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Happy waning Cancer Moon.

Classes are done for my first trimester of uni, and in the pregnant pause that precedes exams, there's finally time to write to you all again

Last Friday I went to a different library than usual to grab some books. The biography of early Impressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (featuring her nude, pregnant self protrait on the cover) began a trail of bread crumbs that lead back to the original inspiration for the cover of Her First Reality, Darkness--the  early 90's Vanity Fair cover of Demi Moore.  As serendipity would have it, on the fast return shelves at my usual library was Moore's memoir. This newsletter is the end of that trail of crumbs and has offered me profound insights on parts of myself ripe for reclaiming in the next few weeks. I hope it offers you something as well.


In August 1991 I was 17, struggling through the after-effects of glandular fever, my mother leaving and counting down--with a certain amount of trepidation and anticipation--my final exams. In the same month, Demi Moore graced the front cover of Vanity Fair, naked and very pregnant. The now iconic image by Annie Leibovitz instantly polarised people.

Moore writes in her memoir Inside Out:

" set off a firestorm. I was shocked, though the magazine's editor, Tina Brown, evidently was not: anticipating the controversy the cover story would ignite, she had tucked the magazine inside a white sleeve which concealed my pregnant body from the neck down ... People went insane. One camp called it pornography and accused me of exhibitionism. Another saw it as a liberating breakthrough for women."

I became fascinated with Moore's Vanity Fair cover many years later when Ina May Gaskin wrote about it in Rediscovering Birth and the pivotal role it had in shaping a cultural revolution around the public space of the pregnant body. Gaskin wrote:

"At the beginning of the 1990's, the pregnant body was displayed in all its naked glory by Demi Moore, and her example was followed by other female celebrities. A new image of motherhood was promoted, the sassy woman in charge of her life who challenged men, even princes, with the physical revelation of pregnancy."

The bold move by Moore, Leibovitz and Brown changed forever the agency of pregnant women to be visibly pregnant beyond their homes and to take up public spaces with their pregnant bodies--unapologetically and without shame or fear. Together, they changed how the pregnant body was conceived culturally and socially. The extent to which this has swung, in terms of the over(t) sexualisation of pregnancy and motherhood, is fodder for another musing.

Originally taken as a private shot for Moore and then-husband, Bruce Willis, at the end of the official shoot. Moore says she remembers saying to Leibovitz that it would be amazing if they had the courage to use that shot for the cover.

"I didn't think I was making a political statement. I just thought I was portraying pregnancy the way I experienced it: as something lovely, natural, and empowering. At that point it really seemed revolutionary to a lot of people and the reaction was overwhelming, both pro and con."

It's inconceivable now to think of women cloaked or hidden beneath tent-like dresses with ostentatious bows at the neckline to detract from the sizeable (embarrassing/socially awkward) bump or too afraid to leave home, as Gaskin says of her mother's time:

"...many women were reluctant to submit themselves to the public gaze in advanced pregnancy. In 1929, my mother, in the last months of her pregnancy, only ventured out after dark wearing a capacious great-coat. To get exercise she and my father went for a regular evening walk. Only in the dark was she comfortable leaving the house."

On the 20th anniversary of the August 1991 issue, legendary art director George Lois wrote for the Vanity Fair website:

"A truly great magazine cover surprises, even shocks and connects in a nanosecond...depicting a famous movie star beautifully bursting with life and proudly flaunting her body was an instant culture buster--and damn the expected primal screams of those constipated critics, cranky subscribers, and fidgety newsstand buyers, who the editors and publishers surely knew would regard a pregnant body as "grotesque and obscene"... it was a brave (cover) image (and) and stunning work of art that conveyed a potent message that challenged a repressed society".

Moore concludes this section of her memoir with:

"To help women love themselves and their natural shapes--that's a remarkable and gratifying thing to have accomplished, particularly for someone like me whop spent years doing battle with her body."

All these years later, Moore is situated to be remembered as the
paradigm shifter embodied (literally) in this ionic image rather than for her on screen career or as a champion of pay equity, and I for one am grateful for the way she moved the cultural needle, not just because her Vanity Fair inspired the cover of my own book more than two decades later (and emboldened me to court controversy), but for the ease I was able to publicly move through the world during my pregnancy.

The original Vanity Fair article can be found here, including other photos from that shoot.


I retired from front-line birth activism in 2009. My final protest was the big one, on the lawn at Parliament House, with hundreds of other women, men, children and babies who had travelled from across the country. The historic movement of women and babies caused havoc for airlines (and gave my first, and only to date, by-line in a major newspaper).

I walked away with a commitment to pursue the aspirations of birth reform through fiction. It was many years later that Tom Dullemond, half-jokingly, coined the term "birthpunk" to explain what I was writing. Birthpunk is a perfect encapsulation of my desire to agitate for change by inserting birth into a genre which historically (with a few notable exceptions) has steered clear of anything related to pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

In the space that followed the triumphant completion of the second draft (I had been chipping away at it for almost five years) I began to consider the cover and it's no surprise that Moore's Vanity Fair cover (which inspired an entire generation of nude and semi-nude pregnancy photographs) returned as an influencing. From the outset, I was clear that there would be a pregnant woman on the front cover--how better to articulate birthpunk?

I'm no stranger to controversial covers (and perhaps that's why I was originally drawn to the story of Moore's Vanity Fair cover). My first cover for Down to Birth in 2005 invoked a shit storm of epic proportions and almost had me removed as the magazine's editor. I think part of me was truly naive to the impact of putting an image of a breech birth on the cover of a magazine (grassroots or otherwise) and the other part was completely invested in saying: this is what a breech birth is.

Several years later, it was a photo of my partner's head rested against my prodigious 38-week belly on the front cover. I was criticised for de-individuating myself, in choosing an image that didn't show my face. But that was the point; the issue explored men's relationship and experience of of pregnancy and birth.

These experiences taught me that like Moore's Vanity Fair cover, evocative and subversive images have the power to incite fierce conversations which shake loose paradigms in desperate need of rethinking and redefining.

The incendiary breech cover is still remembered and appreciated by the people who had a positive world shift because of it. Those who were appalled, outraged and vehemently objected to (for whatever reason and there were many) have long since forgotten it and their indignation and disapproval are ashes blown into the antiquity of time.

So as I prepared the cover and embarked on final edits, I knew I was courting all kinds of criticism, but thanks to the trail Moore blazed in the 90's and the manner in which pregnancy photography has since been mainstreamed, I didn't think it would come with the cover. I was actually afraid of criticism regarding the content, from people upset with what I did or didn't write about, or how I did or didn't present the birth scenes. I anticipated storms, not censorship.

Censorship found me with the soft launch of the cover concept (not too ironically) in August, with Facebook embargoing the post because it breached their community standards. I was appalled that it would consider a artfully rendered nude, pregnant figure pornographic. And because I had not idea how the whole digital wrist-slap worked, I attempted to post it elsewhere and end up in FB jail, only for it to be reviewed and an apology supplied. I wasn't so lucky with further breaches, where the same image was consider unacceptable. I learned the difference between the image being okay and not okay was simply where it was uploaded from--from my laptop got it flagged; from my phone, nothing happened. Someone pointed out that the outtie belly button gave the belly the shape of a breast and this was probably what the algorithms were picking up--that doesn't account for an actual human reviewing a post deciding it was pornography thought, on subsequent "breaches".

In some ways, the illness that preventing me from really hustling Her First Reality, Darkness out into the world in December, relieved me of all the fears I had about people taking umbrage with what I created. The thing with disapproval though, it doesn't have a shelf life.

I came up against a different kind of prejudice and warped thinking when I did ad school in the middle of this year; ran into it face-first. When there seemed to be nothing I could do to make my ads move, I shared my over mine in the group as one of the suggestions is to consider the fit of your cover.

My cover was immediately shot down because it didn't look like any of the other covers in my genre (well no, but who else is writing birthpunk? And no, it doesn't sit nicely in science fiction, thriller or even dystopia--that was actually the point of writing it.)

When I looked at novels dealing with similar subject matter, but in different genres (Midwives, Chris Bohjalian; The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison) it became readily apparent that novels specifically about childbirth didn't have anything related to reproduction on the cover; both these covers are simple natural landscapes. An early cover of Ami McKay's The Birth House has a pregnant woman on the cover, but has been superseded by different covers for later editions. Even the covers of The Handmaid's Tale shies away from the pregnant form, preferring the infamous blinders instead. I could find one 1998 edition from Anchor with an ambiguously illustrated cover of a handmaid--every time I look at it I'm torn as to whether this is actually a pregnant woman though? ( I did however find some beautiful artwork from The Handmaid's Tale on this list of novels portraying childbirth which is NOT ambiguous!!

The pregnant form once conveyed a certain message in public spaces. It now communicates a certain message on a book cover as I discovered from the ad group. If you put a pregnant woman on the cover of a novel, you throw a spanner into the works, because the pregnant form is an eponymous archetype of self-help or non-fiction books for women who are expecting. And yes, I was actually asked by one person what my novel was about. Another said she assumed it was a pregnancy self-help book.

It turns out to be difficult to subvert or reset the mainstream mindset, even when you do concept art with the orange and black colour palette of Blade Runner. Perhaps our cultural schemas of the pregnant body position it such an intractable way, it is too much of a leap from the norm to consider a different meaning of the pregnant form on a book cover, so no one in publishing does it. Or does it briefly only to discover it is a disaster.

But if you conform then nothing changes? If publishers only ever put a pregnant form on a non-fiction book, then it remains the only place a pregnant form can go--further ostracising pregnancy and birth to fiction's margins.

I am proud of the cover of Her First Reality, Darkness's and its attempt to articulate a fictional story of a speculative nature with birth at the centre of it. It's not quite right yet (my skills are not there to merge the pregnant body with the body of The City), but it is right enough to hold its own, with just hopefully enough of that surprise, shock and instant connectivity art director George Lois spoke of. Like Moore's cover, it would be brilliant if one day Her First Reality, Darkness has its own little iconic spot in history. Even if that is just within the tracts of my own memory and the small dedicated band of readers who continue to champion it.

It Almost Didn't Happen

Under different circumstances there would not have been a naked and pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in August 1991. Moore was offered the cover in the swell of media attention after Ghost rocked the box office in all the right ways.

Annie Leibovitz had done a photo shoot with Moore months earlier, while shooting she was filming The Butcher's Wife. Moore had bleached her hair blonde for the movie and the editors of Vanity Fair rejected the photos, saying they didn't look like her. By the time Moore's schedule opened again, she was 7-months pregnant and only weeks away from giving birth (with the early arrival of her second daughter in July rather than August).

There is a quiet irony to this, as the pixie cut Moore sports in Ghost almost lost her the role, as her long flowing ebony locks had been part of the reason of her casting, but this was only revealed when she arrived for the first day of shooting sans hair!!

It makes you wonder, if not Demi, then who? 


Cleghorn’s imploding world, and the flight and fight of her gutsy, exhausted heroine, thematically replay the process of labour, its wonders, its terrors, its overwhelming power. Her First Reality, Darkness is violent, bitter and glorious.

~ Margo Lanagan

here and beyond


watching The Rain and Ratchet

listening to The Astrology podcast's October 2020 Forecast

reading Demi Moore's Inside Out and David Mitchell's Utopia Avenue


I'm eating fabulous food from the Fast800 diet

and loving Cate Ellink's Little Things

I particularly like Chris-Anne's rendering of Death in the Light Seers deck because it is a reminder that Death isn't the end, it is a doorway, something we can forget when besieged by the earthly reality of death in a pandemic.

Death is organic and unlike The Tower, is an expected (though oft resisted) part of living. We know Death is coming and this card invites each of us to consider what is waiting for release (something stubbornly ignored or held onto out of fear, or someone we think we are not ready to say good-bye to yet, or can't).

Letting go and clearing the way will make way for reinvention, resurrection and/or renewal. Caterpillars eventually breach their cocoons to re-enter the world as butterflies. And so do we.

The Booktress

Margary Street, Brisbane

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