Company plans to make childbirth in space a reality

Where would you like to give birth to your baby? At your nearest NHS maternity hospital? At a private birthing centre? At home in a darkened ‘cave’ with your doula? On the bed? On the floor? In a birthing pool? Or how about 250 miles above the earth?

While the latter option may sound as undesirable as it does outlandishly far-fetched, one Dutch company, SpaceLife Origin, is intent on sending a pregnant woman to space in order to undergo childbirth.

If having your waters break in microgravity – someone please think of the electrics – sounds like a bad idea, we imagine that you are not alone. However, the company is convinced that it will soon be carrying out its space mission and that it will be delivered by a “trained, world-class medical team”.

To us this sounds like a publicity stunt too far. Of course, if all goes well it would be an incredible story – the first human in history born away from its home planet – but if things take an unexpected turn, even the trained world-class medical team may not have the expertise and time necessary to deal with the situation.

Anyhow, who is likely to actually want to do this? New parents share one thing in common: the desire to give their baby every chance and every advantage at life; giving birth to it in space, as glorious as it sounds, hardly confers this benefit.

“A carefully prepared and monitored process will reduce all possible risks, similar to Western standards as they exist on Earth for both mother and child,” states SpaceLife Origin.

Company executive, Egbert Edelbroek, claims that childbirth in space is a necessary step. He wonders what we would do if catastrophe made the earth uninhabitable and thinks that SpaceLife’s experiment could well provide us with the insurance we need in the face of possible cosmic extinction.

“Human settlements outside of Earth would be pretty pointless without learning how to reproduce in space,” Edelbroek said.

However, it may be too early to begin the experiment, as scientists still don’t understand much about keeping adults healthy during stays in space, while obstetricians are still trying to make childbirth safer here on earth. The fact is that space entry and re-entry involves unbelievable levels of G-force; a birth in space is simply not going to be the best start in life for any baby.

Despite these obvious obstacles, Edelbroek claims he has enough interested investors and, more surprisingly, women who say they would be willing to let scientists experiment on them and their future children.

So far experiments on birth in space have been confined to rodents, fish, lizards and invertebrates, while rats that gave birth after a week in space gave birth to offspring with underdeveloped vestibular systems.

Perhaps the fact that Edelbroek has fathered several children as a sperm donor should help us understand his interest in childbirth in space; maybe he can conceptualise what childbirth is like from a theoretical perspective but perhaps fails to appreciate its reality on the ground – or, in the case of space, 250 miles from it.