Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Motherhood

Hello Senator. Thank you for returning my call. I’m so glad to speak to you at last.

Yes, I did say in my message that this is a matter of life-or-death. It is. Absolutely.

Oh, no—you misunderstand, sir. It’s not your life that’s threatened. It’s the life of a child. The life of your unborn child, in fact.

First, congratulations are in order. I understand that Julia Banks, your former intern, informed you that she is pregnant. I believe that was just over a month ago. She’s just entering the second trimester.

Oh, no. There’s no doubt that you are the father of the unborn child. We ran a paternity test and . . .

Who gave us the right? Well, actually, sir, you did.

Surely you recall the Father’s Rights Act—the bill you introduced a decade ago when you were in the Oklahoma State Legislature? That act requires medical personnel to run a paternity test whenever any mother-to-be is seeking medical assistance for a difficult pregnancy. The law requires medical personnel to locate the father to obtain permission for any procedure that endangers the life of the unborn child. You do remember that, don’t you?

I’m guessing you haven’t been in touch with Julia since she left DC. She has been staying at her mother’s house in Oklahoma. And she’s experiencing uncontrolled eclampsia, a threat to her life and to the life of the child. So when she sought medical assistance, the legal requirement was very clear.

How did we get your genetic information? From your medical records, of course. You see, Julia lost her medical insurance when she left her internship position. She is making use of the Oklahoma fund for unwed mothers—a form of welfare. Since she is a pregnant welfare recipient, Oklahoma law requires that medical personnel locate the father. This requirement grants them access to all relevant medical records. I believe that was in an addendum to the Father’s Rights Act.

Now that we have established that you are the father, I am required by law to inform you of the responsibilities placed on you by the Sanctity of Motherhood Act.

I know you’re familiar with this law. You sponsored it in your second year in the Senate, as I recall. And you gave such eloquent speeches in defense of it. Your words about motherhood and the sanctity of life were quite moving.

Julia’s eclampsia threatens the life of your unborn child. If the baby remains in Julia’s womb, the chances that it will survive are very low. That diagnosis triggered a clause in the Sanctity of Motherhood Act. If a woman is unable to carry a baby to term, the nearest relative capable of carrying the child must do so.

After all, advances in medical technology have made it possible to transplant a viable fetus to another mother. This operation can preserve the life of the unborn. I remember your speech about this clause—you predicted it would result in many joyous births.

The law requires us to search for the nearest relative capable of carrying the child to term. Julia has no siblings, her father is dead, and her mother is elderly and frail. So you, Senator, are the child’s nearest relative capable of carrying the unborn baby to term.

Calm down, Senator. I know this is a surprise. Take a moment to let it sink in.

When you were advocating for the Sanctity of Motherhood Act, some accused you of attacking women’s health, of waging war on women. But I thought your speeches made your position very clear. You were celebrating motherhood. It just seemed like you were singling out women. That was because only women could be mothers.

Fortunately, modern medicine has changed all that.

Now you can be a mother.

Don’t hang up, Senator. You really need to hear me out. Take a deep breath. I realize this is big news.

I’m sure you want to know how this miracle is possible. You probably don’t follow every advance in obstetrics and gynecology. In recent years, a great deal of effort has been made to expand the pool of potential mothers. Some of us in the field of reproductive health have had a special interest in this area. I mean, why should the sacred privilege of motherhood be limited to women?

The procedure is really quite simple. First, we will give you a uterus—a transplant from a healthy donor—and then we will transplant the fetus and placenta. It is a process that has been thoroughly tested and very recently approved by the AMA.

This procedure will allow you to experience all the joys of pregnancy. Such a wonderful experience—although you may find it a bit difficult to get used to the hormones. They can be a wild ride, even if you’ve been a woman from birth.

And I’ll admit that being pregnant does take a toll on a mother. But don’t worry—clinic personnel will be with you every step of the way. We’ll make sure you take the proper precautions to protect the child. No drinking, of course. No drugs. We’ll monitor your diet. You will gain weight—twenty-five to thirty-five pounds would be appropriate for a person your size.

There will be a lot for you to get used to. You’ll need to rearrange your work schedule and plan for the birth. If you choose to breastfeed . . . well, all of that is covered in this booklet that we’ve written for expecting fathers.

There’s no need to take that tone, Senator. No, I am not crazy. The law requires you to accept this responsibility—and given that you were one of the bill’s sponsors, I thought you would accept it joyously. This is a rare opportunity.

Excuse me? You think I’m enjoying this? Well, yes, I am. Over the years I’ve noted the zeal with which you defend the rights of the unborn. I am so pleased that I can give you the opportunity to truly share in the responsibility of motherhood and the joy of birth.

Oh, you are quite right—no one can force you to undergo this procedure. You can decline. But if you choose to abdicate your responsibility, you will be held liable for the murder of your own child.

Yes, murder.

Yes, that’s in the law. “If the prospective mother declines . . .”

Yes, Senator. You are the prospective mother. I realize that you did not ask for this responsibility. Throughout history, this responsibility has been thrust upon people. They did not expect a condom to break, an IUD to fail. I understand your confusion, since all those people were women—up until now. But things have changed.

So I’d recommend accepting your responsibility, sir.

No, Senator, you really don’t have a choice.

Pat Murphy

Pat Murphy

Pat Murphy writes fiction that inhabits the borderland between genres, where life is interesting and the rules are slippery. She is very grateful that science fiction exists, since it has provided a happy home for seven of her eight novels and many of her short stories. Her work has won numerous awards, including two Nebula Awards, the Philip K. Dick Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Seiun Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Her novels include The Falling Woman, The City Not Long After, Nadya: The Wolf Chronicles, Wild Angel, and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell. Her short stories are collected in Points of Departure and Women Up To No Good. With Karen Joy Fowler, she co-founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender roles. In her day job, she is the resident Evil Genius at MysteryScience.com, where she creates science activities to inspire and amaze elementary school students.