Parental Abandonment occurs with an overwhelming frequency in fiction. On top of that, an overwhelming number of victims lose their mothers during childbirth. So sad, so tragic, so heart-wrenching... such a goldmine for a plot device. Nothing impossible about it, but the statistics are ridiculously high, especially for any industrialized nations. (Although, as Jane Austen observed, it was used ridiculously often even before modern medicine.)
May be used to set up a tense family situation where the father or older siblings unreasonably blame the youngest for "murdering their mother" and turn him/her into The Unfavourite.
Can double as Death by Sex for a particularly AnviliciousAesop. Often used in Fan Fiction for shows where Parental Abandonment is never explained. Very often a Truth in Television for at least 70% of the world's population. According to the UNFPA in 2005, while the lifetime risk of maternal death for people in 'developed regions' is 1 in 7300, the average worldwide is 1 in 92, rising as high as 1 in 22 women for Sub-Saharan Africa (source). Note that the per-pregnancy risk is lower, since many of these cultures also have high birth rates, since they also tend to have high infant mortality rates.
In fact the use of it as a plot device might be Older Than Feudalism, since unless his mother died in childbirth, the protagonist could be burdened with at least six siblings.
See Her Heart Will Go On, the sort-of inversion of this — he dies, she lives.
Incidentally, dying in childbirth is no fun at all. Stories that neglect to mention fever, screaming, blood, and agony that lasts hours (or even days) were probably written by the childless or by those with no medical knowledge. A few examples are included here. It should be noted that some deaths in childbirth do occur much more quickly than that - a woman with uterine atony can hemorrhage to death in minutes without emergency medical intervention.
May be a set up for the Wicked Stepmother or Promotion to Parent. If someone other than the mother or baby dies, it's Birth-Death Juxtaposition.
As a Death Trope, several if not all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
open/close all folders
Mined for all of its drama in Kodomo no Omocha, with Akito Hayama's mother Koharu. His father Fuyuki buried himself in his work and ignored his children in his grief, and the emotionally-scarred Natsumi abused Akito atrociously because she blamed him for both their mother's death and their father's neglect. Sana learns about this, pulls a small Batman Gambit to fix their home life, and it works.
According to the Mobile Suit Gundam Wing manga Episode Zero, Quatre Raberba Winner's mother Quatrina died giving birth to him, determined to both have a child by natural ways and give his father a son after his last twenty-nine test-tube children were all girls, though she knew beforehand that it would cost her her life since her body was not fit for bearing children. For all the girls, she'd used artificial wombs instead.
In fact, when Master Winner asked the dying Quatrina "He's born healthy, but now you're going to die... Was it worth it?", she replied "I wanted to be the mother of your children!"... and those were her Famous Last Words.
Garma Zabi's mother also supposedly died in childbirth in the original series. This may be justified by first generation space colonists having poor health due to excessive exposure to cosmic radiation & microgravity.
In Hajime No Ippo, Takeshi Sendoh's grandmother explains to Fujii's assistant Mari Iizuka that her daughter-in-law died few after giving birth to him. It's not clear if Mrs. Sendoh died as a direct consequence of giving birth or it was just a coincidence, though.
This was how Marik Ishtar's mother died in Yu-Gi-Oh!.
Cause of death for Gaara's mother Karura in Naruto. The Yondaime had been attempting to father a child who would be able to contain Shukaku, with Temari and Kankuro being incompatible. Gaara was a match and the Shukaku was sealed while he was in the womb, but Gaara was born extremely premature as a result. The strain killed Karura, despite her husband's efforts.
The manga of Pet Shop of Horrors has Christopher falling mute upon learning from an angry cousin that he "killed his own mom." This, too, is justified in a Dream Sequence held by his older brother, who talks with his mother, about her advanced age and poor health to begin with.
In Elfen Lied, Kurama's wife Hiromi dies shortly after the birth of their daughter, Mariko, due to a Caesarian Section complication. Justified in that Hiromi was said to have been sickly all her life, couldn't conceive naturally, and couldn't give birth without a C-Section. She could have survived had Kurama not startled her by revealing he intended to kill baby!Mariko since she was a diclonius; her reaction was understandable, if suicidal.
In Letter Bee, Gauche Suede's mother, Sylvette, dies giving birth to his sister, who is also named Sylvette- he named her after his mother.
Niche's mother didn't survive childbirth either, probably due to complications such as her own poor health at the time, giving birth to twins, and that her children were not normal humans.
One Piece revealed that this is how Ace's birth mother Portgas D. Rouge died, after holding him in for twenty months to protect him and hide the identity of his father... who is none other than Gold Roger himself.
Kana and Jun Ushiro's mother in Bokurano. The elder sibling blames and abuses the younger for it. In a twist, we later find out that Mrs. Ushiro was not Jun's mother, just his aunt (and in the manga, they weren't related at all, she was just the wife of his birth mom's teacher). His biological mom is actually Captain Misumi Tanaka, the local Action Girl. And she also dies, though not through childbirth.
YuYu Hakusho had an unnamed human woman, Lady Doctor, whom Raizen fell in love with. She died of childbirth and, several generations later from that child, led to Yusuke.
Tail of the Moon: Usagi's mother dies because the baby had grown too big in her stomach, and since C-sections hadn't been around...
Guts was found by Sys and Gambino under a hanged corpse, umbilical cord still attached. The exact chain of events is fuzzy.
In Dance in the Vampire Bund, the only sure way to sire a werewolf child is for the father to be in werewolf form when the deed is done. The ensuing pregnancy is extremely taxing on the mother, and more often that not kills her. Akira's mother is wheelchair-bound as a result of the birth of his younger brother.
In Prétear, we have Himeno's mother in the manga. Thing is, Kaoru hid it from Himeno herself, and it was her stepmother Natsue who told her.
This is a big part of Henri's backstory in Marginal Prince, even though the anime itself doesn't really focus on it. The website for the game the series is based on elaborates on it and lists it as a reason for the bad relationship between Henri and his father (who blames his son for it). The anime only hints at it when it's revealed that Henri isn't very keen on the topic of his parents. He also doesn't seem to like his birthday.
In the Alternate UniverseStreet Fighter Alpha Generations OAV, it's said that a young woman named Sayaka who was the adoptive sister of Akuma and Gokuen died like this. Her child survived, however, and grew into either the local Nice Girl Fuuka... or series protagonist Ryu. And the father? Akuma.
In Heat Guy J, this is implied to have been the fate of Clair Leonelli's mother. Interestingly, although his father wasabusive, there's no reason to think his mother's death had anything to do with it.
Played with in the third InuYasha movie. Though Inuyasha's mother Lady Izayoi does die in the process of giving birth to Inuyasha, it's mostly due to Takemaru stabbing her with a spear. Thanks to Tenseiga, she gets better.
Parodied in Dragon Half, where we learn that Princess Vina's mother Venus, a slime who had drunk People Potion to turn herself human so she could marry the king, survived the birth but was so shocked and ashamed to find that her daughter was born a slime like her that she died right then and there!
In a Flash Back story in ElfQuest, Eyes High dies from blood loss shortly after giving birth to Skywise, after losing her lifemate and almost being sacrificed by a human tribe, all due to a prank by two of the tribe's boys that went horribly wrong.
In Smax it's eventually revealed that Smax's mother died this way. She was raped by an ogre, who kept her in his cave and beat her, meaning she was in no condition to give birth when she did. She was tough. She might've survived the birth... if she didn't have twins.
In the DC Universe, the mother of Cameron Mahkent, the Icicle, froze to death giving birth to him — not unlike the goddess Izanami.
In the Mirage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continuity, Casey Jones' first wife Gabrielle dies due to complications while giving birth to her daughter, Shadow.
In the Little Victory universe, the birth of supers, at least those of 'Pantheon Class' power, is accompanied by a burst of power that not only kills the mother, but anybody else in the near vicinity.
Inverted in Strikeforce: Morituri with Aline "Blackthorn" Pagrovna. As a subject of the Morituri Process, she should die within a year after acquiring super-powers. Instead, her pregnancy keeps her alive for several months afterward, and she dies soon after the baby is born.
This is part of the origin of the Johann "Red Skull" Schmidt, his mother died giving birth to him and his father hatefully tried to murder him right there and then until stopped by the attending doctor. With that kind of beginning, Schmidt only sank further.
This is one of the reasons Dupli-Kate and her twin brother Multi-Paul in Invincible have their multiplying powers. A bizarre curse on their family doomed their father to have so many children that he would be driven insane. Since their mother died in childbirth and he never remarried, it seemed like the curse would be averted. The curse got creative and gave Kate and Paul their powers, and their father did indeed go insane trying to handle the bizarre situation.
As Vincent Frankenstein in The Frankenstein Monster tries to put his scientific ambitions into work with The Monster, his wife gives birth to his child and dies in the process. His maid, dismayed by the fact that he put his work before his wife, kills him for his oversight.
Fairy tales are fond of leaving children vulnerable to the Wicked Stepmother this way. Snow White may be the best known (once The Brothers Grimm bowdlerized to make the villainess the stepmother rather than the mother), but many others, such as "The Juniper Tree" invoke it. The English fairy tale "Tattercoats" (collected by Joseph Jacobs) has the heroine left vulnerable by her mother's death because her grandfather then blames her for it.
Just an aside, Tanith Lee's novel-length version of Snow White, White as Snow, leaves the mother as the villainess but her fate is much like the original story other than the fact that she didn't use a spell to age, she just aged naturally while her daughter was missing and presumed dead. Being virtually unknown to her daughter even when they lived together helped. It's a thing. Her short story version, "Red as Blood", leaves the stepmother in place but Snow White herself is a vampire and the witch queen uses white magic and religious items to destroy her.
Wait for it... Star Wars, since "she's lost the will to live" and, you know, raise her children because the father is an asshole. A lot of fans believe that actually Palpatine killed Padme, by using Sith Alchemy to preserve Vader's life by draining Padme's life; this would have the side benefit of removing the only possible threat left to Palpatine's domination of his new apprentice. Another theory is that Padme's Force/midiclorians had been linked to Anakin's in such a strong bond that once he violently severed it, during the Force-choke he drained the life out of her. Explaining why Jedi were forbidden to get married in the first place; their mate would die as well if their link was broken or the Jedi in question died.
In the movie Jersey Girl. Kevin Smith had the mother die before ever casting the film. (That was sorta the point of it, how he'd react if his wife died he had to raise his daughter alone.) This is also inverted, as it was not the actual childbirth that killed her, but a brain aneurysm that ruptured during the process. Any kind of excessive physical strain or exertion would have done the trick, or enough time for it to get bigger and hemorrhage on its own.
The titular character's mother in Boy died when his younger brother was born. This soon led to Alamein (the dad) abandoning the kids. The younger brother, Rocky, later thought he had killed his mother from an overload of his "powers", which was just in his head.
Jack and Sarah has two Sarahs in it, the mother who dies in childbirth, and the daughter named after her. It's mainly a romantic comedy about the father recovering and hooking up with the American nanny though.
Used at the start of The Red Violin, and partially justified and foreshadowed: Anna worries that her age will create complications during the birth.
Alien featured really bloody alien births. Quite different than the other examples, but still fits the trope.
Played with in Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Lilliana (the mother) was already dying from a wound in her chest when Lilli was born. She instructed Frederich to cut the baby out of her because it was the only way to make sure Lilli didn't die with her.
In the backstory of Secondhand Lions, Hub's love interest, Jasmine, died this way, also taking their child with her.
Subverted in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Kit Snicket dies not as a result of childbirth, but because of the Medusoid Mycelium, the cure for which she refuses to consume because of its effects on unborn children
Jurgis's wife Ona dies this way in The Jungle while giving birth to her second child. The child also dies.
In The Roman Mysteries Flavia Gemina's mother died giving birth to her. Also, in The Slavegirl of Jerusalem the older sister of one of the main characters dies giving birth to twins.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, this is how Gaunt's mother died (and half of why he was an orphan, necessary for being a commissar.)
In Ghostmaker Corbec recounts how his mother had nearly died in childbirth and how Dorden, as a young medic, had saved her.
In the V. C. Andrews novel Heaven, Heaven's mother Leigh died giving birth to her. This causes Luke, Leigh's husband, to resent Heaven for "killing" the woman he loved. The circumstances of her conception (Leigh was raped by her stepfather) don't help much either.
Also the fate of Gabriel(le) Landry in the Landry series, and Lillian's mother in the Cutler series. The Cutler series also contains a subversion: Jed Booth pretends that his wife Georgia died as a result of complications from Charlotte's birth, when Georgia really died from stomach cancer several days previously. This is to hide the fact that Charlotte is Lillian's daughter and the result of Jed raping her.
This is a plot point in Daughter of Darkness, where Lorelei discovers that she and all her "adoptive" sisters are her father's biological children - he impregnates his daughters, they die in childbirth, and the babies grow up to be beautiful young women who lure new victims to the house for him (he is a vampire.)
In Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series, Thonolan goes mad with grief after he loses his wife Jetamio to childbirth.
Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden: Technically, Lilias Craven died from falling out of a tree. The fall also triggered early labor, and Lilias was barely able to give birth to Colin right before she died.
Harry's mother in The Dresden Files, although it is later revealed that this was the result of a curse. A bad luck curse, to be specific. It was the usual medical nastiness that actually did her in; the curse just brought that on.
Also implied, but not exactly spelled, in the case of David's mother Clara in David Copperfield. And his unnamed baby half-brother died, too.
Also implied in the same book for David's first wife, Dora, probably to emphasize the similarities between her and Clara. Once again, the baby dies, too. These two examples are more realistic than many, as neither woman dies immediately after the birth, but both decline slowly over the next several weeks, similar to the Real Life example of Jane Seymour.
Much more than a Tear Jerker is found in Frank Herbert's Dune, as the death of Paul Atreides' Fremen wife and legal concubine Chani is the gravity point for half the book, before it actually happened. She dies during the birth of their second and third children, Leto Atreides II (not to be confused with Leto II, their unfortunate older brother, who was killed in a Harkonnen raid) and Ghanima. Chani's death is known to Paul and others via prescience (Face-dancers actively try to profit from this, by offering Paul the chance / compromise / devil's bargain to clone Chani, which he just barely manages to refuse). This death is caused, or at the very least escalated, by the fact that Princess Irulan (Paul's legal wife, daughter of the deposed emperor, and Bene Gesserit, to name just a few) has been feeding Chani contraceptives for some 12 years for rather obvious political reasons (and because the Bene Gesserit did not want their millenia-long genetic project getting contaminated by the wildcard that was Chani's bloodline, and would have liked to ensure that Paul had children with someone more suitable, like Irulan, whom they could manipulate). According to Paul, Chani's death during childbirth was far less painful and cruel compared to her possible future fates had she survived.
In The Eyes of The Dragon, a short fantasy novel by Stephen King, Queen Sasha survives a relatively difficult first birth. The second birth is extremely easy — until the midwife, on orders from court magician and Big Bad Flagg, makes a small incision that causes the queen to bleed to death, unknown to anyone. The fact that she had a 100% Adoration Rating only strengthens the second son, Thomas, in his belief that nobody in the kingdom likes him for anything but "throne insurance."
Used in both Daenerys' and Tyrion's backstories in A Song of Ice and Fire; in both cases, it's justified by a particularly difficult birth (Dany was born as the family was fleeing from Robert Baratheon's assassins, and Tyrion's deformities lead to complications in labor.) Aside from this, it doesn't come up much, though it's mentioned as being a concern. Westeros' technology is at a medieval level, and it's fairly realistic.
Also, it was hinted that Lyanna Stark might have died in childbirth. The bloody bed in Ned's fever dreams in Game of Thrones is used to refer to a child birth bed elsewhere in the books. Of course, this comes up in certain theories about Jon Snow's parents and his Secret Legacy.
Catelyn and Lysa's mother Minisa Whent died this way.
In a non-back story variation, Dalla also dies this way. In the middle of a battle, no less.
The book series Dragonriders of Pern includes seven births: One is normal, two aren't described (but we know they didn't kill the mothers, as they do appear later), two almost kill the mothers and two do kill the mothers. Fewer than half are "normal".
Somewhat averted by the rediscovery of modern medical knowledge during All The Weyrs Of Pern. The younger generation of Pernese produce numerous children with no problems mentioned.
Also, one of the deaths was hardly "accidental", as Lord Fax effectively raped Lady Gemma into premature labor, with the intention of killing her in childbirth. He's then goaded into renouncing Ruatha in favor of her issue, giving Lessa the opportunity to arrange a duel in which he's killed. To Lessa's chagrin, Gemma does give live birth despite dying, and the resulting boy, Jaxom, becomes crucial to Pern's future.
This was the fate of Larna, the mother of weyrleader F'lar. This fact is not revealed until toward the end of the series, when The Masterharper of Pern shows the life story of Masterharper Robinton and fills in many story gaps. (F'lar's father, F'lon, was the Masterharper's best boyhood friend.)
In the same book, F'lon mentions that his own mother died giving birth to him.
In the book Wicked, Elphaba's mother dies after giving birth to the girls' younger brother, Shell. In the play, she dies while giving birth to her younger sister Nessarose, thanks to severe birth defects and poisoning.
Sabriel opens with the protagonist Sabriel's mother dying giving birth to her.
Done with the main character Amir in The Kite Runner. However his dad doesn't blame him for it at all.
From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz takes it to ridiculous levels of tragedy. The lovely strict Catholic teenage girl gets horribly raped by the antagonist - who thinks they're role-playing - and hides the pregnancy from her family until she gets a brain aneurysm from all the wrapping up her stomach and dies horribly, giving birth to a kid who gets adopted by her sister in a show of bottomless compassion. And that's just the beginning...
Mrs. Richard F. Schiller of Lolita dies in childbirth. Of course, it's not until the end of the book that we learn that she is actually... the eponymous Dolores "Lolita" Haze herself.
Voldemort's mother, Merope Gaunt, in Harry Potter. It's noted that she could have saved herself with magic, but after her husband left her she basically wanted to die, leaving Voldemort to be raised at a Muggle orphanage.
Cathy I in Wuthering Heights dies just after giving birth to Cathy II, having been severely weakened by Brain Fever, though this isn't played for Gothic family romance laughs. Interestingly, Wuthering Heights was (famously) not written by a man, but rather a motherless woman herself.
Quite possibly because Witches also act as Midwives this has not yet happened in a Discworld novel, although Lady Sybil Vimes came close in Night Watch and Rincewind's mother is said (in defiance of all logic) to have run away before he was born.
And don't forget Granny Weatherwax making a difficult decision (because she couldn't expect anyone else to make it) at the start of Carpe Jugulum.
In Terry Pratchett's Nation, Daphne's mother dies giving birth. Her father's reaction to this is part of the reason for her being stuck on the island, and her dealing with it is a part of the plot, dealt with in a very touching scene.
In Robin McKinley's Beauty and her "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", the heroines are motherless because their mother died in childbirth; in both cases, the baby also died. The author used this trope again in The Hero and the Crown—Aerinha's mother was said to have "turned her face to the wall and died," upon giving birth to a girl instead of a boy.
The title character in Astrid Lindgren's Mio, my Mio was placed at an orphanage as a baby after his mother died at childbirth. This was common practice in Lindgren's native Sweden in the early 20th century, due to the idea that a man couldn't raise children without the help of a woman. Mio's adoptive parents wanted a girl, but there were only boys available, making him an unwanted adopted child. Lucky for Mio, his real father has been searching for him ever since his birth, and finally finds him and brings him home to the Land of Faraway, where the father is king. The book gives a beautiful description of parent and child being separated when the child is an infant and reunited later, likely inspired by the fact that Lindgren herself had to place her firstborn child in foster care during his first years of life.
Breaking Dawn. Somewhat subverted because Bella survives to Renesmee's birth, by being turned into a vampire.
To a degree, used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Little Remedios, Colonel Aureliano Buendía's teenaged wife, dies when her already risky pregnancy with twins takes a turn for the worse. Later, Amaranta Úrsula perishes after she gives birth to the last Aureliano... the son of her nephew and lover Aureliano Babilonia Buendía.
Míriel in Tolkien's The Silmarillion dies of weariness after giving birth to her son Fëanor, saying "[never] again shall I bear child; for strength that would have nourished the life of many has gone forth into Fëanor." (Indeed.) Kind of an interesting case in that she doesn't die immediately as a result of medical complications; she survives for at least a short time until, while wandering in Lorien's gardens, she basically falls into an eternal sleep.
In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, after Inquisitor Stele attacked Rafen's mind to drive him to suicide, Rafen remembers all the deaths in his life. It starts with his mother, dead in childbirth. (Presumably from his younger brother Arkio, though it could be another child, or even Rafen, with Arkio as a half-brother.)
In the first Warrior Cats series, Silverstream dies while giving birth to her kits, causing much grief for her mate and the medicine cat who failed to save her.
Mudfur's mate Brightsky also dies during the birth in Crookedstar's Promise, thus making him become a medicine cat.
In Outcast of Redwall, Bluefen dies after giving birth to Veil Sixclaw, the title character.
In The Last Letter Home, the final book of Vilhelm Moberg's "Emigrants" suite, Kristina has a miscarriage and is told by a doctor that if she ever gets pregnant again it will lead to her death. A few months later she dies from another miscarriage.
The War World series has a lot of this, as childbirth is even more difficult on thin-aired Haven than on Earth, and breeding is an important theme of the series.
Paul Sheldon in Misery had wanted to kill off the title character of his romance novel series in this way, but Annie Wilkes had other ideas and demanded a Retcon at shotgun-point.
The fate of a main character in Ann Marie Mac Donald's Fall on Your Knees. The father was her own father, no less.
In The Whitby Witches trilogy by Robin Jarvis, the goblin-like aufwaders have been all but wiped out by a curse which causes any female aufwader who becomes pregnant to fall fatally ill, usually within the first three months of conception. Even those who carry a pregnancy to term do so in vain, as the child almost invariably dies with its mother. The only exception to this rule is a young female named Nelda who, after becoming the only aufwader born since the laying of the curse to survive birth, later gives birth to the first baby born after the curse is lifted.
It's much worse than "fall fatally ill". All the blood in their veins turns to brine.
In Hex and the City, Merlin reveals that he'd torn his way out of his mother's womb in his haste to be born. As she was part of a Dark Age Satanic cult and trying to produce the Antichrist, it's hard to work up much sympathy for her demise.
Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms ends with the protagonist Henry's lover Catherine dying in childbirth. The child is stillborn.
Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind dies after a miscarriage. Giving birth to her first child already almost killed her.
Mothers of both Damien Thorn Sr. and Jr.. For extra delicacy, the former's mother was a jackal and he didn't have an navel. Work it out.
In Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, it is revealed that Queen Jehanne died giving birth to a daughter.
Lives of the Mayfair Witches: Most women who sleep with a male Taltos end up like this, either when they violently miscarry or when the child (who grows to the size of an adult within hours) tears its way out of their womb. Ow, ow, ow.
In some adaptations of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge's dead little sister Fan and/or his mother suffered this, which could explain the implied distant relationship between young Ebenezer and his father. The Alistair Sims film includes the heart-wrenching scene of Fan's death. The book, however, does not mention the circumstances surrounding the death of either. A scene where Fred's wife knows an old favorite tune of Fan's suggests that she survived into Fred's childhood; and Fan's existence in the first place implies that if Scrooge's mother did die giving birth to him, his father must have remarried.
Alanna and Thom's mother in Song of the Lioness died giving birth to them. Their father was angry that despite her having the Gift, the magic wasn't enough to save her and thus forbid his children to ever using magic. Her death was implied to have also caused her husband to neglect his two children.
General Stantnor's wife from Old Tin Sorrows succumbed to this trope shortly after giving birth to their daughter, Jennifer. Subverted in that the insanely-jealous General had actually engineered her demise, drugging her with an anti-coagulant and blaming the "mistake" on her physician.
Almost happens to Anne twice in the Anne of Green Gables series. Once, with her first child, in which the baby died as a result of being premature. And once that was only revealed in backstory, while giving birth to her sixth child and youngest son, Shirley.
This is how Anna and Caleb's mother died in Sarah, Plain and Tall:
Mama died the next morning [after he was born]. That was the worst thing about Caleb. "Isn't he beautiful, Anna?" Her last words to me.
In John Moore's Slay and Rescue, mothers of both Prince Charming and the three female protagonists died in childbirth. Lampshaded:
Princess Aurora: Is childbirth as dangerous as all that?
Princess Ann: [The wizard] Mandelbaum says it's because royal families can afford physicians and the very best medical care. Consequently, they die like flies.
Stranger in a Strange Land has an example that's even darker than usual: Mike is the product of an illegitimate liaison, and when his mother died in childbirth, his mother's husband killed first the father and then himself.
The Elric Saga: The last empress of Melniboné "died bringing her sole thin-blooded issue into the world", as if Elric's Doom Magnet sundae needed that cherry on top.
The Kantri in Tales of Kolmar have tremendous clawed hands with very limited dexterity. It's mentioned that consequently, when a child is turned the wrong way in the womb the results are disastrous - a birth sister might reach in to try and turn the baby, but usually mother and child both die. This situation comes up in Song In The Silence; fortunately there's a human on hand who has no claws and delivers the child with no harm to either, though she's horribly burned and nearly dies herself.
In The Long Earth, this is eventually revealed to have happened to Joshua Valiente's mother.
The fate of the Karand girls impregnated by their demon prince in The Malloreon. The resulting Fetus Terrible is large enough that vaginal birth is flat-out impossible. Polgara ends up drenched with blood when she tries to midwife one of these girls; Garion suggests that the demon infant may be trying to cut its way out of the womb in an inside-out Caesarian.
A Brother's Price mentions this. One of the Wakefield sisters died giving birth to a stillborn son.
The book Unnatural Issue begins with Richard Whitestone returning home mere hours after his wife Rebecca dies giving birth to their daughter Susanne. He is so upset that he gives orders that he does not want to ever set eyes on his daughter, leaving her to be brought up by the servants, and becomes a morbid recluse and shut-in.
The The Host's soul's reproduction system is a suicidal process for the Mother.
In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Ashes of Honor, Tybalt tells Toby about his first human love, who died in childbirth, with the child dying as well.
In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, Kat's mother. Her sisters took Promotion to Parent. Also Sir Neville and Mr. Collingwood's mother; when Mr. Collingwood tells her that Sir Neville blames him for it, Kat points out that her sisters don't; it's just proof that he's a bad brother.
Swedish writer Simona Ahrnstedt gives us two examples in her debut novel Överenskommelser. The first one is a straight one, where the female protagonist Beatrice explains that her mother died in childbirth (her baby sister died too). The second example is a downplayed or subverted one: Beatrice's cousin Sofia suffers from eclampsia, becomes very ill, but survives.
Storyteller: The queen died shortly after giving birth to her fourth child, Yoss.
Live Action TV
Little House on the Prairie: The actual cause of death by Nancy Olesen's biological mother. For years, Nancy ï¿½ a young Nellie Olesen-lookalike orphan with severe behavioral problems ï¿½ had claimed she was abandoned by her mother, but her adopted mother (the evil Mrs. Olesen, of all people) helps Nancy come to terms with the fate of her birth mother.
Several other episodes dealt with pre-eclampsia and birth-related complications. Two examples are the Season 7 episodes "A Faraway Cry" (Caroline Ingalls tends to a childhood friend who begins having complications with her pregnancy) and "Dark Sage" (the town's new doctor, who is black, is the only medical professional in the area who can perform a Caesarian section to save the mother's life, thereby averting the trope).
Melinda Warner: Like mother, like daughter, I've got no obvious cause of death on either.
Olivia Benson: Are you thinking they might have died in childbirth?
Melinda Warner: You rarely see it nowadays...
And averted in another episode when Stabler's wife Kathy is on Cliché Road heading to Trope Avenue, having been involved in a car accident along with Olivia. She gives birth to a baby boy in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, then loses blood pressure and consciousness as the screen fades to black... only to have her wide awake and recovering fully when Stabler arrives at the hospital.
On LOST, Ben's mother died in childbirth, making his father despise him. Of course, he eventually ends up murdering the surviving parent...
Plus, every woman who conceived their child on the Island. Which is why Ben is so protective of his adoptive daughter...
Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour, when portrayed onscreen. In reality, although technically it was the birth that killed her, she didn't actually die until almost two weeks later and was well enough to host a party after the christening (which per tradition neither she nor Henry attended). However, most cinematic and televisual adaptations have her die giving birth because it's more dramatic than the historical truth.
Arguably averted in The Tudors, which follows the real life example.
Chuck Bass' mother from Gossip Girl died giving birth to him, the reason for his father's dislike of him.
In the Chilean telenovela Papi Ricky, male lead Ricky tells his daughter Alicia that her mom Catalina died in childbirth, but this isn't true since she ran away few after her birth. Catalina actually returns later, as a Broken Birdand with Laser-Guided Amnesia. She finds young Alicia and befriends her, but for a long time they don't about their bond. Also, in the Grand Finale, Ricky's main love interest and Alicia's ex-teacher, later adoptive mother Colomba dies after giving birth to Alicia's half-brother.
I read in the 90s, a book by Michael Medved, where he wrote that he had interviewed TV writers, about the huge number of runaway mothers and/or mothers dead in childbirth. At least one writer told him that TV writers simply don't like mothers! ("Symbolically killing my ex-wife" one guy told him.)
Dr. Greene's frantic attempts to avert this trope were heart-wrenchingly portrayed in "Love's Labor Lost", an Emmy-winning episode of ER. Also almost played out with Carol, who nearly bled to death following the birth of her twins.
Vincent's foster brother Devin's mother died in childbirth with Father attending. This leads Father to not acknowledge Devin as his son until adulthood. Though Father claims that was because he didn't want to seem to favor his 'real' son. He is genuinely dismayed when Vincent points out he's gone to the opposite extreme.
And of course Catherine herself has a rather heartbreaking (indirect) death by childbirth in that she is held prisoner throughout her pregnancy with Jacob and murdered shortly after without ever even holding her son. She lives just long enough to tell Vincent about their baby. Of course, considering the execs at the time, this could be an instance of Death by Sex
Vincent himself killed his natural mother. Father admits this through a very pained confession that the brutal fashion of his birth almost caused Father to kill Vincent at birth, but relented.
The Farscape episode "Incubator" reveals that Scorpius' mother died giving birth to him. Justified by the fact that she'd been raped by a Scarran as part of a breeding program that had killed ninety other Sebacean females in a pretty similar manner.
In the 1998 Merlin series, Merlin's mother Elissa dies in childbirth. It is revealed shortly after that Queen Mab could probably have saved her if she wanted to, but she chose not to, because "She'd served her purpose."
One episode of Dollhouse features a man whose wife had recently died giving birth to their son. He hired the Dollhouse to imprint Echo with his wife's personality, feeling like he couldn't bond with the baby himself under the circumstances. Things fall apart, of course, and in the end he realizes how bad an idea it was.
In the pilot episode of Quantum Leap, "Genesis", Sam saves a woman who died in childbirth in the original history.
Xena: Warrior Princess: Meg's father: "My father died in childbirth." "Your father died in childbirth?" "He got drunk and fell off the roof while I was being born."
Rare villainous example: In the Criminal Minds episode "A Thousand Words", the wife/accomplice of a serial kidnapper and rapist died this way after her murderous spouse committed suicide, leaving her with only his latest chained-up victim to help when she went into bloody labor.
In the third series of Downton Abbey, Sybil dies of eclampsia shortly after giving birth to her daughter.
In the third season of The Walking Dead, Lori goes into labor in the middle of a walker attack and begins bleeding heavily. As she had to with Carl, she must give birth via c-section. As you might imagine, c-section with a hunting knife in the basement of an abandoned prison doesn't end well for the mother.
The Tim McGraw song "Don't Take the Girl" ends with the girl in question "fading fast" after a difficult childbirth. Her fate is left hanging, with the protagonist praying to God to take him instead. (Although in the video, a young woman joins the main protagonist and his daughter; the woman is presumed to be "the girl" sung about all along, meaning she survived the childbirth and has recovered.)
Country music in general is fond of this trope. (Well, dead wives in general, but especially this one.)
The song "Light of Day Day of Darkness" by the doom metal band Green Carnation has both the death of the woman and the child in childbirth as a constant theme:
Through Crimson eye, And shattered lie, Behold the sacrifice, Of innocent life
Threatened in "Willie's Lady". His mother, a rank witch, has enchanted his wife so she will never give birth, having been in labor for days. (Fortunately, Willie figures out how to undo the spell.)
Of her young bairn she'll neer be lighter, Nor in her bower to shine the brighter. But she shall die and turn to clay, And you shall wed another may.
In "Leesom Brand", the lovers try to elope, but she goes into labor in the woods and dies with the baby.
In "The Death of Queen Jane", the queen is dying in childbirth and must implore them to perform a Caeserian section to save the baby. This would ensure her own death, but she succeeds.
In some variants of "Willie and Earl Richard's Daughter", the woman dies in childbirth, and the father must leave the living baby behind in hopes that the woman's father will get a nurse for it. He does.
"The Rake's Song" involves a young woman who dies in the process of giving birth to her fourth child. Tragic, right? Think again. The narrator considers her death a blessing, and then proceeds to murder the rest of his children.
Ugly Myfanwy died on delivery, mercifully taking her mother along.
Stevie Wright's "Evie (part 3)"
Live's song "Lightning Crashes" is about a woman who dies in childbirth, her daughter being adopted afterward.
The backstory for WHO dunnit reveals that Trixie's mother died while giving birth to her.
Religion and Mythology
In The Bible, Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob, dies giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. However, being both the youngest and Rachel's son actually makes Benjamin favored by his father, who becomes especially protective once Rachel's other son, Joseph, "dies."
Izanami, Shinto mother goddess, died giving birth to the fire god Kagutsuchi. Her husband Izanagi was so infuriated, he killed the newborn child (although its blood gave way to create numerous deities, such as Take-Mikazuchi). He tried rescuing his wife from the land of the dead, but she could not return to him and was now a deity of death, because of Izanagi fleeing from her and the ikusa and shikome she sent after him. She vowed to kill 500 people each day in the mortal world, to which Izanagi said he'd give life to 1500.
Note that the death wasn't from the normal pain of giving birth, but from the burns that typically result in shoving a fire deity out of yourself.
Women in the Pendragon RPG have an extremely high chance of suffering this; it's actually the most common cause of death, at least for female PCs. The system is also fairly misogynistic, reflecting many 'medieval values,' so childbirth is pretty much a female PC's main duty, unless they're very inventive with their character. At least one such PC made it her life's goal to avoid getting married and pregnant, just to avoid this.
In a bit more metaphorical example of this trope, the creation of Slaanesh in Warhammer 40,000 destroyed the Eldar civilization.
The birth of a werefox in the Kitsune supplement for the Old World of Darkness almost always causes this... sort of. For mystical reasons that are never completely explained, the birth of a Kitsune requires a sacrifice, so a non-Kitsune parent of a Kitsune has a 90% chance of dying when the child is born. Yes, this happens to fathers as well as mothers.
The Weathermay-Foxgrove sisters, successors to Van Richten as Ravenloft's most widely-read occult scholars, lost their mother to this trope. Probably justified: even today, twin births are always considered high-risk, and medical care even in Mordent is 17th-century at best.
Can happen in FATAL, although this can easily be because the Fetus Terrible is a sentient, raptophilic military fork just like its father.
Cruelly twisted in the play Long Days Journey Into Night: The mother was injured during the youngest son, Edmund's, birth and got addicted to morphine to ease her physical pain. This is one of the many cruel, final insults the father hurls at Edmund before the end of the play, and even he realizes he has gone too far in blaming him for that.
Appears in the musical Kristina, based on Vilhelm Moberg's "Emigrants" suite. Though in this case it is a miscarriage that leads to the death of Kristina.
In Our Town, the final scene of the play is about Emily looking back on the town and her life after she dies in childbirth.
Maurice Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande — much better known as an operatic adaption by Claude Debussy. The fey beauty Mélisande dies giving birth to a tiny child, as the Older and Wiser King Arkel laments "now the child must live in her place: it's the poor little one's turn".
In the adventure game Bad Mojo, protagonist Roger Samms' mother died giving birth to him, and he grew up with his father resenting him for it. In what is far from a coincidence, his landlord Eddie's late wife died giving birth to their son...
Psycho Mantis's Freudian Excuse in Metal Gear Solid is that his mother died in childbirth, prompting his father to blame him for her death. When his Psychic Powers developed, he read his father's mind, and saw how much his father hated him. He was overwhelmed, blacked out, and woke up hideously scarred with his hometown in flames.
In the added backstory in the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy IV, Cecil's mother died giving birth to him. For Cecil's elder brother Theodor, her death combined with Kluya's death just shortly earlier is what allows Zemus to gain control of Theodor and turn him into Golbez.
This is part of Gau's backstory in Final Fantasy VI. His mother's death is what caused his father to go mad and leave him in the Veldt. The Japanese and the retranslated versions also stated that Edgar and Sabin's mother died giving birth to them. And then then there's Relm's mother.
This is the official explanation of what happened to Sephiroth's mother "Jenova" in Final Fantasy VII. Besides that, his actual, human mother Lucretia tried to kill herself shortly after he was born and ended up vanishing from the public eye. The way it was translated originally made it sound a lot like she died in childbirth and you actually met her ghost later on.
In Final Fantasy VIII Squall's mother Raine died in child birth and he was sent to the orphanage.
Silent Hill 3 has an utterly bizarre example that technically fits the trope, involving the demon Fetus Terrible in Heather's womb which will kill her when it's born, and actually does kill Claudia after she eats it (it's a long story).
It's worth mentioning that if you don't figure out what to do to cause this scene, then Heather will suffer the consequences.
In Dragon Age: Origins the assassin Zevran's mother died giving birth to him and he was raised in a whorehouse before being sold to the Crows. Zevran seems to blame himself for her death, referring to her as his "first victim". One of the unique gifts you can give him (for quite a few approval points) is a pair of Dalish gloves similar to the ones his mother left behind.
Alistair's mother died giving birth to him, too. For extra points, he was the illegitimate son of the king, and his half-sister Goldanna blames him for their mother's death (and just about everything else). She's a lovely person.
In Umineko: When They Cry, Beatrice Castiglioni, Kinzo's beloved mistress, died this way after giving birth to their daughter, Beatrice II. This officially warped Kinzo into the insane old man we know and love, but what's worse is that he eventually raped Beatrice II under the self-delusion that she was her mother's reincarnation, making her pregnant.
Narrowly averted in Kakeru's route of Ten Days With My Devil. The protagonist's sister Makoto has had weak health for most of her life; complications with her pregnancy end up requiring an emergency C-section, and Makoto and the baby both nearly die on the operating table, but pull through with the help of Kakeru's power over life energy.
Gunnerkrigg Court offers a more protracted example. Surma wasted away over a twelve-year period due to her non-human heritage forcing her to transfer her life-force to her daughter. This same fate awaits said daughter, Antimony, should she have children.
Chesska, wife of Archipelago's Anthony, dies during childbirth. This is implied to have permanently embittered Anthony, as later on his colleagues remember him as cold, ruthless and unlikable.
It Got Worse. Much worse. Blitz (Anthony's new identity after completely losing his mind and memories) starts to cry at the birth of Deliza and Mikel's child, not knowing at all why. He later on has a vivid dream that he wakes up shaken and confused from, also not having a clue as to what any of it meant. Turns out that dream was a memory of Chesska.
When their child, Clair, is introduced as the fourth Heir, Blitz has no idea who she is either.
In The Gamers Alliance, Viirsa gives birth to Kaisa and dies in her lover Hector's arms after being fatally wounded in the aftermath of the infiltration of Myridia during the Great War.
The mother of the Fiametta triplets in Survival of the Fittest version 4, which sets up most of the trio's future emotional issues.
In Retarded Animal Babies, Puppy's mother died giving birth to him (he was the last puppy out of a huge litter). His father Sean Connery (yes really) immediately accuses him of murdering her. Puppy had suppressed this memory for years and didn't take it well at all when it resurfaced. Hamster assumes this is Puppy's Freudian Excuse for his Anything That Moves behavior — he lacked a maternal role model growing up. It's so pitiful that even the woman he was harassing earlier doesn't have the heart to have him thrown out of the bar.
Ultra Fast Pony: Rainbow Dash's mom died giving birth to Dash. As we find out in "The Cheesen One", she had an extremely unhealthy diet, which caused her to have a heart attack during birth.
In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Native Son", a flashback reveals the Queen of Thundera died giving birth to the crown prince Lion-O. For her toddler son Tygra, who she and her king Claudius adopted after struggling to have a child, Lion-O's Royal Blood ensured he lost both his Mother and his chance at the throne at the same time.
Steven Universe provides a fantastic variant: apparently, Rose Quartz "gave up her physical form" to bring her half-human son, Steven, into the world. The exact details of this have not yet been explained.
Childbirth mortality rates have been somewhere between 'bad' and 'really' bad in most places, at most times. In some cases, the cures suggested by different civilisations' schools of medical thought were actually worse than doing nothing at all. For instance, it was (in some European circles) thought that the best way to assist a difficult birth was to get some people to hold the mother's torso upright and then shake her up and down to help the baby "fall out".
The Catholic Church has a long tradition of preparing women to accept the very real (only nowadays not so much) possibility of dying in childbirth. The ritual of "churching" was performed for those women that recovered from the experience - a thanksgiving for her survival. There was some debate as to whether it should come before or after the child/children's funeral, if they hadn't been so lucky.
Before the late 19th Century it was still more dangerous, statistically, for a woman to have children than it was for a man to fight in a war. The two things that changed this were industrialised warfare and the promulgation of the belief that having a clean person, clean possessions, and a clean environment was conducive to one's health - the so called 'Sanitation' movement, which lobbied for such things as sewer systems. Until the latter got going the main cause of death in childbirth was still puerperal fever — that is, a septicemia caused by the bacteria on the midwife or obstetrician's hands. Not that birthing in hospitals - which had well-deserved reputations as death-traps - was common or anything, but it was commonplace for doctors to work with all sorts of patients - including the extremely sick and even the dead, as with dissections - without ever washing their hands. Pre-Sanitation hospitals were, however, meticulously nice-smelling - to prevent the miasmal odours which were the root of all illness, dontchaknow, from infecting people.
Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss was the first to make the connection between clean hands and decreased risk of the puerperal fever, introducing a strict sanitation regime in his clinic with the use of soaps and antiseptics on pretty much everything. Unfortunately, he was basically laughed out of profession by other physicians, because of course nothing bad could have come from that rotting corpse the doc was dissecting before going to deliver a baby - it hardly smelled rotten at all, not that you could tell with all the incense! It wasn't until Joseph Lister that medics started to take antiseptics seriously.
According to popular folklore, the only Spartans with their names on their tombstones were those who died doing their greatest duty; men who died in battle and women who died in childbirth.
And again similar with the Vikings - historians believe that death in childbirth for the Vikings was equivalent to death in battle, and guaranteed entry into Valhalla.
Islamic tradition also counts a woman who dies in childbirth (or during the 40-day postpartum phase) as a martyr.
Saint Raymond Nonnatus's myth says that the "Nonnatus" name was given to him since his mother died in childbirth and baby Raymond had to be pulled out through a C-section. Raymond is the patron saint of pregnant women, midwives, babies and anything related to childbirth: in one troper's hometown, the biggest local church/parish of the Mercedary Order has an altar dedicated to him alone, covered in offers and written prayers from pregnant women who ask him for protection, as well as many photos of newborns and toddlers whose families prayed to Raymond to make sure they'd be born safely.
For many species of plants and insects, death by childbirth is considered natural. Some animals and a vast majority of plants subscribe to the so-called "Semelparous"note the word derives from Semele, the mother of Dionysus, who was incinerated in the birthing process strategy of reproduction, devoting all of its resources to one massive cycle of reproduction, which would so drain the mother that it would quickly die of starvation afterwards (this is opposed to the iteroparous strategy, where the mother would life to reproduce another day. The mother (and/or father) may be designed to die after reproduction, either to provide their own body as food for the young or so as not to take up the children's food.
The young of the sea louse eat their mother alive from the inside out. See the Animals entry under Nightmare Fuel.
Octopodes. Contrary to popular belief, they do not die of starvation, but from accelerated aging triggered by their optic "suicide glands" after mating. See also Death by Sex.
A similar and Nightmare Fuel inducing version is an animal (for example, the tarantula hawk) who lays their eggs into a victim. Once the eggs hatch, they eat their host from the inside out, usually always while the victim is alive.
It's often thought that Julius Caesar was born by Caesarian section and therefore that his mother had died in childbirth (since Caesarians were 100% fatal to the mother at that date). Unfortunately for people who like to believe in Urban Legends, Caesar's mother survived his birth for many years, and the term "Caesarian section" derives from the Latin caedere, to cut. "Caesar" means "long-haired", and was the dictator's family name for 300 years before his birth. The words do not seem to be related, although many authorities are convinced they are.
The "natural" level of maternal mortality in humans is 1 in 100 births. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 16 women are said to die in childbirth, compared to 1 in 2,800 in the developed world. Keep in mind, though, that these numbers may be wildly optimistic; in many African countries the poorest citizens, the ones most likely to die of such things as post-partum infections, live and die uncounted and unregistered.
In 17th century England childbirth was (outside of the plague years) the most common cause of death in women. One historian estimated that one in four London women died of pregnancy or childbirth-related matters. This long before the "medicalization" of childbirth.
Notable women who died in childbirth include: Julia Caesaris (Julius Caesar's daughter), Marjorie Bruce (Robert the Bruce's daughter), Mary de Bohun, Elizabeth of York, Lucrezia Borgia, Jane Seymour, Katherine Parr, Gabrielle d'Estrées (mistress of Henry IV of France), Mumtaz Mahal (the Taj Mahal was built in her honour), Margaret Theresa (the princess depicted in Velázquez's "Las Meninas"), mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte of Wales, cookbook writer Isabella Beeton, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt (wife of Teddy), writer and feminist Jean Webster, and musician Nadine Shamir.
While she wasn't apparently blamed for it, Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, also named Mary, arguably had issues... seeing as she grew up to become Mary Shelley and write Frankenstein, and according to a story, she wanted to, uh, get to know Percy Bysshe Shelley (her future husband) better when they met... over her mother's grave.
This trope was, unlikely as it may sound, a key factor in the ultimate conquest of Wales by the English. Llewelyn ap Gruffyd, the last native Prince of Wales, was allowed to wed Eleanor de Montfort, to whom he was betrothed, in exchange for some concessions to her cousin, King Edward I. One of the concessions was that he cease resisting the English rule, and essentially act as Edward's governor in Wales. Llewelyn agreed out of love for Eleanor. Unfortunately, she died giving birth to their only child, Princess Gwenllian, and poor Llewelyn kind of lost it. His younger brother Dafydd took advantage of his overwhelming grief to persuade Llewelyn to stage one last, dangerous campaign against the English, which they very much lost. Llewelyn was killed in the skirmish; Dafydd was captured and taken to London, where he had the dubious distinction of being the first person in recorded history to be hung, drawn and quartered; and the infant princess was kidnapped, taken to England, and raised in a convent to become a nun.
The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project was created to honor the memory of women who died from childbirth-related causes, as well as raise awareness, since maternal death tends to go unreported in the United States.
Maternal deaths tend to go unreported in most countries; the statistics given above are likely wildly overoptimistic.
According to the book "British Children's Fiction In The Second World War", Katharine Tozer, the author of the Mumfie book series that is well known for inspiring the puppet show Here Comes Mumfie and The Magic Adventures Of Mumfie, died this way.