I Was an Online Mother

Editor's Note: On March 27 Chris Dahlen became pregnant. In this three-part series, we follow his story. Incidentally, Dahlen's story takes place within the “multiverse” Second Life, a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) with more than 165,000 users. Second Life, created by SF-based Linden Labs, recently received $11 million in venture capital funding.

It all started when I got a tip that some enterprising players had started “birth clinics.” They promise a complete pregnancy-to-birth experience for your avatar, in just a month and a half. It works for both female and male avatars, but the clothes look funny on the latter, so I made a brand-new female avatar that looked like me — if I had long red hair and a generous pelvis.

After shopping around for a clinic, I settled on Wish Upon a Star. Its owner had gone through a hell of a lot of trouble to replicate a real fertility clinic; homey, cozy, and full of comfortable furniture, it also felt unavoidably medical. On the first floor, baby supplies, formula, drab maternity clothes, and a corner for nursery furniture surrounded the stairs to the second floor, where you could stroll around the consultation office, practice your breathing in the Lamaze room, and, finally, enter the delivery room itself, which came with a bed, stirrups, an ultrasound — the works. The only thing missing was the staff: Nobody who works at the clinic was online, so I walked around alone, mulling it over. Was I ready for this virtual — yet awesome — responsibility?

For $3,500 in Lindens (about $12 US), I could buy the pregnancy kit and get knocked up. I had the cash, so I made up my mind: without much fanfare — without a partner or even a nurse and a turkey baster — I bought the kit and got started. I tacked on a body shape that bumped out my stomach to a late-first-trimester size, making me a little more kettle-shaped. Then I switched on the UPA, or “ULTIMATE Pregnancy Attachment” (emphasis theirs).

A second later I got a graphic in the corner of my screen that read, “Mom in Waiting,” followed by a message: “Your Tummy whispers: Connecting to baby.” My “tummy”? After that, every minute or two, an update came in: “Your baby is doing Flips!” Or, “Your baby is snoozing calmly.”

My pregnancy had begun.

Next week: the burdens of motherhood online.

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