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Bedtime Stories to Bring About Nightmares

There is, of course, Rapunzel. And maybe your mind has shifted the story so you begin: “Once there was a girl who lived in a tower.” But that’s not where the story begins.

Once upon a time, there was a couple who could not have a baby and they were very sad. They lived in a beautiful house that was perfect in every way except that the baby’s room was empty. Their house looked out at fields and hills as well as a ethereally beautiful garden owned by a witch. One morning, as the wife looked out at the garden, she became consumed with the desire to taste the witch’s rampion (which is a type of leafy lettuce-like vegetable).

Her husband warned her that this was too dangerous, but his wife begged him to get her the rampion. She convinced herself that she would die if she couldn’t taste them. Wanting to make his wife happy, he snuck into the garden and stole a head of rampion. But after she tasted them, it only made her want another head of rampion. This time, when her husband went out to the garden, the witch was there.

He begged her for mercy and the witch agreed to give him his freedom on one condition. When his wife finally had a child, they needed to give the child to the witch to raise.

It was the cruelest adoption of all time. One childless woman forcing the other to give her what they both wanted so badly.

Of course, once the witch has the little girl (named Rapunzel which also means rampion), she places her in a tower. Some may look at the story and say she did it to keep Rapunzel safe and hold her close. A hard-won child. What infertile parent hasn’t had fears of losing what they’ve worked so hard to obtain? It starts when the pregnancy begins or when the adoption is within reach. And it continues, apparently, until they are well into adulthood. I’m not saying that it’s healthy, but it’s a pretty common refrain in the Land of If.

But working through her own fears borne out of infertility is not the way the story is presented. It’s the witch’s evilness. Her spite. Her ill-feelings towards poor Rapunzel.

The witch is a bitch.

All she wanted was to be a mother. Which is, of course, all Rapunzel’s mother wanted as well. And how does all of this apply to real life–to the woman who succeeds facing the woman who hasn’t yet. To the woman who still has chances to the woman who does not.

Sleeping Beauty.

Where do you begin?

A child was born and a fairy came to the baby naming and made this terrible wish…

But before that.

Once upon a time, there was a king and queen and they were very sad because they wanted a child and could not have one. There are no words in any language that can fully describe their sadness. They traveled the world, going on pilgrimages and to holy sites, but still, the queen could not get pregnant.

Until finally, one day, the queen had a daughter. There was a christening and everyone in the land was invited to the castle to see the baby. One fairy was not invited because no one had seen her for over 50 years. She was offended that she wasn’t invited and the slight could not be undone because the king and queen did not have enough covers for an extra fairy. So she made that terrible wish.

The queen who waited for so long for her child only to have her wished away. The lack of understanding between those who haven’t struggled and those who have.

The gingerbread man who was baked by a woman who couldn’t have a child.

Thumbelina who comes to her mother with the help of a fairy after a long struggle with infertility.

Snow White’s mother who longs for a daughter and then dies in childbirth.

Tom Thumb whose parents wish so hard for a child that they say they would love a baby–even if he were as small as their thumb.

12% of the human world is affected by infertility and pregnancy loss. Did you really think a comparable amount of the fairy tale world would go unscathed?


1 Ellen K. { 10.10.07 at 8:45 pm }

Recently I borrowed the Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales from the library, just to look up infertility and adoption. Such stories definitely comprise at least 12% of the volume. Our story is a very ancient and universal one.

2 sky girl { 10.10.07 at 8:53 pm }

I have never given this much thought before! I’m fascinated.

3 Carole { 10.10.07 at 9:58 pm }

I have to second what sky girl said. It’s been sitting there this whole time…and I’ve never seen it. Amazing.

4 Sunny { 10.11.07 at 3:45 am }

Aren’t you a smart little cookie!!!

5 Geohde { 10.11.07 at 4:15 am }

I’d never thought of fairy tales that way……


6 jenn { 10.11.07 at 4:42 am }

this is definitely eye opening. I’m going to have to relook at all my favorites now!

7 T { 10.11.07 at 5:57 am }

Yep, very sad – look at theology – Sarah? Elizabeth? This is why, while I hate ivf, I’m so, so grateful for it.

8 TeamWinks { 10.11.07 at 6:34 am }

I had never really noticed this before. That’s really interesting!

9 Ellen K. { 10.11.07 at 6:58 am }

PS. In the original version of Rapunzel, the witch casts out Rapunzel precisely b/c she gets pregnant.


My favorite of the infertility/adoption fairy tales is certainly Sleeping Beauty — probably because the parents survive for a change, but also because there’s such a strong sense of community.

10 Meghan { 10.11.07 at 7:29 am }

Interesting. I knew about some of them (snow white specifically) but never put it all together.


11 Bea { 10.11.07 at 8:13 am }

Some of those wish fairy clinics make IVF sound positively appealing…


12 Tina { 10.11.07 at 9:30 am }

You know, the parallels are quit amazing… Thank you for this education. I love your blog for this!

13 Elizabeth { 10.11.07 at 9:33 am }

Monday night I was reading Rapunzel to our friend’s little kid. Five feet away sat another dear friend who just threw in the towel on IUIs and fertility meds and is on the road to adoption. I tried to read the part about the baby girl really really quietly.

p.s. love the picture 🙂

14 Jess { 10.11.07 at 10:46 am }

I never thought of this before, either. But I’ll admit, I sort of love that at least FAIRY TAILS are representing us!

15 Heather { 10.11.07 at 12:37 pm }

It is quite interesting that fairy tales delve into the infertile world.

However, I can’t help but think how sad it is that we can’t escape our IF problems even in fairy tales.

I love to read. One of my favorite things to do during treatment is read books that did NOT have anything to do with infertility. I read books that helped me forget the hell I was going through and concentrate on sometihng/ someone else.

16 caro { 10.11.07 at 12:57 pm }

I wrote a poem about the Rapunzel story while I was dealing with infertility (link in sig).
caro (buynewpants.blogspot.com)

17 PCOSMama { 10.11.07 at 1:09 pm }

It has been so long since I actually read the classic fairytales that I completely forgot the base of those stories! It’ll be very interesting when my daughter gets a little older and can sit through an entire fairy tale….

18 Cathleen { 10.11.07 at 2:05 pm }

Wow…I can’t believe I never made the connection. This is so interesting.

19 Searching { 10.11.07 at 2:58 pm }

Wow, very interesting…

20 Grad3 { 10.11.07 at 4:29 pm }

Wow… would have never thought about it like that! Kinda takes it all in a whole new direction.

21 Road Blocks and Roller Coasters { 10.11.07 at 4:53 pm }

Wow, what a fascinating post. I’ve never really thought of those stories in that way, but now I’m like “how did I miss that?” Thank you for sharing that–I feel like I just learned something really cool. 🙂

22 Michell { 10.11.07 at 5:39 pm }

I hadn’t given much thought to this either but it is interesting. I do remember there being lots of references to infertility in the bible.

23 dmarie { 10.12.07 at 8:08 am }

I’m not really familiar with the fairy tales, but I do sometimes think of the “Superman” story. The Kent’s were infertile.

24 Anonymous { 10.12.07 at 2:01 pm }

In the German version of Sleeping Beauty, I think it’s a case of male infertility. The queen is having a bath when a frog hops into the water and tells her that she’s going to have a baby within a year. This is usually interpreted as the queen having an extramarital affair with a young man (=the frog), not a member of the court. — Anya

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