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Speculative Mystery Adventure

In 1923, the first extended discussion of artificial wombs was given. The speaker, one J.B.S. Haldane, who was an English biologist, proposed that an egg could be fertilized outside the womb. He gave his speech, which was entitled “Daedalus, or Science and the Future” from the viewpoint of a student in 2073 writing about advances in biology over the previous 150 years.

His theories of ectogenesis were largely controversial. In 1929 an English memoirist named Vera Brittain wrote an essay that warned that in the wrong hands it could create “designer children.”

Despite the prediction Haldane had made that ectogenesis would be possible by 1951, the prospect of success wasn’t good. In fact, it wasn't until 2019 that actual progress was made on artificial wombs when a team of researchers supported an extremely preterm lamb for 5 days. In March of 2021, The New York Times reported that mouse embryos had successfully grown mice from Day 0 of development for 11 days. The full gestation of a mouse is 20 days.

Progress again slowed until 2032, when a team of scientists from Germany and America successfully brought a monkey from Day 0 of development through a successful and healthy birth. Similar tests were performed and it was another 5 years before the first human test.

Helga Stuttgart was 25 weeks into the pregnancy when she was informed she was at risk. A hereditary medical condition that had yet to be determined or recognized gave her gestational diabetes to such an extreme level that she was warned that to carry the child to term was likely going to kill her. Her husband, an accountant for the lab working on the artificial womb project, talked to her, and then they approached the director of the program. Helga volunteered to be the first subject, and the child was successfully transferred to the artificial womb. After recovery, she was allowed to visit the womb every day and look through the clear glass. She could barely see past the glass and the bio-bag inside, but she did catch a glimpse of her baby. She talked to her baby as it grew, encouraging it, telling it all about herself and its daddy. When the child was born healthy, she wept with joy and the world rejoiced.

The ability to save premature babies was now a very real thing.

After multiple other volunteers of women who were about to lose their child, or the child was born prematurely, with a 98% success rate, the manufacture of artificial wombs was begun. In addition to the womb was a wireless speaker that a mother could talk to the child through and the child would hear. Parents would use this to play music to their child, to talk with them, and to form the pre-natal bonds they otherwise would have missed out on.

In 2039, a teenage girl in New York who had just discovered her pregnancy came to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. She'd pushed past the violent mob protesting to get there, but she braved the protesters and went to speak with the social worker. When asked if she was sure, the girl responded, “If I was older, I'd love to keep it, but I'm too young. Ma would kill me.”

The social worker understood and an idea came to her. “What if I could find another way? So that you don't keep the child, don't have an abortion, and don't have to carry the child?”

“That would be perfect, ma'am.” The teenager then waited as the social worker contacted the local hospital and requested the neo-natal department. After a long bit of time, explaining things, she hung up the phone.

“Well,” said the social worker. “They've agreed if you want. You know how they help mothers who have premature children now?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Well, they're willing to take the child from you and put it in an artificial womb. You can find out if your boyfriend wants it, but if not, we can put the child up for adoption immediately.”

The teenager started crying, showing her first bit of emotion. “That would be wonderful!. Knowing the baby's alive, but I won't ruin its life or mine.”

And that was how the first Anteabortum Procedure was performed.

News of this circulated, and soon Planned Parenthood and hospitals experienced a deluge of women who otherwise would have wanted an abortion, but preferred this. “If the man wants it so bad, let him have it,” was a common statement.

The influx was so great that hospitals dedicated solely to the artificial wombs sprung up across the country. They were labeled E.G.G. Hospitals for “Embryonic Growth and Gestation" Hospitals. The problem was what to do when the baby wasn't claimed by the biological father and no adopters came forth.

Congress met and discussed the problem and in a rare show of unity came up with the Anteabortum Rehoming Act (A.R.A.)

In this Act, it was determined that a mother choosing to have an Anteabortum procedure had to undergo a few steps before the procedure was granted. First, the biological father was to be informed. If that biological father wanted the child, he would absorb all financial costs for the development of the embryo into a child and the biological mother would sacrifice all rights, including visitation of the child. She would not be responsible financially, but she was, in truth, giving up her child.

If the biological father refused the child, then the embryo was put on a “Claimant List.” Prospective adopters needed only to pass a screening: mental health, history of alcoholism, history of drugs, history of crime…" and if they passed the screening, they were given an option to adopt the embryo. Upon adopting an embryo, the child would be transferred to the artificial womb and the adopters would absorb all costs, while both biological parents sacrificed all rights, including visitation, unless the child sought them out.

If the embryo reaches 19 weeks and nobody has claimed it, then the mother was given one last chance to keep the child for herself. If she refused, she was then granted a safe abortion. 

There were exceptions, of course. If the mother was an at-risk pregnancy and the abortion would only have been to save her life, she was given the chance to have the child brought into an artificial womb and keep the child herself. She would absorb the costs of the artificial womb, but she'd have her baby and not risk her own life.

If the pregnancy was due to rape, the embryo skipped the biological father phase and went on the claimant list immediately.

This program became very successful. The mob in front of Planned Parenthood died down, though they migrated to the termination clinics located at the E.G.G. hospitals. Some still protested at Planned Parenthood, but it wasn't as bad, nor were they as violent as some of the previous protesters had become.

The fear of designer babies was never realized, as the claimants were never allowed more information than “Race,” “Religion of Parents,” and “Health.” They wouldn't even know if it were a boy or a girl.

In 2042, the first disappearance was recorded. In the following year, 104 artificial wombs suddenly lost their embryos. The wombs had been replaced with empty ones, and nobody could find the ones that held children. 26 each quarter of the year. And odder: it kept happening, every year. In 2045, the number of vanishing children became closer to 144. The extra 40 were sporadic across the year, but it was growing worse as time went on. Security was ramped up on the E.G.G. Hospitals, but somehow nobody was caught.

What's even stranger is that the original 104 vanished children never had any complaints from the claimants. When the names of the claimants were run, they discovered that they were classified. The other 40 had angry claimants who made a stink until they were told they would be at the top of the list for the next claimant stage.

Two years passed with the number of children vanishing increasing, but always in the random cases where there were complaints. The original 104 per year remained at the same number, with absolutely no angry claimants.

The question remains. What happened to these vanished children?

March 26, 2024 18:19

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3 comments

Denise Glickler
18:21 Mar 26, 2024

For readers who are interested: I've labeled it a "Prologue," because this story is actually a prologue to the novel I'm writing and may or may not be used in the actual novel.

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Aaron Bowen
13:34 Apr 05, 2024

Denise, You've created a solid premise, both intriguing and plausible, to open your novel. If I may, I'd like to make a few criticisms, not because it's not good, but because it's too good to leave unpolished. 1. Nearly the entirety of your prologue speaks in passive voice, making excessive use of the helping verbs. Consider your opening two sentences: "In 1923, the first extended discussion of artificial wombs was given. The speaker, one J.B.S. Haldane, who was an English biologist, proposed that an egg could be fertilized outside the...

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Denise Glickler
18:19 Apr 05, 2024

Thank you so much! In truth, I'm considering absorbing this into the actual text and eliminating the prologue - let people find out things as it goes. Your input is valuable, and exactly the type I'm going to need when I get the first draft finished. I'm into Chapter 11, and I'm stuck, to be honest. <sigh> HATE when that happens.

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