The day I first laid eyes on my daughter was the worst day of my life.

I was waiting in the sterile purgatory of the Life Center’s waiting room, biting into my lower lip, my insides churning as chaotically as my thoughts, when an unshaven Jacob tumbled into the room, startling me. He looked disheveled and stressed out, as if he had just gotten out of bed and right into an argument.

“Hey,” I said as I watched him close the doors carefully behind him.

“Hey Alice,” he said with just as much enthusiasm as he sat down in the chair opposite mine. He then started to distractedly look at the magazines spread on the table, moving them with the tip of his fingers.

“How’s Helen?” I said after a couple of minutes of awkward silence, hoping I might provoke him into speaking to me.

Jacob looked up with a pained frown and I immediately regretted my impulse.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be bitchy,” I said, looking away.

“It’s okay. I’m feeling anxious too. I somehow hoped there would be a way to avoid this but… here we are. How are you feeling?” he said softly.

I took a minute to think. Looking inward, I found nothing but a chaos of contradictions getting more intense as the moment of reckoning was coming closer.

“I’m… not sure. I thought I’d be strong. Angry. But I’m feeling, I don’t know… vulnerable.”

“Me too. But that’s what they want you to feel, right?”

“Self-righteous bastards,” I said under my breath, remembering in a flash the day after my release from surgery. The day we had been told about these mandatory sessions.

“So… how’s life?” Jacob said, quite hesitantly.

“My brothers still talk to me but they don’t look at me the way they used to. And I was told that my parents now pray for me at church. So I guess there’s been some improvement.”

“I’m sorry, I…”

He was interrupted by a soft but energetic knock on the door. I felt my heart drop as Dallen, our counselor, came in with his slightly pained smile and round glasses with shiny rims. He was wearing a white shirt and jeans and looked more casual than the last time I had seen him. In the shadow beyond the door, I could see a security guard and a nurse, waiting for us.

“Jacob, Alice! I know this must be a strange day for you but, if I may, it’s nice to see you again,” he said, clapping his pale hands together softly.

“Yeah, well, here we are,” Jacob curtly said.

“Can you believe it’s been ten weeks?” he then said, too perkily for my taste.

I nodded as I twisted my cold clammy hands, unable to say anything snarky in return. Dallen gestured towards the two people behind him. “This is nurse Norah and Zachary, one of our security guards. They will be supervising your Atonement Sessions.

Zachary, his hand on something that looked like a gun or a Taser, nodded, but nurse Norah didn’t.

“Do people go crazy in there?” Jacob said

Dallen gave an awkward laugh and ignored the question. His eyes turned to me but I immediately looked away. He then cleared his throat and clapped his hands, this time more genially.

“Okay, let’s get this over with. Are you both ready?”

I clearly was not. But I had lost consent a long time ago.


The Atonement room was in the center of a large and dark room somewhere in the heart of the building. Its walls were covered with confessional-sized alcoves where green lights pulsed in the dark.

Is this where they keep them? I wondered, fleetingly, as we were led to the center of the room into a roughly round area delimited by thick blue curtains.

“Please stand here,” Zachary said while sternly looking at us.

I heard some movement behind the curtain, and a spotlight was suddenly switched on, casting a blinding cone of light from above, before dimming a little. We waited a couple of minutes before we heard the sound of something rolling before Dallen appeared, almost theatrically, from behind the curtain. Nurse Norah appeared behind him. She was pushing something that looked like a thick IV drip with a plastic bag hanging from it, partially encased in an egg-shaped metal box. I felt my hands tighten into fists. As much as I had prepared myself and as much as I had tried to compartmentalize, I felt something fragile crack inside me as I heard Dallen say “There she is…” before gently pushing the contraption under the soft light.

Jacob took a deep, ragged breath but, in that moment, I felt as if he was kilometers away from me.

She… It’s a she… Fuckers…

Trying to avoid what was hanging in the bag, I looked behind Dallen and saw that the security guard had slightly shifted forward. His eyes were on me and his jaw tight. He took a wary glance at Jacob and I wondered, briefly, if people had ever tried to destroy the machinery, or even attack Dallen. Probably.

“Alice. Jacob. I need you two to look at her. For my report. Do you understand?”

I nodded and heard Jacob grunt something. Despite all that was standing between us, I wanted to hold his hand, to feel myself anchored to someone real.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds and tried to breathe.

“Alice?” Dallen said.

“Yes. Give me a second,” I snapped.

“Of course…”

I took a deep breath, counted to ten and opened my eyes, slightly dazzled by the light.

The fetus, now about 13 weeks old by my own count, was in a transparent plastic womb, gestating in a clear, slightly yellow fluid. It was partly encased in a monitor that flickered green and red, indicating what, I guessed, were vital signs.

“Come closer please,” said Dallen his voice now quiet and respectful.

I saw Jacob moving closer and I felt my feet move until I found myself close to the bag and the thing living inside it. Even though part of me wanted to look away, I found that I now couldn’t. Not that I was allowed to anyway.

The fetus in the plastic bag looked like a half-formed human. It had a large head, vague features and, to me, looked kind of gelatinous and fragile. It didn’t look like it could ever survive without the machinery around it.

Dallen pushed a button and part of the device retreated, exposing the bag completely. The fetus suddenly moved jerkily and I felt a sick lurch in my stomach. Reading from his tablet, Dallen then cleared his throat and started to talk to us as if we were watching a nature documentary.

“So by the end of the third month of development, the baby is fully formed. As you can see, she has arms, hands, fingers, feet, and toes… and can open and close her fists and mouth. If you look closely, you may see that fingernails and toenails are beginning to form, as well as teeth.”

Jacob moved closer but I didn’t. My body was so tense that I felt I might snap a muscle if I did.

“We can also tell her gender, much better than with an ultrasound!” Dallen continued with a chuckle.

“She looks like an alien” I said, my voice flat and low.

“She does, doesn’t she?” Dallen chuckled again. “At this point she is almost fully formed, even though she’s about the size of a large lemon. All she has to do, really, is grow.”

Trying to gaze around the fetus rather than staring at it, I noticed how the umbilical cord was connected to a series of tubes and how the flow of blood was pumping rhythmically, faster than I expected. Despite my initial anger and reticence, a part of me was amazed to see firsthand a living fetus kept alive by a machine.

“Her name is Rebecca,” Nurse Norah suddenly said aloud.

I felt my heart jump in my throat.

“What? Who…” Jacob said, his voice suddenly loud.

“Her adoptive parents,” the nurse added with what looked like a smirk.

My eyes left the cord and met Dallen’s eyes, but I couldn’t tell if he felt sorry for us, or if he was pretending.

“Yes. I was getting to that…” he sighed, before turning towards the nurse.

“Her adoptive…” I started.

“Yes. Like I told you the last time: we are here to take care of her. You should be happy that we found a good Christian family for her,”

“Fuckers,” I blurted out, despite myself.

Zachary took a step forward but Dallen gestured discreetly towards him and he retreated into the shadows. There was a time I would have fought, yelled and tried to smash everything around me, but in that moment my mind was blank and I felt completely empty.

“You shouldn’t be mad, Alice. This is the result of your actions. Of your decision. You knew abortions are illegal yet to tried to get one. It was just our sacred duty to protect this baby.”

“It was not a baby when you ripped it out of me without my consent. It wasn’t even a fetus!” I said, feeling anger surge from within me, my mind somewhat clearer.

Dallen shrugged and pushed a few buttons on the machine.

“Well science disagrees,” he said, as the bag was retreated to its casing.

“You mean your science,” my jaw tensed, a scream waiting to pounce at the back of my throat.

I hoped that Jacob would say something, back me up, but he just stood there, staring at the fetus these people had allowed to grow outside of me. I wanted to elbow him, yell at him but our couple had died the day they had forced me to lie on that operating table.

“I’m sorry this is uncomfortable for you, Alice. But you have to go through with this. We need to show you the child you were about to murder.”

“The pregnancy I needed to terminate.”

Dallen sighed then nodded towards nurse Norah who looked at us before taking back the plastic womb back to its alcove in the shadows, shaking her head as she did.

“Well, you were lucky you got caught,” he said, tapping something on his tablet. “You know the penalty for a successful abortion. Now you and Rebecca both have a chance at life,” he said.

But what life? I wanted to yell back. But, feeling utterly defeated and empty, I looked down at my feet, barely visible in the darkness of the room, and said nothing.


The next time I had my mandatory therapy session, I found that I couldn’t articulate the physical pain and relentless anxiety that I had felt after seeing the fetus in that plastic bag. Despite the medication I simply couldn’t keep that thing that was growing outside of me out of my thoughts. Yet, I didn’t want David, my government-appointed therapist, to know how I truly felt. It was part of the process, of course, but I didn’t want to tell him that, despite my belief in a woman’s right to choose, I now felt waves of guilt and loss at the thought that she – for it was a she – was on her way to be adopted by the same types of people who were responsible for my predicament.

“I’m sorry Alice but I have to ask you again. What did you feel when you saw your daughter in that artificial womb?”

Guilt. Sadness. Loss. Fear.

“I felt nothing. Except anger.”

David shifted uneasily in his seat and sighed.

“Alice, we-“

“Anger at a government that tracked and flagged my period-tracking app and my purchase of the medication I had tried to use when I realized I was pregnant. A government who went against my own personal choice for my own body and cut me open…” I continued, the fire growing in intensity, now obliterating my careful resolve, and the whole reason I was there.


“How can you not get it, David?” I said after regaining a bit of my countenance. “You know how sick taking the pill made me! For years I tried different ones, different dosages. I just took what the doctors prescribed! How could I know that it would… fail.”

“Yes. I know. And this is why the jury showed you clemency.”

“Clemency? What you are doing to me is torture,” I said, looking at the ceiling again, unable to look straight at him.

“Alice. You’re the one not getting it. You risked the death penalty for something so many people want, and can’t have! I mean…”

“Oh come on, David. It was my body… my choice!”

He shifted again, raised a hand to stop me and he leaned towards me.

“You know that this slogan doesn’t apply anymore. At least not in this country.”

“So you really believe that women shouldn’t be responsible for their own bodies?”

“It’s not about that, and you know it. Soon after conception, the baby was distinct from you. It wasn’t part of your body when you tried to kill it.”

“You know that’s bullshit, right?”

“No, Alice.” He sighed, “It’s science.”

“This is fucking useless,” I said, rolling my eyes as I realized there would be no getting through to him. So I crossed my arms and I let myself sink in the couch, realizing I might now have extended my number of remaining sessions.

“Alice. I’ll be honest with you. The past is done and you have to follow through with your sentence. So you don’t really have a choice. Do you want my advice?”

“Sure,” I said, looking up at the ceiling.

“You really have to see this as a positive thing. A good thing. You made a mistake and your government took care of it for you. Rebecca will be in good hands.”

“Don’t call it… that,” I snapped.

It took me a second to realize that using “it” to refer to the baby had somehow felt wrong, and that I should have used “her” instead. I felt thick tears start to burn my eyes and blur my vision as David leaned forward and smiled at me with what looked like compassion and patience. I wanted someone to talk to. I really did… But every time I felt like opening up I had to remind myself of my brutal arrest, my quick trial and forced C-section.

“No, Alice. Like I said, first step is to truly understand what you did.”

“It was just a bunch of cells.”

“No. Your baby was alive and distinct from…”

“If I followed your twisted standards, a cancerous tumor should be alive as well.”

David sighed and shrugged.

“A tumor doesn’t have a soul…”

I stopped in my tracks and stared at him, my face twisted by an involuntary wrinkle of disgust.

“Come on, Alice, think about it: your baby will now live the life you denied her. Who knows, she might cure cancer one day!”

“Well, she might also get into the army, and kill people.”

He sighed and looked away. I was clearly a lost cause.


The next time I saw Rebecca, at 22 weeks, my hand automatically found its way to my flat belly, the now barren terrain where she had once resided. It was just the second time, but I could already feel the weight of her absence weighing heavier on me. Jacob, on the other hand, looked much better and almost seemed excited to be back at the Life Center.

“Rebecca is now the size of a melon.” Dalen said after he had brought her. “She is still growing, of course. All her major organs are being monitored and all is well. Her uterus is now fully formed and she now has tiny ovaries, with about 7 million primitive eggs!”

I raised my hand and touched the bag with the tip of my index finger. Despite myself, I tried to picture her having children. Would she want children? What kind of mother would she be if she did? I bit my lips and cursed myself for having those thoughts, for giving in to what the system wanted me to feel about a fetus I had not wanted. A fetus that was now slowly turning into an actual child.

“She is doing so well”, Nurse Norah said with a warm smile when she saw me touching the bag. “We noticed that she reacts to sound and is sensitive to touch this week,” she added.

“To touch?” I said, confused as I quickly withdrew my hand.

She frowned, stepped forward before taking my hand and placing one of my fingertip against the back of the fetus’ head, which was pressing against the plastic. I was so shocked that I stood frozen in place, my arm limp, unable to resist.

“Yes, because of the bag you can interact with her more.” She continued before letting go of my hand.

“She is growing fast. Isn’t she going to grow too big for the bag?” Jacob said, touching the bag as well.

“Don’t worry. A mother’s belly is a tight fit at the end of a pregnancy. This is what we try to reproduce, except that she’ll get perfect nutrition and perfect care.”

When Jacob took his finger away with a smile, the baby suddenly jerked and I felt a sick lurch in my stomach.

“Look, she just kicked!” Nurse Norah said, her loud voice echoing in the chamber.

My baby kicked… and I didn’t feel it, I thought.

Jacob turned towards me with a smile, then looked down at my belly and frowned.

“What?” I said, looking down, realizing I had put a hand over my belly again the moment the baby had kicked.


That day was the last time I had a real-life conversation with Jacob. We were having a post-session coffee at a nearby coffee shop but, this time, I couldn’t understand how he had accepted the situation even if, deep down, I knew it was because of his relationship with Helen.

“It’s just so fucked up. This was my body,” I said meekly, realizing how futile it now sounded.

“You keep saying that but you need to move on from this trauma, Alice. Rebecca is now viable. Soon she will be born. She will be a person. You better get used to it!”

“Jacob. I was turned into a mother… against my will!”

“No, Alice. You will never be a mother to her. Just a genitor, but-”

I felt a rush of blood in my head, as if he had slapped me in the face.

Biting my lips I looked away, knowing I would cry if I didn’t. So I tried to look disgusted instead and forced myself to scoff.

“You speak like them now. I guess the propaganda works,” I said.

And it had. At least on me, for I had never wanted to be a mother and yet, here I was, being angry at Jacob for calling me a “genitor”. This was what the system had wanted all along.

Jacob grumbled, took out his phone and started to type something.

“What?” I snapped again.

“What do you want me to say? It’s not like I have a choice, either…”

“Yeah, or Helen will be mad at you, right?”

“Alice. I-I can’t do this anymore. This is too much. You’re too much.”

And just like that, he got up and left me alone at the coffee shop table with a full mug of coffee and a half-eaten brownie.

From that moment on, he kept his distance from me, staying polite but avoidant throughout our remaining sessions at the Center, while marveling at Rebecca’s growth and how, session after session, she became more and more human, more and more familiar until, one day, she was gone and our next session was simply cancelled. They only call the adoptive parents when the baby manifests a desire to be born.


After Rebecca’s birth and adoption, I was released of my “Atonement Period” and found myself alone, even though my family and friends had started to reach out to me again. But there was no absolution for me, for the moment I was truly cut from Rebecca’s life was the moment I realized how much I would always miss her. Though years passed, the ache of her loss ebbed and flowed within me, relentless as the tides. My world was washed in grayscale, devoid of hue, because I had constructed rules, walls to safeguard my sanity. Foremost among these was an iron-clad decree forbidding any pursuit of knowledge about Rebecca or her adoptive parents, for I knew that even a shred of information, the merest glimpse into her life, would crumble my carefully crafted defenses, deepening my pain. But this act of compartmentalizing, this self-inflicted partitioning, came with its own toll. It was akin to severing a part of myself, to living a half-life: a monotonous cycle of retail jobs, the hollow dance of dating apps, and the gaping, awkward silences at family dinners. These were years that now blur in my memory, a faded, indistinct smear on the canvas of my life. It was as if I had spent them with my gaze cast downwards, too petrified to face what lay ahead.

Jacob, on the other hand, did the complete opposite. Even though he had his own, picture-perfect life (marrying Helen, of course, and having two kids with her), he tried to keep track of Rebecca’s life from afar. I don’t think it was legal but I had read many stories about it on online forums. It made me happy for him, that he could find solace in seeing our daughter grow up from afar. He also sent me regular email updates, along with pictures, which I deleted before opening them. I kept asking him to stop, of course, but he never actually listened.

Only twice did my resolve fail me. The first was when I received an email entitled “Rebecca’s first steps”. I clicked on the paper clip icon then closed my eyes to a sliver, hoping to dampen the shock of it, but who was I kidding? When I saw my daughter on the screen for the first time with her big golden eyes, all smiles and toddler chubbiness, I broke down in tears, feeling as if I had been sucker-punched and stayed in bed for two days. When I finally did get up on the third day, my sheets crumpled and damp with tears, I felt as if I had taken a beating.

“I can’t handle it. Please, Jacob. Stop,” I typed on my phone after I had taken a long, purifying shower.

I wanted nothing more than to see more pictures or clips of Rebecca, of course. I wanted it so much that it hurt. Every single day. But I also thought I might die if I continued to see her physical reality because it reminded me that she was out there, somewhere, and that I couldn’t get to her.

In the end Jacob stopped sending me pictures of her and only wrote brief descriptions of her milestones which, despite my resolve, became the highlights of my weeks, my months, my years. He never really said it but I think he had a hard time not seeing us as Rebecca’s true parents. He also knew that, deep down, I wanted to know about our daughter and about her life.

His last email, sent almost 18 years after our Atonement Sessions, was entitled “Rebecca’s graduation” and contained a single picture.

“This is the last email I am sending you. I need to get on with my life and so do you. I love my family but it still breaks my heart to think that this could have been us… she looks so much like you.

Goodbye Alice, I hope you’ll find your peace.

Love, Jacob”

I thought about deleting the message but didn’t have the resolve to do it, so in the end, I clicked on the link and saw what my daughter looked like on the day of her graduation. It was the second time and last time that I allowed myself to have my heart wrenched out of my chest and broken into a million pieces.


I don’t know if Jacob ever tried to contact Rebecca or her family again after she turned eighteen. I assumed that a page had been turned for him, so I never cared to ask.

To my surprise, I soon realized that a page had turned for me too. If my life had, since the trial, been a wreck of alienation and an aimless drift from meaningless job to meaningless job, it was as if Rebecca’s graduation picture, her obvious happiness, had finally set me free. As if I somehow knew that she would be fine.

So, in the months that followed, I got my life back on track. I went back to university as a 38 year-old student, got a nursing diploma and attended semi-legal support groups for women who had had experiences similar to mine. It was through them that I was able to join the “New Janes”, a group of women who risk their lives to offer safe, illegal abortions to those who need it. Because, even though the people of this country had ended up getting used to these senseless laws, I still believed that women should have control of their own bodies.

And then, last week, life came full circle when Annie, one of the women I work with, announced that my next patient was a 23 year old woman named Rebecca K.

“Hey, you guys could be related,” Annie said as she brought our patient in the room where I performed the abortions.

“Hey,” Rebecca said, waving at me as she was walked in.

I recognized my daughter instantly and felt my heart drop. She had dark hair, amber eyes and was wearing a “the future is female t-shirt”. She still looked as young as her graduation picture, but now with something like fierceness in her eyes, a strength I hadn’t seen in that picture, almost five years ago.

My first instinct was to call Annie and ask for someone to replace me, but I didn’t want Rebecca to feel as if I didn’t want to be there for her. She didn’t know I was the one who had abandoned her, after all… and she never would. So I kept my calm, swallowed awkwardly and gestured towards the bed our group had tried to make as comfortable as we could, my hands now moist and shaky.

“Hi Rebecca, my name is Alice,” I managed to say, as I smiled for the first time in years.

“Hi Alice…” she said, sitting at the edge of the bed, looking unsure if she should lie down or stay sitting.

I put my hand on her shoulder and pressed lightly, feeling her tangible reality, remembering what, so many years ago, had just been a fetus the size of a lemon, a fetus I had first refused to touch. But unlike the last time I had seen her in her plastic womb, I now felt the urge to hug her and never let go.

“How are you feeling?” I said as I felt my heartbeat increase.

She sighed and started to nervously bite her nails.

“I don’t know. Stressed, anxious, guilty. My parents would probably denounce me if they knew I was here.”

“It’s okay. You’re safe here.” I said, my voice shaking a little.

“Thank you. I know I shouldn’t be here, that it’s a risk for me and even more for you but I need to do this. I just can’t have a baby right now. Work is intense and I need to…”

It suddenly hit me that she was carrying my grandchild. I put my other hand on her other shoulder and lowered myself to look into her eyes, hoping my contradicting emotions didn’t show.

“Hey, it’s okay. You don’t need to explain anything. We just need your consent. That’s all,” I said softly,

I then proceeded to take her blood pressure, feeling her rapid heartbeat which, years ago, I had seen pass through a plastic tube. I also realized that, having been taken so early from my womb, she had never felt mine.

Rebecca sighed and I felt her shoulders relax. She then closed her eyes and let herself fall on the bed, crossing her arms on her chest. She took another deep breath, remained silent for a couple of minutes and said:

“You have my consent,”

“Thank you,” I said. I walked to the edge of the bed, leaned forward and placed a strand of hair behind her left ear. “It’s going to be fine, Rebecca. I’ve got you.”

She turned her head, her golden-brown eyes looking straight into mine, a mirror image of hers, and smiled with calm confidence and trust.

“I wish I had a mother like you” she said before taking my hand and squeezing it tightly.

I felt my vision blur with tears of joy as I realized that, in that moment, our connection was not only that of a mother and daughter, but also of two women who, in times of hardship, had found strength and hope in each other.

“Thank you, Rebecca. That means a lot”, I managed to say as I discreetly wiped a tear from my face.

Finally letting go of my hand, she closed her eyes and said, her voice now full of confidence,

“Okay. I’m ready.”

J.F. Sebastian is a queer, autistic human originally from the South of France now living in Toronto, Canada. Their latest stories have been published in Wyldblood Magazine (August 2023), Interzone (January 2023) and Monstrous Femme (Spring Edition, 2024). They also have 2 upcoming stories to be published in Suburban Witchcraft Magazine and Worlds Within.