Helen slammed open the door to her apartment, kicked off her shoes and wriggled her toes in carpet as soft as a kitten's fur. A surprise!

“Sam! Where are you?” Grinning, she ducked into the tiny kitchen. No Sam. “Honey, I got really great news. I just been to see Doc Bloomberg.” She ran into their bedroom, but still no Sam. “Damn!”

Back in the living room, she found his note. He was at the hardware store.

I know just what I need. Skipping to the closet, she pulled out a cardboard box with “Helen’s Baby Things!!” scrawled across the side in big pink letters. She sat floor, flipped off the lid and dug in. Soon she had a white layette, baby dresses, caps, booties, rattles, bottles, ribbons and her stuffed bunny spread out across the floor. She hugged the bunny, Mr. Snuffles. Soon this’ll all be yours, and patted her belly.

From across the room, robot butler bonged at her. Helen flipped the box lid at it.

“Get out of here! My mama set them aside for me, so you keep your stupid claw things off.” It rolled back into the kitchen.

At the sound of a lock clicking over, Helen grinned. Sam stopped short as he gazed over the scattered treasures.

“Guess what!” Helen said.

Sam just smiled and shook his head.

“I just came from Dr. Bloomberg’s. We’re going to have a baby!”

She jumped up as Sam’s mouth dropped open. As he swept her up in his arms, she grabbed his neck. He was warm and sweaty from being outside. She kissed his neck, savoring his salty flavor.

“My God, that’s wonderful,” Sam said. “I can’t believe it’s finally happening. Is it going to be a boy or a girl?”

Helen slid off and backed away. “Don’t know.” She jutted her lower lip. “I wouldn’t sign for none of them tests.”

“Honey, you know Doc Bloomberg has to make a report to the State. We don’t need trouble.” Sam pulled her close. “Besides, the doctors can help.”

“Not always!” she said louder than she had intended. She took a breath. “You know my mama lost three babies before she had me.” Helen looked at her baby things. “It’s took me four years to get pregnant. What if they want to take this one? No way! We’re having this baby.”

Sam pulled away with that hurt puppy look in his eyes. Helen sighed. Why did I yell? He just wants me happy.

“Come on, this’ll be a good thing. And don’t worry about Doc Bloomberg. He promised he won’t say a thing.” Sam just grunted and headed down the hall.

Helen frowned at his back, then grinned. The muscles in his butt bunched and shifted through his jeans. She loved the look of his behind, the feel of it in her hands. She tiptoed behind him and slid her hands into his back pockets. “Guess what I’m in the mood for?”

“Hey, come on!” Sam laughed and rose up on his toes. “I’m all sweaty.”

“So? You better get it while you can. I may not be in the mood much once I’m big and fat.”

The passing months swaddled Helen in a glow. She was going to be a mother! She watched her body grow and change. They read baby books and attended birthing classes. The day the baby started kicking, Helen called Sam at work screaming. When her water broke, she and Sam had bags packed and the route to the hospital memorized.

“Mrs. Borland? Are you awake?”

She glared at the tall woman in a blue blazer sitting by her bed.

“I’m Susan Smith-Johnson with the Division of Child Protective Services. Has the doctor discussed your son’s problems?”

Helen nodded and squeezed her eyes shut to block the tears. Just moments ago she was lying motionless in the bed drinking in the feel of her son wet and warm squirming on her breast and inhaling his sweet-sour baby smell.

But the bright joy had chopped off as the nurses crowded around. “Jesus!” one whispered as Dr. Bloomberg seized Josh and ran from the room.

Helen opened her eyes and rubbed at the tightness in her belly. What did I do wrong, God? This is a nightmare.

“Mrs. Borland, the Division was contacted because of the unusual circumstances of your son’s birth. Children born with handicaps are very rare these days. Children with multiple handicaps like Joshua are unheard of.

Needle-pricks whispered across her chest. “Where’s my husband? I want Sam here.”

“He’s speaking with my assistant, Mr. Philip.” Ms. Smith-Johnson held up a folder. “I’ve reviewed your medical file. You refused your prenatal testing, correct?”

Anger at this woman snooping bubbled in Helen’s gut. But she knows. Helen’s head barely moved when she nodded. “What’s that got to do with you?”

Ms. Smith-Johnson flipped through the file. “The Division is charged by statute with investigating whenever a parent doesn’t provide proper care for a child. In Joshua’s case, that would include medical testing.”

Helen thrust herself up. “It’s none of the State’s damn business! We’ll see to Joshua’s needs, handicapped or not.”

The social worker shook her head once, left then right. “It’s too late. You’ve already deprived him of critical medical services.”

“What are you talking about? Josh was just born.”

Ms. Smith-Johnson scowled. “Please don’t pretend to be ignorant. Dr. Bloomberg discussed this with you, it’s in your file. Legally, Joshua was a separate individual since he was conceived, a life-in-being with all the rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. When you refused prenatal tests, you acted contrary to Joshua’s interests.”

“What good would the tests have done? Maybe they could do something about the heart valve thing, but they can’t cure Down’s Syndrome. They’d have taken him. I wouldn’t allow it.”

“Allow it! That’s exactly the problem here.” Ms. Smith-Johnson stood up. “Joshua isn’t your personal property. The Supreme Court ruled years ago in the Kevorkian Society cases that everybody has a fundamental right to self-determination. That includes preborn citizens like Joshua. He should have had a guardian-ad-litem appointed and a decision made on his behalf on his future. You’ve robbed him of that choice.”

Helen turned away. Go to Hell. Josh is mine!

“So, what do you and your husband plan to do? Joshua is going to have a lot of special needs.”

Helen shook her head without looking back. “I don’t know. Sam and I haven’t had a chance to talk. I suppose there are programs for kids like Josh.” Helen looked back when Ms. Smith-Johnson laughed.

“There were programs like that when you were born. But prenatal testing and genetic therapy have eliminated birth defects. Funding for those programs ended years ago. There just wasn’t a need.”

“So? Sam and I don’t have a lot of money. We can’t give him stuff we can’t afford.” Helen’s heart thumped in her chest.

Ms. Smith-Johnson stepped closer. “The State still operates a residential facility at Woodburn for special needs citizens. It’s staffed with all the necessary specialists. Of course, you would have to surrender custody to the State.”

“What!” Helen gasped. “My baby isn’t a day old and you want to take him? Are you crazy or just stupid? If he needs a help, you can give it to him in my home.”

Ms. Smith-Johnson shook her head. “There are only ten clients at Woodburn, all with severe handicaps like Joshua’s. The cost of operating a program like that with our clients scattered across the State would be prohibitive.”

Helen shook her head violently. “No! I won’t give him up. I’m his momma, for Christ’s sake. Sam and I’ll care for Josh ourselves.”

“I’m sorry Miss Borland, but I can’t allow that. You’ve already proven you can’t be trusted. The Division will be taking emergency custody of Joshua immediately. I had hoped you would see reason once you understood how serious this is.” Ms. Smith-Johnson flipped open a cell phone.

The years that followed felt like prison to Helen, only she was locked out rather than in, locked out of her son’s life. Joshua lived in a wonderful group home. It was bright and airy, stocked with the latest teaching tools and modern conveniences. The staff were dedicated and loving, experts in their fields. The surgeons corrected Joshua’s physical defect with tissues grown from his own skin cells. Biochemical and genetic therapies pushed his learning capacity to its limits. He grew fast, straight and strong. But Helen could only watch as a spectator. All the mother/son things she’d dreamed of were done by others.

Worse, she lost Sam soon after Josh was taken. She was angry and needed to vent at someone, and Sam was it. She came home from a visit one day to find him waiting at the door with bags packed.

But the final blow during one of her twice-a-week visits, when Joshua called one of the staff members “Mommy Nancy”. A ball of pain crashed against her ribs and Helen fell over. As the staff ran over shouting, Helen wondered if it wouldn’t have been better if Joshua had died at birth.

Ms. Smith-Johnson sat rigid at her desk with her cell phone pressed to her ear.

“Officer, this is an emergency! A child has been kidnapped…No, the kidnaper is his mother, Helen Borland. Joshua is a ward of the State. His mother had visitation at Woodburn today. Ms. Borland took him during her visitation without the staff realizing it…Yes, we’re sure she’s gone. Her apartment is empty. Clothing, furniture, everything, gone!…No, I don’t think she’ll harm him. But Joshua has serious health issues. He just started a new genetic therapy. Stopping the treatment could be dangerous… Thank you.”

Helen hadn’t expected to get away indefinitely, but she hoped for a couple of months with Joshua. I’ll show the State I can take care of him! They’ll have to give me a chance after that.

They were on the run for 48 hours. The sheriff’s squad kicked down the hotel room door at 2 a.m. with guns drawn. Helen was tackled and cuffed while Joshua screamed.

Helen clutched the edge of the defendant’s table with her court-appointed attorney. They had met briefly that morning.

“I recommend you accept the proposed order and avoid a trial. You really don’t understand how serious this is. You have a lot to lose here beyond Josh in the civil case. And you still have your criminal trial coming up on the kidnapping charge.”

Helen just shook her head. If she opened her mouth she’d just start yelling. The prison doctors had given her pills to help stay calm, but she hadn’t taken them. No way I’m going to give him up. He’s my boy.

The bailiff walked past and shouted, “Hear ye, Hear ye! The Family Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex County is now in session, this fourteenth day of June 2027. The Honorable Susan B. Attmore is presiding.”

Behind the bailiff, a black woman strode through a door, mounted the steps to the bench and sat. Judge Attmore examined Helen and her attorney then glanced at the other table where the prosecutor and Ms. Smith-Johnson sat.

“Counselor, opening statement?”

The prosecutor stood. “Certainly, your honor. We’re here on the petition of the Division of Child Protective Services to terminate the parental rights of the defendant Helen Borland to the minor child Joshua Borland. The father Samuel Borland has signed a consent, and submitted the appropriate medical certificate last week. He won’t be appearing today.”

The judge nodded and scribbled. “The social report doesn’t mention any plan for adoption. What is the Division’s goal in this case?”

“Adoption isn’t a viable option,” the lawyer replied. “Joshua was born with multiple handicaps that will require extensive treatments. Even with the State providing an adoption subsidy, people looking to adopt aren’t willing to take on the responsibility of managing that. The Division’s plan for Joshua is long-term foster care at the State-run facility at Woodburn.”

Turning to Helen, the prosecutor added, “I recognize it’s unusual to seek termination when there’s no plans for an adoption, but the Division feels compelled by the ongoing, willful neglect Josh suffered, neglect that predates the child’s birth and caused him to enter the world with his handicaps. This petition is to protect Joshua from prevent further abuse, not to free him for adoption. For this reason, the Division also is requesting an order for involuntary sterilization.”

The judge looked up. “This is a procreation rights case? I didn’t see that in the petition.”

The prosecutor leafed through a file. “You’ll find that on page seven.”

The judge frowned as she riffled papers, then nodded. “I have it. Proceed.”

“The Division will prove that Helen Borland knowingly rejected medical tests that would have permitted Joshua to make a decision on his life. Thus, she deprived her son of his fundamental right to make choices on the nature of his existence.”

The lawyer’s voice became a vague droning as Helen’s gaze slid to the floor. God, please help me.

“Mrs. Borland? Mrs. Borland!”

Helen glanced up at the judge.

“Mrs. Borland, pay attention.”

Helen nodded, then dropped her gaze to the floor.

“After the testimony I’ve heard, I’ve no choice but to grant the Division’s petition here. The evidence of willful neglect is overwhelming. You refused prenatal screening for Joshua, depriving him of his right of self-determination. Worse, you absconded with Joshua from his treatment facility, placing Joshua in grave danger.” Helen closed her eyes.

The judge paused until Helen looked up. “Your son has rights. He’s entitled to a decent home, adequate care for his needs, and a right of self-determination. You’ve deprived him of those rights and sabotaged the efforts made by the State. There’s no excuse for that.”

The Judge paused and leaned forward. “Josh is not your property. He’s a free citizen with the same rights as you. And if you won’t care for him, you have no right to his care and custody.” The Judge looked back to her file and began speaking in a monotone.

“Your actions convince this Court that you are unfit to parent this child or any other. I am granting the Division’s petition to terminate your parental rights, as well as the Division’s request for involuntary sterilization.”

Helen turned to find the bailiff and a policewoman standing beside her chair. The policewoman grasped her shoulder.

“I note for the record that Mr. Borland earlier signed a consent to this order and has filed a medical certificate for his sterilization. No further action against him is ordered.”

Helen felt the screams bubbling up again from deep within. She pushed it down with raw force. She’d gotten good at that while she hid the pills the doctors gave her. They’ll put me someplace quiet tonight, and I can take them all. Helen breathed deep and sighed. Soon, it’ll all be over.

“So ordered, this 27th day of June, 2027.”

# # #

Whose Life Is It Anyway? by James R. Stratton
originally published February 15, 2010



James R. Stratton is by day, a mild-mannered government lawyer specializing in child abuse prosecutions, living with his wife and children in Delaware. But in recent years he’s been forging a dark alter ego of genre fiction author. James has been published multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Dragons, Knights & Angels Magazine, Ennea and Nth Degree Magazine, The Broadkill Review, Tower of Light Online Magazine, and Paper Blossoms, Sharpened Steel, an anthology of Oriental fantasy.

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