Well, it's fitting that I've read this story by Paolo Bacigalupi about a pretty horrific OBGYN job in the bleak future on the same day as I came back to Labor and Delivery after 2 months of being on a different service - and delivered a cute and healthy baby girl (a.k.a. 7 pounds of adorable!)
Apparently I was not yet quite ready to leave behind Bacigalupi's bleak dystopian worlds for a bit of sunshine and happiness. Who knew?
Now this is the story that deals with the direct opposite of a happy mother having her desired healthy baby and the whole family cooing over their new daughter just minutes after the whole ordeal. What's going on here quickly becomes obvious, and it's pretty tragic and painful, I have to say. It gives quite a new meaning to the benign and casual word 'prenatal', doesn't it?
"I wonder if God forgives me for my part in her prenatal care. Forgives me for encouraging the full course of treatment."
Except for this part, which is awesome and I would not mind having something of this sort as I'm doing a delivery:
" Ghostly data flickers and scrolls at the perimeter of my vision: heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation, fetal heart rate, all piped directly to my optic nerve by my MedAssist implant."
Now, here is what the story is basically about: Like it's customary in Bacigalupi's fiction, the action takes place in the future rife with environmental pollution. According to one of the characters, "We should all just beg God to keep babies from absorbing their mother’s chemical sludge." But since that's not possible, the next step is basically sacrificing some to give others a better fighting chance at surviving. The obstetrician who does this kind of 'prenatal care' - causing the first child to be still born to 'cleanse' the mother - is, by the way, unwilling to undergo these 'prenatal treatments' herself and instead chooses to try quite nasty experimental treatments to avoid fate that she sees her clients face on the daily basis.
Now, this story is unsettling for me given my profession. It's also unsettling given the political climate and the views on reproductive politics in the country where I live, the views that among other things help fuel the elections of the country leaders. (The main reason, apparently, this obstetrician in Bacigalupi's story would not consent to this treatment is because of her religious views, by the way.) And I could not help but wonder which position Bacigalupi holds in this neverending political debate because it's hard to read anything these days without making the inevitable political comparisons.
Until I stopped wondering and just decided to take this story for what I would like it to see - the world where, unlike our pro-choice and anti-choice debates (you will note that I refuse to use the words pro-life as it implies that the only thing pro-choicers ever do is NOT choosing to keep the child. Choice implies at least two possibilities, which the rhetorics-prone tend to forget. Off the soapbox now) there's really NO CHOICE. You kinda have to choose the 'treatment' because the alternatives are alluded to, and they are not desirable.
And so I read it again deciding to forgo any political debate associations that immediately spring to mind in this time of everything relating to politics - and read it as a really sad story involving two women both doing things they do not want because they really have few options otherwise.And it's quite heartbreaking and, in Bacigalupi's true fashion, very depressing. And makes you hope that humanity will stop ruining nature before we get to the point when something like that becomes a necessity for everyone and the choice of doing what we deem necessary with our own bodies becomes a moot point because it really stops being a choice.
"I lift the canister and pour the body into suction. It disappears, carrying the chemical load of its mother down to incineration. An offering. A floppy sacrifice of blood and cells and humanity so that the next child will have a future."
And now I will head back to work and deliver a few healthy happy babies to help me get this story out of my head. Hello placentas and meconium and umbilical cords and that always-relief-causing moment when the baby utters its first angry and loud and very much alive cry.