There are certain episodes Trekkies will never forget. An episode that continues to live on in fandom infamy is Enterprise’s “Unexpected,” also known as the time Charles “Trip” Tucker III was impregnated by a female Xyrillian engineer named Ah’len. In his explanation to a confused Trip, Doctor Phlox explains how Trip’s body is playing “host” to Ah’len’s embryo, as Xyrillians only utilize the genetic material of the mother. While the subject matter is approached in a light-hearted manner—including jokes about Trip’s growing appetite, not to mention T’Pol accusing Trip of “stick[ing] his fingers where they don’t belong”—there is a disturbing undercurrent to the episode’s plot: Trip playing host to an embryo he did not actively consent to having placed in his body.
Near the episode’s conclusion, Ah’len offers Trip an apology, explaining how she had no idea reproduction could happen between species, and Trip is eventually freed of the embryo. The storyline “works,” so to speak, because of how the writers talk to the audience: Isn’t it funny that Trip, a human male, is finding himself unexpectedly pregnant, a situation someone assigned female at birth would normally be the one to experience? In essence, Enterprise makes the burgeoning space cowboy into a mere embryo vessel—and, on a certain level, it works.
Major Kira Nerys, Bajoran liaison officer and overall badass, is also reduced to a fetus vessel during season four of Deep Space Nine. In “Body Parts,” Doctor Julian Bashir informs the station’s engineer and expectant-father Miles O’Brien that there has been an accident, and Professor Keiko O’Brien’s fetus “had a change of address.” Enter Kira, now noticeably pregnant: “Your son is living here now,” she states. In typical Star Trek fashion, important things happen off-screen: the ship carrying Bashir, Kira, and Keiko came upon an asteroid field where pregnant Keiko was injured in the turbulence that followed. Kira was, according to Bashir, “another womb for the baby.”
This verbiage of Kira being “another womb,” as well as the O’Brien fetus experiencing a “change of address,” mirrors Phlox’s description of Trip as merely a “host” for Ah’len’s embryo. For all of the differences between Kira and Trip, there is an important similarity in terms of their reproductive storylines: neither pregnancy was anticipated. In terms of reactions, however, the ways in which Trip and Kira are treated by their respective crewmates as well as the audience at home varies wildly. Trip is often made to be the butt of jokes during “Unexpected,” and his pregnancy is held against him by T’Pol in the last season of Enterprise. Meanwhile, Kira’s pregnancy—while certainly surprising to characters and viewers alike—is neither viewed as completely out of the realm of possibility nor a situation for the audience to take lightly.
Additionally, Kira experiences pregnancy far longer than Trip, which means she also experiences people (i.e., men) telling her what to do with her now-pregnant body. Kira’s caffeine intake, for example, becomes a problem for Miles: “Look, I just don’t want my son to be born with a caffeine habit, that’s all” (“…Nor the Battle to the Strong”). This comment by Miles swiftly causes an argument at Quark’s bar:
[JADZIA DAX] You’re being ridiculous. Why does pregnancy always make men hysterical? [O’BRIEN] Excuse me, this is not the first baby I’ve had. [KIRA] Excuse me. Keiko had Molly. [DAX] It’s not up to you to tell Kira what she can and cannot do. [WORF] She is carrying his child, he should have some say. [QUARK] As the lessee, he does have certain rights. Back home, pregnancy is considered a rental. [KIRA and DAX] Rental?
Both Kira and Jadzia Dax are visibly outraged by Quark’s words, mostly due to his correlation of women’s pregnant bodies as rented spaces for men. This statement by Quark, however, is probably the closest in description to the type of labor Kira is providing for the O’Brien family, at least on a material level. Kira’s own initial phrasing of the pregnancy— recall “your son is living here now” in “Body Parts”—reflects a similar sentiment behind Quark’s declaration, even if the rental comparison is jarring and wholly unnecessary within the scope of the conversation.
In his article, “The Idea of Selling in Surrogate Motherhood,” philosopher Michael J. Meyer discusses “commercial surrogate motherhood,” a controversial practice where the mother is compensated in some fashion for her reproductive work. There are, however, critical debates over commodity, leading to the question of whether commercial surrogate motherhood should be considered “baby selling” or “womb rental.” This debate, arguably, could have been another way of viewing Kira’s surrogate pregnancy: as a labor of vital importance and deserving of social (and monetary) recognition. Carol Sanger, along with other feminist scholars, considers surrogate pregnancy to be a form gendered work that has been historically devalued. This view by Sanger reflects Kira and Jadzia’s outrage toward Miles and, in part, Quark: it was Keiko, not Miles, who carried and delivered Molly and it will be Kira, not Miles or Quark, who decides what goes into her body. It is also important to note that this idea of (surrogate) pregnancy being a form of gendered work is why Trip is made to be the butt of jokes by crewmates: besides being unexpectedly pregnant, he is a man, and therefore should not be in this (gendered) position in the first place.
In the spirit of both Enterprise and Deep Space Nine’s deep dives into the mirror universe, I would like to conclude with a brief exploration on a choice not offered to Trip in “Unexpected” or Kira in “Body Parts”—that is, a refusal of pregnancy. Nana Visitor’s real-life pregnancy aside, could Kira have simply refused to serve as “another womb for the baby”? Would that choice have been within the realm of possibility in the Star Trek universe? In her study on infertility clinics, sociologist Rene Almeling discovered that gendered cultural norms of parenting—such as the “selfless motherhood” trope—influences the donation process, where women appear to engage in “gift-giving” while sperm contributions are considered legitimate sources of income. Does Kira’s surrogate pregnancy storyline fall victim to the “selfless motherhood” trope? Would Kira—a fearless former Bajoran freedom fighter and role model to many on the show and off—be viewed or treated differently if she had refused to act as surrogate for the ailing O’Brien fetus?
Meanwhile, in a universe where seemingly-endless scenarios are possible for humans and nonhumans alike, is it really that strange that a (human) man would or could become pregnant? Jokes aside, would Trip have been able to remove the embryo non-consensually placed in his body without Starfleet intervening? How would these decisions have changed the directions of each show? In the end, both Trip and Kira’s choices are made for them: Kira plays the hero, and Trip dutifully carries the embryo until Ah’len relocates it. All is well and to be expected—in this universe, at least.