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In the book i'm looking for, a group of aliens travel to Earth as kind of an exchange program, so they can learn about human culture and foster an alliance.

The main character is an alien who can form a bond with the humans and other aliens by "linking" their arms together, where the alien has spikes that go into the other aliens (or humans) arms, then they can communicate and go inside each others mind and bodies.

The alien travels to earth and stays with a host family, and the woman of the family runs an animal refuge? I also remember that part of the story takes place on a ship or space station, where having children is prohibited, but a scientist gets pregnant and hides it from the authorities; later on her alien friend bonds with her during childbirth to help make the delivery easier.

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