Julia sank wearily down into the deep cushions of the staff lounge couch. The TV was on, set to some new reality show where politicians cooked meals for celebrities, but Julia hardly noticed. She was still processing.
A grueling, 36 hour labor. Normally a C-section would have been in order, but the patient refused to be cut. And at the end of it all…
Her eyes flicked up to the door. She could still hear the baby crying, though she knew it was just in her head. The Repose Room was soundproof.
Shaking her head as if to expel such thoughts, she looked down at the coffee table. The various sections of Today’s USA were scattered across its surface. The top-most, “Health and Living,” prominently displayed an article titled “New Healthcare Law Protects the Most Vulnerable.” Her eyes scanned the text; apparently it was a story about how the newly expanded universal healthcare system would greatly improve the lives of underpaid journalists.
Julia heaved a heavy sigh and buried her face in her hands. She had known that remaining in perinatal medicine would eventually test who she was. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. Not here. Not at St. Agnes.
But they had allowed it to happen. Jennifer and the doctor spoke for a few minutes, in private, with the patient. And then the baby was wheeled out to the Repose Room.
Julia imagined her own daughter lying in the darkness, alone, left to expire. It was too much. The shock and confusion were gone, replaced by anger and determination.
She pulled herself up and hurried out of the staff room.
Kathy was leaning against the wall next to the Repose Room and nursing a cup of coffee while fiddling with her phone. The healthcare liaison looked up at Julia’s approach and smiled plastically.
“Hi, Julie. Are you okay?”
“No. Nothing about this is okay.”
Kathy reached for Julia’s arm, halting her entrance. She lowered her voice to a hush.
“Look, I know this is difficult. But we have to respect the mother’s choice.”
Julia shook off the restraining hand and entered the room. It was complete dark inside. The baby was no longer crying, but Julia could hear a soft whimpering. She paused as the door closed behind her and Kathy’s surprised exclamation was cut off.
She reached for her phone and unlocked the screen, using the light to look around the bare room. A sink and cabinet fixture was set against the wall – the same one found in nearly every modern examination room. In the corner opposite her stood the bassinet, mounted atop a sterile, steel cart. The baby lay swaddled inside.
As she stepped toward the infant, the door opened behind her and in stepped Kathy, accompanied by Jennifer, the shift supervisor.
“Julie, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be in here,” the senior nurse admonished softly, frowning. She reached into a pocket and drew out her own phone to further illuminate the dark room. Her other arm cradled a clipboard – clearly she had been interrupted while doing important paperwork.
“This isn’t right, Jen. We can’t do this.”
Jennifer’s face softened. It was Kathy who replied.
“It was Mrs. Peters’ decision after speaking with Dr. Danton. Even Mr. Peters agreed. It’s her right. Come on now, everything is going to be all right. Let’s just…leave it alone.”
“Not it, Kathy. Her. You want to let her die!” Julia had difficulty controlling her voice now, and the baby started to whimper loudly.
“It’s not up to me,” Kathy answered. “And it’s not up to you. The infant simply isn’t viable.”
“What the hell do you mean she isn’t viable? She’s laying there right now, breathing on her own. Alive.”
Jennifer cut in. “What Kathy means is the baby can’t survive on her own, without state resources. You know that. She’d have to be put up, and that’s expensive. And there will be no legal parents to put up climate credits…I don’t like it any more than you do, but there’s nothing we can do.”
“For God’s sake, she’s perfectly healthy, Jen!” Julia was practically shouting.
Kathy answered “It’s an unfortunate rarity, but post-birth abor-”
“Don’t call it that,” Julia snapped. “We’re letting a healthy baby die. And for what? Why? Why are they doing this?”
Jennifer and Kathy exchanged an uncomfortable glance and the former answered “Her eyes.”
“What? What about her eyes?” Julia asked.
“The Peters ordered blue eyes, but the baby’s are brown. It’s not what they paid for. Mrs. Peters said that she always wanted a daughter with blue eyes and blond hair, like a doll. She said that…that having to raise a botched child would be too traumatic for her,” Jennifer muttered.
Julia shook her head in disbelief. They were all silent for a moment.
“I’m taking her,” she said finally.
Jennifer’s eyes widened in surprise. Kathy looked scandalized.
“You can’t do that, Julie. It’s illegal!” the liaison exclaimed.
“Think about this,” cautioned the supervisor. “They’ll fire you. Hell, you’ll probably go to jail.”
“I don’t care,” replied Julia. “I can’t do nothing.”
Kathy glared angrily at her, looked meaningfully at Jennifer, and then exited the Repose Room quickly.
“All right,” said Jennifer. “But you’d better hurry. No doubt Kathy has gone for security.” Jennifer, too, stepped out.
Julia switched off her phone and flicked on the room’s fluorescent light. The baby girl squinted and began once again to cry.