I remember how we used to mock China, and its 1 child policy; we were so arrogant, then, about how such a law would curtail our freedom to reproduce. Then rapamycin and a dozen other breakthroughs basically doubled the average human life expectancy.
Suddenly everything was in upheaval; social security wouldn’t kick in until the hundred and teens, and age discrimination laws were tightened to the point that it was virtually impossible to fire someone over the age of 90- at least for a while. Things eventually balanced out over time.
But the one thing we never expected to see was mass starvation in America. On a continent that could have at one point produced enough food to feed the entire globe, now we didn’t have enough of it to feed our ballooning population. Young people saw child-rearing as a short-term event, something that was only going to take a sixth of their life rather than a whole third (or more), and the population was set to continue expanding.
I wish I could say it had come down to a vote, with those of us who finally understood how our over-consumption had brought us to the brink, and with everyday Americans saying, finally, that it was enough. But it wasn’t. Polling data and the few referendums that made it onto local ballots went down in flames, never getting better than 20% of the vote among even the most elderly populations (who had less of a vested interest in so-called breeding rights).
Then, the government in power did one of those rare, self-sacrificial things and passed the legislation anyway. Using sophisticated modeling, they decided how many people the resources of the country could sustain, and they set targets for that. No new breeding was allowed- and with each death by accident or age we grew closer to our sustainable levels.
Predictably, we voted that government out of power the first chance we got, but their successors found the problem equally insurmountable, and so they attempted to do nothing to change what had been built. Eventually, even that failed, as the initial program had been too “soft,” relying on extra taxes and penalties to keep people “honest.” I think the only thing that stopped a violent revolution was the election of a charismatic president, someone who was able to finally explain the problem to the people. “By having another child, a couple is taking food away from someone else, in effect killing that person. We can’t allow that to go on, so, as much as it pains me, as President and a mother, as a nation of responsible and above all good people, we have to stop.”
We passed mandatory sterilization laws; people were given the option of reversible operations, chemical regimens, or the use of mechanical prophylactics, and the dangers and failure rates of each were discussed openly. Accidental pregnancies could be terminated for free, but no new lives were allowed to start unless one ended. People didn’t like to talk about it, but sometimes this meant the government seizing a father or mother (or child) inside the maternity wing.
Most of this started before my time; I lost my virginity at 18, and by then, my high school girlfriend and I had both had our tubes tied (though my mother insisted we also use condoms- because who knew what kinds of diseases high school girls had). I’d only slept with a handful of women when I met my wife in college, which she was starting just as I was getting out. We married after her graduation, and I honestly never thought to love another person after I met her.
She was beautiful and smart, but flawed from an upbringing far from ideal; she was particularly upset because she’d been passed over for a promotion she probably deserved, by a boss who reminded her too much of her father. I resolved to take her mind off it, and we planned a small getaway, to the coast. Nothing overly dramatic, but enough, I thought. It did, however, mean playing hooky on her quarterly reproductive exam. We figured even through the bureaucracy we could reschedule, and perhaps we could have, but we never particularly tried to. When her next quarterly exam came, she was fine, and we figured that was good enough.
But then she started gaining weight, and feeling ill. When we made a call, we were scheduled to see her primary physician the very next day; less than twenty four hours later the doctor said, gravely, “she’s pregnant.” Apparently her last pregnancy test during her quarterly had been a false negative, and we’d conceived shortly before her skipped exam. We asked to terminate the pregnancy, and the doctor explained that ironically enough, under abortion law, the child was now too old to be killed in utero; if our choice was to forfeit the child, we would have to wait until after the delivery.
And I think my wife was being affected by all the new hormones, because a few days later she waddled into the kitchen with a sour look on her face. She said she’d been reading, that when a family lost an older relative, that their family was granted a sanction to replace that lost member with a child. Our parents were both still young, not even into their mid 80s, but if we could find another local family who’d suffered a death in the family, we might be able to convince them to let us have their +1.
We began scanning the obituaries, and funeral announcements, and placing phone calls; modern medicine had slowed the number of deaths even in the Seattle area to a trickle. But one day we noticed an ad placed for a euthanasia, for one Arthur J. Platt. We attended the ceremony, brought flowers to the “wake,” and watched as the old man’s life was snuffed out. Afterward, we spoke to the family. It seemed Arthur had given his life, in effect, so that his granddaughter could have a child. She wasn’t pregnant yet, but I’d never seen someone glowing so brightly at a funeral before, and it was plain that she wasn’t about to give her opening to us.
My wife became deeply depressed. I worried she might have pre-partum depression, but the doctors said I was over-thinking, that it was simply vanilla depression. She stopped sleeping, barely ate (and only then when I’d bring up that it would cause the baby to suffer). And for a week, she wept. I couldn’t comfort her and I couldn’t sleep next to her, so I spent my nights on the couch. I was away during the days for work- but she cried through the hours she spent with me every evening (and I imagined the rest).
I was reaching a breaking point, with still six weeks left; I don’t know what would have happened, but by then we were both fragile and volatile. But I didn’t have to find out, because her water broke early. The entire time, in the car, on the way, she was sobbing, big loud, deep wet sobs. She said she felt like a failure, a bad woman, because her body wasn’t good enough to nurture a child. I took her hand as I sped through traffic, and told her that our child would be fine, healthy- I think she believed me, because she stopped crying.
I was nervous, at the delivery, for all the same reasons my wife had been- premature babies, even a few weeks, are more likely to have any number of complications. But our baby girl came out just fine. There was a moment, after she’d come out, that the doctor stopped to consult the records; she was premature enough that we hadn’t filled out a declaration of intent yet, and he wasn’t sure what to do with her, and I was worried he’d just take her away, so I reached towards her and asked, “Could we just,” and I choked, and he said of course, and handed her to me. The doctor pushed through the two-way curtain, and I heard him go through the door into the hall.
I handed her to my wife, and she said, “I want to call her Diana.” I laughed and called her a nerd, because I knew she was naming her after Wonder Woman- and not any of the other Dianas or for any other reason, and she laughed, too. Then the doctor poked his head in and said I was needed in the hall.
There were four mean in black suits, with hats and dark jackets on even indoors, and one of them told me, “You’ll have to come with us, sir.” Another of them reached for me- I think prematurely, and my instinct made me run for the door, push my way in. By then, the others had hold of me, and I was fighting a losing game of tug of war using my own body as the rope. The first man, the one who’d spoken, let go, and the others followed his lead, and went out into the hall. He remained by me, standing in the doorway, watching my wife look down at our daughter through the two-way screen, and he spoke.
“You know the law. We can take you, we can take the child, or we can take her.” That’s the moment, while he awaited my decision, that I realized it was made a long time ago, and after a moment, he realized it, too, and motioned for the others, and they continued dragging me out the door.
Through the screen I saw my wife, holding our daughter, staring down at her, as in love with her as I was, and though I struggled, though I fought them, I was at peace.