A story in the form of a mother's letter to her daughter.
I scarcely know how to begin this letter but I feel that a tangible record of my experiences regarding you is necessary. I thank God every night that what I am living through is something that you will never have to endure - though I would not have wished it to be this way.
As an unborn child you must not understand how the perfect world that God created could have done such a horrible thing to you. Yet, happened it did. The events before and surrounding your birth had a great affect on you and on me.
In 2026 several great and powerful countries gained dominance over the world. These countries wished only for the good of the global community and so in the following decade they began to implement a series of laws and regulations. One of the major concerns the international leaders faced was the exponential growth of the world’s population. In order to better control this and to ensure food supply, medical care, and other basic necessities, the global leaders decreed a ‘One Child’ Act, similar to what China enforced in the 20th century.
Soon after the lack of diversity was mourned and humanitarian exemplars concocted the notion that only a specific number of each race (in keeping with the population laws) should be given the chance at life.
All these changes were of course protested, but in the face of such powerful and well-wishing governments, what could the people do? It was easier and wiser to capitulate – humans have always taken the road with the least amount of trouble.
And so, the governments took over the decisions that we as humans have a natural right to. “In the name of survival!” they declared relentlessly from their podiums. Indeed, it was a race of survival. The Earth could only support so many people and the population was dangerously close to disaster.
I was born in 2097 – a muggy June night to be more exact. By this time the ‘One Child’ Act and other laws were in full swing and I was a welcomed blessing to the empty arms of my mother. Both my parents doted on me and raised me up in the ways of Religion 20589 – more commonly known as Christianity.
One of the more ironic laws stated that x percentage of the Earth’s population must be Muslim, x percentage a Christian, x percentage Buddhist, etc. It didn’t really matter what you preferred or cared to believe in. Faith was not required; simply the outward acts of worship so that diversity might survive.
My parents however did believe in Christianity and as such they raised their only child to be a God-fearing daughter. In compliance with the mandatory 3 hours a week worship I attended church regularly. Religion was not a foundation in my life nor was it entertainment. It was a simple routine that I have continued to this day.
So where do you fit into to all of this my Jenni? Well, on every girl’s 24th birthday they receive summons to a special government building. The summons come without fail and with fervor all the 24-year-old females report to the government facility. The purpose of this facility is two-fold. The first reason for its existence is to provide a husband for the girls and the second is to impregnate them with embryos.
This must sound incredibly odd or horrible, but it is truly not bad, just different. You see, child of mine, that males and females are separated in almost everything - in schooling, recreation, religion, there is segregation of the genders. Only in one’s family is one able to see a member of the opposite sex. As such, females are taught to joyously anticipate the day when a spouse is assigned to them. This male will be the first we have ever seen who is not related. We are taught to love them as a friend and father of our child. There is no deep and passionate love between a husband and wife in our society. This occasionally develops but is never spoken of outside of hushed whispers.
Then, after the civil ceremony where complete strangers wed, the female reports to another section of the building where a specific embryo is implanted into her uterus. This embryo has absolutely NO connection with the host mother. All the embryos have been carefully chosen in accordance with the population laws. The girl is ready for this monumental day, having taken classes in school to ensure she is up to qualifications.
A girl’s parents knows what will occur that day and the same day there is a specific place for the parents to report to. The government has carefully chosen a spouse and it is the parent’s job to move all their child’s earthly possessions into the government provided home. All mothers dread this day when their baby leaves and my mother feared it especially.
On my 24th birthday I woke up in my small bedroom and I remember going to the kitchen for my birthday breakfast – a longstanding tradition in my home. On my breakfast plate, next to the French toast, sat a thick white envelope that signified my future. It seemed strange to me that such an important document would lay so inconspicuously next to everyday foods.
My mother nodded towards it and I broke open the seal. I pulled out several thick sheets of crisp white paper and began to read as my father served me the eggs.
I was excited that my day had finally arrived and could barely eat my food. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother’s downcast face. She was losing her baby to the adult world and the many dangers that inhabited it.
The official documents didn’t make much sense to me – being written in archaic English - though English was the current official language. English had been much more wide spread when my parents were young. Now Spanish was the language of choice, but Chinese was also widely spoken in the eastern hemisphere. Wordlessly I handed my letter over to my father to decipher for me.
Father read through it for several minutes, many times checking and re-checking to make sure he was translating correctly. Finally, after an interminable length of time he looked up. Over his thin silver rimmed glasses his piercing eyes met mine. In their blue depths I saw the love he had for me spill over in the form of salty tears.
“Melanie, your mother and I will take you to the old brick and glass building on 42nd Street at 10:30 am….” Father’s voice trailed off. Silently a big tear rolled down his ruddy cheek. Mother sat with her hands motionless, but I could see that her mind was a whirl.
“Melly, make sure you have everything packed…there are still some clothes in the dryer, check to make sure you have all of yours…” Mother couldn’t go on. I didn’t know what the problem was. Every girl went through this! My parents were simply being overprotective and it was annoying.
Still, I obeyed my mother and went to my little room to make sure all of my possessions were in their pre-assigned place. Sure enough all my make-up, my clothes, my books (I was a voracious reader), and my computer were correctly stored in durable moving crates. I sat down on my bed and looked at the things I was leaving behind. There was no room in the life of a married mother for my childhood toys. Silently I bid my Barbies and my dolls good-bye forever. I ran my fingers over each of their heads in blessing and then, with one last look, I shut the door to my childhood room and on my life.
Father was in the car and Mother came out clutching her purse as a shield. I remember hopping excitedly into the front seat and hitting my head against the doorjamb. Wincing slightly I buckled my seatbelt as Father backed out of the driveway.
We arrived at the old brick and glass building on 42nd Street with time to spare. There was one other girl sitting in the lobby by herself, her aloneness evident on her pale face. Glad it wasn’t me sitting alone I hugged my parents one last time and squeezed them tightly. We stood that way for several minutes until our local government exemplar came out of a side room. She looked disapprovingly at our display of affection.
Chastised, my mother lowered her eyes and let her arm slip from me. Father followed suit but gave me one last hug before both he and my mother left the lobby. I would see them again at the end of the day – but all three of us knew everything would be changed.
I went to sit next to the girl and we both looked at one another with wide eyes. It was evident that neither of us knew quite what to expect and we were both afraid of the unknown.
I offered a smile to her and said in a soft voice, “Hello, I’m Melanie…”
My companion gave a small grin that banished the loneliness from her eyes. “I’m Ilsa…it is a pleasure to meet you.”
That grin cemented our friendship for the next few hours and while we waited for the rest of the girls to arrive, Ilsa and I talked. She told me how lucky she thought I was to have parents who seemed to genuinely care for me. The conversation turned to families, then to dreams, hopes, and we expressed our fear of what this day could bring us. We both agreed that to be assigned some horrible spouse would be unbearable torment and we had a terrible fear of pain when we were impregnated.
At 10:31 exactly the last girl arrived. Sixty-three females in all, the local exemplar ushered us into a dingy room with folding tables and chairs. Ilsa and I sat together along with two other girls – both of whom seemed equally frightened.
For the next two hours our exemplar reviewed all that we had been taught about marriage and parenthood. We filled out forms stating our capacity to fulfill these sacred roles and our desire to do so. A 30 minute lunch break was included in the 8-hour program and afterwards the civil wedding ceremony began.
One by one a name was called and the girl went through a side door to the large auditorium on the other side. Once inside the girl would join up with her chosen spouse and then they would be wed in front of a government exemplar from the humanity department. Parents were given the chance to watch the proceedings from behind a glass partition but they were not allowed to communicate with their child in anyway, lest an emotional outburst occur.
At last my name was called and trembling I stood and began the walk to the door. I paused to turn and smile at Ilsa before I passed through to the auditorium.
On the other side of the large room was a man of medium height and of dark coloring walking to me. We met in the middle of the auditorium, in front of the legal government representative.
The elderly exemplar recited the marriage ceremony and I took that time to study my assigned spouse. There was no danger in getting lost during the ceremony as I, nor my spouse, had any part to play in it. All the papers had been signed in the first room.
My spouse’s name was Eton and his impassive features seemed to be made of stone. He was handsome, I decided, but I would wait to deliver a final first impression until I saw if he had a personality or not.
The final pronouncement was delivered with a spray of spittle and the old exemplar pronounced us married before the state. Now there was an hour of leisure time, the state intended the time to be spent learning about one’s new spouse, but most people spent the time with their parents saying the final good-byes.
I shot a glance at my husband before looking for my parents. My mother and father, along with another couple, rushed from behind the partition to greet us. I hugged them and then the six of us in the room gathered together. Obviously Mother and Father had spent a significant amount of time talking with this other couple and the two sets of parents introduced Eton and I.
“Melly, hun, this is the Hahn family – Theodore, Nichole, and their son Eton,” my mother said, cautious of how to introduce my husband to me. Theodore was a portly gentleman with silver hair and a kind smile. I took to him on sight. Nichole was thin, regal in her pose, and rather snobby. Her protective arm on Eton’s shoulder combined with a haughty glare at me left a bitter taste in my mouth. My mother saw the looks exchanged between Nichole and I and looked to my father to ease the tension.
Theodore put an aging hand on his son’s arm and introduced my family. "Son, this is Richard and Penny Durlyn and their daughter Melanie.” Now that we were introduced all around an awkward silence followed.
Eton took the initiative and stuck out his bronzed hand in my direction. “It is good to meet you Melanie,” he said confidently. “I hope that we will become good friends.”
Slowly I shook his hand, the touch of another human – not of blood relation – startled me. But Nichole’s eyes were shooting daggers in my direction so I responded quickly. “I sincerely hope so too, Eton,” I responded quietly. The side door opened again and I saw another nervous girl enter the room. It was time to go and alone, I parted company to head to the Pregnancy Wing.
Contrary to popular belief there was no pain and since I had been drugged the incident passed without much fanfare or notice. At 7 o’clock I met my husband and parents outside of the main doors. I felt very relieved to see them and I clutched my mother’s hand tightly. It must have been rather painful for her but she kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back as we walked to the cars.
Eton and my parents dropped us off at a white duplex close to my home that night. Our new house was spacious – a result of a new bill passed two years earlier – with three bedrooms and two baths. The open kitchen and large dining room were elegant but my favorite part of the new house was that Eton and I both occupied separate rooms. I was not ready to share a room with this stranger I called husband.
Eton and I bid each other good night after our parents left and made ready for bed. That night I laid alone in my new home and listened to my husband’s heavy snoring penetrate the thin walls. I pushed a pillow over my ears, rolled over, and fell asleep.
Time passed quickly those next few weeks. I adjusted to being a wife and housekeeper along with observing my changing body. Thankfully I had not been the brightest in school; therefore a job was not given to me. The government must have concluded from my primary schooling test scores that being pregnant was job enough. Instead my days were spent furnishing our home, visiting with my mother, and spending time readying the baby nursery for you, Jenni. My mother was thrilled to be an expectant grandmother and every time I saw her she was working on some little sweater or dress for you.
Weekly I was required to visit a government doctor who would check on us to make sure my pregnancy was going well. The visits always consisted of tests to compare your development with that of the other babies from your embryonic cluster.
My stomach began to swell and you became more than a child living in my uterus – you became my dream. All my hopes and wishes I placed on you. The hope that you would marry a man who you adored and who loved you back, the wish that you would be all that God had ever wanted for you to be, and the dream that you would leave this society with all its silly rules for a better place.
I had heard of dissident groups who resided in the south, protesting the way the world was being run. Scandalous tales of love marriages, families with 5 children, and the right of everyone to vote were whispered on dark evenings. These groups intrigued me for in my reading I had grown dissatisfied with the government and wanted more. I knew that I would never be able to attain more but my Jenni, I hoped that you would live the life that I could only dream of.
Ilsa too dreamed as I did and together on sunny afternoons we created up futures in which you and her son would fall hopelessly in love and escape to freedom together. We would romp about the grassy lawns in the state parks, feeling like elephants with our enlarging stomachs. Ilsa and I had good laughs those spring days.
During one such afternoon I fell, slipped on wet grass. The lawn had been watered a short time ago and not watching where I was running I fell heavily. My first thought was for you my Jenni. I protected you with my hands when I slipped, but I still bruised myself. Ilsa and I immediately stopped acting like ragamuffins and went to sit on the bench. Together we examined my stomach and Ilsa was concerned that something might have happened to you – that you might have been damaged.
Eton picked me up and we hurried home. I went to bed and stayed there for three days until my next doctor appointment. Eton had to work so my mother picked me up and took me.
I walked into the building and though nothing had changed the air felt oppressive. ‘Something isn’t right…something is very wrong’ I thought to myself. I crossed my arms over you and waited for my turn with the doctor.
By now I was several months along and sitting too long was uncomfortable. After 30 minutes of waiting I began to pace the waiting area, much to the annoyance of the receptionist.
“Sit down ma’am!” she snapped, her long nails clicking furiously on the computer. I obeyed reluctantly but after another 5 minutes I was up again. The receptionist was quickly losing her patience. Thankfully the door opened and my doctor called me in. I went in and sat down on the high examining table. The doctor opened my file up and made a few notes before speaking.
“We have heard that you sustained a heavy fall…” he checked his notes, “…three days ago. Can you tell me what happened Melanie?”
There was something in his look, a practiced, callous air about him that worried me. He was somehow detached from this procedure, not at all like the friendly pediatrician that I had seen when I was a child. ‘This doctor doesn’t care about me…he cares only that my baby is safe!’ I thought quickly, seeking to comfort myself. This realization was followed by a more frightening one – if he can’t care about the mother – me - then how could he care about my baby girl? The answer was quick to come; he didn’t care about you personally, Jenni. He only cared that a girl with your specifications survived so that the population and diversity laws would be fulfilled.
Terror swept through me as the truth behind my government gripped me. My entire life I had believed in the rhetoric of the politicians that they only wished for human happiness and the only way to accomplish that was by the laws they imposed. My parents and even Eton to an extent had shielded me from this knowledge but now I had to face it. My life was not worth anything to them except as a productive member of society. But most of all, the life of my baby was not worth anything except as a statistic to fill a quota.
Protectively I placed my hand over you and answered the question, downplaying it significantly. “Well, my friend Ilsa and I were walking in Hyde Street Park. I didn’t watch where I was going and slipped on a patch of wet grass. It was nothing…just a slip.”
The doctor looked up at me with blank eyes. He must have heard this before. “Well then, Melanie, we’ll just run a few tests to make sure everything is okay. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Those few minutes passed in a blur – I think because I knew something had happened to you, Jenni. A nurse came in and conducted a few brief tests before leaving again. I sat alone on the table, cold and scared. I was frightened for you, Jenni. In my heart I knew something horrible was happening to you.
The doctor came in back with results in his hands. Studying the reports, the doctor sat down and then glanced at my belly. It was then I knew for certain that you had suffered some injury from my fall.
“I’m sorry Melanie, it seems that your little fall had big consequences. The fetus in your womb has suffered some damage here and here,” the doctor stated in a matter of fact voice as he showed me two spots on a chart. “This will affect the way your fetus develops and, frankly, if there is even the smallest risk of imperfection in any fetus we, by law, are required to erase and start again. You of course will have the option to choose if you wish to carry another but you are not required to.”
I gasped as the significance of his words shook my very core. Jenni, he was telling me to my face that there was a slight risk that you were no longer good enough for this demented world! As if it was good enough for you!! And then this doctor had the gall to suggest…no, not suggest…demand that I terminate this pregnancy so that I might begin another!!
“Doctor, I am afraid that such a slight risk is not worth the ending of my pregnancy. I wish to carry my child to full term,” I stated resolutely, staring him in the eye, daring him to refuse.
But refuse he did. “Look, Melanie, I am sorry that this accident happened but there is nothing we can do about it. Your fetus is damaged and when you buy a defective item at the store, you return it. We are simply going to return your fetus and get you a new one.”
“No…in this case I will keep what you call my…‘defective’…fetus,” I insisted.
The doctor sighed deeply; obviously I was not the first to issue such demands. Quickly he wrote a note on my record and then reached in a cabinet, pulling out a syringe. He calmly explained what he was doing as he filled the syringe with a clear liquid.
“I am going to give you a drug that helps you relax.” At my resolute face he hastily added, “This won’t harm your fetus in anyway.”
I didn’t like it but I let him give me the shot. To obey was a habit ingrained within me. Soon I began to feel drowsy and I realized it was an anesthetic. I wondered why the doctor was giving me an anesthetic as I drifted off, my hands around you Jenni.
I awoke groggily, the room swimming about me. My mother’s face peered into mine and I could see tear streaks on her cheeks. I was frightened, but my mother rubbed my hand and I calmed down a bit.
As I regained my consciousness I looked about me. The same floral wallpaper desecrated the hallway and those uncomfortable chairs from the doctor’s waiting room were here too. Then I realized what had happened to me. They had followed the law and the doctor had performed an abortion on me.
Panic raced through me and I struggled to sit up in bed. I cried out, “Mother!! What did they do to me? Is Jenni alright?!” My mother had helped me name you on the very day I learned what children from your embryonic cluster would looked like. Both of us agreed that a fair skinned, dark haired, green-eyed child deserved a sweet name like Jenni.
My mother’s sorrowful face drew close to mine and she kissed my cheek. “Be very brave my Melly,” she whispered. “They followed the law honey, and Jenni will be waiting for you someday….”
Sobs racked my body as I realized that you were gone from me. Oh, Jenni, if only I hadn’t slipped! If only I had stayed home that day! The ‘if only’ thoughts filled my mind. The emotional pain was unbearable and oceans of tears poured out of my heart. Nothing could console me and eventually my mother left, uncertain how to comfort her grieving daughter.
Eton came that evening to take me home. As I walked to my room I paused outside of your nursery door. A half-assembled crib lay on the floor and light pink curtains fluttered in the evening breeze. It was a room you would have occupied in a few months. It was a breeze that would have caressed your skin had you lived my baby. Softly Eton shut the door and pulled me into my room. I lay down on my bed and sobbed into my pillow. Eton was kind and rubbed my back, whispering words of encouragement.
He didn’t realize how false his comforts sounded but I forgave him that since he only desired to help me. I was in agony. I was certain that I would never be whole again. When they ripped you from my womb Jenni they took a part of me too. Though you were not flesh of my flesh, or blood of my blood, you were a part of me.
The sadness welled up again inside of me and I cried.
It was the sunlight streaming across my bed the next morning that alerted me that my first day without you had begun. I rolled back over and stuffed my pillow over my head. It would be easier to block out the unbearable pain by returning to the world of dreams. I could reside in that world when I slept. When I slept and dreamed, you were there still, still inside of me Jenni.
I smelled Eton’s morning coffee and the scent of fresh fruit combined with a specially developed brand of cereal drifted to my nose. I was hungry.
A knock on my door brought me to a more conscious state and I opened my eyes completely. They were still swollen because I had cried last night as I slept. But I could still see Eton carefully poke his head in my room. When he saw that I was awake a soft grin lit up his face and he entered, breakfast tray in hand.
“’Morning Melly,” he said. I noticed that he purposely left off the ‘Good’ in ‘Good Morning’. It was a considerate move on his part. Silently he sat the tray in the middle of my bed and put a pear and several generously buttered slices of toast on my plate.
Together we ate that morning, each of us reflecting on you. I know Eton had been almost as excited as I was about you. It would have been selfish of me to realize that I was the only one hurt by your absence. But I still cling to the thought that my pain was the worst. I had physically carried you. You had done everything with me – you had lain contentedly inside of me while I read, you had slept while I slept, you were with me when I showered and you had felt the sun’s rays when I walked in the park with Ilsa. No one else in the entire world could claim that you had lived in them. You existed in me! In MY body you survived and it was MY body that gave you life! Even today the thought is still incredible! Jenni, you were the miracle God gave me. And then the miracle that God allowed to be taken away…
The weeks following the abortion were utterly hideous. I cried often and at times I thought that my body could not produce another tear, but then I would break down and sob only a few hours later. Eton began to avoid me and I didn’t blame him. I was very depressed and the downbeat atmosphere could not help but affect him too.
My mother came everyday for the first three months to keep me company and help me through those terrible days. However, my beloved mother had never experienced the unspeakable loss that I had and so could not provide much consolation. Only Ilsa could soothe me. Her ever-growing belly made me wild with grief at first but slowly, oh, ever so slowly, I accepted that she would carry her child to full term. She would deliver her baby on the same day I would have and her child would have been the same age exactly as you Jenni.
On March 26, 2121, Ilsa was induced and gave birth to the most beautiful boy God has ever created. His dark skin glowed and his deep brown eyes held all the mysteries of the universe when you peered into them. He was utterly beautiful. Ilsa named him David, meaning ‘beloved’. It was a true enough statement. When I lost you I had all this love overflowing and it yearned to express itself. Three months of repression poured out onto David that afternoon. Ilsa understood my loss in some small way and did the most wonderful thing anyone could have done. She shared her son with me. David became the child I never had.
Love is a funny thing. It can rip you to shreds and tear your heart to pieces, but it can also make you whole. Loving David made me whole again. Jenni, I did not forget you or stop loving you. To continue to grieve for you would have killed me. I needed to put all the anguished emotion in me to a good purpose.
Eton though still grieved greatly. His grief was more quiet and compressed until it finally seeped out one cold December afternoon.
“Why are you going to visit Ilsa and David again?” he demanded, anger and upset burning in his eyes. I was frightened; this was not a side of the kind and considerate Eton I normally saw. Swallowing hard I turned from the door and faced my spouse.
“Because I need to,” was the simple reply. My posture was straight and rigid but my voice came out weakly. If I was not able to go and hold David, smell his baby smell, and nuzzle his sweet head, then I would spend that day at home, walking around my living room, bouncing a pretend baby on my hip. Eton didn’t know these things; he didn’t know that I played with anything heavy enough for a newborn baby. On bad days I would lie on my bed – the bed I now can share with Eton - and sketch what I thought you looked like. I have huge manila envelopes of imaginary pictures of you at one week, three weeks, five months, thirteen months, etc. Most of them are all the same but every once in a while I would add something new like a thick patch of hair or a little birthmark. But the Jenni in my drawings was perfect.
Today I am looking through all the pictures I drew of you so many years ago. I hold in my hand a drawing of you at three years of age. Now that I look back on it, there is a strong resemblance between David and you. Different coloring, but the facial features are close. I remember when I drew this particular picture I cried and cried because I knew that you would have been walking and calling out ‘Momma!’ at three years. But I will never hear your sweet voice on this Earth.
There are so many memories I will never have of you because someone took your precious life before you had a chance to breath in the gentle air of life. On your sixteenth birthday I went to the local driving clinic. For at least two hours I sat in the waiting room, watching the young teenagers excitedly wave their new licenses in the air. I imagined a lithe, beautiful, dark-eyed daughter of mine named Jenni excitedly run over to me. But the image didn’t stay, vanishing with the shouts of the newly licensed.
So many occasions and anniversaries, so many things you have never experienced. I have never stopped mourning for you my Jenni. Never. Oh, my life has improved from those first few years, but you are still a person whose spirit lives inside of me. A doctor might have expelled tissue and membrane from my uterus but they didn’t take your spirit.
A huge white envelope came in the mail today for you Jenni. Eton walked in to the kitchen, his face grey as ash. In his outstretched hand I could see the address: Jenni Hahn-Durlyn, E7HT36.
Together Eton and I opened the letter for our daughter who didn’t even exist in any file. Was this some sort of sick and perverted joke we wondered. But it wasn’t…somewhere, somehow, a government official had your birth certificate – or at least the one with half the information filled out. Inside the letter was a summons to report to the government building on 42nd Street.
Today is your 24th birthday Jenni and today Eton and I were to have taken you down to that old brick and glass building. We were to have given you away to set you loose into the world. But today I am so glad that you are not alive. I am so glad that I don’t have to give you up. My plans are complete in two days, but if you had lived, you would have been lost.
You see Jenni, thanks to medical science my body has remained young and I am pregnant again. Eton and I don’t want and cannot legally have the child of our union born while we still live under this totalitarian regime. Eton and I are going south to join Ilsa and David. It is in the south – freedom – where your sibling will be born Jenni.
It is time for me to move on. You are a part of my past, not my future, though my past will always greatly affect my future, just as your memory will always be with me.
I will always love you, my baby girl.
Melanie Durlyn a’ Hahn
March 26, 2145