Snow child, or sometimes a mother might even give birth to a child that is a food, like the Pumpkin Girl, or the women born of mangoes or cucumbers in Papua New Guinea. Sometimes the mother gives birth to a healthy, human child-only to have it stolen as she is accused of giving birth to a wolf/bear hybrid, such as in Armless Maiden, or some other sort of animal. In the world of fairy tales, such accusations were believable enough to the other characters.
I used to think of tales like this as being a commentary on how we treat people who are different, and an encouragement for the underdog, which is certainly still true in many cases. But I've been reflecting on tales like these, especially where a child is born under some kind of unusual circumstances, and not just enchanted or cursed later in life (some Beauty and the Beast tales fit under each category-for example, Prince Lindworm was a lindworm from birth, unlike the cursed Beast of the French tradition).
Since being pregnant myself, I have a new level of respect for the mothers in these tales, and a sympathy for the anxiety that prospective mothers face. Even in our modern age where we can hear the baby's heartbeat and see ultrasounds, it can be pretty easy to feel anxious about your baby in between doctor's visits. For all we know now, there's still so much that's unknown-even for those who choose to find out the gender, it's still a mystery for months; as future parents, we wonder which traits our child will inherit from each of us, and what their personalities will be like-which can be exciting as well as frightening. On top of that, there's always the risk of health problems.
I've also noticed that food and babies seem to be unusually connected in folklore. Even if a mother is more likely to give birth to a thumb-sized child than a piece of food, often these births are a miraculous result after a mother ate something (although, in Snow Child tales, it's possibly a hint that the mother was unfaithful but claims it was a supernatural birth). Pregnancy is a very odd time-for a while it's not obvious you're pregnant, it just looks like you maybe ate too much. I'm not sure how much was known in other cultures about pregnancy, they might have assumed the baby grew in a separate organ from the stomach, but it feels and looks like your baby is growing in your stomach. Not to mention the havoc your baby can wreak on your digestive system, first making it hard to keep things down, and then giving you a ravenous appetite-lately I've been feeling a lot like an ogress or a witch from fairy tales who will eat anything in sight! Then there's also the fact that we still measure a growing baby's size by, usually, corresponding fruits and vegetables (my baby has gone from being the size of a blueberry to a bell pepper to a spaghetti squash, and many other fruits and vegetables in between!).
And of course, pregnancy cravings can be the catalyst for the action in fairy tales, most notably Rapunzel. Whereas now, we're told to indulge our cravings with moderation, in other cultures, it was believed that not meeting a pregnant mother's cravings would result in bad luck. Of course, it's doubtful that that bad luck would have been worse than having to give away said child in order to meet those cravings...
Hunger is the Beginning of Every Folktale. Fairy tales usually center around the greatest of human desires-whether it's literal hunger, or the desire for love, sex, or children. And often those desires become combined to the point where they are one and the same-"If the story begins with the lack of a child, then hunger becomes central. Food often replaces sex in folktales, and witches with some rule-bound delicacy are the fertility specialists of choice, second only to daring the fairies
to give you a baby hedgehog, a snow-child, or an infant the size of your thumb." (emphasis mine)
Sarah Allison also has a great post on unusual births in fairy tales. These stories often start with a woman desiring a child, and she is given something to eat that will impregnate her...only usually, she is given some kind of warning and disobeys it. So these children are initially some sort of punishment, although it's ironic that they often turn out to be the hero in the end, like Tatterhood. So while on the surface these tales may seem like more misogynist white noise, warning women against curiosity and disobedience, it seems that the real message of these tales is not to underestimate those who are different-sometimes those very differences end up being an advantage-or even that the so-called "mistakes" we make might not really have been mistakes at all in the grand scheme of things.
In "Juniper Tree," the mother wishes for a child while peeling an apple by the Juniper Tree. From there, the gestation period of her child is linked to the growth of nature. It's her gorging on berries from the Juniper Tree that would appear to lead to her death (even though she supposedly "dies of joy", but it seems unnecessary to mention eating the berries and falling sick and predicting her own death if it's all a coincidence, and this bears similarities to the other food warnings in pregnancy tales). Later, it's the children's request for an apple that leads to the murder of this son, reminiscent of the wish that brought him about in the first place (as well as the famous poisoned apple in Snow White).
There are also tales in which an older woman desires to eat children-from the witch in Hansel and Gretel, Baba Yaga, the ogress mother in law in Perrault's Sleepinng Beauty, to the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Juniper Tree. To eat a child is the reverse of giving birth to them-Snow White's mother may have hoped to reabsorb her beauty through eating her organs, or it could be representative of trying to hinder a child's growth rather than letting them turn into adults. The fear of being eaten is always present in fairy tales, sometimes representing a literal fear of wild animals, but sometimes more symbolic. Fortunately, even if the worst fear is realized and a character is eaten, in fairy tales this is not necessarily the end-like Little Red Riding Hood, the hero may emerge triumphant and wiser for the next round against the wolf.
Illustrations-"tom Thumb," Jemima Blackburn; "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivy; Rapunzel images from Pinterest (anyone know the artist??), "Juniper Tree" by laurasmythart