Unwanted Babies
Diana Altman

Unwanted Babies

Lily told me that she’d had the infant Wendy with her for one whole week before they took her away. She was breast feeding her baby when they came into her room and took her. She had already bonded with the baby.

Now, Lily’s grandson, the boy her daughter Wendy had had as a teenager, was turning into a girl.

“My god, Lily!” I said. “Everything happens to you!” We were sitting in a restaurant in New York catching up after years apart.

“I know. It’s been difficult. John wants to be called Joanna.”

“Is he having a sex change?”

“I don’t know. He’s taking hormones now. He has breasts. Wait. I’ll show you a picture.” She opened her wallet and showed me a photo of a delicate boy with the dainty face that Lily used to have.

“Does Wendy’s birth father know?”

“Yes. He’s paying for the hormone treatment.”

“So, he told his wife?”

“No. He never had to. She died. But his two sons know. It’s uncomfortable, but at least it’s not secret. Shame is so corrosive.”

Lily is married now to a widower with four children. She has been in their lives for fifteen years, and they consider her the grandmother of their children. Each one has four children, so that makes sixteen grandchildren. As is the custom in Maine, the children live in houses near their parents. Sixteen grandchildren live in houses near the house that Lily shares with her husband in a rural part of Maine. She has turned her creative energy into designing a playground in her yard filled with rope ladders, twig jungle gyms, and swings made from tires. She has also built a playhouse made of adobe. When there’s a birthday, sixteen children come to Lily’s, and all sixteen, even the one who is only four, hold fizzing sparklers and scream with fun. The Bernese Mountain Dogs take the opportunity to slink into the house and jump on the sofa.

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Diana Altman

is the author of Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System and the novels In Theda Bara’s Tent and We Never Told, selected by NBC News as one of twenty great summer reads. Her short stories have appeared in Trampset, Notre Dame Review, StoryQuarterly, and other journals, and her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Yankee, Boston Herald, Forbes, and other magazines. She is a graduate of Connecticut College and Harvard University and lives in New York City.