Below is an excerpt of Gabriela Wiener’s nonfiction crónica Nueve lunas (Mondadori, 2009) translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker.
Once again life imitates Second Life and not the other way around. “Bundle of Joy” is the maternity clinic in that parallel world, the place where avatars who hope to be pregnant go. In this virtual fertility store, it’s possible to buy a belly for 500 Linden Dollars and, for a lot less, various exciting maternity outfits. You can buy babies there, too. Everyone can be pregnant—men and women—and you can select the eye and skin colors and even the species of your little one: anthropomorphic, cyborg, etcetera. The SL maternity clinic was created by an avatar who couldn’t have children and who thought she could help others like her. The advantages are obvious: the gestation period lasts only twenty-one days, you can abort legally and without remorse or physical discomfort. The same goes for delivery. As if that weren’t enough, if after birth the offspring ends up being cumbersome, you can archive it without any problem and continue on as if nothing had happened. But I move through the first life, not that it really matters, and, at the end of the day, mine isn’t all that different. The avatars of flesh and blood that I meet in my world are also customizable and the things they have done to have children are much worse. They’ve had a second opportunity to live out what they wanted to live.
What awakens the desire to be a mother/father even when it means going against your very nature, exposing yourselves to incomprehension and social isolation? How the hell does our biological clock work? Who puts the batteries in or takes them out?
“My Bundle of Joy”
Appearance: Curly black hair. Glasses. Blue jacket.
I am the peri-menopausal dressmaker who hung up signs in universities offering eight hundred Euro for a young woman’s eggs. I am the one who learned on an Internet forum that there are girls who offer their eggs for money. I am the one that Alelí, a blonde, twenty-year-old girl who cleaned my stairwell, called to offer her eggs. She became my last hope and would ensure that my genealogical tree did not become a shriveled-up branch. Instead of Alelí’s eggs, the hospital gave me some from an anonymous woman. Going through all this, I felt like an old hen laying empty eggs. I know my blood won’t turn poisonous if I don’t have a child, but it’s even more naïve to think that, squarely into the twenty-first century, some things are still impossible, don’t you think? That’s why I tried. I want fresh eggs from fertile girls, little foreign ova capable of flourishing so that I can use them as if they were my own, so that between the rooster’s crow and midnight they might lovelessly mix with my husband’s semen in a sterile test tube. Immaculate conception via artificial insemination. Without sex, without pleasure, swapping out the bed for the laboratory. One day I cried out in horror before the imminence of the biological desert and I told myself that I would pay whatever was necessary to get pregnant. Philip Roth, a writer I often read, has a good explanation for the whole child thing: you have them so that you can listen to something else between the moans of sexual pleasure and the death rattles. In that ellipsis, I want to listen to a baby’s cry. I don’t want a Chinese girl found in a stream. That’s fine for Angelina Jolie. I don’t want anyone to know how good I am or how good the world has been to me. I want to give birth to a child and maybe one day tell them the truth about their origin, to tell them about this blonde girl who cleaned stairwells. I want to breastfeed—just like an elephant would do with a hyena cub in a hypothetical National Geographic documentary—that intrusive child, that hybrid result of my husband’s genes and those from the eggs, who wouldn’t even get my pointy nose, my distant gaze, my melancholy smile. I want to carry them for nine obese months, be tied to them, feed them what I chew, quit smoking in their name, teach them to listen to the sound of the Mediterranean and give birth to them in a bloody scene, preferably filmed on a hand-held home camera. I want that irrational love. But you need to know that the last treatment didn’t go well. They discovered that my cervix is particularly tight. Another one of Mother Nature’s cruel jokes. Another challenge for Sister Science. My son or daughter waits, frozen, until the climate improves. I know I’ll soon be able to tell them the day and hour their conception occurred, something other children cannot know. I’ll tell them I watched the beginnings of life—their life—on a screen, like a science fiction movie. Surely they’ll like that, don’t you think?
Appearance: Blonde, tall, nineteen years old, blue eyes, cotton dress.
My bicycle was stolen a couple months ago because I left it tied to a tree all night. Incredibly, three days later, while I was drinking a Coca-Cola with a friend on the Barceloneta beach, I saw my old bike whiz by, painted electric blue. It was several miles from where it had been stolen! There are things that, for some reason, come back to you, I suppose because you love them so much, and others that never return, that you must forget and give up as lost forever. You want to know if I think that one day, a twenty-year-old boy will knock on my door with an air of familiarity and upon serving him a cup of coffee, he will accidentally spill it over the tablecloth like I do every morning? Let me ask you: what would you do if a lady you’d never met were to appear on a talk show, swearing she is your “true” mother? Isn’t that a good enough reason not to watch that type of show? Well, it’s the same thing. Why would you even think about that kind of thing? It doesn’t do any good.
You tell me I’m too good and too positive, an altruistic person. Well yes, I am. You ask me if I have an unhealthy sense of curiosity, a special morbidity, if I’m haunted by ghosts at night. And no, how can I make you understand that the money is only an incentive? My true feeling is that I’m doing something good to earn it. Many people accuse me of selling my children. But what does it matter if I’m not going to have them inside me? In fact, if I don’t donate them, I’m going to get my period and they’re just going to flow down the drain.
I think I’m just as anxious as Gemma, if not more so, to see that baby. I hope to be like an aunt to the little thing. Gemma and I became inseparable in the hospital rooms when it was our turn to be injected together and, since those days, she has been like a second mother to me.
What is a mother? For me, it’s the closest thing to a giantess that smells like milk, to a lioness with a brain, a vampire’s fangs, a siren’s eyes, and the mouth of Plato’s cave.
Receiving almost one thousand Euro is great, but I’ll continue to care for the elderly and clean stairwells, and, God willing, one day I’ll study interior design.
Appearance: 5’2”. Brunette. Colorful clothes.
I am a future single mother, even though the father is crazy about the idea of being involved. In Lima I was a theater actress, but in Barcelona I work at a bar; I don’t want anything in my life that will enslave me. I do what I want and that’s it. I’m not interested in success or recognition, or in accomplishing great things. There are already plenty of people doing that. For me, having free time and the ability to enjoy it is the most valuable thing. The world isn’t lacking better professionals or better artists, but better human beings. Why would I want the perfect job if it would only take over my life? I’m one of those people who lets life surprise her. I’m thirty-three years old and I suppose my biological clock went off. Three years ago, I aborted a baby I wanted, more out of good sense than sentiment. At that point I still didn’t have papers, the baby’s father wasn’t even in Barcelona and our relationship was unclear. According to a rational person, it was not a viable option. I never forgave myself for not having the strength to take that risk; it was something I owed to myself. That potential father disappeared and soon after I fell in love (and I’m still in love) with a boy who definitively does not want to have a child because he already has one. Because I couldn’t change his mind, I decided to do it on my own. I focused on “operation baby.” I didn’t wait long. The operation had barely begun before I was happily impregnated by a young and wild street musician who understood me and collaborated efficiently and disinterestedly. The first month I was crazy, hysterical; I didn’t want to see anyone, I felt strange and disoriented, and even my closest friends rubbed me the wrong way. A downer. That’s what I was. Now I’m happy. Of course, it’s difficult to combine work and all of this, but it’s worth it. I’m not really in the mood for sex, truthfully, and I used to be a real champion of it. I’m not with the father anymore; he was a mere collaborator and the sex lasted long enough for the mating process to occur. Actually, we still cuddle and fool around, but there’s never penetration. I suppose that psychologically this helps me distance myself from him. My ex and I have a certain sexual connection—in spite of the pregnancy—that has become tenderness and care, nothing wild, of course. So sex isn’t a problem. The biggest obstacle to doing this alone is, even more so than the economics, not being able to share the responsibility. I have to fix everything, or almost everything, by myself. Theoretically, it’s easier to do this with two people, but the advantage of being a single parent is that there aren’t any conflicts. There’s something else I’m discovering: not having a partner doesn’t mean you are completely alone. There’s a network of relationships. It’s surprising how pampered I am. I don’t have a partner who takes care of me, but I do have five or six people looking out for me. I’m only four months along right now. I don’t know what will happen later. I am Ale and I am not alone.
Appearance: 38 years old. White. Blue eyes. Thin.
I was never a Susanita (that character from Mafalda) who dreamed about having kids her whole life. Due to déformation professionnelle (I am an anthropologist), I believe in constructs, in cultural relativity and all that crap, but I was also born into a family, into a social and cultural framework. I was married to a man and, in some way or another, that is what was expected of me, along with the assumption that I would have children. When I met Tati, when I accepted what it meant to be with Tati —the discovery, the freedom, the plenitude that accepting myself implied—perhaps there was an implicit renunciation or postponement of having children. What we had at that moment filled everything. Being with her was more important than any idea of having a child someday. Then we came to Spain. In Lima, we had opened spaces for ourselves, but the city was still like a giant closet. I remember the first time we went to the Gay Pride Parade in Madrid. There were a lot of people who marched with the slogan “Igualdad ya” and demanded marriage equality. I was thrilled. In spite of everything that had happened, I thought: It is possible, we can demand this. More so than discovering our rights, there was a realization about the limitations of our own self-acceptance. In this context, Tati and I began to think about becoming mothers.
For me, wanting to be a mother was first and foremost a process of regaining that old desire. It is also clearly something that develops between two people. Our daughter is a product of us as partners, much beyond whatever convention might suggest. Unlike other couples where only one person wants to be pregnant, both of us wanted to go through the experience, so we decided that we would each have a baby. We decided to start with Tati because she was a little older than I.
I had to work hard on the bonding experience. I put a lot of energy into it. Not only because we were two mothers but also because I was not a biological mother. The other day a friend was talking to me about the pregnancy, saying that it was a pity that men missed out on that experience, and it sounded so strange to me because even though I wasn’t pregnant, I still experienced Tati’s pregnancy as if it were my own.
When our daughter was born, it was a new kind of coming out of the closet. The world was forced to take notice: the baker, the checkout girl at the supermarket, the neighbor. We wanted to create this sense of normalcy. The world is only ready for one mother and it was time to open its eyes.
Now I’m the pregnant one and something strange is happening to me: I had believed that when it was my turn I wouldn’t have to create the bond, that the bond would already be created biologically, but no, I’ve learned that you have to create it all the same. I believe this happens to all mothers with their second child, they believe they won’t be able to love the other child as they love the first one. It’s the same thing.
It was incredible to see Tati’s delivery and now I’m going to experience it from the other side. And she will, too. I think this is one of the few things that only we lesbians can do.
Appearance: Red hair. Tall. Dark eyes.
I took these pills and after ten days a white drop emerged from my nipple. I brought him to my breast and I urged him to latch on. He rejected it at first. He had already been drinking from the bottle for a while. He let go of my nipple and I put it back in his mouth with my finger. His vain attempts made my nipples hurt; they began to crack. One day he was able to suck and he didn’t stop. It was so perfect to see my son, with his dark skin, suck from my delicate white breast. We brought him here from Africa. His mother had died from AIDS but, fortunately, she had not transmitted the virus to him.
I spent ten years trying to get pregnant. I always wanted to be a mother. The adoption process was incredibly long and exhausting; I believe it is much more painful than childbirth. I was about to throw in the towel several times before they finally gave us the Certificate of Suitability. As soon as we had it, we began working through the rest of the paperwork. Like it says in a book I read, we adoptive mothers go through elephant pregnancies, which last more than two years.
The pills I take are called sulpiride, I think, and they induce the production of prolactin and oxytocin, which respond to stimulus from suction. Induced lactation is the solution for adoptive mothers like me who want to strengthen the bond with their children. We are so different, physically, that they need to unite us using other things. I don’t know if this makes me a biological mother, as some say, but while I breast-feed my son, our eyes meet and converse. It’s as if we finally belong to one another.
Appearance: Large. Dirty. Messy hair.
My father killed my mother. He slit her throat because he was a poultry man in the Agustino Market and he knew how to slice each cut without leaving any loose bones. I was ten years old but that day I learned that blood from a human being spurts a thousand times more than a chicken. That’s why I’m stained with blood. But it isn’t my mother’s blood, I don’t think. I killed something else—it wasn’t a chicken, it was a pig—without a knife. Why would I if I had my hands? My hands are so dirty they inspire fear. It doesn’t matter anymore. The fact is that I’m here, as if I were inside a rock. Yes, I’m inside a silent rock that’s inside a mountain full of plummeting rocks. Sometimes I think we will never be able to fall all the way down. Or that this is a bottomless abyss. Sometimes freedom scares me more than prison. When they locked me up, I didn’t even know it. When you spend a lot of time on the street, you forget the last time you ate and what it was that you ate. It’s the same with the other thing. I don’t know how that baby got in there, I only know that it will grow behind bars, like me, and that the poor little thing will be born and will continue to be behind bars. At least until he’s three when, by law, they remove him from me again and they throw him out on that same street from where he came. Ever since my belly began to grow, the guards as well as the other prisoners have been treating me better. Everyone says how clever you are, china, to come here with a baby on the way, mothers in prison receive penitentiary benefits, you did well, gordita. A lot of us are here without our children, suffering on Mother’s Day and every other day, but you, you are going to have him with you, to keep you company under the flea-ridden blankets on the nights when you would give anything to be a poisonous gas that escapes under the door. But I don’t know how to respond. I just set my plate of rice and chicken on my swollen belly as if it were a folding table and I rip off a few shreds with my teeth, my dirty hands. We don’t use knives here. When he’s born, I’ll have to teach him to eat like us.
Appearance: Tall. Curly hair. Prominent nose.
I have no idea why it’s so difficult for people to accept that some women don’t want to be mothers. I don’t mean now, I mean never. I never want to be a mother. It isn’t that I haven’t found the perfect man. In fact, I believe I have a perfect man by my side and I know it because he agrees with me about this. It’s just that I’m not seduced by the idea of becoming a mere receptacle, of disfiguring my body and dying of pain in a delivery room in order to bring a child into the world who will make my life impossible. I don’t find it at all enticing to give up being the center of my life, the spoiled person in the house, and to provide the adoration of a mother for twenty long years, which is how long it takes for a human to become independent and only then because you finally dared throw it out with a swift kick in the ass. Why do you think I’m doing something interesting? My opinion isn’t a phase, it’s lucid thinking. I’ve seen my sister fuck over her life because of her child—let’s be clear—because of the little dictator she has for a son. She and other mothers live in a permanent state of undiagnosed post-partum depression. I’ve come to think that the government should put advertisements on the streets with slogans like “Don’t try it,” “Say NO to pregnancies,” or “Look for good friends, don’t have babies,” like in one of those anti-drug campaigns, with the photos of mothers—before and after. We’ll see if they finally get it.