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Archive 2



The Tale of the Dot Con Twins
Rosemary North

The Grimm un-fairytale of a 21st Century Hansel and Gretel

Once upon a time, there was a stork and a gooseberry bush and if the stork landed on the gooseberry bush at the right time of the month, you could find a baby lying underneath, all neatly wrapped in swaddling bands. At least, I think that's what they told me. Certainly that's not where I found any of my sons, but frankly, if I had the chance to start all over again, I'd settle for the gooseberry bush option - no mess, no pain.

Forty years ago, sex education in schools was restricted to diagrams of the hydra and the amoeba. Only the more raunchy teachers deviated into what passed then for soft porn - text book pictures in which frog-spawn was fertilised by tadpoles and by an amazing metamorphosis turned into
nappy-wrapped babies nine months and three pictures later. Somehow I became confused, and spent weeks searching the local stream for tadpoles and babies in the bullrushes.

Then came Thatcherism and the National Curriculum, and sex became an Attainment Target. Some girls learned that if their GCSE grades weren't good enough to get them into college or employment, pregnancy could be a useful qualification for getting them high up on the housing list. Other girls learned that the stress and commitment of a successful career could mean delaying pregnancy so long that conception became problematic. Infertility, or perhaps the willingness to tolerate infertility, became an issue, an issue which might be solved - and so the concept of the test-tube baby was born. But now - after two thousand years - we are back where we began. A woman called Madonna has made motherhood fashionable again. A baby (have his name tattooed on your body in case it slips your mind) is the essential accessory for today's media icon.

And now - just as two thousand years ago - sex is no longer a necessary prerequisite to parenthood. In a happy marriage between the material world and the virtual world, you don't need to mess with sex and the vagaries of nature. You can buy your babies online. Just use a suitable search-engine and hyperlink through to a baby broker. Surf the photos in her portfolio to find yourself a cute kid, colour-matched - or not - according to choice. Or you can commission a baby currently in production.

The baby broker will want to know your name, address and income, but don't worry - there's no place in the form for details of your purely academic interest in witchcraft or that unfortunate conviction for involvement in a paedophile ring. All you have to do is click on the child you've chosen, then fill in the details of your Egg credit card. At four thousand pounds, this child is going to be very dear to you.

This is an immaculately simple economic conception. You get the baby you choose, with the advantage of a perfectly pain-free birth. The baby broker makes a few thousand, just enough to cover her overheads and the Ferrari. Even the birth mother makes a few dollars for herself, and in a third world country, a few dollars can be good for a month's food for a family. Everybody gains. Except the baby. The baby loses the mother whose voice has been imprinted on him or her during the pregnancy; he or she loses the opportunity to grow up among siblings, they lose the family heritage, they lose their culture. They lose all this in exchange for a life which, apparently, will be filled with the material benefits which our warped world deems preferable to any other option. He or she will have no choice: no chance to exercise his vote, no chance to raise his voice in protest. Somebody - somebody with a very fat credit card - or probably the nanny employed by somebody with a very fat credit card - will care for the baby. But who cares about the baby? What next? Bargain basement babies for sale on qxl.com, mixed up with all the other essential commodities of life like breadmakers and DVDs? When will magazine articles appear about "Coping With Childlessness for the Plastically Challenged"? How long before someone seizes the commercial opportunity to organise special "Bond With Your Net Baby" weekend breaks, price fully inclusive of two nights' accommodation at the Stable of Nazareth Inn, flights (two out, three back), all diapers, and a special commemorative adoption certificate validated by the State of Arkansas? Bidding for babies has become a competitive spectator sport: the new media event. (Well, Bush is never going to replace Clinton in the charm and charisma stakes. So Charm and Charisma are out. What the world needs now is Weird.) Enter the Kilshaws. And where do they enter? In Little Rock, Arkansas. Where Clinton comes from. How weird is that?

The Kilshaw case is a script for a blockbuster with everything going for it - lots of different locations, the car chase, the media siege, the dramatic court scenes, the all-American blue-collar couple versus the middle class fat cats, cute twins, the underprivileged black birth mother. You can almost hear the casting agencies running through their lists even now. Shall we say Meg Ryan for the Vickie Allen part? And Elizabeth Taylor for Judith Kilshaw? Think ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. . . then look at the Sunday Telegraph photograph of Mrs. Kilshaw drinking and chain-smoking in the hotel bar at 4am, after the twins had been taken into care by Social Services. (If you were about to appear in court, is that how you would try to prove what a good mother you would be?) Spare a thought for the Kilshaws' older children. How much 'quality time' have their two boys aged four and seven had with their mother recently? And consider Mrs. Kilshaw's two daughters from a previous marriage, aged eighteen and twenty-two (but her mother tries not to talk about her, when she's bent on adoption at all costs). Louisa allegedly turned down her mother's offer of three thousand pounds to be artificially inseminated with her stepfather's sperm. How unreasonable, refusing to abort her boyfriend's baby so she could satisfy her mother's needs. How selfish daughters can be! No wonder Mrs. Kilshaw wants to buy some more, who might grow up more grateful for what she's giving them. Having failed to secure herself a dual-purpose stepchild and grandchild combined (how confusing would that have been for the child?), Mrs. Kilshaw homed in on the world wide web. Mrs. Kilshaw is a determined lady. According to daughter Louisa, if her mother wants something, she gets it.

So when she and her husband arrived in California to collect her purchases, she wasn't likely to let any minor technicality get in her way. Like the fact that another couple had already paid to adopt the twins, had been caring for them for two months. For a solicitor, Alan Kilshaw has a surprising lack of respect for the law. So they grabbed the babies and ran. A two thousand mile journey across America is not a journey anyone undertakes lightly in winter with babies - but their flight was fuelled by Mrs. Kilshaw's fury, all the way from San Diego in Southern California, via Missouri and Little Rock, Arkansas to Chicago, then via Manchester to North Wales. An epic home run.

If these babies stay with the Kilshaws, what story will they be told when they ask the question asked by every child "Where did I come from?" Will they be told they were sold to the highest bidder? Will they be told about the media frenzy that surrounded their early months? Will they grow up scanning each face, searching for someone familiar, for something they cannot articulate - a yearning to see not only their birth mother but the foster mother from whom they were snatched without warning? Babies aren't born with guarantees attached. If the twins stay with the Kilshaws, they are likely to grow up feeling angry: angry that they have been denied their birthright, angry that they have been pawns. Pawns in a game of greed played out between the baby-broker and the obsessive Mrs. Kilshaw, who does not even have the excuse of childlessness. What will the lives of those girls be, if they disappoint the Kilshaws when they grow up? Ask Louisa.

Mrs Kilshaw is alleged to have paid out ten thousand pounds previously in an abortive attempt to buy a baby. If the twins are returned to the United States as justice would seem to dictate, the less ethical members of the media will fall over themselves offering deals in exchange for exclusives. Nobody who has seen the Kilshaws on television can doubt that they will sell their story so lucratively that they will be back on the net within weeks, to try again, and again, and again . . .
Better the gooseberry bush than being sold to the highest bidder.

© Rosemary North 24.2001

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