You ever notice how no one in movies just happens to be pregnant? It’s always part of the plot somehow; usually, it’s what the movie is about. If a woman is pregnant in a comedy, you can be fairly sure that there will be a near-birth in a taxi involved, no matter where the woman lives. (I can probably count the total number of taxi rides I’ve taken in my life on two hands.) If it’s a horror movie, that pregnancy is going to get tangled up in the horror somehow. If it’s a drama, the conflict is probably going to involve how her pregnancy influences the relationships around her. Even in the background, movies don’t tend to let women just be pregnant.
During the Code, that was pretty much literally true. Joe Breen had a Thing about pregnancy, just as he did about flushing toilets and babies wearing nothing over their diapers, and pregnancy got cut out of stories right and left. Rose-of-Sharon Joad doesn’t have her baby in The Grapes of Wrath, although that may well be to lighten the political message in the transition from book to film. Still, the closest most movie women got to pregnancy for decades was knitting booties at the end of the picture; the word was never spoken.
One of the only movies I can name where the main character is allowed to just be pregnant while getting on about the entire rest of the plot is Fargo. Marge Gunderson, as played by Frances McDormand, is completely matter-of-fact about her pregnancy (“carryin’ quite a load, here”), but aside from a near miss with nausea at one point, it doesn’t stop her from doing her job. (And Gods bless the Coens, incidentally, for showing nausea after the first trimester; I’ve read about women who only stopped having “morning sickness” when they went into labor.) She’s waddling her way through the case, but she solves it. Admittedly, she might have caught Jerry if she still could have run, but only maybe.
This is all more to do with the visibility of women and women’s issues on screen. And, in a perverse way, illness—just as no one ever has a cough in the movies unless they’re going to die of it, no one is pregnant unless that’s what the movie is about. There are exceptions, but not a lot. Pregnancy is an abnormality. To the extent that it is, in Prometheus, possibly to buy a fancy medical bed at all that doesn’t know how to perform a c-section—or an abortion. Sure, the character who bought it is never going to need either, but why does the company sell systems like that? Is it really that expensive to program in gynecological and obstetrical care that you have to pay extra for one that can do it?
Sure, you see more pregnancies than periods; women don’t even seem to buy pads in movies, though they sure can have PMS in bad comedies. And I can imagine being an extra would be pretty grueling for a woman who was actually pregnant, and you probably wouldn’t keep one of those fake-pregnancy suits around just to make sure that you’ve got a pregnant woman in the background for realism. Then again, why not, especially in movies where characters are in elementary school or younger? There’s almost invariably at least one pregnant lady walking around parent-teacher night.
I don’t know; maybe it would be better if there were more women in film just in general. If fifty percent of the background characters were female, it would start being really obvious that none of them were ever pregnant, you’d hope. Still, a teacher of mine from high school once ruefully observed that the two most realistic births she’d ever seen on television were on Murphy Brown—and Quantum Leap. I’m tempted to ask, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t add many to the list, even today.