A short sci-fi story on reproductive rights, biotechnologies, and privilege.
I could not believe my eyes after peeing on a stick. We were only playing around, and we never had the intention of reproducing. I was young and he was too, so we were unsure about what to do. Newly wed, we wanted to live our lives like partners where one is a full person together. This does not mean we were incomplete without the other, we were simply better together, and ourselves with one another. There was no boundary between his dreams and mine. We shared the pillow and we never fought for the duvet. But this would change with a third human on the table.
“What should we do about it?”, asked Benjamin.
His eyes were compassionate, and he squeezed my hand in support. We may be one in our relationship, but he knew it was still my body.
“I don’t know”, I said, “I never saw this happening to us”.
The year was 2030 and we were taking off with our careers. Benjamin has a start-up consulting firm, where he advises people to make green buildings and clean up the city air. He has a big heart and his soft spot is nature. I was in my final year of university, doing research for my PhD in literature, although I consider myself a lousy reader. I also called myself a feminist. A baby on the way in this point of our lives was a turning point. Benjamin and I had said ‘no kids, now or ever’. We rejected the idea of bringing more humans into an imperfect world, especially with global warming and the unfair toll a baby would have in my body and my career compared to his.
“I’ll teach North Americans how to respect women, and you’ll advise them to mend the environment, so they can be better humans”, I always said. What would a child do to this balance?
* * *
A week went by and I was still in denial of my prospective motherhood. I was finishing a smoothie on my way to the supermarket when I overheard it on a news broadcast: “…the new device will allow newborns into the world without the labor of motherhood. Mothers of the decade can remain intact during their months of pregnancy, letting UTERA do the hard work for you! This will be the pregnancy and birthing of the future...” I dropped my cup.
“This is it!”, I thought, “I will outsource the baby!!”.
I ran home to tell Benjamin. Had he even heard of this wonderful technology? Did he know abortion was so last decade, and we did not have to go through the emotional/ethical rollercoaster? These are the wonders of the economy! We are outsourcing mother labor like we can outsource food production! This is it. Think about the gender wage gap. Nobody can discharge or not hire a woman just because they are prospective mothers. Now we can decide! They cannot discriminate! We have transcended biology; we have hacked the system. I felt free.
After listening to my over-excited argument, Benjamin sat back on our couch.
“Is this really what you want, honey?”, he asked in a much calmer voice.
I said, “Yeah, don’t you?”, in a rather brusque tone.
He said, “Well, we are a team and if you’re in, I am too.”
I hugged him tight and felt my stomach against him. Soon the discomforting thought of carrying an embryo would be gone.
* * *
An engineer and a doctor were present at our UTERA consultation. He explained the machine was still in progress, that there were updates still due, that it was still expensive, and that we had to be sure we wanted to be the Guinea pigs. We were.
The men brought UTERA in. A big black capsule, an alien-like machine. Its black outer layer reminded me of a beetle’s carcass. A small door with a handle was placed in the lower side of the machine, facing the front. After signing a bunch of forms, the doctor proceeded to take the embryo out of me with the aid of a sleek machine which could cut and mend the uterus from the same canal babies are usually born though. I barely felt it. It worked like a baby magnet. Soon it was outside of me, and it looked like a moist pink been. Benjamin held my hand tight, but I think it was mostly for his own comfort. His sweaty hand was shaking.
UTERA was waiting, extending its fabricated umbilical cord from the opening of its little door. It looked astonishingly pink, quasi-real qualities. They cut mine and connected the embryo’s end with UTERA’s. It attached itself perfectly. I was blown away with the idea that a real biotechnology was fixing my career and protecting my marriage. The thought of UTERA having a successful pregnancy had not crossed my mind until the doctor asked us if we wanted to keep the baby (if all went well). I said I did without meaning it. I did not want to sound cold; I still rejected the idea of raising a child in our terrible world. Besides, the use of UTERA was so new and undertested that chances were we really donated an embryo for scientific experimentation. But hey, at least we avoided an abortion.
* * *
The next months were blissful. I never felt so at peace with the life I led. I was grateful for the laughs with Benjamin, for the Power-yoga lessons, for the smoothies in the morning and our baby-less financial stability (despite our investment in UTERA) in my cosmopolitan city.
“Do you realize how we scapegoated a big moral dilemma”, I said to Benjamin once. “We really went out there and gave our problem to science. How many embryos, wanted or not, could just be part of something bigger; of a project that will do so much for women rights, for humanity? I think we are amazing for going on board with this”.
He nodded as he sipped his coffee, “Yes, baby.”
“And did you see how popular they’re becoming? Who would’ve thought eight months ago UTERA was basically unknown? Today its sales are skyrocketing, there is investment, there are stories about it in Cosmo and all the way to Daily Mom, and New York Times to Scientific American. We really are at the forefront of a better world!”, I kept on.
Benjamin was not answering, he seemed consumed by the news broadcast on TV. I slurped my smoothie loudly and when he did not turn, I got up to tap him on the shoulder,
“What’s up, love?”. I looked up to the news broadcast.
The headline read: Thousands of young women go missing in communities all over the Global South. No common cause has been determined.
“What is this all about? Was it a new terrorist group?”, I asked.
“I’m not sure... I don’t think something this big has ever happened before”, he replied.
How mysterious, I thought. However, I was still distracted, at awe with my actions, convinced I had done something major for myself and for mothers all over America. I got back to my thesis while Benjamin looked spaced out, still disturbed at the news. He could not stop looking at the image of a missing girl’s toe, brown skin, and a yellow flaky bracelet in her ankle.
* * *
A month later, I was ready to party. I was meeting the girls on a night out to celebrate my not-a-Mother’s Day. Nine months prior, we had given our embryo to UTERA, and if not for the marvelous biotech machine, I would be stranded with a baby, my career at a halt, and a thesis in shambles. I was putting my make-up on when I saw Benjamin run in to the apartment in shock. His face was pale green as if he had seen a ghost. Panting, he was struggling to breathe.
“Ben what happened what’s the matter?”, I cried worried, “take deep breaths with me”. After calming himself down a little and drinking some water he explained:
“We received a notice in the mail today. It was from UTERA. They wanted to commemorate our involvement with them, now that 9 months have passed, by inviting us to have a look at their technological advancements. They also asked whether we wanted to make a financial contribution… It looked like an automatic e-mail. I was curious about their business strategy and wanted to ask if I could offer my consulting skills for something, perhaps advice them on using clean materials. I entered the waiting room, but it was empty. I was there un-announced, but I was a little surprised. I tried to enter the office, but it was closed, so I decided to stroll around the place in case I saw someone. I walked along the silence until I stumbled across the room where our UTERA was put in place. To my surprise, the door wasn’t locked. I was feeling curious, and something felt off about seeing the place so empty, so I went in.”
I had a bad feeling about all this… Ben drank some water and went on:
“I examined the odd machine remembering the last time we’d seen it. I remember how unsettled I was when I saw the embryo connected to the machine and got the chills. But then I thought I’d heard something. It sounded like heavy breaths. I leaned closer to it and noticed there was a green-ish, goo-ish layer underneath the black carcass that surrounded the machine. I tried to force the plastic carcass open and a piece of it fell off, letting out some light from inside the UTERA. I looked through the lit hole and saw in the very inside of the machine, deep in its goo-covered mechanism, a brown-skinned girl with a yellow flaky ankle bracelet. I jumped back in shock. I… I couldn’t… I ran here as fast as I could!”
I stood there confused for a minute, and later said, “But honey, don’t you think you may be wrong about this? I know you have a big heart and you care a lot about the disappearance of these women, I heard their numbers are growing to the hundred-thousands! But I think you’re too invested in this story”. I patted his back, but he moved away. “Maybe you’re just stressed?”
“I am telling you there is a human being inside the UTERA!! I am not crazy, okay? You’ve been obsessed with the idea of this being a good deed to science and all, and the wonderful things it will do for your personal life, but I think you are being selfish!”, he lashed out.
I was angry and yelled back at him, “Well I’m sorry for being happy with my life!”.
We had never fought like that before, but now was not the time to deal with it. I threw clothes on and left to the UTERA office. I slammed the door behind me.
* * *
When I got there, the main door was locked. I heard a police siren in the background, so I decided to enter through the garage door, which was easier to force open. I looked around for people, but everything seemed empty. It was as if everyone had left on a rush. There were papers on the floor, boxes on the office table. I walked the hall into my old room, where our UTERA was placed. There it was: the technology that had saved my aspirations in life. I wondered why the machine was still here if people were leaving in a rush. Maybe because the baby was due anytime now after 9 months, and they could not unplug it? The air got moist as the machine started making loud buzzing sounds. I gulped and approached it hesitantly. I leaned towards the hole Benjamin had apparently made on the machine’s side, with a greenish light emanating from it.
“Ahhhh!”, I screamed.
It was true. Among the metal and plastic there was a pair of brown-coloured legs spread out, one of them with the little yellow ankle bracelet I recognized from TV. I started crying. This is not what I believed in. I hated myself so much in the moment. I always thought of myself as woke and knowledgeable. I thought this was an emancipating technology for women, for equality and liberation. I did not expect the machine’s premise was to imprison a more vulnerable girl for the wishes on another. This was not feminist. I felt guilty for my compliance. Besides, I was convinced biotechnology meant machines would enhance human biology, not create machines out of humans for other humans. This was not science. This is not fair.
“This makes me sick”, I snapped out loud.
Amid my angry sobbing, I felt the UTERA started to heat up beneath my palms. Like a microwave, it made a buzzing sound and it started shaking. I stepped aside in shock but kept staring at the legs inside the machine. All the sudden, a round-shaped object was coming out from the upper-center of the legs. The ankles kept flexing, and I swear I could hear someone moaning in pain. What could I do? Was the girl alive? Is there a way to disconnect the machine? Should I call Benjamin? The Police? All these thoughts came to my mind as I stood still. Next thing I knew, the machine’s lights went off and it stopped shaking. There was smoke coming out of the carcass that spread all over the room, and then there was only silence. I crouched and moved closer to the machine, which now smelled of burned rubber and burned flesh. Was the girl still alive? I proceeded to open the only door in the machine that was seemingly well in place, the small one at the bottom. To my surprise, as soon as I opened the oven-like door, I could hear a baby crying, and the legs at the other side were lifeless and burned. Hesitantly, I took the baby in my hands.
“He looks like Benjamin”, I thought.
* * *
I wrapped the baby in my hoodie as the police sirens kept getting louder. The baby kept crying. I stood up and I could catch glimpses of the blue and red lights outside the window.
“Madam don’t move! Put the baby down where we can see him.”
A bright lantern light was focused on me now. I gulped and did as instructed.
“You’re under immediate arrest for suspected kidnap and conspiring with the UTERA organization. All collaborators with the company’s system of international organized crime will be detained. You have the right to remain silent, you…”
Everything started fading as I faced the lights. I felt dirty as a criminal.