Bumped and Thumped
These two young adult fiction books by Megan McCafferty are part of a two book series and really follow each other so I'm reviewing them together. In an interesting fictional future, a virus leaves everyone over the age of 18 unable to have children so, of course, it's up to teenagers to have babies and continue the population. There are two ways this comes about in the society - on "otherside" the adults start to hire and closely control teenage girls (and boys) to "bump" a baby for them while on "goodside" marriages are arranged at age 13 with the knowledge that babies will follow. In otherside older couples wishing to have children carefully cull out their picks for baby makers, trying to find teenagers who resemble them yet have superior intelligence and other abilities, wanting the best baby they can get. In goodside, the young parents are more likely to keep the children for themselves, raising them in the community. The story follows two twin sisters who grow up separately, one in otherside and one in goodside. When they find out about each other and the reproductive practices on each of their sides, the reader navigates with them the differences and choices each of them is faced with.
There is an interesting exploration of conception, pregnancy, and birth in the book that will make you think about the different human and technological aspects of surrogacy, adoption, and ivf. In Bumped a quote representative of the mindset of professional "repros" (reproducers) is found on page 244, "'You know, before the Virus, people created life in a petri dish. No intimacy! I think it's deep that two souls come together as one body and create a new life.' A one flesh union, I think to myself." The teenagers who bump for others truly believe (or are led to believe) it is for the greater good and the whole process is set up to prevent them from becoming attached to the babies they eventually deliver to the people who paid to have them. You take tocin to become attracted to your chosen mate, then antitocin during pregnancy so you don't connect with your baby, and finally, obliterall after delivery so you forget the whole birth. Of course babies are whisked away immediately - it is dangerous for the mother to see them lest she become attached to them and try to call off the surrogacy deal or go insane from losing her baby.
In Thumped those practices (and mindsets) start to get shaken up as the main characters go through pregnancy and birth themselves and start to question their feelings about the whole process. As they get more into it they see that having babies isn't even just about themselves or the paying adoptive parents - it affects everyone involved on a very ingrained human level. On page 91 we get a glimpse of this: "'They're actually avoiding me until after I deliver. They're afraid of Phantom Grandparent Syndrome.''What?' It's not surprising that she hasn't heard of this relatively new phenomenon. Even with the suggested regiment of therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions, many RePro's parents find themselves inexplicably saddened by the giving away of what would have been their grandchildren." This one quote eerily reminds me of the book The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler. When those girls got pregnant, however, it was not celebrated. But after the fact it was treated as though it never happened. The body and the mind can bury the memory but you cannot erase something as powerful as birth. In Thumped the girls who used the "b" word (baby) and wanted to keep their baby after the transaction was complete had to be treated for postpartum psychosis, sometimes indefinitely. Another very unfortunately real sounding scenario played out later in the book on pages 184-185, Harmony wanted to have a natural delivery, but the hospital staff tried to talk her out of it and manage the whole thing themselves, "'When you came through our doors, you tacitly, but legally, consented to receiving optimal care from the medical professionals at the Keystone Emergency Birthcenter as mandated by the United States government.'...'Relax, ..Let us do the thinking for you. You will be unconscious, after all.'" Birth is entirely medicalized here and women become mere incubators - with no room for feelings, emotions, or bodily autonomy.
I really enjoyed the ending of the book/series when the characters realized what pregnancy and birth is really about, "I've already been a father many times over,... But until I met you, I've never gave a single thought about being a dad." (pg 238) " 'That's what we're dealing with here. Not bumps or preggs or deliveries,' she says each word pointedly. 'Or whatever euphamism you want to use to distance yourself from the truth. We're making babies. We're creating people. And we're having meaningless sex to do it! And yet we pretend like it's no big deal. We pretend that we aren't in the business of buying and selling human beings.."' (pg 263-264).