Thank you Facebook, Apple and you various other tech giants for offering your uterus-carrying employees the option to freeze their eggs (so as to postpone any maternity leave that might inconvenience your company), we very much appreciate your consideration. Uteruses are not the only anatomical structure with a biological clock. Every-Body has joints that wear, muscles that ache and hearts that only beat for so long. Our telomeres grow shorter each day and we’re expected to spend more of those youthful days selling our time and labour for permission to occupy space and eat the fruits of the Earth and to spend only our final hour making memories with our loved ones? When that clock stops ticking all that remains is memories of us held onto by the ones that love us and that they pass down to the ones that come after them. Over my dead body will I sell a taste of eternity for wages or a salary.
That’s not to say that the technology that allows for such a feat as borrowed time or a second chance is an inherently bad thing. It’s a tool like a hammer or a pen, the intention with which it is used is what can make it brilliant or cast a shadow. I am not writing a proposal here for I have no solution to propose. I have no panacea for all those who may desire but are also terrified of the prospect of bearing children in the 21st century or any other century to come. The proposal is one offered to society at large by the prospect of ectogenesis:
"The process of human or animal gestation in an artificial environment."
This technology may not be in full effect today but since 2016 experimentation has proven successful with human embryos up to 13 days after fertilization. Ectogenesis is no longer science fiction. There is useful and urgent work to be done in imagining the repercussions of ectogenesis on people’s relationships with their own bodies and with one another in shared time and across generations.
See the following Wired article for a brief breakdown of the recent, successful ectogenesis experiments and the implications it would have on debates and legislation regarding bodily autonomy, biological motherhood and fetus viability: https://www.wired.com/story/ectogenesis-reproductive-health-abortion/
I for one am fascinated by the prospect of relieving uterus-carrying folks of the physical pains and health risks that come with pregnancy and delivery while preserving a chance to experience the joys that can come with conception and raising a child; that is where the reptilian in the “Reptilian Proposal” comes into play.
Many places in nature we see the work of gestation being done outside the animal’s body. It is unique to mammals that the body of one of the partners is jeopardized in this way. Reptiles for example take the very reasonable approach of laying eggs and waiting for them to hatch. If some humans elected to follow the reptilian model we might see an exaggeration of the current “natural birth debate” which is rarely as polarizing as other reproductive rights debates but is still integral to this thought experiment. The sacredness many folks assign to childbirth is enough reason for some to opt for an organic womb over an artificial womb. However, traditionalism is likely not the whole reason for some to be weary of ectogenesis. With the long practice of cesarean-sections and more recent home-birth v. hospital debates which include: the use of epidurals, midwifery, doulas and the (statistically proven) increased mortality rate for black mothers (relative to expectant mothers of other races) delivering at hospitals due to racist notions among staff leading to malpractice, there is a laundry list of precedents for mistrust in technological innovations of birthing practices. The mother bear’s protective instinct is the likeliest reason that mammals evolved to gestate offspring within their own bodies in the first place. Where birds and reptiles run the risk of having their whole line swept away by a predator every time they leave the nest to gather food, a mammal mother can be certain of its babies’ safety until it’s ready to be born and fend for itself.
See the following PRB (Population Reference Bureau) article for statistics on maternal mortality in the United States: https://www.prb.org/resources/maternal-death-among-u-s-black-women/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw7PCjBhDwARIsANo7CgmZgzPVeGJVa2H0zFjUXPAZrQdCzoadsLk7ZC8_f_KFJ9vt5tmZrrgaAhtHEALw_wcB
And how many times in human history has a woman had to rely on her pregnant condition to assure her safety (if only temporarily or until another baby is conceived)? Too many to count, surely. Such is the plot of royal dramas like Anne Boleyn’s and Henry the VIII’s but at no point in history has this guaranteed protection from domestic violence for pregnant people of any class and could not even prevent the Queens of England from losing their heads as soon as they were deemed inconvenient. What then might feminine-identifying folks be able to expect when ectogenesis arrives under the control of a patriarchal order? An optimist would posit that such an arrival would undermine that very order and level the playing field so that all participants in the conception and raising of children are valued for how they nurture and provide for said children, not only for seeding or birthing them. I would love to accept this without a qualifier but I cannot pretend not to suspect a shadow side comes with this utopic vision of the future. Perhaps it is only the internalized misogyny in me that makes me wonder how society would regard my value if my body was no longer necessary for producing the progeny desired by the modern man.
Anne Boleyn portrayed by Natalie Portman in "The Other Boleyn Girl" (dir. Justin Chadwick, 2008).
Still, another concern remains that is not tethered to the approval of or dependance on a man. That is a concern for kinship bonds, not only between mothers and children but between fathers and children and between parents. Perhaps the conceiving and much longer period of raising children is sufficient time for strengthening such bonds but what emotional, hormonal and neurochemical effects on the biological mother and baby are we not considering in the very sudden and premature severing of that physical connection in the earliest stages of gestation? We already know the turmoil people face during miscarriages, postpartum depression or giving up a newborn for adoption. Who’s to say similar devastation couldn’t be experienced following the transference of a fetus from an organic womb to an artificial one? The Reptilian Proposal leaves me with more questions than answers but “Starseed + Her Psychic Warriors” is my best effort to explore such questions by simulating a future where ectogenesis is a well-established practice and playing out the implications of that practice in the relationship between Starseed and her clone-mother, Wren.
My world introduces a secondary technological intervention to birthing practices, one that is a classic trope in sci-fi but is also not entirely science fiction: cloning. This permits Starseed and Wren to be divided not just by the glass pane of an artificial womb but by the centuries between Wren’s birthdate and the various times Wren’s genetic code has been duplicated and modified before Starseed’s birth several star systems away in the 4200’s CE. Cloning stories typically revolve around the concepts of individuality, personhood, the existence of a soul and where that lies. Starseed is by no means Wren’s doppelganger but technically speaking, Wren is not simply her biological mother either. I’d pondered on this for a handful of years until I serendipitously uncovered the answer at an interactive exhibit in the Museum of Science and Industry this February which read: “Human cloning would make family trees very complicated. The woman who had herself cloned would be the mother of her own twin.” So it appears the answer is not: mother or twin, but both. I am also interested in individuality, personhood, and the soul but in Starseed’s story I am more preoccupied with the future of relations, her quest to uncover their origins and how Starseed chooses to proceed after finding them. An adjacent preoccupation is the grasp for immortality explored quite literally through cloning as a kind of cybernetic-android-reincarnation but more traditionally as well through Wren and Starseed’s complicated lineage and memory as the force that propels Starseed through the narrative.
Still from Starseed + Her Psychic Warriors pilot episode: "Utopia" ft. Rain Banda (left) as Spectre and Daphne Nitsuga (right) as Wren.