I guess high school had been a rough place for me. Not because I was bullied or unpopular, but because of the intense brainwashing we underwent as students.
At the time it was the greatest place ever, we were queens in a kingdom created especially for us. The theme of those years was “All things are possible, anything can happen, just believe in yourself.” This kind of thinking was endemic of the entire Department of Propagation.
It was no coincidence that this all girl academy was under the direct supervision of the Department of Propagation. Nor was it a coincidence that in a time of steadily increasing infertility percentages we were fed a steady curriculum of fertility medication and positive mantras. Every week we gave a urine sample and had blood drawn. We were poked, prodded, and monitored for four years by the nicest most positive women the Department could find. Our teachers were the kindest most hope-filled people in the city, nearly to and past the point of delusion. It was a secluded feel-good bubble of possibility. Designed and perfectly executed by the government.
“Anything can happen, all things are possible, all I have to do is believe in myself.”
I ate it all up. I believed everything they told me. I knew that I was born to do incredible things. I knew I was going to be a part of something big. It was my birthright. I was entitled to a fantastic destiny. I was electric with hope. And why wouldn’t I be? I was an excellent student and that attitude had been part of school culture.
My mother, however, insisted on reality; which seemed to be mean-spirited to someone so engrossed in the possibility of her future. Seventeen is not the age where logical hard-knock reasoning has developed, and the Department of Propagation knew that.
In the end, the kindest thing a person can ever do is tell the truth.
I don’t remember ever thinking much about infertility while I was in school. It was always this thing that happened to other people. It didn’t seem relevant to me that suicide was the leading cause of death among girls ages seventeen to twenty-two. To me, there was no correlation between infertile girls being turned out of high school and them ending their lives.
“Well, of course, they are,” my mother would say, “lie to these children. Get their hopes up. Then kick them to the curb when they don’t give you what you want. What is the point after that?”
“The Department of Propagation is deliberately blind to the actual toll this solution of theirs is taking. Can you blame these poor girls?” My grandma would echo her concern.
At the end of my senior year, we had parent-teacher conferences. This was the most important conference we would ever have. I was seventeen and dreaming of all the things I had been lead to believe would happen when I graduated. I wondered if I would be transferred to the Birthing Center here in town. If it was full, they would move me away from my mom and grandma.
My mom was unflappable, as always. I could never tell what she was thinking. She was always the first to pierce any bubble of hope with her stark realism. For that, my grandma constantly scolded her,
“Jesus, Kit, just going to storm all over the parade, aren’t you?”
My mom said nothing as we checked into the school. She said nothing as we sat in the classroom. She didn’t look at me, not once. I was so nervous. All of the testing that they had done over the last couple of years, today they would finally tell us their analysis. They were careful to not give anything away when they recorded your results due to the laws and confidentiality clause in their contracts. Teachers couldn’t give any hints. It was entered into your permanent record, along with everything else about you.
My mother had had me late, and I was the only child she ever had. So, her glimmer of fertility would bode well for me, genetically.
The data had been averaged and compiled. A result of “fertile” was ideal. You would be set for life. You would move into the Birthing Center, which was like a hotel for pregnant women. There you would stay and have a baby once every couple of years and then retire at forty, never once having to worry about food or the weather or anything, really.
Statistically, this outcome was highly improbable for most of us graduating that year. By design, it had never been discussed in school.
Then there was “inconclusive” which basically meant that you were normal. You hadn’t started your period and there was nothing indicating that you couldn’t. Except, of course, for the fact that you hadn’t... and probably wouldn’t. Why? Well, that was the question everyone had been asking since 2060.
My teacher came in.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Donovan,” she said to my mother.
“It’s good to see you, Bette,” she nodded and smiled at me.
“Thank you for coming in,” She sat down, propping up her phab. She made a few fast motions with her finger.
“As you know, we are required by the Department of Propagation to test, measure, and track certain hormone levels of adolescent girls in order to comply with the research and development efforts of the World Health Organization and our own governing bodies.”
She shifted in her chair and tapped her phab, turning it to face us.
“As you also know, infertility is a tricky thing to be completely definitive on. Much research is underway regarding this issue which is affecting a portion of our population. On behalf of the Department of Propagation, I would like to thank you very much for the information you have provided us with over the last four years.”
My mother stared at her the entire time devoid of any sentiment. Her pale blue eyes, weary. She sat completely upright, her face like stone.
My teacher cleared her throat, her phab progressing through a series of generic charts and statistics.
“We have monitored Bette for four years.” she said, tap, tap, tapping on her device.
A chart appeared with my name at the top: Donovan, Bette: DOB: 6/5/2083: Age 17
“As you can see here,” she said pointing to a cluster of numbers, “her case is inconclusive. She has shown no conclusive signs of fertility. But, she has also shown no conclusive signs of infertility. A percentage of girls do fall into this category. Our recommendation is that she continues on after school with a hormone therapy regimen.”
There. Just like that, it was all over.
“Bette’s results will be sent to the Department of Propagation today. A caseworker will contact you within the next thirty to sixty days to discuss the regimen.”
My teacher promptly stood, as did my mother. They were talking but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. My head was swimming.
I was never going to have children. Everything that I had been groomed for didn’t matter now. What was I going to do? What what did I even know how to do?
I was going to work until I died, all the while being pumped full of hormones. This was actually the law; if you are termed “inconclusive”, you would be compelled to a course of treatment that became optional at age forty.
In hindsight, I should have known that being seventeen and never having had a period was a sign. I had taken human sexuality every year for four years. I could label any diagram of the vagina, blindfolded. I knew, intellectually, how the whole process worked. But what I didn’t know, and what they hadn’t explained to us, was why it wasn’t working for the majority of the population. And no one had ever asked. They had said we were late bloomers.
It is completely normal. Everyone is a late bloomer, these days. Anything could happen. A girl a year ahead of you started her period the morning of her conference. Believe in yourself.
I had hoped things like that could and would happen to me.
Things were bleaker going home. All my nervousness had been replaced by despair.
“Get a hold of yourself, Bette,” my mother said, clipped, “we don’t sob on public transit for Christ’s sake, you will drench your mouth cover and you know how that affects your asthma.”
When we got home, my grandma was standing by the island in the kitchen. My mom set her bag down, removed her mouth cover, and took off her coat.
“Well?” My grandma said, irritated.
“Well, what do you think?” My mom spat, “inconclusive.”
I sat down on the couch. My mom walked to the kitchen.
“Well, that’s not so bad, is it?” My grandma said, “the way you two came in carrying on made it seem like she had been born without a damn uterus!”
“Mother,” my mom started.
“Oh, don’t you start, Kitten!”
“Start? Woman, you act like you have no brain in your head! Inconclusive equals infertile. I don’t know why they just don’t say that.”
“No. Inconclusive is exactly that. Inconclusive.”
My grandma walked over and sat next to me.
“Button, all this means is they can’t see everything you are made of yet. Just take your time and show them when you are good and ready.” She gave my arm a little shake.
I wiped away the silent tears that had begun to make my cheeks tight.
“Come on, give me a smile.” My gram was smiling at me, “I, for one, have a good idea of what you are made of.”
I gave her a weak smile.
“For the love of God,” I heard my mom sigh from the kitchen, “it’s over, Mom.”
“Don’t listen to her,” my grandma whispered to me.