An Indian in a white lab coat finally paid attention to her. “Ms. Merrill?” “Yeah. That’s me.”
“I am Dr. Singh. I am the resident geneticist with the hospital. I’m here to discuss your child.”
“Is it okay?” Shania asked.
“Yes. Your son is fi – alive. I came to ask you a few questions. Do you have any European ancestry?”
“I don’t think there’s any more than the average African-American.”
“And the child’s biological father. Do you know his genetic history?”
“The biological father is my partner.”
“Ah. Good. We have his genetic history on file. Is there any history of albinism in your family?”
“Any what?” The doctor explained the condition. “No. None of that.” Albinism? Had her partner said it was too pale to be his? Were they accusing her of cheating, or of bad genes? “What’s wrong with the baby?”
“The child was born with unusually fair coloring. We are trying to track down the cause of the problem.”
“What can I tell you that the medical computers can’t?”
“Did you ever have genetic alteration procedures done while you were pregnant?”
Shania felt the room close in. “No. Absolutely not. I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”
Shania would have considered it – if someone else had paid for it. She wouldn’t spend her money on a fancy illegal procedure that might or might not help her kid in the long run.
“Were either of your genetic parents altered?” Was he trying to give her a way out of something she didn’t do?
“Did you have any kind of protein manipulation done in the past nine months – ”
“No. No fancy medical stuff. Just the regular pregnancy visits.” She’d skipped the recommended pre-pregnancy planning visits, to save money for indulgences before getting pregnant. Was that the cause of whatever was wrong with her baby?
“Your hair is brown, as is the child’s. If it is not a genetic alteration, did you dye it?”
“No way! Hair dye can cause birth defects, even before conception. I had a PT treatment.” That had been one of the indulgences. Dr. Singh looked puzzled; he must not watch fashion vids. “PT is for Perfect Tresses. It’s also for protein transmission – the proteins that affect hair color, produced by the body. Well, you can have anti-proteins made. They used anti-proteins that tum my black hair to brown. I could have been blonde, but that required another injection.” And that cost money she didn’t have, even after cutting comers.
The doctor asked quietly. “Did you have this done while you were pregnant?”
“No way! I had it done beforehand.”
“How long is this supposed to last?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Your hair is still coming in brown. The anti-proteins must have been in your bloodstream throughout the pregnancy, and affected your son during his development.”
“It only affects hair color.”
“Was it injected directly into your scalp?”
“Into my arm. I wouldn’t let anybody come near my head with a needle.”
“Where was this done?” Shania rolled up her sleeve. “No.
I meant, where was the procedure done.” Shania rattled off the name of her beautician. The doctor hurried out the door.
Shania settled back into the bed and wondered if she’d ever see her partner again.
Two days later, Dr. Singh came back, wheeling her son in on a bassinet. Her partner was a few steps behind, practically dragged in by an attendant.
The light brown hair and pale skin made her think the baby was white. Was that the only problem? If it was something really bad, he would’ve been put to sleep already. Her son, with his broad nose and pronounced chin, looked a lot like his father. But when the baby boy opened his eyes, they were gold: not brown, not even hazel, but a yellowish gray that might have been blue in anyone else. “How did this happen?”
“The hair coloring treatment you received appears to be a long-lasting anti-sense protein. It is manufactured to exactly
If it was something really bad, the baby would’ve been put to sleep already.
counteract the body’s natural coloring protein so as to produce an intermediate coloring, in your case, brown. The anti-sense protein you received has remained in your system, affecting your hair and affecting your son.”
Shania’s partner looked relieved. It wasn’t his fault. Shania self-consciously ran a hand through her hair. Who would have thought a no-maintenance hair coloring would cause something like this?
“Will he look normal after the stuff wears off?” Shania asked.
“Why not?” her baby’s father asked.
“In adults, the coloring genes are set at conception unless genetically altered. In your son’s case, the anti-sense protein
When the baby boy opened his eyes, they were gold: not brown, not even hazel, but a yellowish gray that might have been blue in anyone else.
turned off his body’s natural coloring genes while he was developing in the uterus. Once a gene is turned off, it is rather difficult to turn on.”
“So give him a coloring gene,” her partner demanded.
“Do the melanin thing they do for white people on vacation,” Shania asked.
“Any treatment would be as temporary as your wife’s hair treatment. It would last 18 months at most. He would require repeated treatments for life.” Dr. Singh realized his transgression. “I’m sorry. Your partner’s hair treatment. Furthermore, it would not affect his eye color. It would not be the permanent solution you are seeking.”
Shania stared at the squirming newborn. Her son. Paler than people she’d made fun of in school for being melanin- challenged. He had her partner’s face. Her son looked nothing like her except for having the same hair. Her hair. Her fault.
“Damn, Shania, didn’t you get any kind of warning that this might happen? Didn’t they have a ‘Don’t use if pregnant or might become pregnant’ warning?”
Shania spat back, “No! They didn’t. And they should’ve, shouldn’t they?” As she stared at the pale baby, a ghost of an idea formed in her mind.
Dr. Singh interjected, “If you are unable to accept the child, we can find an adoptive home rather quickly. Lighter skinned children are easy to place – ”
“No. I’m keeping him.” Her former partner stormed out. “Talk to other doctors about what we can do to make him look more normal, more like me. And a lawyer. We need to talk to a lawyer.”
Dr. Singh nodded vigorously. “Your partner seems determined to abandon you and the child due to the … obvious condition. Would you like to speak to a counselor as well?”
“Just get me a lawyer first.” Her fault. Her son. Her problem to resolve. If he was so strange that he had only his mother, he’d still have his mother’s love. And if she had full custody of the baby, she’d get to control the whole settlement of the lawsuit looming in her mind.
Her baby was starting to look precious indeed.