In 2018, I took a Speculative Design course (IAT 431) at Simon Fraser University. For the course's final project, the class had to combine speculative design theories to create a product that examined and critiqued a wicked problem (i.e. climate change, data & security, etc.). Teaming up with four other students in the class, we created a design fiction project called nataLink to push the definition of family beyond genetics, gender, sexual orientation, or structure. With nataLink, we intended to enable expecting parents to experience pregnancy through their surrogate host. The project itself is committed to welcoming the diversity of how families are formed, thereby destigmatizing surrogacy and extending the journey to parenthood to those unable to experience the process of childbearing.
Through preliminary research around surrogacy in general, my team and I uncovered a very interesting struggle those with body dysmorphia and transgender folk were experiencing around having children. These groups were experiencing a disconnect with their child and/or wanting to feel a closer connection to their child, similar to what a pregnant mother would experience during their pregnancy.
This project is meant to empower people, especially transgender folk, expecting LGTBQ+ parents and infertile individuals who cannot carry a child themselves to experience the process of childbearing. Moreover, it aims to remove the stigma around surrogacy and pose a more viable solution for parents who cannot have children. The primary purpose behind simulating the same feelings surrogate senses during pregnancy is to allow parents to form a stronger connection with their baby and feel involved in a prominent role throughout the pregnancy.
The first part of our concept revolved around surrogacy and making it a viable solution for individuals who may not have a child independently. We wanted to utilize methods derived from gestational surrogacy, which involves an embryo created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology implanted into a surrogate. In vitro fertilization is a technique of fertilizing the sperm and egg outside the female body and is later transferred into the female's uterus to establish a pregnancy.
Using surrogacy and IVF, we widened our demographic to individuals who may not have the option or luxury to have a child. To provide parents with pregnancy experience, our concept took inspiration from the birth control implant, Nexplanon, a tiny matchstick rod injected into a female's arm that releases hormones into the body that prevent them from getting pregnant. We found injecting pregnancy hormones such as HCG, HPL, Estrogen, Progesterone, Oxytocin, Prolactin, Relaxin and more to simulate pregnancy. Injecting these hormones into the body according to the trimester symptoms a surrogate may be experiencing will allow individuals to share the same type of pregnancy in real-time.
Our implant consisted of two variations: an implant that tracks the health status and hormone levels of the surrogate host's pregnancy and another that injects hormones into the parent's body to simulate the surrogate's pregnancy experience. We also explored the potential of using a digital interface to allow the parents to track the surrogate's and baby's health conditions. Through the sketches below, we explored several different forms, from internal implants to external patches, to examine how we can visually represent surrogacy and pregnancy as a whole.
Our design consisted of three parts: implants worn by the surrogate, a digital interface that allows parents to track their baby's health and surrogate, and an artificial belly worn by the parent. The project's overall concept was to open a surrogacy connection service and provide parents with all the tools necessary to stay connected to their surrogate's pregnancy.
The implant worn by the surrogate collects data about the pregnancy, more specifically their hormone levels and experiences in the childbearing process. The surrogate's implant then sends this data to the parent's implant and simulates similar symptoms the surrogate may be feeling. The parent's implant consists of a hormone base that is modified to different types of hormones in accordance with the ones the surrogate may be experiencing. Moreover, the surrogate's implant will also track the child's health and their own and send this information to the parents.
The final element consisted of a silicone Simulation Belly. The belly is meant to be worn by the intended parent for the entire duration of their surrogate host's pregnancy. The belly enables parents to first-hand experience the bonding and intimacy of the childbearing process. Microneedles on the side of the belly latch onto the intended parent's waist, delivering simulated pregnancy hormones derived from a hormone tracking implant in the surrogate's arm. The belly itself would grow in size, mirroring the same growth of the surrogate's stomach. All this information is transmitted through Sensation Patches that receive real-time information regarding belly growth and baby movement from similar patches worn by the surrogate host. The belly would also simulate both heat and movement through the same patches.
Finally, to visually show society that they are using our surrogacy connection service, expecting parents received a baby's breath pin, meant to be worn daily to signify that they are expecting. Moreover, surrogates also wear a special uniform to indicate that they are currently pregnant and working as surrogates.
This project is the most unique and strangest one I have worked on to date. I found it challenging when working on this project, mostly because this was my first time dabbling into product and material design. I am very proud of this project's end product because it forced me to push my abilities and create something out of the box. If I were to go back to this project, it would be fun to create an actual working prototype of the belly and further push the marketing campaign's potential.