XY makes male, XX makes female; in vivo, in vitro, the rules are the same, the basic principles which govern human reproduction and embryology however it is arranged, through natural conception, through a donor or a surrogate. But what if there was another way, ovum to ovum fertilisation, a process whereby endangered species who have low reproductive rates could have their numbers increased?
By default rather than by design, such offspring would invariably be female, an X chromosome inherited from each of their mothers, but for some couples this would also be an ideal if unexpected and unsought realisation of their desires, a child of their own without need for the genetic contribution of an outsider, be it an anonymous stranger or a family friend.
Juliet Curtis never wanted children in the same way her girlfriend Rosie Barcombe did; on holiday with strangers’ children, in her work at the bookshop, it was always Rosie who was at ease at making young friends, but neither of them expected the question to come into their lives so directly or suddenly.
The human trials announced at Portsmouth University’s Centre for Reproductive Medicine, it is on their doorstep, and Rosie wants to apply; pages of questions on them and their families to ascertain their suitability and the possibility of inherited diseases, the interviews, the tests, the possibility they will not be accepted, the chance that, as with many IVF cycles, Rosie will not become pregnant; all this they are aware of and understand.
What they are not prepared for is the barrage of hatred, abuse, disinformation and distortion of truth, betrayal by those closest to them and the invasion of their privacy as their identity is leaked to the press and they become the bête noire of a local politicial aiming for the big time who needs a cause upon which he can pin his ambition to stir up national outrage.
The debut novel of Angela Chadwick, like Jules she trained as a journalist and worked as a reporter and conveys the sense of how the drive to be honest and truthful is compromised by the demands of big media and editors whose goal is selling papers, irrespective of who is hurt or defamed.
Like Chadwick, Jules has a voice and has chosen to tell her story in her way, awkward, disappointed, exhausted but determined and hopeful despite the forces arrayed against her and Rosie and their unborn daughter, the screaming headlines proclaiming the trial as unnatural, a strike against men who will become obsolete if the scientists and the lesbians have their way.
The representation of science in the media notorious for unsupported and alarmist prognostications, rational debate is sidelined, the self-evident fact ignored that even if the trial is successful and the process approved it will only represent a fraction of IVF births which are a fraction of natural births, that the shape of the world will not change to a dominant matriarchy; all that matters is fanning the flames.
An informed and measured work of slipstream science fiction, Chadwick does not make her characters superhuman; Jules is flawed, apprehensive about the process and her part in it, subjected to taunts at work and feeling marginalised even as her girlfriend carries their child, and XX is easy to read and relate to despite the apparent strangeness of the situation, the focus always on the characters rather than medical terminology or genetics.
Isolated from her few friends Jules has no one to assure her that it is entirely normal for any prospective parent to have doubts during a huge adjustment in priorities and responsibilities, and despite their portrayal by the Alliance for Natural Reproduction she and Rosie have more in common with those who “honour God’s way and trust in him to create our children” than sets them apart, all of them prospective parents who want health and happiness for their child; fortunately, Chadwick’s firstborn is a winner.
XX is available from 4th October from Dialogue Books