No Choice



Valerie Byron  


© Copyright 2019 by Valerie Byron   

Photo of a pregnant girl.

NO CHOICE is my true story, although the names have been changed.  Back in the late 1950's and early 1960's in England, black men were an unusual sight in post war Britain.  Certainly, "good" white girls did not venture into the seedier parts of town, nor did they enter nightclubs intended for those of another race.  Abortion was illegal in those days, and to have a child out of wedlock was considered the biggest disgrace for any family.  To have a mixed-race child that was blind or deaf, was unthinkable.  This story might offend today, but in those days, there really was "No Choice".

September 1, 1960 – Manchester, England

Seventeen year-old Kitty Matthews opened the door to the flat she shared with her mother. Hanging her rain-soaked jacket on the coat rack she sang out, "Mum, are you home?"

"Yes, dear, I'm in the kitchen. I'm making your supper right now. Are you hungry?"

"No, not really," Kitty responded. "I'm just going to change and then I'll sit with you."

Closing her bedroom door, Kitty sat on the double bed. With a deep sigh, she ran her hands through her hair. She pulled open the drawer in her bedside table and started to leaf through the diary she had been keeping for years. After counting slowly, she sighed again. There was no doubt about it. She was almost four months pregnant.

"Kitty, are you coming?" called her mother from the other room.

"Yes, Mum," she replied wearily. "I'm coming."

That evening, Kitty retired early. The morning sickness had started a few days ago, and was now affecting her at night. She peered at her face in the dressing table mirror, surprised to see some faint red spots appearing. Before pulling on her nightgown, she inspected her slightly swollen stomach. There seemed to be a similar rash that hadn't been there before.

Kitty climbed into bed, pulling a thick comforter around her, and reached for her diary. Everything was recorded there – all of it. She began to read . . .


April 28, 1960

Girls' night out! Pauline drove Wendy and me to Moss Side tonight. It's such a slummy area. Mum would be horrified if she knew I'd been there. The three of us went into a dark and smoke-filled club. Oh Diary – I'm embarrassed to tell you - it was filled with black men and we were the only white girls there. I've never been around Negros, but Pauline seems really attracted to them. The music was calypso - never heard of it before. All the men checked us out and you know what? I felt a rush of something sweep over me - not certain what it was though. Fear? Excitement? Dread? I couldn't tell you, but it was a little intoxicating. Pauline seemed very familiar with the place – I wonder how she knew about it? She's never mentioned it. Gosh, how on earth could a girl from such a strict Catholic background have found a dive like this?

May 5, 1960

Pauline and I went back to the club yesterday. It was just the two of us this time. She introduced me to Louis, a very good looking half-caste chap. He seemed quite interested in me, although he didn’t say much. I drank while Pauline danced, and although I still felt uncomfortable, it was quite exhilarating to be a white girl among black men. Everyone looked at the two of us; I felt incredibly desirable and unattainable, which was enough to make me laugh and flirt outrageously.

I'd knocked back a few Cherry "B's" on our way over. I hate drinking, but those cordials are sweet, and give me courage. I'm always a little nervous when I go out on the town with Pauline. I never know what will happen next. Tonight she disappeared with her new “boyfriend” Roland, who is a sweet, chubby black man. Oh, if only her mother knew! She would have a heart attack – and her dad would kill her!

Anyway, after standing alone for a few minutes, Louis appeared out of nowhere. He said nothing, just pulled me into a private room off the dance floor. It was small and dark, furnished only with a bed. In a panic, I tried to pull away. He was strong and held my arms tightly. Dizzy from the drinks, I tripped backwards onto the bed. Before I knew what was happening, he had pulled up my skirt and was lying on top of me.

The deafening music outside muffled my screams. I tried to push him off, but it was useless. Kicking at him, I twisted and turned, but his weight held me down. He placed his filthy hand over my mouth and quickly did that nasty thing to me. Then, as if nothing had happened, he got up and walked out of the room. Sobbing, I re-arranged my clothing and stumbled back into the club, looking for Pauline.

"We need to go home right now," I shouted over the loud music. She looked at me strangely but picked up her bag and found her car keys...

In the darkness of the car, I couldn't tell her what had happened. I was too embarrassed. She probably didn't notice my mascara had run down my cheeks. She chattered on about Roland, not noticing my silence, or that my body shook. Diary, I am never, ever going out with Pauline again. Those clubs are dirty and nasty, and I feel soiled and used.

July 4, 1960

Today is my birthday, but I feel sick. I haven’t had my period in two months, and I am deathly afraid. I know I should tell Mum, but I'm terrified of how she will react. I've been banging at my stomach all the time and even tried to abort "it" by douching with vinegar. I jump up and down and even run into things, hoping I can dislodge it. Nothing works. I don't know what to do. We have no money to feed another mouth, and I know our doctor won't help me. Oh, what can I do? There's no-one I can tell. Everyone will be angry with me for letting this happen. Why don't they allow abortions in England? It's just not fair.

August 7, 1960

I passed out in the High Street today. Was going to the shops and just passed out in front of the bakery. I've never fainted before, although I almost did the other day when I was taking the train to work. It's a very strange feeling. I just can't think about this any more. Maybe it will go away if I don't dwell on it . . .


September 2, 1960

Kitty woke up at 7:30 the following morning and reluctantly dragged herself out of her warm cozy bed. Shivering, she pulled on her dressing gown and made her way to the unheated bathroom. Blearily looking in the mirror, she did a double take. Her face was covered with red, angry spots. For once, thoughts of her growing pregnancy did not take precedence.

"Mum," she called out in a panic. "Mum, what's wrong with me?"

Her mother entered the bathroom and stood next to Kitty in front of the mirror.

"Here, turn around. Let me have a look," she demanded. "Looks like a rash to me. I'll ring Dr. Swan and have him pop by later this afternoon. No work for you today, my girl."

Kitty clambered gratefully back into bed, falling into an uneasy and dreamless sleep.

At four o’clock, Dr Swan rang the doorbell.

"Hello, Margaret. What's going on? Is Kitty not feeling well?"

The portly middle-aged doctor strode into the living room and sat down with a sigh on the upholstered sofa.

"Come on over here, Kitty. Let's take a look at you."

Hearing his friendly northern accent, Kitty relaxed a little and sat down next to the family doctor. Taking out his stethoscope, he warmed it for a few seconds between his hands. Placing it on her chest, and then her back, he listened to her heartbeat. Looking thoughtful, he nodded at Kitty's mother, indicating she should leave the room, at which she bustled back into the kitchen.

Dr. Swan completed his examination and leaned back, taking off his glasses. After a few moments, he took out his pipe and started filling it with tobacco from a pouch he kept in his breast pocket.

"Is there anything you want to tell me, love?" he asked kindly, tamping away at the pipe bowl.

Kitty hesitated for a moment, and then burst into tears.

"I'm so ashamed," she sobbed. "It wasn’t my fault."

"Now, now," the old doctor crooned. "Don’t fret yourself. Tell me all about it."

Twenty minutes later, Dr. Swan called Kitty's mother back into the room.

"Now, Margaret," he started, "I have some bad news. I want you to take a deep breath, and hear what your Kitty has got to tell you."

Turning to the white-faced girl, he nudged her, "Go on then, she won't bite."

Haltingly, Kitty told her tale, leaving out nothing. Her mother's face grew paler by the moment, and her hands started to tremble.

"Doctor, what can we do?" she murmured. "Abortion is illegal in Britain. Even for rape, which this obviously was. And I haven't the money to pay for a private doctor. Oh dear me. How on earth shall we handle this?

Dr. Swan stood up. "Margaret. There's something else. Kitty definitely has German Measles."

Margaret stared at him. "I don't understand, Doctor. What does that mean?"

"It means that if Kitty has the baby, it will not only be half black, but it will probably be retarded, or have a major disability, such as deafness or blindness."

There was a silence for a moment, followed by a keening scream. Kitty pulled herself into a tight ball, convulsing with heaving sobs.

"Now, Kitty." Dr. Swan patted the girl gently. "Get her a cup of tea, Margaret. We'll work this out somehow."

"Kitty, you do have some choices," he added. "You can have the baby and put it up for adoption. Or you can keep it; although that's probably not something you want to do. Try and remain calm. I'm afraid I cannot recommend a termination, even though you were . . . " He coughed. "They'd have my license if I referred you to anyone. I'm sorry. I wish I could do more."

Dr. Swan picked up his medical bag and prepared to leave. "Please stay home for a week until the measles have passed. I'll check on you in a few days."

Margaret closed the door behind him and turned back into the living room. Tears filled her pale blue eyes, and her voice quavered. "Never you mind, darling," she assured Kitty fiercely. "Mummy will find a way."


Ten days later the spots had disappeared, and Kitty was given a clean bill of health. The tension at home was palpable, with Margaret breaking down in tears every time she looked at Kitty's swelling stomach.

"Who was it, darling?" she begged. "Tell me his name. I'll have the police over there in a flash. It wasn't your fault, I know it wasn't. Just tell me the name of the place and we'll have him arrested."

"Mum, I can't," Kitty protested. I don't remember where the place was or even the name of it. And I can't ask Pauline."

Margaret looked away for a moment, silent tears coursing down her face. "What are we going to do?" she muttered. What will people think? I've phoned a few friends, but no-one wants to get involved in something like this. Oh, Kitty, it's such a disgrace. I don't think I've the strength to tackle it, to tell you the truth."

"I know, Mum. I know. All I do is dream every night about having a black baby with no face, or eyes that never open. I see everyone pointing their fingers at me. I just can't stop the dreams, and I can't stop this!" Kitty punched at her stomach with her fists until her mother took hold of her hands. "We'll manage, love. We'll find a way."

Kitty nodded, and made her way back to her room. Picking up the phone, she made a quick decision. Dialing fast, before she could change her mind, she made the call she had been dreading all day.

"Hello, is Pauline there? Hi, Mrs. White. It's Kitty. Yes, I'm fine. I know it's been a long time. . Listen, could I speak to Pauline? Thanks."


Three days later Pauline and Kitty were speeding through Manchester in Pauline's small compact car.

"Are you certain it's safe?" asked Kitty, twisting her handkerchief between her fingers. "How do you know about this chap? I mean, you're Catholic. They don't believe in abortions, do they?

"Roland told me where to go," Pauline answered. "He knows all about this kind of thing. I had to ask him for you. I feel sort of responsible. Oh, Kitty, I wish you'd told me about this before. You've waited so long. It's dangerous now, you know. How far along are you, anyway? Four months."

"Four and a half." Kitty looked away from her friend, and stared blindly out of the window. Her fingers involuntarily touched her mid-section and she trembled.

Twenty minutes later they were in the slums of Manchester. Derelict houses, older blocks of flats and abandoned storefronts stood sadly at the edge of Moss Lane, a rundown street with a bad reputation.

"We're here," announced Pauline, slamming the driver's door shut. "Come on, let's get it over with."

Taking Kitty's arm, Pauline strode towards the door of the house and knocked loudly. A large black woman, dressed in an apron opened the door. She peered at the two girls suspiciously.

"Yes, can I help you?"

"We're here to see Dr. Culpepper," Pauline announced, pulling Kitty towards the woman.

"Oh, right. Well come on then, follow me."

After a short wait in the filthy front parlor, a thin Jamaican man, with dreadlocks down to his shoulders, entered the room.

"Which one of you needs the work done?" he asked in a sing-song voice. "Come on then, which one?"

Kitty stood up. "It's me."

"All right then. Follow me. You wait here." The man motioned Pauline to sit, and proceeded to leave the room with Kitty in his wake. She gave a backward glance at Pauline, who gave her a reassuring smile.


An hour later, Kitty walked slowly into the parlor, followed by the "doctor". "Here," he ordered, handing a few white pills to Pauline. "Make sure she takes these every few hours. I did all I could. She was too far gone for me to do much. She shouldn't have waited so long. All I could do was induce labor. If she starts bleeding, take her to a hospital. And remember, you don't know me. You were never here."

Handing him a wad of cash, Pauline took the pills and helped Kitty back to the car. They drove home in silence, each girl caught up in her own thoughts. Kitty lay back against the car seat, trying to deal with the onset of cramping pains.

After Pauline dropped her off, with promises to call, Kitty made her way up the stairs to their upper floor flat. Grateful that her mother was not home, she fell into bed after hastily swallowing the pills the Jamaican had given her.

She tossed and turned for several hours, until the pain became so bad that she stumbled out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet, feeling the blood gush from her womb. Moments later she felt a roiling cramp and, with a huge painful push, out it came, followed by more blood. The flow seemed never-ending. Panicked, she wadded toilet paper between her legs and stood up, looking in horror at the large, livery looking blob on the floor. She wrapped the bloody fetus in toilet paper and dropped it in the toilet. Faint from the loss of blood, Kitty collapsed on the bathroom floor, which is where her mother found her two hours later.


Over the next two weeks, Margaret sat at her daughter's side. Kitty had been rushed to Manchester Royal Infirmary by ambulance on the brink of death. As Margaret gazed at her child's pale face, she prayed that Kitty would recover. She had lost a great deal of blood and had developed septicemia from the unsterile instruments used by the abortionist. Kitty's lips were dry and cracked, stained with blood.

"I'm so sorry, darling," Margaret whispered, smoothing an ice chip on Kitty's lips. "I wish you hadn't done it. We could have worked something out."

Kitty opened her tear-filled eyes. "Mum," she croaked, "I'm sorry too. I just couldn't bear the thought of what people would say. I didn't know how we would cope . . . such a disgrace. And how would we have looked after it? It was impossible. If I could just have had an abortion when I first found out. . . "

Kitty closed her eyes and there was silence. Moments later, a white-coated physician entered the room.

"Good afternoon, I am Dr. Sawyer. How are we feeling today?"

Kitty did not respond.

"Oh, doctor, I'm so worried," cried Margaret. "I've been coming by bus to see my Kitty every day, and she looks terrible. Is she going to be all right?"

The doctor sat down next to the bed and took Kitty's hand, feeling her pulse.

"Kitty is recovering. We have her on antibiotics and she's responding. Blood poisoning is very dangerous, but we caught it just in time. I have to give you some bad news, though." The doctor looked uncomfortable and stood up.

"We did all we could for Kitty, but the infection was so bad that it has destroyed parts of her reproductive system. I'm really sorry to tell you this, but she may not be able to conceive in the future. If she had come to the hospital when this rape first occurred – well, we might have been able to do something. I suppose you didn't know that she could have had psychiatric approval for a termination, especially in these circumstances. I'm so sorry, Kitty."

The doctor stood for a moment, and then left the room. Margaret, clutching her handkerchief, gazed sightlessly at the wall. Kitty's eyes fluttered, but remained closed.

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