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15 Brutally Honest Horror Novels About Motherhood by Women 

The subversive nature of motherhood horror.

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  • Photo Credit: Featured photo: Josh Bean / Unsplash

One of the world's most powerful and beautiful bonds is between a mother and her child. The human body is miraculous: women can grow and protect a tiny human for 9 months, endure the arduous yet intelligent process of giving birth, and sustain their infants with nourishment provided by their own bodies.

As challenging as it may be, it is no less an experience that some women look forward to. It’s the day they can earn the oft-coveted and respected title—Mother.

Some women are even told that they’ll never know “true love” until they become moms themselves, while others who aren’t as enthusiastic about becoming moms are told they’ll undoubtedly change their minds one day.  

There's a dark side to motherhood, too. For one thing, the work of raising children is not prioritized, valued, or compensated in our current culture. These days, mothers are expected to be it all: successful career women, stellar homemakers, exceptional mothers—if they can effortlessly craft a Pinterest-worthy school lunch complete with star-shaped fruits and veggies while they Boss Babe their way up the corporate ladder, even better.

But more than that, there's an added layer of complexity. Because even though many women are still socially “expected” to become mothers, they're not supposed to publicly talk too much about their experience as mothers—especially if they are writers.

No one wants to read about those “boring women topics” like romance and motherhood. Sex, adventures, career woes—sure. Anything that shows you're an evolved modern woman, who can do anything a man can do. In subtle and overt ways, this has been framed as a “feminist” take—because of course, women can and should pursue any path they desire. They can and should eschew motherhood in favor of building a career or traveling extensively—or because they simply do not want to have children. 

It is crucial that women feel empowered to choose their own trajectory, without being encumbered by social expectations. At the same time, there is also a subtle implication that choosing to be “just a mother” is somehow less admirable. Even further, women who do choose to become mothers are pressured to live up to the “perfect mother” ideal—with no room for anything so human as sadness, uncertainty, confusion, frustration, or—worst of all—rage.

As America Fererra's character Gloria in Barbie (2023) put it so eloquently in her now-famous monologue

“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can't ask for money because that's crass. You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas. You're supposed to love being a mother, but don't talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.”

Of course, you can see how all of these conflicting expectations—whether subtle or overt—become stifling. At times the “rules” are so contradictory they're impossible to live up to. Because one way or another, any subversion of these expectations subjects a woman to additional public scrutiny.

Truly, women writing honestly about motherhood is a subversion. Thankfully, these days many women horror authors have defied these norms and expectations, daring to navigate the complex landscape of motherhood—and all its wonders and horrors—in their fiction.

Motherhood is indeed a beautiful experience. But it's also incredibly challenging at times—often frightening, dark, lonely, and painful. 

What happens when the ideal of the “perfect pregnancy” warps into the horrible grief of an unexpected miscarriage? Or when postpartum depression breeds fear, guilt, loneliness, and at times, even regret?

The horror genre is actually an ideal space to explore the layered and nuanced themes of motherhood. In horror, women grapple with these complexities in raw, riveting, and brutally honest narratives.

Motherhood can be as exhausting, stressful, and terrifying as it can be rewarding. Here are 15 unflinching horror novels about motherhood written by women.



By Rachel Yoder

A passionate artist becomes a mother to a newborn son and decides to put her career goals on hold to be a stay-at-home mom. Two years later, she begins to notice some alarming changes: a patch of hair growing on the back of her neck, sharper canines and new wild, unabashed instincts. Her husband, who is never home and always travels for work, disregards her anxieties, but she is certain that an alter-canine-identity is beginning to take over. 

She decides to search for her own answers and finds a strange book and an even odder group of moms who may relate to her on a far deeper level than she previously believed. A powerfully original novel about art and motherhood, The Boston Globe asserts, “Rather than childbirth twisted into hideous shapes by the male artistic eye, in this book art crawls out of motherhood with an exhausted, sweating, blood-strewn, but joyous howl.” Don’t miss this darkly humorous feminist novel that gives voice to the rage many women and mothers feel in their lifetime.

Sealed by Naomi Booth


By Naomi Booth

Alice and her partner Pete leave city life behind them to settle in an isolated mountain town to flee from a skin-sealing epidemic that is starting to spread. This horrendous disease closes the orifices of the human body, eventually leading to a painful death. 

After finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, Alice is quickly nearing her final trimester and finds herself growing in terror by the day due to the unpredictable environmental disasters the world is facing and the vulnerable state her body is in because of the threat of a horrendous sickness and her impending birth. This psychological thriller puts readers in the mind of someone who knows her body is no longer entirely hers and holds nothing back in describing the anxieties of soon-to-be mothers and the gruesome reality of the birthing process.  

baby teeth zoje stage

Baby Teeth

By Zoje Stage

Everyone talks about the joys of motherhood and the difficult but rewarding work of raising decent human beings. Suzette’s reality couldn’t be farther from that experience. Suzette can feel that her seven-year-old daughter Hanna possesses certain negative feelings toward her, and it’s not the ordinary tantrums of a young girl who’s briefly disappointed—it’s seething hatred. 

To Alex, Hanna’s father, the young girl is a precious princess, but to Suzette, she is manipulative and becoming increasingly threatening. Suzette has a hunch that Hanna is plotting not only to destroy their hopes of ever forming a close-knit family dynamic but is hell-bent on making sure she’s the only loved one left in her daddy’s life.      

Toni Morrison Beloved


By Toni Morrison

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Nobel Prize, author Toni Morrison is a poignant novel about the lasting trauma of survivors of slavery and how perceptions of freedom, love, and motherhood are irrevocably affected for generations by the countless horrors and dehumanization Black Americans endured. 

The story jumps back and forth in time to show our main protagonist Sethe’s escape from slavery on a farm called Sweet Home and her present-day attempts to heal and create a new life for her and her kids in Ohio. But her past trauma understandably has a firm grip on her, leaving her and her teenage daughter Denver, the one remaining child still living with her, feeling isolated from her community.  

Sethe believes they are being haunted by her memories of Sweet Home and by a physical manifestation of her suffering, the ghost of her baby daughter, whose tombstone was engraved with one single word since it was all Sethe could afford to engrave: Beloved. This masterful work implores readers to understand the complexities of motherhood and ask themselves what it might mean to love deeply.


The Upstairs House

By Julia Fine

Megan Weiler has just recently given birth to her first child, a daughter she had anticipated being able to bond with far more easily. Raising her daughter alone while her husband travels for work is taking a mental and physical toll on her body. To make matters worse, she feels unfulfilled and unaccomplished as her dissertation on mid-century children’s literature remains unfinished. 

Then an unexpected upstairs neighbor arrives—the ghost of children’s author Margaret Wise Brown, who has unfinished business with her past lover, actress Michael Strange. But no one else appears to acknowledge these spirits taking over her home. This is a candid look into the reality of postpartum and the loneliness and desperation it manifests. 


The Push

By Ashley Audrain

Determined to be a more attentive, loving mother than her own, who had abandoned her when she was a child, Blythe Connor tries to form a close connection with her baby daughter Violet. However, Violet seems different from most kids, despite Blythe’s husband’s dismissive remarks that deny her fears. She wonders if it all might just be in her head. 

But then her son Sam is born, and the mother-son bond occurs instantaneously, like she had always hoped would happen for her and Violet. Unfortunately, the family’s happiness is fleeting, as a tragic event occurs that changes the trajectory of their lives forever. This is a read-in-one-sitting kind of book that will radically challenge your perception of motherhood.


Just Like Mother

By Anne Heltzel

Cousins Maeve and Andrea have a close bond; after all, they were raised in a cult and had to rely on each other for most of their childhood. But one night, Maeve decides to flee and escape their dangerous cult to try to forge a new path for herself. She ends up in New York and leads a very normal, but lonely, existence. 

That is, until Andrea becomes a part of her life again and Maeve is drawn into her cousin’s dark schemes as she learns some difficult truths about Andrea’s career working in the fertility industry. A deeply disturbing read, this novel explores the societal pressures placed on women to become mothers and the sense of loyalty we have toward family.    

fever dream by samantha schweblin

Fever Dream

By Samantha Schweblin

This short surrealist novel is a frightening, thought-provoking read that centers around a young woman named Amanda who is lying in a hospital bed on the brink of death while having a conversation with a boy named David. An unnerving look into maternal anxiety and the fear of ecological disaster, this disjointed, compelling story will make you feel like you’re experiencing a vivid fever dream from the first page to the last. 



By Ainslie Hogarth

After Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby is eager to form a deeper bond with her overbearing mother-in-law. See, Abby has always craved a maternal relationship, and as she and her husband are starting to try for a baby, what better time than to start fresh! Abby has been able to form a close relationship with Mrs. Bondy, her favorite elderly resident at the long-term care home she works at, so how hard could it be to get along with Laura? 

Apparently, it’s pretty difficult. 

Laura has zero interest in making nice and ends up committing suicide. But her cruelty doesn’t end after she is gone; instead, Laura decides to haunt the two. Now, everything seems to be crumbling around Abby—her husband is deeply depressed, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter might move her to a different home, and her mother-in-law is still finding a way to make her life a living nightmare! Abby forms a plan to make things right, and the result is a darkly hilarious, grotesque story that will have readers disturbed by how much they catch themselves chuckling.  

Little Darlings

Little Darlings

By Melanie Golding

No one blames Lauren Tranter for being tired; she’s a new mother to not one but two newborn twin boys. But people are concerned. Lauren claims that during her hospital stay, she saw a woman try to take her kids and replace them with identical creatures. Although Lauren is not entirely convinced that this incident was the result of exhaustion, she lets the matter go. 

A month passes and she is spending quality time with her two boys at a park when she finds her worst nightmare come to fruition—her children are kidnapped, and when they are eventually found, Lauren knows they are not her babies; they have been replaced. And she is willing to do anything to bring them safely home. This chilling novel is the culmination of every parent’s cruelest fear. 


With Teeth

By Kristen Arnett

All Sammie Lucas ever wanted was a normal life with her wife, Monika, as they parented their son Samson. But ever since Samson was a young boy, he’s been pulling away and has become an impenetrable teenager who actively avoids bonding with his mother. A messy, imperfect, but very honest take on family dynamics boldly highlights the difficult reality parents must face when their child ends up becoming someone they didn’t intend for them to become.

Killer Kids

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

In this heartbreaking, disconcerting novel, a mother is left trying to piece together how she ended up raising a violent, callous, manipulative school shooter. The story unfolds through letters written by Eva to her ex-husband as she attempts to understand how her son became a monster by recounting their tumultuous life together. Could he sense her dissatisfaction with motherhood? Or was he determined to cause her pain from the moment he was born, regardless? 

A fascinating perspective on the nature vs. nurture debate, the author doesn’t provide any simple answers but instead gifts readers a novel that stunningly examines the judgment often placed on mothers’ shoulders for the behavior of their offspring. It’s a tragic story that you’ll continue to mull over for the rest of your life.  

small press horror books fall 2021

The Forest

By Lisa Quigley

Editor's Note: The author of this novel is also the editor of this site.

This adult folk horror novel asks readers to think about what they would and would not be willing to sacrifice for their own safety and peace of mind. The town of Edgewood is a haven for its residents, as long as they never leave and venture into the nearby forest. As the new town stewards, Faye and her husband are prepared to continue the tradition established by her family for generations that will enable the entire community to remain protected.

But upon realizing the true cost of maintaining the town’s utopic state, Faye decides to flee to the dark and dread-inducing forest with her infant son in tow, all while attempting to cope with brutal postpartum anxiety. With no one to turn to except her determination to keep her and her newborn son safe, readers witness the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her child.

Sundial by Catriona Ward, a horror novel from Tor Nightfire


By Catriona Ward

Rob is the mother of two young girls and has left behind a traumatic past on her family’s ranch, Sundial, within the secluded Mojave Desert. She never would have believed she would be returning to the place that has caused her immense inner turmoil throughout the years, but after her daughter Callie begins collecting animal bones and whispering to ghosts, Rob knows she must search for answers. This suspenseful, twisted family gothic will have readers paranoid that their loved ones might be keeping secrets from them as well.

Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi Demeester

Such a Pretty Smile

By Kristi Demeester

Told from dual perspectives and flashbacks, this propulsive, feminist horror novel introduces us to Caroline Sawyer, a successful sculpture artist who began seeing and hearing delusions of dogs in 2004 when she learned of a serial killer known as The Cur who targets young women. Caroline’s anxieties about this vicious murderer simultaneously inspire her art and worry her fiancé, who believes she should seek professional help.

In present-day 2019, Caroline’s daughter, 13-year-old Lila Sawyer, is struggling with her mental health, which is worsening due to an unrequited crush and the knowledge that someone has been mutilating young girls her age in her town. Lately, Lila has been trying to repress dark feelings of rage but doesn’t want to express these emotions to her mother, who’s always viewed her as a “good girl.” She also knows that her mother hasn’t been completely open about her past. What might her mother know about the recent murders?

This is the story of one mother and daughter who must find a way to rely on one another to fight the demons of their past and present and maintain their sanity in a world that expects them to smile amid blatant inequality and brutality towards women. 

Featured photo: Josh Bean / Unsplash