Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me …?
Why bastard? Wherefore base?
—Edmund the Bastard
King Lear, act 1, scene 2
When Paula Marckx discovered she was pregnant at the age of forty-seven, she blessed her luck. A single journalist in Antwerp, Paula joked that her pregnancy might have something to do with her recent visit to a pagan fertility shrine in Greece, but then again the boyfriend with whom she'd visited Corinth wasn't the father. The source of her luck didn't matter to Paula. She knew instantly that she would keep the baby and have nothing to do with the father. She would be a mother.
Or so she thought.
Baby Alexandra was born without mishap on October 16, 1973. A few weeks later, Belgium sent Paula a letter explaining Alexandra's legal status as a child born out of wedlock. The more Paula read the letter, the angrier she got. She was no mother at all, it seemed.
Under Belgian law, an illegitimate baby was not legally recognized as its mother's without a judicial declaration. In earlier times, that had been the rule in France and most of Europe, under the Napoleonic Code. Hence the popular limerick:
A handsome young bastard named Ray
Was conceived on the Rue de la Paix.
According to law,
He can name you his maw,
But as for his pa, je ne sais.