Annie sat with her feet up on the sofa scrolling through her social media feed on a tablet. Most of the posts were by protest groups asking for support in their cause. It had been two years since the Reproduction Act was passed into law and every male made reversibly infertile. They said it would curb teenage pregnancies, prevent children being born into poverty or to incapable parents and in time could reduce crime. Yet those who fell victim to this new policy were still fighting back in the hope it would be overturned. As she continued to browse, her eye was caught by a particular image of a new-born baby swaddled in blankets. A caption read, “Our beautiful new baby boy.” She stared at the photograph longingly, a sadness forming on her round face. She gave a deep sigh and switched off the tablet. A knock at the door made her jump. She slid off the sofa to answer it.
Kim was standing at the front door with a bottle of wine clenched in her manicured fist. She raised it victoriously as a large grin showed off her bright white teeth.
‘Time to celebrate!’ she called with giddy excitement. Annie forced a smile from her thin lips and stepped aside to allow Kim entry.
Annie was back on the sofa waiting anxiously for Kim to return from the kitchen with two large glasses of red wine. Passing one to Annie, she wasted no time taking her first sip as Kim sat down next to her.
‘Here’s to your divorce. Good riddance to old rubbish,’ Kim announced clinking her glass against Annie’s without warning. Annie almost spilt hers on the cream velour beneath them. The thought of it made her heart jump. Kim could sense Annie was in no mood to celebrate. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘You should be happy. You don’t have to see that bastard ever again.’
Annie turned away and stared into her glass. She wasn’t one to share her problems with the world, but needed to talk about it.
‘I know, but I just keep thinking, the one thing I wanted, is now even more unlikely,’ she replied with a sulky tone.
‘You’re talking about children?’ Kim asked, already knowing the reply. Annie looked up at her and nodded subtly. ‘Annie, you’re thirty-one. You’ve got plenty of time to find someone and have children,’ she assured her dismissively before taking a large sip of her drink.
‘That’s the problem. I don’t want to find someone. I don’t need a partner. I’ve done that and it didn’t end well. I just want a child,’ Annie claimed desperately, running her finger along the edge of the wine glass.
Kim didn’t like these serious conversations, especially when wine was involved, but she knew she had to reiterate to her sister the disappointing truth. No matter how painful.
‘Well, I’m afraid that’s not going to happen by yourself. Unless you buy some guy’s sperm off the black market,’ Kim smirked, but as soon as she said the last sentence, she knew it wasn’t wise to give Annie ideas. However, as Annie looked away shamefully, Kim felt it was too late, the seed had already been sewn. ‘You haven’t, have you?’ Kim asked, not quite sure if she wanted to know the answer. Annie couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with her as she spoke.
‘A colleague at work did it. She said it was easy. She offered to contact a dealer for me.’
Kim’s eyes widened with shock before her brow furrowed with anger and frustration.
‘Annie, are you crazy? Do you realise how much trouble you could get into if you’re caught?’ she barked, hoping her words would get through.
‘Yes, but I’m willing to risk it.' Annie had now locked eyes with Kim, a steely determination in them.
Kim shook her head in disbelief. Was her quiet, reserved sibling really going to do this? She had to try and deter her. She placed her glass down on the nearby coffee table and took hold of Annie’s hand.
‘Annie, you’re my sister and I love you, but right now you’re being stupid. You need to think long and hard about this, don’t rush into anything that you may regret. You will find someone, fall in love and have children. Have faith. Just promise me you won’t do anything illegal,’ Kim begged her as she looked deep into her sad eyes.
Annie felt backed into a corner. She was hoping for her sister’s support and was hurt when it did not come. She looked away from Kim’s intense stare, but she knew the gaze wouldn’t end until the right answer had been heard. She returned her focus and smiled softly.
‘Okay, I won’t,’ she said with very little conviction. Kim grinned with relief and wrapped her arms around Annie’s neck pulling her in close, embracing her tightly.
‘I know it seems impossible now, but just stay positive. Nobody knows what the future holds.’
Annie listened to the words, but they meant nothing to her. She just hoped Kim didn’t realise she was lying.
Later that night, Annie was sat at her desk in the dark of the spare room. The glow of the computer screen lighting up her face as she leaned in close to read. She was on the website for the Family Planning Clinic. She shifted the cursor over to a link that read, “Apply for Fertility.” She clicked it. An entry form appeared on the page with a set of terms and conditions written above. It read, "Before applying, please ensure you meet all necessary criteria.” It then listed the bullet points required to be a successful applicant, they were:
• Applicants must be married for at least one year.
• One spouse must have an income of at least £15,000 pa. an extra £5,000 pa. per additional child.
• No criminal record.
• Acceptable housing fully paid for or mortgaged by applicants.
• Accommodation must be located in a high standard area (See map for details).
• A full clean bill of health.
Annie met all except one. She felt it unfair, why must she be married? She was perfectly capable of taking care of a child by herself. She would be the most wonderful mother a boy or girl could ever have. She would love them dearly and surely that was all that mattered. She was pulled from her daydream by an email alert in the corner of the screen. Annie brought up the received message and was taken aback by its contents. It read, “Your friend contacted me. If you’re still interested, I have stock. Let me know.” Annie couldn’t believe it. Her colleague at work had come through and now she had the opportunity to make her dream come true. She stood up and paced around the room biting her nails. Her heart was racing with excitement, but what would Kim say? Oh, why did she have to visit today? Her mind was made up, but now Kim’s words were running through her head. Could she really do this? Could she really break the law? Annie moved the mouse cursor over the delete button. She was about to click, but paused. She took a couple of deep breaths before moving the cursor over to the reply button and clicked. She composed a return message. It simply said. “I am interested.” In no time at all, another email came through. She opened it, her hand shaking with nerves. "Meet me tomorrow at midnight, Old Street. Bring £2000 cash.” Annie couldn’t take the pounding of her heart in her chest. It felt like it was jumping around all over. She sent a message back. “I’ll be there.” She sat down to catch her breath, her hands still shaking.
The protesters were gathered outside the entrance of the Family Planning Clinic like cattle. They each had crudely made signs with slogans such as “Let God Decide”, “We Have Rights” and “Children Of Oppression”. Steven was watching them from the waiting room window. With his hands wedged in his trouser pockets, he was an air of calm as he observed the commotion outside. His wife, Felicity, was sat near him picking at her fingernails. She glanced over at him with an irritated look.
‘Come away from the window, Steven and sit down. You’re making me more nervous standing there,’ she demanded with a slight strain in her voice.
Steven shifted his attention to her and smiled. He took a seat next to her and placed his hand gently on top of hers.
‘There’s no reason to be nervous. We tick all the boxes. This is merely a formality for us,’ he assured her.
‘They can still turn us down,’ she snapped back.
‘I doubt they will. Just relax,’ he replied, rubbing her hand to calm her. At that moment, a door opened and Felicity felt her heartbeat quicken as she turned to see who would appear. A nurse stepped out and looked over at the couple.
‘Mr and Mrs Marsh?’ she called.
Steven and Felicity smiled as they stood.
Dr. Thompson was a short and jolly looking man with spectacles balanced on the end of his nose. He was sat at his desk reading a file whilst Steven and Felicity sat before him holding hands as they waited anxiously. Dr Thompson scratched his beard pensively and gave an impressed murmur. He looked up and smiled.
‘I must say, I’m very impressed with your application. Excellent income. Mr Marsh, you’re a teacher. Mrs Marsh, an environmental lawyer. You live in a wonderful area of the city. I don’t think I’ve had a couple more qualified pass through this office,’ he said with a bounce in his voice. Steven and Felicity looked at each other and smiled. ‘I’m happy to say you’ve been granted fertility,’ he added. Steven and Felicity embraced each other with relief as Dr. Thompson stamped their file with a large “Fertility Granted” stamp. Felicity was on the verge of tears, giddy with laughter.
‘Thank you, doctor,’ she said with relief.
The doctor gestured toward a table in the corner of the room.
‘Steven, if you’d like to sit up on the examination table.’
Steven managed to pull himself from Felicity’s grip and made his way over to the table. His tall height allowed him to hop onto it with ease. Doctor Thompson unlocked a drawer behind his desk and took out a small EpiPen like device wrapped in plastic. He tore it from its packaging and approached Steven as he rolled up his sleeve. Doctor Thompson placed the auto-injector on Steven’s arm and pressed the button with his thumb. Steven winced briefly before the device was removed leaving a small needle sized dot on his arm. The doctor placed a ball of cotton on the tiny wound. ‘Okay, all done.’ Steven replaced the doctor’s finger on the cotton. He glanced over at an excited Felicity and smiled lovingly as he slipped off the table and approached her. The doctor tossed the now empty injector into a secure refuse box. He retook his place behind the desk and sat down. ‘Now, you’ll need to wait twenty-four hours before having sexual intercourse. You’ll be fertile for thirty days. If in that time you haven’t been able to conceive, you may have another injection, but depending on circumstances it may require a small charge. Any questions?’ The doctor waited, but merely received an excited shaking of the head from both of them. ‘Excellent,’ he added with relish.
‘Thank you, doctor,’ Steven said extending a hand to shake. The doctor reached out and reciprocated. Felicity stood and shook the doctor’s hand with enthusiasm.
‘Thank you so much, doctor,’ she almost screamed with elation.
‘Not at all. Good luck conceiving,’ he replied with a large grin on his face.
Steven was now the nervous one pacing up and down the thick carpeted bedroom floor nibbling at his nails. Felicity was sat on a chair, hunched over, staring at a pregnancy test. Steven paused and glanced over at her.
‘Well?’ he asked impatiently.
‘It takes a few minutes,’ she replied. Steven sat down on the edge of the bed, his knee bobbing up and down. ‘It’s doing something!’ Felicity called out. Steven was back on his feet and leaned over to see. ‘Negative. False alarm,’ she added with disappointment. Her head dropped as she closed her eyes wishing for a better outcome. Steven dropped to his knees before her and took her hand affectionately kissing it.
‘Don’t worry. It’ll happen eventually. We have plenty of time,’ he assured her.
Meanwhile, another pregnancy test was underway. Annie was sat on the toilet seat in her small bathroom. The plastic white stick perched on the side of the sink. Annie eyed it before looking at her watch. She stood up and closed her eyes.
‘Please, God,’ she whispered to herself.
Annie opened one eye and looked down at the display. A clear plus symbol. She opened the other eye and took a closer look to be sure she wasn’t seeing things. She picked up the stick and reassured herself what she had seen was the truth. Her smile was ear to ear as she danced across the tiled floor. She couldn’t contain herself and burst into happy tears. She wanted to scream in delight, but was reluctant to disturb her neighbours. Perhaps a glass of champagne would suffice? Before Annie could enjoy her news, a knock at the door startled her. She wasn’t expecting anybody. Perhaps it was Kim coming to make sure she didn’t go through with it. Now wouldn’t be a good time to tell her.
Annie opened the front door to find a smart looking gentleman in a suit standing before her, a second man in a police uniform stood behind him.
‘Mrs Williams?’ the suited man asked.
‘Yes,’ she replied with hesitation. Annie could feel her heart rate increasing as the suited man held up a police detective badge for her to see.
‘We’d like a word,’ he said with authority.
Eight months had passed since Annie was convicted of illegal insemination and sentenced to one year in prison. The days had bled into one and she couldn’t tell what time or day of the week it was. Mundane routine had dulled her senses and visits from friends and family were the only thing keeping her going. That and the child growing inside of her. Annie entered the visitors room and spotted Kim sat hopelessly toward the back of the room. She made her way over to her. They were forbidden from making physical contact and so quickly sat down before one of them felt the urge to lean in for a hug. Kim forced a reassuring smile and Annie threw one back in order to make her sister comfortable.
‘How are you doing?’ Kim asked, trying not to sound too cheerful.
‘I’m not too bad. I may be in prison, but this little thing makes all that fade away,' Annie said as she looked down at the bump stroking it.
‘It can’t be long now,’ Kim said with much needed optimism.
‘One month,’ Annie replied, matching Kim’s tone, but her mood shifted as she continued. ‘It’s just upsetting I won’t be able to keep him, but you’ll take good care of him, won’t you? And that way I can always visit,’ she said hopefully.
Kim hesitated and this made Annie nervous. When the words finally came, Annie was reluctant to listen.
‘Listen, Annie. I looked into the adoption process, and as much as I’d love to have him, they won’t let me.’
‘Why not?' Annie asked with desperation.
‘Some bullshit law that prohibits children of convicted criminals being adopted by relatives. I guess they don’t like the idea you could still see him.’ It cut her up inside to shatter her sister’s hopes. Before Kim finished her sentence, she could see the tears welling up in Annie’s eyes. She had to do something and so risked placing a hand on Annie’s and leaning in close to shield it from the observing prison guards. ‘It’s okay, we’ll figure something out. Try and stay positive.’
Annie snatched her hand from under Kim’s and placed it alongside the other on her belly in a protective manner.
‘I won’t let them take you away from me,’ she said softly, then snapped her head up to look at Kim, a steely look in her eye. ‘I won’t let them,’ she added with determination. Kim could only look back at Annie silently, hoping she didn’t do anything else stupid.
Steven and Felicity found themselves back in Dr. Thompson’s office for the tenth time. As Steven glanced around the room, he realised he had read nearly every poster on every wall. How many more times would they have to return? Felicity was sat next to him clutching his hand in hers on the verge of tears. It was starting to feel like torture. He didn’t want to keep putting the woman he loved through this, but she was insistent. He felt a wave of pain rush over him as he stared at Felicity. Why couldn’t he give her a child? Dr. Thompson lifted his head from reading a file and cut in breaking Steven from his daydream.
‘I’m sorry to say this, but we’ve exhausted all avenues; 5 injections, plus I.V.F. At this stage, I’m afraid there’s not much more we can do.’ The doctor hated giving bad news like this. There was nothing worse than dashing someone’s hopes, but it was all part of the job.
‘There’s not much more we can afford,’ Steven quipped, before glancing over at Felicity praying she didn’t see his remark as a joke at their expense. She remained silent, staring at the floor, a solitary tear running down her cheek.
‘Of course, there are other options,’ Thompson said, pulling a leaflet from his desk drawer.
‘What kind of options?’ Steven asked inquisitively. The doctor placed the leaflet on the desk in front of the couple. In large white letters on the cover was the word “Adoption”. Steven picked it up for a closer look.
‘There are many children out there looking for a loving family. I could submit a recommendation, possibly fast track you. You’re beyond all qualifications, so I can’t see it being a problem.’ The doctor tried to make it sound as easy as possible, God knows these people have already been through enough stress. Felicity couldn’t hold back any longer and burst into tears. Steven put the leaflet into his pocket and placed a hand on her shoulder to console her. ‘Once again, I’m very sorry. I understand how you must feel.’ The doctor wanted so badly to help this couple. He had spent so much time with them they had become almost friends.
‘Thank you, Doctor. We’ll consider it. Come on, honey. Let’s go.’ Steven gave a thankful smile and helped Felicity to her feet. They slowly made their way toward the door, Steven supporting the broken woman by his side.
She hadn’t experienced pain like it. Annie writhed around on the bed screaming in shear agony. Her cuffed wrist pulling and scraping on the bed frame. A midwife was next to her mopping her sweating brow with a damp cloth. The doctor at the foot of the bed checking between her legs, reaching in without hesitation. A prison guard watched on from the corner of the room, a face of disgust trying to block out the incessant noise. Annie’s screams stopped and they were followed by the cries of a baby as the doctor produced a small pink bundle in his arms. Annie caught her breath, watching as the doctor severed the umbilical cord and carried the blood stained infant over to a towel to clean him up. The midwife joined him and took over, wrapping the child in fresh linen. Annie reached out as best she could considering her wrists were bound.
‘Let me see him,’ she whispered weakly. The midwife heard Annie’s request and looked over toward her sympathetically. For a moment it seemed she was going to appease the new mother, but instead she turned to the prison guard and passed the baby to him. ‘No, don’t take him. Let me see him. Please.’ Annie leaned further forward, but the manacles yanked her back. The prison guard deaf to the woman’s cries pushed open a door and stepped through. ‘Please, don’t take him away,’ she called out, her voice strained. As the door closed shut, a weakened Annie slumped back on the bed and began to sob.
The church was packed full of people squashed into pews. Those who couldn’t sit were stood along the sides and at the back. They had all come to listen to Father Michael Winfred speak. Annie slipped in through the open door and pushed her way through bodies to catch a glimpse of the man who owned the strong commanding voice echoing around the room. It had been several weeks since her release from incarceration. She looked tired and depressed, but Michael’s words gave her energy and hope.
‘Our God given right, taken away from us, why? Because some of us don’t earn enough money, are considered too old or just made mistakes in our youth, like most people do.' He spoke with confidence and vigour, punctuating his words with erratic hand gestures. ‘All we want is to be mothers and fathers, and for that we are arrested and imprisoned. I say this has gone too far and it’s time for us to take a stand. Time for us to take back the human rights that have been denied us. Time for this government to yield to the will of God. We are his vessels of creation, the manufacturers of life. We decide. Not them.’ He finished with a bang of his fist on the pulpit. The crowd stood up and clapped. Michael bowed gratefully before making his way to the side of the room as the noise simmered down. A woman stepped in his place and spoke to the crowd. As Michael shook hands with supporters he caught sight of Annie making her way toward him. Before he had a chance to greet her, she spoke with urgency.
‘Did you find it?’ she asked.
Michael nodded. He took Annie by the arm and led her toward the back of the church where it was quiet. He reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. He held it up to Annie.
‘This is everything I could find on the people who adopted your son,’ he explained, but Annie had already snatched it from his hand. She unfolded it and perused the contents. ‘Think long and hard about this. Once you cross that bridge, there’ll be no going back,’ he warned her, a stern look in his eye. Annie looked up at him, but his words were meaningless. She simply nodded and pocketed the document.
‘Thank you,’ she replied abruptly before turning and disappearing back into the crowd.
Felicity was enjoying her day home alone with her new son. She found it hard to tear herself away from him to do various chores. His cherub face melted her heart every time she looked at him. She had never been so happy. While he was sleeping, she took the opportunity to catch up on some laundry, but was interrupted by the doorbell. Annie was standing on the porch as Felicity pulled open the front door.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs Marsh. My name is Rachel Smith, I’m from social services. I’ve just come to see how you’re doing with the new addition to your family,’ Annie said with conviction. She was wearing smart clothing and glasses. An ID badge was clipped to her collar and she held a clipboard in one hand.
‘Oh yes, of course. They said someone would be coming. Please, do come in,' Felicity replied politely. She stepped aside and Annie cautiously entered the house. As she did so, she was already criticising in her mind the suitability of this house for raising a child. She found the decor disgusting and a putrid stench in the air.
‘What a lovely home,’ Annie lied.
Annie followed Felicity through into the large living room. Annie paused at the threshold when she saw the tiny baby sitting in a bouncer fast asleep.
‘Here he is. Our little bundle of gorgeousness. This is George,’ Felicity said as she approached the boy to check he was sleeping okay. ‘Can I get you a tea or coffee?’ Felicity asked with a smile, but received no answer. ‘Miss Smith?’ she called. Annie broke free from her mesmerised state and smiled back at Felicity.
‘Oh yes, tea please,’ she finally said, her heart racing. Once Felicity had left the room, Annie slowly approached the silent child and reached down. She carefully picked him up so as not to disturb his slumber and held him close. A tear ran down her cheek as she smiled at him with such affection she thought her heart would burst through her chest and explode with love.
Felicity was rushing around the kitchen filling two mugs with tea bags and milk as the kettle finished boiling. The noise loud enough to drown out all other sounds. She poured out the hot water, allowing the tea to brew before removing the bags and placing the mugs on a tray along with a plate of biscuits. She carried the tray through to the living room.
‘I hope you don’t mind soy milk…’ she called out as she entered the room, but was cut off mid-sentence when she discovered the lady had disappeared and her son along with her. The tray slipped from her fingers and the mugs smashed to the floor spilling their contents across the carpet. Felicity rushed to the front door to find it still ajar. She stepped out into the quiet street looking up and down the road, but saw no sign of the woman or her child. Felicity screamed as the tears welled in her eyes.
The police arrived quickly, but not before Steven had rushed home from work. He was consoling his wife best he could as they sat close on the sofa. Two uniformed police officers were sat opposite, one of them scribbling in a small notebook.
‘Had you seen the woman before?’ the officer asked.
Felicity was in a zombie-like state staring off into the distance. There was silence as everyone waited for an answer, but it did not come. ‘Mrs Marsh? We could really do with a description of the woman,’ the officer pushed, yet careful not to upset. Steven could see Felicity was struggling, but she needed to speak. He hoped she could give a good enough description to find this person. After all they had been through, this was terrible.
‘Honey, please, tell them,’ he said desperately, nudging her gently with his arm around her shoulder. Felicity slowly looked up and stared the police officer in the eye.
‘Please, find my baby,’ she begged.
In a quiet dense wood, a small campfire was burning brightly in the coming darkness. Annie was sat on the leaf covered ground staring into the flames, deep in thought. The cries of a baby snatched her back to reality. She stood and entered a small tent. Inside, bundled in blankets acting as a makeshift cot was George, stirring from his sleep. Annie knelt down next to him and gently lifted him up cradling him in her arms. She rocked him, humming sweetly to calm his screams.
‘Shh. Mummy’s here now. Everything’s going to be just fine,’ she promised.