Imploring the System and Inhabiting Motherhood: Matters of [Re]Productivity and Disability In Mother of Invention

By Anelise Farrris

The year is 2021. Tessa Callahan, a Silicon Valley executive, has made it her life mission to utilize technology as a feminist weapon. When Luke Zimmerman, the son of a recently deceased social media icon, asks her to partner with him in a biotech endeavor that promises to change the way women give birth, Tessa finds herself unable to refuse his offer. The Seahorse Solution, a procedure that reduces the duration of human pregnancy from nine months to nine weeks, guarantees to transform the future of motherhood…but at what cost? This is the world author Caeli Wolfson Widger presents to readers in Mother of Invention: an evocative, challenging science fiction novel that both subverts and expands feminist rhetoric surrounding motherhood.

In this article, I will trace key conversations in the novel that highlight how inclusive feminism gradually develops in the protagonist Tessa. These conversations examine a system that has unnecessarily burdened women and unfairly pitted them against one another. And it invites readers to reflect upon the ways in which they, too, inhabit motherhood: their beliefs or practices that might further a problematic, singular image of what it means to be a woman. In their introduction to Theorising and Representing Maternal Realities editors Marie Porter and Julie Kelso state, “It is obvious that, despite the achievements of feminism, mothering is still considered problematic for women on so many different levels. Motherhood/mothering is still a contested area with more research, from all branches of the Academy, needed” (xiii)—like feminist science fiction studies. This article aligns itself with the Reproductive Justice Movement,[1] which sees itself as a more inclusive community aimed at supporting the right to parent or not to parent, and it seeks to contribute to a growing body of scholarship on Motherhood Studies.[2]

Robin Roberts explains that “Feminist science fiction criticism began somewhat hesitantly and indirectly” due in large part to the male-dominated market of the early-to-mid-twentieth century (185). William Sims Bainbridge’s 1986 Dimensions of Science Fiction was one of the first to (however briefly) discuss how women authors have used the genre to critique gender roles and encourage social and political activism. Even so, Bainbridge does nothing to hide his preference for what he deems to be the “male” brand: hard science fiction (193). “Soft SF, emphasizing human biology, sociology, or unusual forms of perception,” Brian Attebery notes, “is more likely to challenge than to uphold gender norms” (5). And, while the emphasis on delineating between the two styles has lost traction in recent years, early female science fiction authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Marge Piercy, and Margaret Atwood (to name a few) can be recognized as working in this “soft” vein, bringing together fiction and lived experience.

However, such creative work and accompanying scholarship has continuously avoided any serious examination of (in)fertility. Perhaps this should be unsurprising: the reality that feminist work, particularly over the last six decades, would choose to occlude the idea of desiring motherhood, in an effort to portray women as more than reproducing bodies. Many Futures Many Worlds: Theme and Form in Science Fiction (1977), To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995), Science Fiction (2000), Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism (2000),[3] Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (2002), Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (2006), Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed (2014), and Feminist Science Fiction and Feminist Epistemology: Four Modes (2016) overlook the subject completely. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, there is a gap in science fiction scholarship that aligns infertility with a disability, as I present here.[4]

There is a narrative, many narratives missing. In the area of reproduction technologies, science fiction has remained largely rooted in two particular narratives: (1) alien reproduction practices that appear more equitable than our own; and (2) post-apocalyptic landscapes full of fear and danger surrounding (in)fertility or “unnatural” pregnancies. Mother of Invention is neither. It is not a utopic alien reproduction narrative like Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness or a post-apocalyptic dystopia like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and P.D. James’s Children of Men. A recent tweet by Shayna Moon reads, “sci-fi horror is always like ‘what if there was a creature growing INSIDE you’ with zero irony…[continuing thread] If you’re enjoying this thread please consider donating to the Yellowhammer Fund to support reproductive health freedom in Alabama” (@qorquiq). Moon explicitly uses sci-fi as a way to draw attention to the Yellowhammer Fund. While, of course, there is nothing wrong with this narrative or those previously mentioned, it does indicate that sci-fi has primarily centered itself on reproduction as something to be avoided or feared. What I am addressing, what Mother of Invention addresses, is something new. Widger’s novel is distinctly not sci-fi dystopian horror or an intergalactic space story. Conversely, it is set in the near future, with believable technology, and with characters that represent women that we know, that we are.

To be clear from the outset, in this article I will neither be delving into different kinds of feminism—such as liberal feminism versus cultural feminism—nor will I attempt to position my reading within the various waves of feminism. In light of that, here I use feminist and feminism in their most basic form: to mean the advocacy of all women’s rights—from disabled to non-disabled, and from stay-at-home mothers to those in the workforce. Accordingly, this work is a reaction against the one-note brand of feminism that developed in the mid-twentieth century. Certainly, that era saw significant changes for women concerning their private and public life. Women began actively entering the workforce and demanding reproductive rights like access to birth control and abortion. The two facets—working professionally outside the home and controlling childbirth inside the home—became inseparably intertwined. Karen Throsby puts it this way: “This liberal approach asserts that the right not to be pregnant, or to be able to control when to become pregnant, is essential to the achievement of equality in the public sphere…positing female biology as something to be controlled or escaped” (30).

While these achievements for women’s rights cannot be underestimated in their importance, an adverse result of this early movement was the manner in which it cultivated division among women. Instead of promoting community among women, this singular type of feminism became exceedingly divisive—isolating groups of women who approached reproduction and professional matters differently. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique went so far as to critique the notion that stay-at-home mothers could find fulfillment at all. And unfortunately, this tension among women concerning their motherhood practices[5] persists. Throsby affirms,

Both the pro- and anti-natalist radical approaches are problematic because of their reliance on a universal female nature which exists outside the social, cultural and historical context within which reproduction is experienced. These approaches are therefore unable to accommodate differences between women and the inflections of other axes of difference on the experience of maternity…What is missing from these approaches is a nuanced perspective which is able to accommodate and address the ambivalence and ambiguity that many women experience in the context of reproduction and motherhood (32-33).

As Throsby indicates, there is far more to consider here than simply having kids or not having kids. For example, there is ongoing dissent among motherhood practices concerning what constitutes as “work” (Porter and Kelso xiii). Single-child families and lesbian mothers face additional scrutiny for their style of parenting (Porter and Kelso xv). And, despite the significant turn in the mid-twentieth century, women who are not mothers at all are still viewed as suspect. Don’t you want kids? When are you going to have kids? How many? The questions arrive without ceasing once one reaches a certain age with a partner or is married, assuming a certain desired “normality.” Amy Westervelt writes,

What some [feminist] theorists forget, of course, is that ideas and expectations around mothering impact all women, whether they have children or not. These are issues that, left unexplored, create resentment. The complexities of integrating motherhood into women’s identities do not go away simply because feminist theorists will it so. Rather, they pop up in cultural expressions that, while often moving, funny, or informative, tend to lack the sort of research and historical context we’d find in academic explorations of the topic. (n.p.)

Corresponding to Westervelt’s point, Mother of Invention is the first encounter that I have had with a story that has reflected my own experiences—and what I am sure are the experiences of many other women. This is significant.

Initially, Tessa uses conventional feminist rhetoric about motherhood: “It’s assumed that we can be great careerists and mothers and spouses and still magically keep the laundry in check. Which is not only impossible, it’s mass exploitation. It’s keeping women in a permanent state of fatigue and anxiety. I can’t be a part of it” (Widger 9). She refuses to be a part of the system, regardless of the fact that her husband Peter believes that he will find fulfillment as a stay-at-home father. He even volunteers to use milk banks and prosthetics. Tessa responds that his “logic is flawed…idealistic. A mother cannot extricate herself from the parenting process” (Widger 10). This realization of the inability to extricate—to free women from the weight of motherhood—has an immediate impact upon Tessa.

Tessa begins to question her own femininity, her own womanhood, as she wonders if she is “hopelessly unmaternal” (Widger 10). She knew that “…many men mocked her…called her bitter, referred to her as a Silicon cougar, accused her of being antifamily,” later wondering, “Pragmatism. A lack of sentimentality. These are strengths…But are they good maternal qualities” (Widger 11, 49). Tessa’s most popular book Pushing Through: A Handbook for Young Women in the New World encourages women with statements like, “Don’t be pleasers”; “embrace your unlikability”; “practice confrontation”; “banish your guilt”—which is regularly referred to in the book as the g-word (Widger 4). She knew she was accomplished and she admired her own ambition, yet the fact that she received only a 4/10 on her RAW (relatability, accessibility, warmth) score troubled her due to strong associations of femininity (particularly motherhood) with warmth (Widger 4). Her insecurities are then magnified when she discovers that she is unable to become pregnant at all, which leads to Tessa and Peter exploring assisted reproductive technology (ART).

After two exhausting years, they’ve experienced failure with IUI (intrauterine insemination) and IVF (in vitro fertilization), 4 miscarriages, and 1 ectopic pregnancy (Widger 11-12). With this result, the failure weighs most heavily on the participants,[6] women in particular, and not with the technology (Throsby 134). “This analysis,” Throsby writes, “reveals an enduring construction of the ‘normal’ female body as unpredictable and liable to failure…point[ing] to the fundamental importance of finding alternative ways of understanding the female body, which move away from insufficiency and blame” (161). Accordingly, with Tessa’s “spirit wearing down,” the idea of more time and energy going into seeking other avenues like adoption or a surrogate is too much, and she returns fully committed to work—ready to begin “Seahorse Solutions: a blueprint for the revolution of motherhood” (Widger 13).

Let me be clear that my reading of this novel is largely informed by my own experiences as not only a woman but also as an infertile,[7] married, working woman who has had these eerily familiar insecurities and questions about femininity and fertility and fulfillment. The presumption persists that my husband and I will have children, that it is just a matter of time. However, not all couples are childless by choice. For some of us, we are not biologically equipped for a task that many deem “natural” (which is why I have chosen to situate this reading within a disability studies framework). Thankfully what the (regrettably) unconventional discourse in this novel highlights is the diverse ways in which women experience motherhood and the necessary, difficult conversations that must occur in order to foster inclusivity.

For couples like my husband and I, advanced reproduction technologies have created options for treating infertility—though for many feminists, these do not and should not fall under “feminist” health practices (Donchin 1989, Mccormick 1991, Shaw 2008, Petropanagos 2013). This sentiment—whatever its roots may be, whether environmental reasons or anti-conservative values—unfortunately continues to prevent us from moving toward an inclusive feminist rhetoric of motherhood. Rhonda Shaw argues, “reproductive freedom for women does not only entail freedom from reproduction. It also entails the right to reproduce and to parent one’s offspring”—a fact emphasized in Michelle Stanworth’s early scholarship on feminist reproductive technologies (1).

For some readers, Mother of Invention might appear to be pronatalist and anti-feminist or at the very least anti-progressive. After all, it’s encouraging women to reproduce faster and more efficiently. It might be misconstrued as a tool that a man would design. Shaw asserts, “For feminist analysts, the political question par excellence is whether women have gained or lost ownership and control of their bodies with respect to these reproductive technologies and strategies” (3). However, as Shaw goes on to illustrate, this type of thinking not only assumes that women are unaware of the bio-political discourse in which they are taking part, but it also positions women as objects that are acted upon rather than beings with any agency of their own. Throsby affirms, “women should be seen as users whose engagement with IVF is not characterized simply by passive compliance, but seen as fundamental to the production of the technologies and their meanings (Saetnan et al. 2000). IVF, then, should be seen not as something that is done to women (by men), but as something that they do in conjunction with others” (47).

Of her own invention, Tessa explains, “Seahorse does not imply that the female biology is imperfect…[b]ecause it is perfect, indeed. The flaws that Seahorse strives to address are the drastic imperfections of our unreasonable culture. A culture that, increasingly, expects women to ‘do it all’” (Widger 143). The Seahorse Solution allows women to have a child without it significantly taking them away from their career or other responsibilities. Furthermore, for women with health risks, a shortened gestation period can make all the difference between being able to give birth or not. The fictional Seahorse Solution joins a host of very real Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), like in vitro fertilization, cryopreservation, fertility medication, hormone treatments, intracytoplasmic sperm injections, and the use of a surrogate.           

The notion that technologies that promote reproduction are not feminist might also stem from the historically troubled relationship among feminism, disability,[8] and bioethics. Concerning the former two, much has been written and does not bear repeating here except to say that it all centers around the fact that for a long time, the feminist movement—whether consciously or not—excluded women with disabilities (Piepmeier, Cantrell, and Maggio). And while bioethics has considered the rights of parents with disabilities (Ouellette), it has in large part excluded infertility as a “legitimate” disability in its own right. Consequently, all of the tension here arises primarily from exclusion. Although texts like Feminism & Bioethics: Beyond Reproduction indicate a desire to move quite literally “beyond reproduction” and tackle other subjects like euthanasia and genetics, I hope to illustrate here that there is more work to be done.

Infertility[9] is a physical disability, but it is not visible—which positions it alongside other invisible disabilities like depression and eating disorders. In the early eighteenth century, a woman named Anna Maria Miller requested that she be able to divorce her husband due to his infertility. In short, the request was denied because his impotence could not be observed (LaFleur 100). Though for different reasons, there have been numerous other difficult legal cases dealing with invisible disabilities (Sternke and Abrahamson 4). And yet, there remains a reluctance to discuss infertility as a disability at all—whether visible or not. Matters of (in)fertility go completely undiscussed in foundational disability studies scholarship, like Simi Linton’s Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity, as well as more current works like Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip and Lennard Davis’s The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era.

The topic of disability and infertility has solely been approached from medical fields. Fortunately, despite the lack of attention from the humanities, the scholarship that has been produced has been remarkably embodied—as these scholars are not just interested in the technology but also the ethical concerns and more importantly the diverse experiences of women, not in a pathological way but in an inclusive way. Recently work by scholars like Shah Kavita and Frances Batzer, as well as Abha Khetarpal and Satendra Singh, have made two important contributions: first, they have demonstrated how infertility aligns with the World Health Organization’s definition of disability; second, they have addressed what the benefits would be in identifying infertility as a disability, like helping to alleviate the significant financial costs of infertility treatments. Elizabeth A. Sternke and Kathleen Abrahamson conducted a study including women with infertility to learn whether or not they would be in favor of the shift. Impressively, 31 out of 32 individuals in their study supported the move to label infertility a disability—hoping that it would lead to such things as affordable treatment and support in the workplace (Sternke and Abrahamson 1). Another important desired outcome the individuals in the study expressed was the idea of authenticity: “the possibility of claiming a disabled identity provided evidence of an authentic medical condition to present to those who questioned, blamed, or advised them otherwise” (Sternke and Abrahamson 12). Although a public label might seem like a minor shift, its significance for an individual with an invisible disability cannot be underestimated (Brueggemann and Moddelmog, Myers, Davis). Accordingly, it would not be a stretch to assume that, had Tessa entertained the notion of identifying her infertility as a disability, that she would not have experienced—at least to the same degree—her feelings of failure, guilt, isolation, depletion, and fear of being an “unnatural” woman.

While stigma was not a huge concern of the study’s participants (Sternke and Abrahamson), it is worth addressing how unconventional reproduction is tangled with the cyborg concept and all of the problematic binary thinking it introduces: natural or unnatural, human or inhuman, normal or abnormal, pure or impure, real or artificial. Throsby observes that on the one hand, the poster IVF family is depicted as a normative couple that is restored, brought back into the “natural order” due to their “miracle baby” (3). On the other hand, IVF (and reproduction technologies like it) are viewed as a threat to the natural order (Throsby 3-5). The woman with a prosthetic arm becomes an “unnatural cyborg” in the same way that a woman who uses ART to have a child does. In their attempt to achieve “normality,” they become “abnormal” through their entanglements with biotechnology.

In a more vital, optimistic vein, Shaw writes, “in keeping with [Donna] Haraway’s figuration of the cyborg, the women I spoke with recognised that reproductive technologies offered both possibilities for self-affirmation and/or transcendence, as well as the potential to cement and express ethical bonds with others as participants in assisted human reproduction” (17). This positive posthumanist perspective is what is all too often left out of these types of conversations. If assisted reproductive technology complicates our understanding of “natural,” it requires a theory post humanism—not simply a reductive return to “unnatural.” Susan M. Squier specifically states, “reproductive technologies are producing the posthuman. Whether the result will be the emancipation from certain fixed and historically oppressive constructions, the cementing of a new, even more oppressive set of social relations, or—as is most likely—both at different times, depends not on the reproductive technologies themselves, but on the social and cultural conditions of their use” (113-114). Returning to Shaw, the oppression that feminists might perceive in such technologies is largely dependent on who is claiming agency and what their understanding of the process is. To assume that being infertile, being disabled, and choosing to seek treatment means a lack of agency, is an incredibly dated and problematic position to advance, and it is not one that is reflected in Mother of Invention.

The early depiction of Tessa’s character (as described previously) demonstrates the first phase of Tessa’s move towards an inclusive feminist stance on motherhood. She moves beyond the commonplace feminist rhetoric that aligns choosing to be a mother with anti-feminist values to examining through first-hand experience the complicated relationship between femininity and (in)fertility. The second phase of Tessa’s character development takes place at the center with the Cohort for the Seahorse Solution clinical trial. As the trial gets underway, Tessa initially believes that she will be able to keep her private and public (or work) life separate. However, after years spent trying to reproduce, it is no surprise that being surrounded by pregnant women presents a challenging and complex situation. As her relationships with these women develop, Tessa gradually recognizes that there are different ways of embodying motherhood, and she learns to accept her own history and future with her (re)producing body.

As the novel progresses, we witness moments where Tessa begins to allow herself to feel her emotions, a development that is constantly challenged by her business partner Luke—who prefers the old Tessa, the emotionless Tessa (Widger 180, 234, 293-197). She is also confronted by her past publications, remembering her own advice: “While a degree of vulnerability is critical to building trust and support with your direct reports, coworkers, or supervisors, be aware that too much vulnerability can allow your colleagues to feel power over you, thereby creating a precarious imbalance in your professional ecosystem” (Widger 187). Vulnerability, according to Tessa, is dangerous. Yet the community of women she has surrounded herself with do not let her revert to her old ways of being.

They engage with her in difficult conversations about motherhood and what it means to be “a legitimate woman” (Widger 199). Gwen, one of the women in the Cohort, comments that motherhood is perceived to be a first-tier achievement (Widger 199). Tessa angrily thinks in response, “How dare Gwen imply that the Cohort had a superpower that Tessa did not have? That her achievements were second tier?” (Widger 201). Sternke and Abrahamson state, “Not fulfilling motherhood expectations is often grounds for women with infertility to experience a deep sense of distress and incomplete womanhood” (5)—which circles back to Tessa’s aforementioned insecurities about her feminine identity. At one point the entire Cohort asks Tessa upfront why she doesn’t have a child or why she isn’t in the trial herself (Widger 211). When she explains her infertility, they are skeptical, questioning why she has not then designed her own reproductive technology to help herself. A fair question, Tessa finally admits that she didn’t want one badly enough with Peter to continue to pursue that option (Widger 284). Tessa’s decision—after much avoidance—to finally be honest with herself, with the Cohort, brings both freedom and community. Gwen, not known for her gentleness, simply tells Tessa that “[i]t’s okay” (Widger 284)—certainly a sentiment that more women need to hear from other women.

As evidenced by Mother of Invention and much of the writing here, “Contemporary reproductive writing, too, can articulate not only the oppressive posthuman but also—in its resistant discourses—the new images and contexts that will shape these more productive and pleasurable models for reproducing the posthuman body” (Squier 129). In “Terminating Bodies: Toward a Cyborg History of Abortion,” Carol Mason uses the good/bad cyborg debate to demonstrate the complicated and false dichotomy of pro-choice/pro-life, and I argue, in the same way, that we have to move beyond false binary thinking surrounding feminism, motherhood, and disability (240). As Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingstone state, “Posthuman bodies are not slaves to master discourses but emerge at nodes where bodies, bodies of discourse, and discourses of bodies intersect” (2). We must move towards a posthuman understanding of the relationship between matters of reproduction and feminist disability rhetoric, one that does not privilege one type of woman, one type of mother, above another. Halberstam and Livingstone attest, “Bodily master narratives authorize a very narrow range of responses” (18). Posthumanism offers us something better; as Brian E. Kumm, Lisbeth A. Berbary, and Bryan S.R. Grimwood put it, posthumanism is a way of being “inclusive yet retaining difference” (n.p).

Early in the novel, Tessa is called “one of the most important feminist thinkers of [her] generation…[for] figuring out a way for pregnancy to be easier” (Widger 139, emphasis in original). Yet, by the end of Mother of Invention, she has become so for a different reason: for presenting us with a model of inclusive feminism. When Tessa casually asks Gupta, a resident doctor, if she would use the Seahorse Solution technology herself, Gupta replies, without hesitation:

never…I loved being pregnant…I remember feeling all-powerful and extremely vulnerable at the same time…Pregnancy was an important time. The bridge from one life to another. I needed the gradualness of the nine months. If it had happened in nine weeks, I would have been a different sort of mother…having a child is a relinquishing of self. For a woman, it’s the beginning of her death. A sort of torch passing, from one generation to the next. Nine weeks isn’t enough to prepare for that. (Widger 312-313)

At first, Gupta’s admission might seem offensive or at the very least hurtful to women who are unable to experience a conventional pregnancy. However, what I want to highlight here is that (as Gupta expresses) time, emotion, and vulnerability in particular, are not anti-feminist. While early Tessa might have been appalled at the news that one of her own doctors would refuse her invention, this more developed Tessa, engages thoughtfully, curiously—respecting Gupta’s own motherhood practices.

By the end of the novel, Tessa is an emotionally engaged feminist—no longer believing vulnerability to be the enemy. She acknowledges “an expansive, giddy feeling in her chest, as if something were flowering inside her” when she holds Gwen’s baby (Widger 328). Her initial reservations about female friendship completely dissipate. She confronts her failing marriage, and she and Peter divorce each other. And, perhaps the most pressing point, is that she gives birth herself (unknowingly having become pregnant by Peter before the divorce). It’s important to stress here that her pregnancy is not presented in a curative narrative format where the happy ending occurs solely because she is no longer disabled (infertile). The significance of this outcome lies within the process, the series of events that led up to it. At the beginning of the novel, Tessa represents a very narrow approach to motherhood: all efficiency and emotionless. However, by the end, her daughter’s birth is depicted in a completely different way.

Widger writes in detail of the pain of the contractions, with Tessa herself reflecting, “Childbirth was its own, specific pain. It was shaped by fear. The fear of cleaving one life from another. She understood: A separation this profound must be momentous. The pain was the form of expression. It was how the body mourned. The baby was leaving her in order to join her” (345). After a long and painful delivery, “suddenly the baby was there, damp and bleating, her weight tiny but essential on Tessa’s chest. At her bedside, the three women of Cohort One stood weeping. Tessa lowered her face to the top of her daughter’s perfect head, covered in a scrim of dark hair, like Peter’s and kissed it” (Widger 347). Both of these scenes depict the intimate, emotional community that Tessa has created—both with her female friendships and her new child. We witness a beautiful, unconventional family by the novel’s end, a type of primal matriarchal community that somehow came to be, a reworking of the system.

Mother of Invention is neither a novel that suggests a woman must have a child to be fulfilled or feminine nor is it a novel that encourages women to abstain from reproduction. It neither presses women to work outside of the home nor demeans those who choose to be stay-at-home mothers. It depicts the many different ways that women engage with matters of (in)fertility, and it does not rank them on a hierarchical scale. It is altogether a different story than the ones we have been reading and telling.

Its immediacy lies in stark contrast to the host of science fiction stories where we leave earth (or earth as we know it), where we move to places where babies can be grown outside the female body, where a male is not required, where alien reproduction technology absolves us from matters of gender identity. And with all of this, there is a focus on disembodiment, of moving away from emotions—a Platoesque desire to transcend the body. While that particular narrative developed as a means to move away from an unfair patriarchal system, something important was lost along the way. Due to the longstanding association between emotions and women, feminists have traditionally fought against the devaluing of emotions and the mind/body connection. So, in short, by continuing to produce narratives that distance women from the process of birth, by avoiding conversations about (in)fertility, and by promoting a singular feminist mother identity, we are actually supporting a patriarchal system and mindset rather than subverting it.

This is the process of self-realization that Tessa undergoes in Mother of Invention. She begins the novel as a patriarchal figure, cold and distant. But, through her interactions with the community of women around her, as well as her own body, she learns to re-embody herself, to allow herself to be vulnerable, and grow, and love. As bell hooks states, “A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving…There can be no love without justice” (104).

This sentiment was echoed in a recent New York Times article by writer Kaitlyn Greenidge, titled “I Went to a Conference with a 6-Week-Old: The experience taught me about what kind of mother I aspire to be.” She writes that she was surprised by people’s kindness, not judgment, only to then realize that she was the one in the judge’s seat: judging herself on her new role, performing motherhood. She lists a host of female writers who were or are also mothers, wondering where she fits in among their behaviors, their thoughts on motherhood, and their relationships with their children. “I still do not know which version of motherhood I am stepping into,” Greenidge acknowledges, “I hope it is one of my own making, one that can borrow from those parents that came before me and allow for what I need and what my daughter needs to have a full creative life. There were so many unknowns. There are still so many unknowns. But maybe the only thing that we need to know—that there is faith, and many ways forward” (n.p., emphasis added).

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[1] The Reproductive Justice Movement is pioneered by academic-activists like Loretta Ross, Andrea Smith, and Rickie Solinger.

[2] Motherhood Studies is a term coined by Andrea O’Reilly, founder of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI).

[3] Only one chapter in Barr’s collection approaches reproduction at all, commenting that Frankenstein illustrates a man’s desire to have offspring without needing a woman (Deery 97-98).

[4] Disability in Science Fiction, edited by Kathryn Allan (2013), has one brief mention of artificial insemination, but it is not mentioned in relationship to disability.

[5] I use practices here rather than choices because choice is a term indicating a privilege that many do not have—a fact which indicates larger problems concerning work-leave policies and systemic issues.

[6] Over the past decade, there has been much debate about whether infertile couples have a higher divorce rate. While some accounts claim that infertile couples are three times more likely to divorce (Firth 2014, Brix 2014), other reports disagree (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology 2017, Cohut 2017).

[7] Infertility as used in this article is defined as the inability—whether temporary or permanent—to conceive children.

[8] I understand disability to be a condition of both the mind-body and the society in which one lives—all of which come together to cause a person with a disability to be in an increasingly vulnerable position.

[9] This article focuses exclusively on women with infertility (rather than men) due to my feminist approach, the novel in discussion, and the frequency in which women rather than men receive infertility treatment. Additionally, it is worth stating that Mother of Invention engages with matters of disability positivity in other ways with various subplots, but my focus here is on infertility and Tessa’s character development.

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