Martha and John’s shock at being told they could not conceive a baby naturally was swiftly alleviated by the consultant’s next words.
"If you were prepared to trial our latest fertility treatment, Enfantil, I would be happy to offer it to you at a significant discount.”
"Why should we pay at all?" John cut in. "Shouldn’t you be paying us?"
"Please, John. Let’s hear what the doctor has to say." Martha had been halfway to opening a packet of tissues to wipe her streaming eyes, an action she quickly forgot at the consultant’s words.
“Enfantil is more than just a fertility treatment. I hate to use the tabloid phrase, ‘designer baby’, but in a sense that’s what it does.”
"What do you mean?"
“Enfantil allows you to select the characteristics you would like in your child. Like, for example, blue eyes. It also allows you to de-select the characteristics you don’t want. Like, for example, the genetic fault that is causing your infertility.”
"This child would really be ours?"
"Of course. Your test results indicate you would be ideally suited to the product."
"Oh John," Martha squeezed his hand. "Can we try it?"
John was not to be rushed. “How much is this going to cost? Having a baby is expensive enough, without shelling out before it’s even born.”
"The first cycle, for the first child is £200. If you wish to increase your family after that, then it will cost—" The consultant jotted a figure down and pushed it to John.
The consultant closed their file with a snap. “As your partner said, children are expensive. If we’re all done here, I think you should go.”
"Don’t worry about John," said Martha soothingly. "I’m sure we’ll manage. I’d like to try the treatment."
The consultant looked seriously at John. “You both need to commit to Enfantil. It doesn’t work with one. Mr. Jenkins. Will you?”
John tried to stare the consultant down but the doctor was better at it. He had bushy white eyebrows that crossed like swords and steely eyes that had seen bloody surgery.
"Don’t you think we should talk about this in private first?"
"Of course you can," smiled the consultant. "You can call me later to confirm. It should be a matter of paperwork over the phone, as long as places are still available."
"What do you mean?"
"We can only provide a small number of discounted trials. Enfantil is very expensive to produce.”
John pressed his lips together in annoyance. It was a hard sell. No doubt about it. But he’d never hear the end of it if they called later and had missed out on the discounted rate. They couldn’t possibly afford it otherwise.
"Alright," he said with a sigh. "Where do we sign?"
"Here. And here."
After the signatures the consultant buzzed in a nurse. “This couple is taking the trial. Will you take them through the requirements documents?”
Before the requirements, payment was taken. Then they were given tea and chocolate biscuits and a long questionnaire with tick boxes detailing what sort of child they would like. Some were easy (physical), others more of a challenge (arty? Sporty? Linguist?) and some made no sense at all (active or sleepy? Independent or clingy? Noisy or quiet?).
When it was all done, the nurse ushered Martha and John back into the consultant’s office.
"This is just a formality, but some of our patients don’t get the results they want because they don’t take the Enfantil properly. So I’ll go through the main points with you.” He clicked the top of a biro and pointed to a printed out list. “First, continue to have sex as normal. The performance of Enfantil is enhanced by sex hormones, so when you have taken a tablet, try to have sex within the next two hours.”
"Umm," Martha’s face was red. "What kind—"
The consultant brushed her embarrassment aside. “Any kind at all. Intercourse, oral, a—”
"I think we get the picture," interrupted John, blushing furiously. "What else?"
"We also find that alcohol enhances the effects of Enfantil on the system. So assuming it is safe, why not have a few drinks before sex?” The consultant gave a chuckle while Martha shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
"One last thing. Diet is very important. Our researchers discovered that spicy foods are particularly beneficial."
John folded his arms. “You mean, like curry?”
"Exactly. So all you need to remember are the four steps: tablet, alcohol, curry, sex." The consultant ticked them off on his fingers as he spoke. "Then in no time at all you’ll find that you’re having a baby."
John was grinning. “I think we can manage that.”
“Good.” The consultant shook hands with them both. “The nurse will give you your prescription.”
The nurse handed Martha a stack of slim boxes printed with the word Enfantil next to a logo of a cat batting a butterfly. “According to your requirements, the hearts should be the right match for you.” She smiled at them. “Good luck.”
“What’s the success rate?” Martha asked anxiously, glad to talk to another woman rather than the imperious consultant.
“!00%. We’ve never had a complaint.”
“This is pretty exciting,” said Martha to John in the elevator.
“I’ll say.” He held the door for her. “I booked the afternoon off for this appointment, so why don’t we go to the pub? There’s a 2-for-1 deal on curry.”
He didn’t mention the football highlights. But Martha knew. Normally she frowned on such things but today was different. Today was the beginning of something new.
She took the first box of Enfantil from her handbag. “Look, John,” she said, balancing the pill on her finger. “It’s shaped like a heart.”
As she popped it in her mouth her own heart beat faster.
Read next: Labour of Love