A Plea to the Governor
Nancy checked herself over in the full-length mirror. Everything had to be just right today. There was a particular way she knew she must look today as the first impression was also going to be the last as she approached the single most dreadful day of her life.
She had sent her request to the governor’s office as soon as she learned she was pregnant. Her husband, Rob and she had spoken at great length about what they needed to do. There were already four children and Rob was still out of work and unemployment had just reached the end. Nancy couldn’t make enough to feed the kids with part-time temp jobs so they visited the food bank almost weekly.
Nancy hoped the governor would grant her request to terminate the pregnancy. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade and left abortion up to the states, all terminations must now be approved by the governor. She’d done everything she was supposed to do; she’d been on birth control for years. They stopped only periodically to plan for each one of their babies (except for the oldest, Lila). Lila had been a pleasant surprise and the beginning of their family. Two girls and two boys and they were finished. Rob had been meaning to get a vasectomy, but with no money or steady work, he had to put it off a while. Women under the age of 35 were no longer allowed by law to be sterilized legally in her state.
Nancy took a home pregnancy test alone and broke down in tears at the result. Rob understood, but he knew as well as Nancy they couldn’t afford to bring another child into their home. Their children were all under the age of 6 and were too young to understand why mommy would give away their little brother or sister. They agreed terminating the pregnancy was the best thing to do for their family and immediately filed the request with the governor’s office. Nancy was only 8 weeks along when she filed, but it took another four weeks to hear back from the governor’s office and another 2 weeks before she could be seen. She knew at 14 weeks along, her time was running short. Even when approved, pregnancies were not allowed to legally be terminated after 16 weeks–not for any reason. If the governor granted her request today, she would have only 2 weeks to get the procedure.
Nancy agonized over her appearance in the mirror. She made sure there was nothing showing that may lead the governor to believe she was less than proper. He had been known to deny abortions to women that appeared too bold; if they looked or dressed a certain way, he perceived them immoral and refused to hear them speak. Nancy pulled her gray-streaked dark blonde hair back into a ponytail and wore her most demure dress and a pale blue cardigan.Her face was pale and gaunt devoid of any make-up. She’d heard horrid tales of immoral women whom the governor felt were at risk of terminating their pregnancies by illegal means or potential suicides that were sentenced to maternity homes until they gave birth. Afterward, the healthy newborns were taken away and placed for sale to the country’s wealthiest couples. Rumor had it the unhealthy babies were euthanized and cremated, but there was no longer any journalism that wasn’t controlled by government interests, so nobody knew exactly what happened. These maternity homes had sprung up all over the country since Roe was overturned and the baby market had become a booming enterprise. Healthy babies supposedly fetched prices up to $50,000.00. Of course, they still called it “adoption” and since the state took care of everything and there was no free press, the baby-selling and money-making were all only rumors.
Nancy knew she’d have to plead her case eloquently enough that the governor would take pity on her family and grant the termination.She knew she couldn’t talk about her wants, needs, and fears; for the governor was known to call women selfish. She must make him understand the strain another child would place on her husband and children. She knew her feelings would be of no interest to him.
The governor ordered the women come to him alone so she wasn’t able to bring Rob or any other support with her. “If she’s brave enough to even utter she’d like to kill her baby, she can be brave enough to come and tell me by herself”, she once heard him say. She drove very slowly and carefully to the governor’s mansion practicing her words. Looking around outside, the sky was a brilliant blue and spring had finally arrived. The leaves and grass were bright green–so green it didn’t quite seem real. She wished she could be home playing with her little ones outside enjoying the beautiful day. She felt her face grow hot and her hands become wringing wet. She became more anxious with every passing minute of the drive and her knees shook on the long walk up to the door. She’d never been to the governor’s mansion and was unsure of what to expect. All she knew was that what she was going to ask for was not often granted.
Nancy walked quickly up the steps and down the long hallway to the governor’s office. She was greeted by an assistant that asked her name and then showed her into the governor’s ornate office. She immediately noticed the bear rug on his floor and the mounted deer behind his chair and became even more intimidated than she had been, but she also saw the photos of his children and grandchildren on his desk and felt slightly more at ease.
He stood to greet her and shook her hand, “Thank you for coming, Mrs. Larson. Please take a seat.” Nancy smiled nervously and did as she was told. She looked the governor over hoping to feel relief. He looked like a kind and just man with his snow-white hair and brilliant blue eyes. She detected a slight scandinavian accent in his voice and hoped for compassion. When he continued speaking, Nancy realized his looks were misleading.
“Well, Mrs. Larson, I know why you’re here today. Please tell me why I should allow you to take the innocent life of an unborn baby?”
Nancy was perplexed for a moment knowing that she must choose her words very carefully. She’d rehearsed what she was going to say, but the governor’s choice of words had thrown her off-guard. After a few seconds, she managed to gather herself and speak.
“Yes. Thank you Mr. Governor. I certainly do appreciate you agreeing to meet me like this. My husband lost his job. He’s been unable to support our four children and me for months now. I’ve been working as much as possible, but it’s mostly part-time and temp jobs .I’m afraid it’s just not enough and our family is really struggling.It’s been a terrible strain on my husband and our four children. We have to go to the food bank to get our meals now.”
“Well, now, Mrs. Larson, don’t you think the two of you should have thought about that before engaging in intercourse? All this sounds mighty unfortunate, but the time that you had a choice has now passed. You understand that, right?”
Again, she was shocked at his words. She and Rob were married. They’d been together for years. Were they not supposed to be intimate? Again, she mustered the courage to respond.
“Yes sir. We’ve been using birth control for many years, but it didn’t work this time. I’m not sure what went wrong, but we were trying to be careful. My husband loves me and I love him and we do make love on occasion as many married couples do.”
The governor’s eyes grew large and his chest pumped up a bit, “don’t you understand, Mrs. Larson? This child you’re carrying defied the odds to try and get into this world. The fact that you tried to stop its conception is just proof that the Lord God himself put that child in your belly and it’s your duty to have it. That is your duty as a woman and as a law-abiding citizen.”
Nancy began to understand she wasn’t going to win and her self-control was wearing thin.
“With all due respect, Mr. Governor, the God I know and worship would not put additional strain on my family by damning us with another child at this time. This was not the work of God. This is nothing but a mistake. How dare you presume to know what God wants? What you put women through is going to be your judgment before God. We are a loving family. We do the best we can by our children and bringing another mouth to feed to our table is not what’s best for us at this time and it is not my duty or any other woman’s to birth babies we don’t want so you can sell them to the highest bidder.” Nancy knew she’d gone too far.
The governor’s eyes lowered and all hint of compassion left his face.
“Mrs. Larson, babies aren’t meant to be sacrificed when it’s inconvenient. If you and your husband are unable to care for another child, might I recommend you give the child to someone who can? There are so many wealthy, good Christian couples hoping to adopt a precious baby. Surely, you aren’t so selfish to deny them what you can have easily and they can’t?”
Nancy stood and raised her voice. She was both shocked and terrified at the words that came from her mouth, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“It is not my role in this life, Mr. Governor, to be a breeder for the wealthy. I am a human being, not a prized hog to be bred by the government! What is selfish is you, sir–selling other people’s babies, ruining other peoples’ lives for votes and for profit. This is my life and my body and it is selfish–yes, selfish, for you to control it for your own gain.
“Well, now Mrs. Larson, that law that gave you the right to make that decision for yourself–your body and your life is no longer and you know that. Why do you think the Supreme Court would make such a decision if they felt it was ok for you to take an innocent life? Once you are with child, you no longer own your body. Your body is the home of the child and it is the role of the government to ensure that life is protected. I think our time is done here.” He picked up the phone, “Yes, please send up two escorts. Thanks dear.”
Nancy dropped to her knees, “I’m sorry sir! Please don’t make my babies go without their mama. Please, just allow me to go back home. I’ll do what you say. Please just allow me to spend the pregnancy in my home with my husband and my babies.”
“I don’t think I’d be a very wise man if I allowed you to go home knowing how you feel about that precious life, Mrs. Larson. Your attitude has told me all I need to know. They’ll take mighty good care of you and that baby at the maternity home. You’ll be released to your family after the child is placed with good Christian parents.”
Nancy screamed and sobbed uncontrollably as two female escorts in turquoise blue scrubs came and escorted her from the governor’s office.
After Nancy was out of sight, the Governor made a quick call to the maternity home. “There’s another one on the way. She should be due right around the time John and Esther Rollins return from Europe. Please give them a call and let them know I think I got ‘em one. They donated so much to my campaign, it’s the least I can do. Thanks now.”
Nancy awoke some hours later. She was in a strange bed with restraints on both her arms and legs. She looked to her right and saw a young girl who must’ve been nearly 40 weeks and close to delivery. She looked to her left and saw a woman about her age; dark-skinned and beautiful with wild, curly hair and the most amazing brown eyes looking back at her.
“Hey there! You awake finally,”
Nancy held back her tears as she responded, “I’m Nancy. What’s your name?”
“I’m Evelyn. Don’t you worry none, everything’s gonna be just fine. I been here a couple times now. The first time, I was scared, but now I know it’s all for the best.”
“How is that true? I have four babies at home and a husband that relies on me. How can my being here be for the best? How can you being here be for the best?””
“Oh, you know. They take good care of you, make sure your baby is doing good. They smarter than we are. They know what’s best. And don’t you worry none about your babies. If your husband can’t take care of them, they’ll give ‘em to people who do.”
“What? What do you mean? They’d take my children?”
“Well, yeah. The governor know better for us. That’s why he’s the governor. I been here two times now. I had five babies at home, but we couldn’t take care of ‘em right. I just got Walter and he works hard–two jobs! He works all the time, but we still have trouble feedin’ ‘em. I loved my babies, ma’am, but there are people out there that were able to take better care of ‘em and Walter don’t need to worry ‘bout takin’ care of ‘em. They know what’s best for you and me and our babies. Don’t nobody get that high up that ain’t smarter than you and me. Don’t you worry none. You know, the first time I was here, I didn’t wanna be here neither, but once I got here, it was nice getting’ away, you know? I love Walter and everything, but he works so hard and is so tired and ornery all the time, he take it out on me and the babies. When I’m here and my babies is with other folks who can take care of ‘em, we don’t have to worry about Walter hurtin’ us, you know? Besides, he’s the reason I ended up here both times. He come home tired and sweaty from working and climb right on top of me while I was dead asleep. I ain’t had no choice in where I was then, but this time after he went and knocked me up, I knew exactly where to go.”
Nancy was exhausted and terrified. She didn’t have the energy to tell Evelyn what the government was did was wrong or how sad it was that she felt her children were better off with strangers, much less explain that Walter raped her. She waited for a nurse to come and remove her restraints. Evelyn had told her they only restrained women when they first arrived to make sure they didn’t try to run. Once they calmed down, they would release her. After a very long 10 minutes, a stocky, plain-faced woman with very short, curly red hair entered the room and smiled at Nancy.
“Well, you’re awake now. I hope you’ve relaxed a bit since you came. My name’s Lillian and I’m here to make sure you’re healthy and comfortable. We’ll take very good care of you and your unborn. Ask Evelyn there. She’s one of our frequent fliers, you know? “
Nancy nodded and smiled as Lillian removed the restraints. Nancy asked if she could use the rest-room and Lillian took her by the arm and escorted her through a door in the corner of the room. It was a basic hospital bathroom—cold, gray, drab. The only strange thing about it was that the door was one large, framed, window. Lillian watched closely as Nancy sat down to pee. “It’s ok, hon. You don’t have nothin’ I haven’t seen before. We gotta make sure you don’t try to harm yourself or that precious baby inside you, you know? It’s ok. Just do your business, and I’ll get you something to eat.”
Nancy finished quickly, washed her hands and exited as Lillian held the bathroom door for her. She walked back to her bed and sat down.
“Here’s a little menu here so you just let me know what you like.”
Nancy perused the menu and found fresh fruit, oatmeal and raisins and eggs and bacon with toast. Nothing sounded appetizing. “Do I have to eat right now? I’m not really feeling hungry.”
“Oh, yes sweetie! You’ll have to eat something! You don’t wanna end up like little Emmy there.” Lillian gestured to the young girl in the bed to Nancy’s left. It was the first time Nancy noticed that there was an IV connected to the girl’s arm.
“She can’t eat?” Nancy asked.
“Not so much can’t as won’t. Emmy’s a stubborn one, so we gotta feed her with a needle. You don’t wanna end up like that ma’am.”
That same feeling of terror quickly arose in Nancy’s chest as she blurted out oatmeal and raisins. Lillian smiled, patted her on the shoulder and left the room. Nancy turned to Evelyn, “why doesn’t she eat?”
“Oh, you know. Teenage girls and all. She don’t wanna be here. She tried to….” Evelyn lowered her voice to a whisper, “she tried to kill her unborn herself–heard she did it with a chop stick of all things. Poked it up inside trying to stab it out of her. Her daddy found her in the bathroom with blood all over. He took her to the doctor right away and the doctor sent her here. Can’t be no killing unborns around, you know. She’s lucky she was sent here and didn’t end up in jail for attempted murder.”
Nancy felt her stomach roll and her mouth salivate and she worried for a moment she may vomit.
“How old is she? Do you know? She looks so young–too young to have a baby.”
“Oh, she old enough or she wouldn’t be here. They say she’s 12. I dunno though. She could be a teenager. I think she’s more like 13 or 14. She got all the womanly parts and all, you know. Rumor is she was doing it with her uncle—her daddy’s brother. He say she all grown up and have all the parts now, you know. The breasts and hair and all. He say she wanted it. I think that’s why she don’t wanna talk or eat none, you know. I think she’s embarrassed. This place is fulla whores though. She don’t need to be embarrassed just cause she’s so young. We all started out like that, you know what I mean?” Evelyn smiled just a little, but Nancy noticed her eyes seemed to be watering a bit too. Nancy felt an overwhelming sympathy wash over her for Emmy and Evelyn. As much as Nancy hated being there, she realized how very fortunate she was to have Rob and the kids at home. Nancy had the support and love of her family. It didn’t sound like Evelyn or Emmy had anyone at all. It was only a few short years ago that an uncle having sex with his teenage niece was incest and rape and the uncle would be brought up on charges. So much had changed since Roe overturned and personhood passed. Nancy had no idea how awful the women and girls were treated that had different lives than she had. She and Rob didn’t have much, but they had each other and their children. Evelyn was here to get away from an abusive husband and was willing to give up her children to keep them safe. Emmy had wanted so much not to be pregnant, she was willing to seriously injure herself. She could have bled to death, and here she was catatonic in a bed, hooked up to fluids because she refused to eat. What kind of life could she have after this? Could she ever go back home knowing her uncle would always be there? Would her family even take her back?
Nancy closed her eyes and turned away from Evelyn to face Emmy. It had only been two years since the Supreme Court had ruled that life begins at conception and turned all pregnancy decisions over to the states. How could so much have changed so quickly? What kind of people would allow them to be treated this way? She felt one silent tear stream down her nose and land on her pillow.
Rob stopped pacing the kitchen floor just long enough to grab a beer from the fridge. Nancy had been gone since 8:30 this morning to request the governor’s permission to terminate their pregnancy. He’d rubbed his fingers through his hair so many times, strands were beginning to fly onto the floor. Lila was in school, but the other three kids were home watching the same kid’s show over and over again. They’d asked for mama what seemed like a thousand times already. He’d called the governor’s office and left three messages, but received no response. Rob knew it was going to be bad news if it took this long. He just hoped he’d get the see Nancy walked through the door at some time today.
He sat down at their old, second-hand, beat up kitchen table on his favorite chair. None of the chairs matched, so each family member had a favorite except the baby, of course, that had his high chair. His mind raced dreading what was happening to his wife while he took small sips of beer and tried to calm down so he could take care of their kids. Lila would be home on the bus soon and he’d have to hold it together as she begged for her mom.
He guzzled the last bit of beer knowing Lila would be home soon and stood up to toss the bottle in the garbage under the sink when he saw a black SUV pulling into his driveway. His heart sank and his stomach turned. He felt the saliva rush up under his tongue and swallowed hard. He knew who it was and what they were going to tell him. He stood for a moment with his back to the window and took a deep breath and did his best to gather his composure. He had to think of the kids and make sure he’d be able to keep them together and happy for when Nancy was able to return home. He jumped when he heard the doorbell even though he’d watched them arrive.
Bella, their three-year old daughter jumped up to get it, “I get da door, Daddy! I get it! I get it!”
She scampered to the door and pulled herself up on her tiptoes using the door handle and opened the door. Two well-dressed, stern looking men looked down at her.
“Is your father home?” The dark-haired one with glasses said.
“Daddy! For you!” Bella hollered. Rob kennelled his emotions and walked to the door.
“Rob Larson?” The younger one said. Rob nodded. The dark-haired one with the glasses reached out to shake his hand, “I’m Officer Michaels and this is Officer Tate.” May we come in, Sir?”
“Yeah, sure. Come on in.”
Rob walked back to the kitchen with the men following. Bella followed them and pulled up her favorite chair at the kitchen table and struggled to climb into it.
“Bella, go watch TV with your brothers,” ordered Rob.
“But, I wanna have a tea party, daddy!”
“Not now, Bella. Please go play with your brothers. I promise if you listen, we’ll all have a tea party later.” Bella scowled and jumped down off her chair, folded her arms and stomped back to the family room to watch TV with the boys.
“Cute little girl, sir. How old is she?” Asked Tate, the younger one. Rob thought he couldn’t be older than 25. He could’ve been a model; tan skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. I guess if the government is going to send men to deliver bad news, being good looking probably doesn’t hurt.
Rob answered him.
“How many more ya got?” Asked Michaels. Michaels was closer to Rob’s age. He wondered if he had a wife and kids himself.
“We have two boys and two girls, Lila, Brandon, Bella there, and our baby, Jonah.”
“Oh yeah, that’s great! What nice family you got.”
The baby monitor on the kitchen counter alerted Rob that Jonah was about to awaken.
“Yes, yes it is. Um…and that’s Jonah. I’m gonna have to grab him before he starts screamin’ his head off. Excuse me just a sec ok? I’ll be right back”
Rob walked to he and Nancy’s bedroom where Jonah was asleep in his bassinet next to Nancy’s side of the bed. They switched off each night. Last night, the baby was at Nancy’s side. Tonight he’d be at Rob’s. That way, they each had equal time waking in the night to feed him and hold him. It was important to them that both parents shared responsibility for their kids. Rob just realized that Jonah would be at his side of the bed every night now until Nancy came home.
He picked up Jonah, held him close to his chest with his head on his shoulder and brought him to the kitchen.
“I’m gonna have to feed this one quick. Lucky Nancy left some milk in the fridge. I guess I’ll have to go get formula if you guys are here to tell me she’s not comin’ home.”
Rob pulled a bottle out of the fridge and put it in the microwave and turned back toward Tate and Michaels at the table.
“You ain’t here to tell me that are you?”
Tate and Michaels were silent.
“Are you here to tell me that these kids just lost their mother?” Rob asked trying not to sound accusatory or angry. He pulled the bottle out and tested the heat on his wrist while holding Jonah. When he determined it to be ok, he placed Jonah in his high chair with the bottle and watched him for a moment as his chubby, cherubic fingers grasped the bottle and held it between his lips. His blue eyes closed and his head tilted back to drink Nancy’s milk.
“Well, you know Mr. Larson, things have changed now. We’re finally able to protect those that can’t protect themselves. The governor saw to it that your unborn child would not be harmed. Your wife–”
“Nancy. Her name is Nancy” Rob interrupted.
“Yes, well, Nancy was sent to a wonderful place where she will be taken great care of and that precious baby of your’s–”
“Our’s. It’s Our’s. Her’s and mine and we already decided we can’t have it. Listen, guys, this wasn’t easy for us. We know the laws and we did everything the law requires us to do. We did everything we’re supposed to so Nancy could have the surgery so we can stay a happy family. We are. We were–happy. We’re a family. Why wouldn’t they just let her have a quick surgery and come home to us? Or even deny the surgery, but let her come come to us? Why do you think it’s best to take my wife away from me and our childrens’ mother away from them? Why break up a happy family for an unwanted pregnancy?”
Rob was proud of himself. He was calm. He didn’t raise his voice and he didn’t have to hold back tears. He just wanted to know why the governor; the government, would ever feel breaking up families was a good thing.
“Hey, Mr. Larson,” Tate started, “I totally understand what you’re saying, but the Supreme Court ruled that people are people as soon as the egg and sperm meet now. They’re people just like your children, you, or Nancy and it’s our job to protect all the people. You should feel proud that your wife did the right thing by going to the governor. You should feel proud that she’s in a good place that will take care of her and your baby.”
Jonah spit up on his onesie and Rob got up to get a burp rag.
“Really looks like you’re gonna have your hands full here, Mr. Larson. Four kids is a lot for two parents and you’re gonna be the only one for at least a little bit. I’m gonna give you contact info for the FCSU. If things ever get too much for you. If you ever find you need some help, you go ahead and get ahold of ‘em.”
Rob looked at the card Tate handed him. “Federal Childrens Services Unit.” He placed the card on the bulletin board by the phone. He sat down with Jonah in his arms this time, patting his back on his shoulder.
Rob looked at Michaels a long time and then asked, “you married? You got kids?”
Michaels smiled and took off his glasses.
“Yes, sir. Married 17 years and have three girls of my own.” He wiped his glasses off on his slacks and placed them back on his face.
“Oh yeah? How’d you like it if this was your wife? How would you tell your daughters their mom is gone because the governor said it’s best? Huh? Can you help me out with that, Michaels?”
Michaels and Tate had a silent moment between them and Tate stood up to go to the living room.
“Hey, I’ll just go check in on those kids a bit while you guys talk. Let me know when you’re ready to go Michaels.”
Michaels nodded and waited until Tate was out of sight. For the first time since they arrived, Rob noted a hint of sympathy in his face.
“Hey, Mr. Larson. I do understand. I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes. My wife and I have been really lucky and let’s face it, man, it really is just luck unless we stop sleeping together. Sometimes, I think that’s what the governor is really after. People just need to stop having sex altogether, you know? For a long time, I hated that abortion shit–young girls getting knocked up running to the damned baby killer every time they had an accident. But, these are our wives. They should have a choice. But, truth is, Mr. Larson, we can’t get rid of one without also enforcing it on the other. So, yes, Mr. Larson, I do understand how this must feel. And yes sir, I hate having to tell men–especially ones with families like you have, that their wives have to go away to make sure the baby gets born, but that’s the way it is now. That’s my job. I believed when Roe was overturned and personhood was passed, we won. I believed in it. I fought for it. And now, I see what’s happened and I tell you, I wish I would have known, but how could we? We were saving babies. That’s all we thought about–not your wife, or anyone else’s. So, now, this is just the way it is.”
Rob thought for a moment about asking Michaels about his daughters; how old were they? How would he feel if one of them were pregnant and had to go away? But he realized it was best to stay quiet.
As they sat there at the table both with eyes cast down, Lila came bursting through the front door yelling exuberantly, “Mama! Mama! I got it! I got the part! Mama? Where are you? I got the part in the play. The main part! You have to make me an outfit. Mama…?”
Lila entered the kitchen and looked at Michaels and then at Rob. “Daddy, where’s mama? I have to tell her I got it! Where is she?”
Rob looked at Michaels and shook his head. Michaels stood up while still looking at Rob,
“Tate! Tate! It’s time to go.” Michaels reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his card and handed it to Rob.
“Here’s both my work phone and my mobile number. You use it any time you need to, Mr. Larson. Anytime.”
Rob took the card and nodded as Michaels turned toward the kitchen door waiting for Tate.
Rob stayed seated and reached his hand out to Lila, “Come here, sweetie pie. We need to have a talk. Kids! Brandon, Bella! I need you to come out and sit at the table now. We need to have a little tea party and talk about your mama.”
Tate entered the kitchen and he and Michaels walked toward the door. Michaels turned around and looked at Rob, “I am sorry, Mr. Larson.”
“You all have a good night now. Beautiful children you have Mr. Larson,” said Tate.
Brandon and Bella came to the kitchen and each sat down at their favorite chairs. Lila stood next to Rob, his arm around her shoulder.
“Where’s mama?” Brandon asked.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Evelyn had left for a group meeting. Nancy had learned that once she had been at the home for a bit and could prove she was no threat, she’d also be permitted to leave the room and meet some more of the women that would be keeping her company and hopefully helping her to maintain her sanity for the next several months. Her empty oatmeal bowl and juice glass were on the bed stand pushed off to the side of her bed. She’d turned over to face Evelyn’s empty bed after she couldn’t bear to look at Emmy any longer. Nancy wished she could somehow help Emmy. She wished she could at least speak with her; to tell her everything would be ok. There was a brief moment that Emmy turned her head toward Nancy and stared right through her. Nancy saw her cold, dead, pale blue eyes and felt there was nothing left inside. She wondered how Emmy would ever survive after she left this place.
Nancy closed her eyes and remembered her family’s faces. She started with Rob. She needed to picture them all each day to help her make it through this. She saw Rob in her mind’s eye; his brown hair that was thinning ever so lightly in front, the rough, unshaven face, his old faded Levi’s he wore all the time and the t shirt and button down he preferred to wear. She pictured him smiling with the slight gap between his two front teeth and his kind, brown eyes that she’d fallen in love with so many years ago. Next she pictured Lila; her beautiful first-born daughter with hair the color of corn silk and her big blue-green eyes with the incredibly long, black eyelashes. She pictured Lila’s smile with the front tooth missing that she’d just lost days before Nancy went to see the governor. She’d wondered how Lila did in her play tryouts for the kindergarten pageant. Lila had been so excited that morning. She’d told Nancy how she’d need a special costume for the play and Nancy promised that they would buy one if they could and if they couldn’t buy one, they’d make one. Lila would have nothing to do with a store-bought costume and instead begged Nancy that they make one together. That would be the best mother-daughter time. Nancy promised. She’d promised. Nancy quickly pushed the guilt from her mind, realizing it would not serve her. She moved on to Brandon; her strong, daddy’s boy. Brandon was the splitting image of Rob with the same kind eyes and gap in his teeth. Brandon loved to follow Rob around everywhere and help him fix everything from the car to the furnace. Brandon was always hoping to bring daddy a wrench or a hammer. Nancy smiled as she recalled the time Brandon hit his index finger with the hammer while trying to help Rob too much. He’d not cried at all, but wanted to continue hammering and Rob had to stop him. She had just begun trying to picture Bella when she heard a noise coming from behind her. She turned to see Emmy clenching her fists with her knees pulled into her chest. Nancy quickly sat up in her bed, “Emmy? Emmy, are you ok? Is it time?”
Emmy let out a blood-curdling scream and Nancy saw two large tears flow from her eyes and Emmy clenched her eyes together and pulled up her head and neck.
“Hang on, sweetie. It’ll be ok. I’ll go grab a nurse.”
Nancy ran to the door, but it was locked. She pounded on the door as hard as she could yelling, “Somebody! Somebody, come help! She’s having her baby!”
Emmy screamed again and Nancy ran to her.
“It’s ok, sweetie, someone will come. I’m here. Even if they don’t, I’ve had four babies, I can help you. I’m just going to time your contractions to start with, OK?”
Emmy reached out and took Nancy’s hand and looked her in the eyes. For the first time, Nancy saw Emmy was very much inside of this young, pregnant body and she was terrified.
“Hang on, honey. I’m going to go try and get someone again, ok?” Nancy tried to move for the door again, but Emmy was holding on as tightly as she could. “Please, sweetie, I promise I won’t leave you, but I need to get you a nurse so they can help you with the pain. I know it hurts. I’m so sorry you have to go through this at your age. It’s not fair what’s happened to you and I know it. All the good and decent people left in the world know it. Please, just let go and I’m going to go pound on that door.”
Nancy ran back and knocked, kicked, and pounded on the door, yelling for help, but nobody came. She looked back at Emmy and noticed the IV bag again, knowing if disconnected the IV bag, a nurse would surely come to check on her. She ran back to Emmy and reached for the needle in her wrist and pulled it out. She saw a red light come on above Emmy’s bed and felt tremendous relief. She sat on the edge of the bed holding Emmy’s hand waiting for the nurse to arrive. It only took minutes. A tall, thin nurse, plain-faced with shoulder-length straight blond hair ran into the room. “What’s going on? Why’d her IV get removed?”
“She’s in labor! No one would come. No one could hear me yelling so I ripped it out to get someone.”
The plain-faced nurse ran out of the room and came back seconds later with another nurse and a stretcher. They pushed Nancy out of the way and pulled Emmy from the bed to the stretcher and began wheeling her out the door.
“Can I go with her? I promised I wouldn’t leave her. Please?”
“Sorry, Mrs. She needs to do this alone. It’s all be fine. Don’t worry.”
Nancy watched nervously as they wheeled Emmy out the door and down the hallway. It only took her a second to realize she was in the hall and the door was open and nobody was there to see her. She quickly pulled off her slippers and wedged them in the door so she’d be able to get back in the room if she should be seen. She stepped quietly down the hall where she’d seen them take Emmy.
There were doors along both sides of the hallway which she assumed were filled with more pregnant women. She heard voices coming from one door and looked into the little square window toward the top center of the door. Inside she saw Lillian talking to the woman that was lying in the bed. She heard them talking about Emmy and held her ear to the door to try and make out what they were saying.
“That poor child. She never had a chance in this world.”
“Oh she had her chance, she just blew it is all.”
“You know as well as I do that what happened to her wasn’t her fault and it could happen to anyone; any one of our children, our nieces, our sisters. Her uncle used her and now she’s nothing but an unwilling surrogate.”
“Think what you want, but she made her bed and now she has to lie in it. I better go check on our new guest. You just stop worrying about that girl now and worry about yourself and keeping that baby of yours healthy so you can leave here one day.”
Nancy sensed Lillian was moving toward the door and her heart began pounding through her chest. She ran as quietly and quickly as she could back to her room. She pulled open the door, grabbed the slippers and jumped back into the bed. She breathed as deeply as she could trying to calm herself for when Lillian arrived. She wondered to herself for a moment why she hadn’t taken the opportunity to run; to escape, but she knew there was nowhere she could go. She couldn’t go home because they would find here there. She couldn’t run away and know she’d never see Rob and her children again. She had to stay and do what she was told.
Lillian entered the room. “Well, Mrs. Larson. How are we doing now? You feel like you might wanna get out of this room sometime soon? You been doin’ real good so I think it’s probably gonna be ok for you to get out and meet some of the other ladies. What do you think?”
“Yes, I’m feeling much better now. I would like to meet some people if I could, but first, can you just tell me if the girl that was here is ok? “
“Oh, I’m sure everything will be just fine. She’ll finally have that baby and be free.”
“Can I ask? What happens to the babies? I mean, I know they get adopted, but do we…do they…do we ever get to see them? Do we get to change our minds if we….well, if we decide we want them? Can Emmy—can she keep her baby if she wants?”
Lillian hesitated, looked away toward the door for a bit and then sat down next to Nancy.
“Of course you can change your mind. But, for that girl, her baby already belongs to someone else. And she couldn’t change her mind even if she wanted to. You’re gonna find out anyway, so it may as well come from me….”
Nancy was confused, “What?” Why can’t she change her mind? Who does the baby belong to already? Was an adoption prearranged?”
“Shhhhhh. Sweetie, that girl was never gonna live after having that baby. She knew that a long time ago.”
“What? What do you mean? Why? What’s happening?”
“Mrs. Larson, Emmy knew before she even got here that having a baby would take her life. The doctor told her that after she tried to take care of things on her own. That doctor told her daddy. Told her daddy his own brother was the father too. After that, her daddy didn’t even wanna look at her anymore, so this is where she came.”
“She’s going to die? How can you just let her die? She couldn’t even get the abortion to save her life? What is wrong with people? What the hell is going on in this country? This is unbelievable!”
“Shhhhhhhh. Keep your voice down or I’ll have to change my mind about letting you out of here.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please, just tell me. Why does she have to die?”
“Oh, Mrs. Larson, her baby’s daddy decided he wanted that baby. He and the Mrs. Couldn’t have any of their own and he wanted it. He has that right, you know. It’s his baby too.”
Nancy was shaking. She felt her hands and her lips trembling and her mind was racing. “But he—he raped her. He was her uncle. That’s not right! Why does she have to die?”
“Now, Mrs. Larson. When Emmy’s daddy didn’t want her anymore and she came here, the decision was made that the life inside her was more important. That pure, perfect, little life was the one of value, so Emmy was just the vessel to bring it here to its daddy. You needn’t feel sorry for either of them. Emmy will make the ultimate sacrifice for that perfect little angel. And that baby will go to a wonderful couple that couldn’t have any children of their own. With that sacrifice, all of Emmy’s sins will be forgiven and the Lord will surely open up the gates of heaven for her.”
Nancy was speechless. She could hardly comprehend what she was hearing. Where was she? This is not the same country she’d known. She had been raised to believe girls and boys were equal; that both were just as valuable. She’d believed she could be anything she wanted. She’d been raised to believe abortion would always be an option—always. And most certainly to save the life of the mother. Finally, she spoke, “If abortion isn’t allowed to save the life of the mother, when is it allowed? Ever?”
“Mrs. Larson, you don’t need to worry. You have a husband and children that need you and want you home. Poor Emmy there don’t have no one. You understand?”
“But doesn’t she have a right to live? Doesn’t she have a right to grow up? To be somebody? She’s just a little girl.”
“I know. I know. But Mrs. Larson, this is America. If the daddy wants the baby and nobody wants the mother, then the daddy wins and gets that baby, you understand? The daddy has rights too.”
Lillian took Nancy’s hand and together they walked out of the room to which Emmy would never be returning. Nancy felt as if her brain would short-circuit from the shock of what she’d learned. And it seemed common-place for Lillian. A young girl barely a teenager was tossed away quite literally to produce an infant for her rapist and his wife. Nancy couldn’t stop the wheels from turning. Was it planned? Did the wife know? Did he rape her with the intent of getting her pregnant so he could steal her child and let her perish? Did her family sacrifice their daughter for an infant? How many girls would suffer the same fate? Nancy thought of her daughters, Lila and Bella. What would become of them? She wished she could talk to Rob and tell him what was happening. She wanted him to go ahead and take the children and leave this horrible country. Go to Canada, Europe, anywhere girls and women still had value beyond childbearing.
They reached a large open cafeteria with round tables to seat hundreds. How many women were there? Nancy saw Evelyn sitting at a table filled with others chatting, drinking tea and appearing as though everything were completely normal. Nancy felt both the urge to scream that Emmy is dying and also to join them and pretend everything was normal for a bit. “Go ahead and go on and join them. All you gals got here is each other. You need to spend time together and make some friends here. It’ll make the time pass easier. Go on.”
“Nancy, sweetie. Come on over and meet my friends,” Evelyn called out to her. Nancy was still phased by the news of Emmy, but managed to walk slowly to the table to join the others.
Evelyn introduced the women one by one. As much as she wanted to, Nancy knew she’d not be able to remember them all. She sat first and just listened as they spoke about their husbands and boyfriends and baby daddies for some. They talked about what they would do when they were able to leave. At least three would be heading back to college to finish their degrees, two were like Nancy with husbands and children at home and more than one was like Evelyn—going back to a husband that got them there against their will and wondering if their children would be there when they returned or if they’d already been taken by the state. “How can you be so calm?” Nancy blurted out. They looked at her puzzled. “How can you be ok with this? Emmy is dying right now if she isn’t already dead. How can you just sit here and take it? Why don’t we do something?”
“What you wanna do lady?” said a woman named Paulette. Paulette was a large, matronly woman with gray eyes and almost black hair. “We stuck here. It’s either here or jail.”
“What’s the difference?” Nancy asked. Paulette looked confused. “This is jail! This is no different than jail. We’re trapped here by the state until we have babies we didn’t want and they’ll end up God knows where. Our wanted children may be stolen and we’ve been stripped of any rights or humanity for the sake of what?”
A couple of the women shook their heads and smiled. “Shhhhh. You keep thinkin like that, you’ll never make it. We’re trapped, lady. We got nowhere to go and nothing to do. We tried fighting. Don’t you remember? We even thought we won. Then, people just couldn’t leave well enough alone. They kept whittlin’ away at us and now here we are. This is America, Nancy. You’d best just suck it up and make the best of it. It took ‘em 45 years to undo what our grandmas got done and we ain’t gonna get it changed any time quick, so you best shut up and make the best of it. We know how you feel, doll. We been there too, but you ain’t never gonna make it if you lose your mind now. You need to hold your head up and stay strong. We’re gonna do some good when we get outta here, but first we gotta keep it together, you know?”
Nancy nodded. She knew Paulette was right. She asked where the tea was and Paulette offered to show her around the cafeteria. The two women walked together. “What do you mean we can do some good when we get out? Are you organizing something? Do you have a plan?”
“Let’s just say not everyone that works here is on their side. Some are keepin’ track of every woman and girl that goes through here and their families that ain’t happy about it neither. That’s all you need to know for now.”
Paulette brought Nancy to the kitchen and showed her where the dishes, fridge, deep freeze, oven and microwave were. Nancy got herself a cup of hot water and a chamomile tea bag and a spoon. She did her best to calm herself as the two women walked back to the table. The others watched and waited as they walked back to the table together as if they knew what Paulette had told Nancy.
“We don’t talk about it too much, but as we can, we’ll fill you in. Just keep your head together, ok? It’s all gonna get better one day.”
After tea, Nancy and Evelyn returned to their room and called the nurse. Lillian arrived a short time later.
“And what do my ladies need?” She asked.
“Emmy. Is Emmy ok? Did she have the baby? Is the baby ok?”
Lillian’s eyes cast downward to the floor and it was clear that nothing was ok. After a moment, she looked up at Nancy and Evelyn.
“Well, we just wanna know? Did she make it or is she gone?” Evelyn demanded.
“Sorry, ladies. We knew Emmy wouldn’t make it through the birth. She’s at peace now. That little girl would’ve ended up in a far worse place if we hadn’t been here, you know.”
“Would they really have put her on trial?” Nancy was still coming to grips with the new America.
“Yes, dear. And it would’ve been for murder because the baby didn’t make it either. Death was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. Probably the baby too, since he wasn’t right.”
The room was silent for a few seconds as Nancy and Evelyn tried to process what they’d heard. Nancy shook her head in disbelief.
“Wait a minute here. So, a little girl is dead and her baby too all because she couldn’t just go do what she wanted to do? And then, her baby died too? Is that what you’re telling us? That two are dead now?” Lillian nodded.
Nancy’s anger grew, “How can you do this, Lillian? How can you work here? Does this seem right to you? What if that was your daughter? Can you imagine? This is wrong. This is all just so wrong.”
Evelyn stayed silent. She still felt fortunate to be at the home instead of with her husband, but she did see that Emmy’s death was senseless.
“Man, she was just a baby. I know she had some problems, but don’t we all? That just ain’t right. It really ain’t right. And after everything, there ain’t even no baby cause he wasn’t ‘right’? What does that mean, ‘he wasn’t right?’ Ain’t that the whole point? I mean, you lock us up in here to keep the babies safe? And then you sell our babies and turn us loose. I mean, ain’t that what you do here?”
Nancy and Evelyn listened in horror as Lillian explained that Emmy’s baby was born with anencephaly and parts of his brain and skull were missing. Since any type of procedure that could harm a developing fetus had been banned, there was no way to know. She also explained that even if they did know, it’s not likely that the governor would have allowed the pregnancy terminated.
“Every one of God’s children has a right to love, you know? That’s what they say.”
“Every one but the one who’s pregnant, I guess.” Nancy quipped.
“Well, I guess that’s so, but as to why I work here, if I didn’t, someone else would. No one can take care of my girls like I can. I shouldn’t even have told you what I did, but you got a right to know. Don’t judge me for what I do. Someone has to do it and you’re lucky it’s me. I may not have been able to save this one, but you better believe I’m gonna stay here for my girls until I ain’t needed any more. And until this god-forsaken place is closed down and these damn laws get shot down, I’m gonna be right here. Now, ladies, I gotta go make sure that there camera gets erased or you won’t have me around here no more either, you hear? There’s places without cameras around. We’ll get to ‘em. And Nancy, I’m real happy you’re here. ‘Bout time someone came in and called this bullshit out for what it is. Now, I gotta hurry before somebody sees this. You don’t say nothin’ to nobody about what I said, ok?”
Evelyn and Nancy both nodded. While Nancy was still in shock about the news of Emmy, she was relieved to find an ally in Lillian. She was right. She was only doing her job and there could be someone much worse in charge of her care. Nancy looked up at the camera. Now, she knew it was on and recorded everything they said and did.