Lisa Hill-Corley holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University, where she was a finalist in the 2011 Charles Johnson Student Fiction award through Crab Orchard Review. She is currently an editor for Gazing Grain Press, a feminist press led by GMU creative writer alum. Her work has also appeared in the Oklahoma Review and Diverse Voices Quarterly.
First, there was a stunning announcement that seemed too much like science fiction to take seriously: take this pill and make motherhood simple! The dose was dismissed as a fad at first. Then the researchers hit the talk show circuit, and once the pregnant celebrities bought into it, the march to mainstream acceptance was swift. Within months the media response changed from Time Magazine covers that read, Are Women Crazy For Taking a Pill to Grow Extra Arms? in big red letters, to soft print ads that featured Carmen Electra, the dose’s main celebrity endorser, prettily concentrating on a to-do list while juggling a baby and a coffee mug. You all ready multi-task, now your body can help, the copy read.
The chic Brooklyn mothers who were sick of dealing with nannies were first. The rest of us held out, figuring this was just another dumb trend from the “cool” urban mommy bloggers who named their kids things like Jedediah and Isolde. We studied the pictures of their strange couture tunics with extra armholes and laughingly compared them to preschool painting smocks. We clucked our tongues and wrote checks to displaced childcare workers’ groups. We sponsored seminars on the health risks of adding extra limbs to the body and signed web petitions directed at national OBGYN groups.
But then the dose came down in price, and suddenly treatment coupons and off-the-rack tunics were a hotter shower gift than cloth diaper sets. Before long, public opinion changed and people shrugged off the dose as a sign of the times, seeing detractors as pitifully backward, like how people rolled their eyes whenever someone said, “But you’re shooting poison in your face!” about Botox.
We watched in queasy curiosity as the first of our friends took the leap, opening their tunics to show us the tiny buds of the extra arms bursting through the slit of skin that doctors made underneath their original pair of arms. Although we sometimes got nightmares, we studied the new fingers pushing through the skin graph sites with gruesome fascination. We tried to believe our friends who assured us that the feeling of the hands bursting through the puffy, scabbed over sites didn’t hurt as much as childbirth would.
When we couldn’t put off telling people about our own pregnancies any longer, everyone started talking about the dose before their excited squeals left the air. Our families sent us articles about it, and husbands left pamphlets from the doctor’s office on the kitchen table. Our one childfree friend from college begged us not to become a part of the insanity and cited statistics about the rise of osteoporosis in women under 40.
“Take the dose right at the start of your third trimester,” our mom friends said before we could ask about folic acid, “that way you’re past the most dangerous part of your pregnancy and your second pair will be grown in before the baby comes. Don’t wait too long, or you’ll be stuck with just two arms and a newborn.” We nodded, but when we flinched one too many times at the touch from one of our friends’ new arms, they stopped returning our calls for a while.
The extra arms took some getting used to, and women had to learn how to work them just like their infant children did. At first the extras just slapped against their bodies or flung out independently when the women turned too quickly.
Our obstetricians diplomatically answered our questions about exposure to the fetus and risks to our health without quite looking us in the eye. We noticed the women doctors who were mothers all still had two arms. In response to our delicate questions about it, they mumbled something about getting medical training with just two arms, and then changed the subject. Yet somehow we all walked out of their office with dose appointments, “just to have the option available.”
While fighting morning sickness we started bitching about the TV commercials where women picked up and put down multiple things at once, and the terrible stand-up routines by male comics about the possible sexual acts that could be performed with by women with four arms, which people started calling krackens after the multi-armed sea monster. The women tried to re-brand themselves as “Shivas,” until the internet pointed out that Shiva was a male god.
For a time we were all chastened by the profiles of brave wounded combat veterans who were part of the initial medical trials for the procedure to grow new limbs. But then Krackenporn burst on to the scene and everybody got fascinated with debating that instead.
We watched the debut of Motherhood Fully Armed, the first kracken reality show, which followed Carmen Electra around as she navigated the world with four arms. We looked on during episode one as Carmen, dressed in four-armed romper, put wipes in a warmer with one hand and folded onesies with two others. Her baby’s father, some baseball player, sat nearby eating chili that she had scooped out of the crockpot with yet another hand.
“Babe, can you hand me the cheese?” he said.
“Sure baby,” Carmen flipped him a bag of shredded cheese. He fumbled it.
“I catch better than you now,” she said.
So she’s doing four things at once. What’s he doing? We tweeted.
Nothing. She’s a one woman cook, nanny, chauffer and sex toy. What does she need him for? Our childfree friend tweeted back. This elicited responses for hours.
We kept up the comment stream as the show followed Carmen to an appearance on an Ellen panel. The camera panned the crowd, which was full of krackens making extraneous thumbs up to the camera. The extra arms were often too short to reach around the body to clap together, so women either awkwardly applauded with the hands on one side of their bodies, or banded together to clap for Ellen as a team. The camera lingered on several women trying to figure this out - they laughed as their arms got twisted together. Finally Ellen invited a group that had perfected the trick to demonstrate onstage.
Anti-dose women’s groups finally got organized. On one side were the Christians, whose argument was a mixture of naturalism and damnation. Their leader, Mary Burgess, was a round-faced, sweet looking blonde who was a champ at addressing the camera as if she was looking right at us.
“I just wanna say to all you moms, what God gave us was enough. Don’t get fooled by this so-called science trying to muck around with our bodies.”
Her rising popularity stalled someone when a Fox News interview started making the rounds on the blogs. “Sounds to me like women who can’t manage with two arms just need to work twice as hard. Don’t let lazy working moms talk one more woman into doing this,” she said.
A men’s magazine think piece launched the term “half-assers,” which was a joke that backfired horribly. Undaunted, Mary Burgess continued her march across the networks and we kept putting off canceling our dose appointments.
Then there were the radical feminists. They got arrested for attacking OB doctors with stolen mannequin arms and staged performance pieces consisting of women punching their fists through red cloth and throwing Barbie arms out into the audience. The most radical group was Two Arms For Our Kids, led by Rory, just the one name. Rory bombarded our e-mail with daily accounts of dose treatments gone wrong that made us ashamed that we weren’t out protesting on our swollen eight-month pregnant feet and ankles, even if Rory hurt her credibility by always threatening cut off one of her own arms in protest.
“Mothers already have most of the responsibility and burden of raising children!” she yelled at Rachel Maddow. “So why are we letting Big Science send the message that we are suddenly not equipped to do the job the way we are? Why is no one asking fathers to undergo immense physical changes?”
We certainly thought she had a point – but she was making it while wearing earrings made out of baby doll arms painted red at the base to simulate blood. It kind of took the relatable angle out of her message.
When we went into labor and got to the hospital, we were bombarded by a mob that seemed to be made up entirely of hands that reached out at us from all angles. Those of us who had babies before the law banning hospital protests had to contend with members of all three groups standing in front of maternity wings shouting at each other, or calling out support for passing krackens or half-assers. We clutched our husbands and partners, who tried to yell at everyone to get back, but all of the factions disregarded them entirely. Especially the men.
Radicals rushed up, mannequin arms held high. “Women in China are being forced into dose treatment! Do you think that can’t happen here? The medical industry is being directed by big pharma!”
But the krackens were so good at being soothing. “Don’t let them scare you out of doing what’s best for you and your baby with fake horror stories from the internet.”
The Christian volunteers slipped in. In intoxicating asides they said, “Don’t let them ruin what God made perfect. Let me escort you and keep you safe in Christ’s love.”
In the end, we stuck both our arms out in front of us and battled our way inside, as we dreamed about the crisp white sheets in a quiet hospital room several floors away.