This is a story about the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me. I usually save it for parties and second dates, but lucky you, I’m sharing it with everyone. It involves fake vaginas, so buckle up.
In college I had a part-time job as a standardized patient. Basically I was an actor for students in medical fields to practice their trade with an actual human. I worked with nursing students, hearing instrument science students, EMTs, and firefighters. Usually I just got my hearing tested. But then things took a turn for the strange.
When I told my boss I was staying in town for the summer, she beamed and said, “Perfect! You’d make a great mother.” I immediately had flashbacks to my orientation day, where we all sat in a conference room glossy-eyed and staring at a Power Point. In said Power Point was a photo like this:
Except there were straps where the legs should be. My boss explained that you strapped this apparatus to your body for a birth simulation. So it’s your body, your spread legs, but with a fake belly with a fake baby in it and a fake vagina. So this is what I knew was in store for me: I’d have to act my way through childbirth while nursing students got friendly with my strap-on fake vagina.
Needless to say, I was scared shitless. But I put my brave face on and figured if I could act my way through childbirth, I could act my way through anything.
I showed up to work that day prepared for the worst. But I was relieved when I was informed that I would not be playing the mother after all, but rather a family member who is present at the birth. I let out a breath of gratitude, knowing I had dodged a bullet. I then I found out who – or rather, what – was playing the mother.
The mother was a high-fidelity manikin. Which, in case you were wondering, looks like this:
They breathe. They blink. They sweat. They turn their head and look at you. They even talk through a microphone in their throat, thanks to the voice of the operator in the next room.
They. Are. Freaky.
So I was the concerned sister of a female manikin with a big old rubber belly. I was told by the instructor that I was there to add a sense of humanity and realism to the scenario. And then she told me that while the manikin is designed to provide a realistic and detailed experience, it could not actually push the baby out. So when the nursing students said “push,” I was to unbutton the side of the rubber belly, slip my hand inside, and push the baby out. Ah, there it is, that’s why you’re paying me.
So we get to the scenario, with the instructor walking five fresh-faced nursing students through the details of “catching” a baby. When it’s show time and the students say “push,” I do as I’m instructed. I surreptitiously slip my hand under the thin hospital sheet, unbutton the side of the belly, and slip my hand in and grab the baby.
Now remember, this is a high-fidelity manikin, meaning it’s designed to simulate birth as medically accurate as possible. So I touch this plastic baby and it’s… slippery. They’ve LUBRICATED the damn thing. Pretty soon I realized why – it’s a tight fit. I’m pushing and pushing and this baby is hardly moving, it’s such a big object going through a small hole.
It’s right then when I had a moment of self-awareness, appreciating the fact that I’m getting paid to push a lubricated baby out of a fake vagina, and I just thought, “Man, my life is weird.”
After a minute of my not-so-surreptitious effort, the baby finally slips out, followed by a moderate amount of red colored fluid (high-fidelity, right?). The instructor passes around the plastic baby from student to student, making sure they each get to appreciate how slippery it is. She then casts it aside and leaves it in the sink, arms and legs askew at all the wrong angles, to be cleaned up and re-lubricated for the next scenario.
I walked away from that experience knowing way more about childbirth than any college student wants to know. But I also walked away with the satisfaction that in this weird life of a young actor, I will continue to be surprised by opportunities that roll my way.