, years before he meets the player.
  • In the webcomic, Kevin and Kell, Wanda Woolstone dies giving birth to Corrie Dewclaw. Her death causes the otherwise very skilled Ralph Dewclaw, Corrie's father, to lose the will to hunt, and causes him to mistakenly believe that predator-prey relationships inevitably end tragically.
  • In the game Fallout 3, the player's mother dies when giving birth to him/her.
  • In this anime Kiddy Girl-and, Eclipse was Q-Feuille's mother, who died giving birth to her.

Live-action television

  • In the MTV series Teen Wolf it is revealed that Jackson Whittemore's birth parents, Gordon and Margret Miller, died in a car crash on June 14, 1995, and the doctors kept Margret on life support long enough to deliver Jackson via emergency c-section
  • In an episode of House, a woman 26 weeks pregnant dies after doctors perform an emergency c-section.
  • In the television series Lost, the character Ben Linus' mother died while giving birth to him and his father blames him for it.
  • In the series one ER episode "Loves Labours Lost", Mark Greene oversees a patient who dies in childbirth due to pre-eclampsia. Mark is subsequently sued for negligence by her partner.
  • In the soap opera spin-off General Hospital: Night Shift, HIV-positive pregnant woman Stacey Sloan dies after complications of placental abruption.
  • In Gossip Girl, the anti-hero Chuck Bass' mother allegedly died after giving birth to him.
  • In Mad Men, the protagonist Don Draper's mother died while giving birth to him.
  • In Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Branson dies from eclampsia after giving birth to her daughter Sybil.

Cartoons and animated films

  • In Rugrats, Melinda Finster is implied to have died of an unknown illness soon after giving birth to her son Chuckie, as it was mentioned in Mother's Day that she was hospitalized and kept a journal, the final entry of which she had written a poem.
  • The film Khumba features Lungisa who died the next day from an illness after giving birth to Khumba.
  • In the recently aired cartoon Steven Universe, Steven's mother Rose Quartz may have died giving birth to him, as her husband Greg Universe, Steven's father, said she "gave up her physical form to bring Steven into the world". However, it was later elaborated on that, due to being a crystal gem, she and, her son, Steven couldn't exist at the same time in the same world, leaving her exist as half of Steven.

See also


  1. ^ Uhler SA (November 13, 2003). "Impact of a mother's death on child health and survival in Haiti". Retrieved August 27, 2007.
Algor mortis

Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.

The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death hoax

A death hoax is a deliberate or confused report of someone's death that turns out to be incorrect and murder rumors. In some cases it might be because the person has intentionally faked death.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death pose

Dinosaur and bird fossils are frequently found in a characteristic posture consisting of head thrown back, tail extended, and mouth wide open. The cause of this posture—sometimes called a "death pose"—has been a matter of scientific debate. Traditional explanations ranged from strong ligaments in the animal's neck desiccating and contracting to draw the body into the pose, to water currents randomly arranging the remains in the position.Faux and Padian suggested in 2007 that the live animal was suffering opisthotonus during its death throes, and that the pose is not the result of any post-mortem process at all. They also reject the idea of water as responsible for randomly arranging the bodies in a "death pose", as different parts of the body and the limbs can be in different directions, which they found unlikely to be the result of moving water. They also found that the claim that drying out of ligaments would make the position does not seem believable either.

Alicia Cutler and colleagues from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, think it is related to water. In 2012, paleontologists Achim G. Reisdorf and Michael Wuttke published a study regarding death poses. According to the conclusions of this study, the so-called "opisthotonic posture" is not the result of a cerebral illness creating muscle spasms, and also not of a rapid burial. Rather, peri-mortem submersion resulted in buoyancy that enabled the Ligamentum elasticum to pull the head and tail back.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Death trajectory

Death trajectory refers to the pattern of dying when a patient is given a projected death date with limited or no medical recourse for the remaining existence of the individual's life. The death trajectory is dependent on the cause of death, whether it is sudden death, chronic illness, or the steady decline in health due to senescence (aging). Death trajectory is analyzed in two separate aspects: duration and shape. Duration refers to the period of time a patient has to live, which can be anywhere from imminent death to several months. Shape refers to how that duration is then graphed. In other words, the shape is "the course of dying, its predictability, and whether death is expected or unexpected".

Dying trajectories were first studied in the 1960s by two researchers, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, in an attempt to understand the end of human life from different ailments, including cancer.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.


In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.

Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.

Maceration (bone)

Maceration is a bone preparation technique whereby a clean skeleton is obtained from a vertebrate carcass by leaving it to decompose inside a closed container at near-constant temperature. This may be done as part of a forensic investigation, as a recovered body is too badly decomposed for a meaningful autopsy, but with enough flesh or skin remaining as to obscure macroscopically visible evidence, such as cut-marks. In most cases, maceration is done on the carcass of an animal for educational purposes.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.

Mortality displacement

Mortality displacement denotes a temporary increase in the mortality rate (number of deaths) in a given population, also known as excess mortality or excess mortality rate. It is usually attributable to environmental phenomena such as heat waves, cold spells, epidemics and pandemics, especially influenza pandemics, famine or war.

During heat waves, for instance, there are often additional deaths observed in the population, affecting especially older adults and those who are sick. After some periods with excess mortality, however, there has also been observed a decrease in overall mortality during the subsequent weeks. Such short-term forward shift in mortality rate is also referred to as harvesting effect. The subsequent, compensatory reduction in mortality suggests that the heat wave had affected especially those whose health is already so compromised that they "would have died in the short term anyway".Death marches can also lead to a significant mortality displacement, such as in the Expulsion of the Valencian Moriscos in 1609 throughout the Kingdom of Valencia and Spanish-held Algeria, the American Indian Trail of Tears, the Armenian Genocide, and the Bataan death march, wherein the oldest, weakest, and sickest died first.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.


Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones, funerals, cemeteries). With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living.Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation. The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media.The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.The word necrophobia is derived from the Greek nekros (νεκρός) for "corpse" and the Greek phobos (φόβος) for "fear".

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.


Promession is an idea of how to dispose human remains by way of freeze drying. The concept of promession was developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who derived the name from the Italian word for "promise" (promessa). She founded Promessa Organic AB in 1997 to commercially pursue her idea. The company was liquidated 2015 without being able to produce a functioning facility. The idea of promession is questioned and not a functional method according to critics.


Skeletonization refers to the final stage of decomposition, during which the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the skeleton is exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years or may never occur, if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of a corpse or carcass can be used to determine the time of death.After skeletonization, if scavenging animals do not destroy or remove the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about 20 years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, especially in very fine, dry, salty, anoxic, or mildly alkaline soils, bones may undergo fossilization, converting into minerals that may persist indefinitely.

In medicine
After death

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.