4/03/2006

The REAL Test-Tube Babies

Guest Post from Proud Daughter of Eve Science fiction writers have always enjoyed making up new technologies. The best writers go on to explore the changes that those technologies bring to society. Science fiction has traditionally been a male-dominated field but there are several strong women writers to be found as well. Lois McMaster-Bujold is one of those writers and one of the technologies that she has dreamed up is very much female-oriented. She calls them "uterine replicators" and while she usually keeps viewpoints nicely balanced in her books, there is a definite bias toward these particular machines. In her "Miles Vorkosigan" series (the one in which the uterine replicators appear), pregnancies are moved to a replicator at some ideal point. More often the pregnancy is simply started in the lab and implanted in the replicator from the beginning. There are beneficial reasons to do things this way. In addition to the more prosaic (in comparison) opportunity to chose the gender of the child, there's the ability to screen the embryo for genetic abnormalities and fix them a.s.a.p. The mother doesn't spend months getting kicked in the kidneys and losing sleep. Birth is a simple process of cracking open the lid. I must admit that I can see the benefits when they're put like that. However, the whole idea gives me the heebie-jeebies. The books claim that there's no difference between body-birth babies and replicator babies but I'm not sure I believe that. Infants are born able to distinguish their mother's voice. Infants are soothed by motions that simulate the rocking they experienced when their mother carried them in her womb. My husband points out that it would be easy for the machines to simulate motion and sound but these are machines. By their very nature there could be no random input; millions of little brains would have the EXACT SAME pathways made as they developed. Nature vs. nurture and the individual spirit of the baby would keep every child from growing up exactly the same but it has implications that I don't think are very promising. Breast-feeding is never mentioned in the books. What about the valuable colostrum, human-specific nutrients and the antibodies the baby gets from its mother? Study after study has been done on the benefits and necessities of breast-milk. Individual mothers and infants may have problems that necessitate the use of formula instead but formula as a way of life? Granted it didn't seem to do irreparable harm to our parents when the medical establishment was telling their parents to feed their babies "scientifically proven" formula but it's still not a situation I'm comfortable with. Then there's the issue of bonding. Breast-feeding is supposed to unleash a potent cocktail of hormones in mother and baby that helps them feel connected and invested in each other. Again, adoptive mothers and those who don't breast-feed for personal reasons don't seem to have major issues but as a way of life it just seems... off. Those are all scientific problems that I have with the concept. People with more scientific background than I have could possibly refute them but my real, knee-jerk, gut-level reaction is spiritual/emotional. As one of Mz. McMaster-Bujold's characters said, you can understand why a father might not be able to make it to a birth but "...my mother missed my birth because she was out of town seems to me to be a deeper complaint." What would it do to humanity to pop our children into pots and cook them up like stew? What a bizarre crock-pot that would be. Just put your ingredients in, close the cover, come back in nine months and hey presto! You have a kid! Those of you who have been pregnant, how did you feel, emotionally and spiritually, while that new little child of God grew inside of you? I admit that my view of pregnancy is highly romanticised but it seems to me that there is an inescapable spiritual component to giving birth. To hand that off to some scientist's device seems like denying yourself a wonderful opportunity for growth, like purposely limiting yourself in some way. More, it seems like denying that spiritual gift to the child no longer caressed by loving hands but lulled to sleep by the hum of machinery. I suppose another part of my problem with the idea of uterine replicators is that I don't like machines replacing one of the most fundamental aspects of womanhood. No it's not ALL that makes us women but it is an integral part and I just can't see being replaced by a machine as a good thing. The more I think about this, the more impact I see. The scope for abuse would widen as people continued to dabble in God's domain with bio-engineering. No longer would a foster-mother be needed to agree to be part of the experiment. Just pop those human/chimp hybrid embryos into the replicators and away they go! Uterine replicators could do what no technology has done yet-- remove the parent from the picture entirely, not by tragic accident but by design. Not all of the impact is bad; there are certainly compelling benefits for individuals. Abortion would be a thing of the past because you could simply transfer the fetus to a replicator and walk away, essentially giving the baby up for adoption at a much earlier point than is possible today. Mothers with significant complications like pre-eclempsia or gestational diabetes could use the replicator to safely continue the pregnancy. Women who otherwise couldn't sustain a pregnancy would have this new recourse. On those grounds, I have no problem at all with uterine replicators. What do you of "Mormon Mommy Wars" think? How do you feel about this? Do you see it as liberation from morning sickness, placenta previa and the other problems of pregnancy? If uterine replicators became fact tomorrow, would you use one or would you choose body-births? Why or why not?

6 Comments:

Blogger Tracy M said...

Uh-hmmmm. As quite possible the mother with the most horrid pregnancies in the entire world (I know, but cut me some slack- I'm due in a matter of days) the whole idea gives me the heebie-jeebies too. And for all the reasons you cite.

As bad, nauseating and uncomfortable my pregnancies are (read 36 weeks and still dealing with daily barfing and, now, fainting!) they are still a worthwhile sacrifice to bring a child into the world. There is also something of the Divine in giving birth; we are closer to God than at any other earthly time, I feel.

For the same reason a painting made by a computer will never have the passion or life of a painting by Picasso or Cezanne or Miro, mechanized birth strikes a sour, off-note deep in my psyche- the fingerprint of the Maker is missing.

4/03/2006 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Mrs. M said...

I think pregnancy is a really exciting time, despite the sometimes unpleasant parts that Tracy and PD of Eve have mentioned. It is miraculous to think of a tiny person growing inside a woman. Delivery is always such an experience because you never know exactly how it will go - you just pray that at the end of it, you have a healthy mom and a healthy baby and enough money/insurance to cover all the bills.

Uterine replicators sound creepy. And what if the power goes out? Or the replicator spills? Or someone sneaks in and does something awful? Or switches replicators on you? Fictional, I know, but creepy.

4/03/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I like to think that if my husband and I could have had such an intimate and God-like experience in CREATING that tiny baby, we would want to see it through until the end and not give it to some machine.

Feeling all the pain associated with pregnancy and childbirth gives a woman empowerment. I know I felt so close to God --I helped bring his children into this world! The kicking, the potty breaks, the sickness, the cramps, the heartburn, etc. etc. was just another blessing to me because I knew that I was about to give birth to my child. Such a small and insignificant sacrifice for something so beautiful and loving.

Man, I would gladly, gladly and gladly go through all of that again AND MORE if I had to in order to have my children with me.
I would never have wanted to take that experience away from my body, my mind, or my soul.

4/03/2006 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger Starfoxy said...

There is a book (part of a series actually, but it can stand alone) by C.S. Lewis called "That Hideous Strength" that brings up similar ideas of replacing natural processes with mechanized ones. Lewis paints a very comprehensive picture of the process and leaves you with the distinct feeling that it is wrong even if you can't place your finger on *why* it is wrong. For example people start killing trees to replace them with statues of trees, because the statues never loose their leaves like "weak organic versions." It's a very interesting book.
To address your question I feel like carrying my baby made me feel important more than it made me feel emotionally connected to the baby. Same with nursing. I wasn't overwhelmed with love for him, but I felt very needed. A mechanical womb couldn't give that same feeling to a mother.

4/04/2006 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger FrogLegs said...

Well.. I guess I would have to be a little different. I find it interesting-- from my perspective. We've been trying to have a baby forever... numerous MC's, failed drugs, horrible tests/procedures.... it's all doing horrible battles on my body, my selfworth, my head, & my heart... I would so much rather have my baby than this option... but I can't. So, while I think it's twisted, it would also give me (and others like me) an option we just don't have right now.

4/04/2006 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Proud Daughter of Eve said...

So far we have 4 votes for no and one vote for yes. Amazingly I think they all agree with each other and with me (not a situation I expected.) None of us seem fully satisfied with it; it brings up issues that make us shiver but as Froglegs points out, for some the benefits outweigh the shivers.

4/04/2006 02:18:00 PM  

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