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Genkis’ interpretation of a gestation chamber.
Baby in a Box
2014.10.15 CE / 346.06.36 AL (MNB) – David Weber’s book At All Costs tackles the issues of motherhood and women’s choices in 41st Century Manticore. Despite living in his post-scarcity, gender-equal society, we’re still very human… and women will still have the desire and ability to have children. So how does Weber’s future vision match with the attitude of his 21st Century female fans? To answer this question, we asked mothers across the Fleet about their opinions.
One of the interesting technology options is whether to carry your baby to term inside the mother’s body, or to use a gestation chamber. Does it take away from your identity as a woman and a mother? “I had two high risk pregnancies,” Commodore Penny Horwitz, commanding officer of GNSS Katherine Mayhew, explained, “If I hadn't been [at the hospital], there was a very good chance one or both of us would have died… If not for my doctors would have lost her. So, no, I don't see it as essential to my identity as a woman.” The opportunities involved would solve several current problems. MCPO Jacia Bruns, Bosun of HMS Imperatrix, pointed out that “we already want to extend childbearing years here on Earth, so the tubing of a baby here will help immensely, considering the fact that 16% of first time moms are now over 40 years old.” Ambassador Lady Dame Elisa Randall, formerly captain of HMS Invincible, thought it a great solution for “women today who cannot carry their own children, although for different reasons. How wonderful that there are surrogates in these times when a gestation chamber doesn't exist. Does their situation make them less of a mother?”
Several times in the books there are references that women serving in the Royal Manticoran Navy need to have a one-year contraceptive implant in order to serve on warships. The radiation levels on board ships are deemed irresponsible for women who are—or could be—pregnant. How would this mess up menstrual cycles? All the mothers laughed at the question… because the technology exists now. Ambassador Randall pointed out. “I have also met quite a few women who don't often have their menstrual cycles due to either the Depo Provera shot or the pills you can take now that do not require a monthly course. They all feel much happier, freer and sexier because of it. Good for them!” Commodore Horwitz pointed out “[With] current birth control it's easy to avoid having a period at all. The pill, for example, is three weeks of viable medication and one week of inert meds used to keep a woman on schedule. All you have to do is jump to the next three weeks and no period. We also have implants and shots that can put a woman into "medical" menopause.” Isobel Johnston, civilian and mother of two on board HMS Claymore, pointed out that “radiation levels so dangerous for women’s eggs would also affect men’s testes. Men would need to bank sperm prior to military service to avoid fertility issues.”
RMN fathers on shore leave with their kids at the park. (ConCarolinas 2014)
But biological equipment aside, how does the 41st Century mother deal with the time demands of a full-time career and a family? What social/technological elements would help her? “I imagine that we'd still see live nannies and/or baby sitters,” Horwitz estimated. “Monitoring devices for infants would probably be more advanced… I doubt SIDS will be as much of a problem 2000 years from now. If a baby is tubed or a surrogate is used and the biological mother intends to breast feed, there'd have to be medication that stimulates milk production, since the body doesn't go through the hormonal changes due to pregnancy,” However, Randall had a quick answer: “Easy - an extended family. Due to increased lifespans, an extended family can and may become more common again as it did before the "nuclear family." Advanced monitoring devices might help make life smoother, as well as automated systems that make food, clean houses, and such. Sign me up for that!”
Although increased lifespans might be good for relatives, how would it affect relationships? Elisa Randall suggested that “Perhaps people would wait longer before considering marriage. It could deepen a relationship having all those extra decades to share. Some families might have more or less children, or space them out further. Can you imagine a 40 year old getting a newborn sibling?” Penny Horwitz thought that “As for prolong, I think Weber has it right. Human emotional needs do change, it's just a fact of life, and a prolong society would have to adjust to that. And it's possible, even probable that a person wouldn't "settle down" until later in life because they'd have time.”
“What would families be like when you'll expect to see your own great-great-grandkids! Wow!” Elisa continued. “I know what it is for my daughter to know her great-grandmother. It is wonderful! Having a great-great would be amazing, but I think ultimately good too. With such longer lives, I would suspect civilization would start trending towards having less children to control overpopulation, or at the least to offer their children the extended education and support they will need to sustain themselves in such a long-lived civilization! Anyway, I think this refers back to the extended family concept. Bigger families in terms of generations, more intrafamily help and support. I'm sure there are downsides too, but being from a tight-knit family myself, the pluses are so obvious to me.”
Babies need all the help you can get, although most mothers can’t call a fleet in for support.
However, one couldn’t finish this discussion without addressing military mothers of the future. Obviously they exist today, but is there any advantage or added complications to military life in the RMN? Master Chief Bruns certainly thought so. “Military careers in the Honorverse, and by extension tours of duty, are really long. I would think this is a huge complication, [but it] leaves you with the feeling that a three year parental leave is not enough.” Ambassador Randall agreed, “Longer, robust lives during a very, very long war equals a longer tour of duty.” Commodore Horwitz pointed out that “[What] would be different would be the communication lag. Right now, with video conferencing, email, and social media in general, it's extremely easy to keep in touch. The lag would be a reversion where spouses and children would have to wait for letters via courier. And the lag in KIA/MIA lists would be horrendous.”
So do the technological and social advances lead to a lack of feminine identity? The answer was clear. “No, I don't see it as essential to my identity as a woman,” Penny Horwitz definitely answered. “I personally do not find womanhood or maternity as a biological process,” Jacia Bruns agreed. Whatever the future may bring, it seems that regardless of what medicine or society will become, mothers—and women in general—will still be as feminine as they are today.
Prolong makes ship captains so young looking! (Actually Midshipman The Honorable Alex Bulkeley)
Copyright © 2014, Bureau of Communications, The Royal Manticoran Navy: The
Official Honor Harrington Fan Association, Inc.
CPO Caitlyn Miller, Manager, Manticoran News Bureau, BuComm. All pictures used with permission or used in a way that qualifies as fair use under US copyright law.