I went to clothe the naked, but ended up counseling the doubtful. Stripping away layers of pain and doubt didn’t really have much in common with providing clothing, other than the dignity given from putting one on and taking the other off.
I was at the Women’s Help Center to pass out baby clothes and diapers to mothers in need. It wasn’t much different than the last time I volunteered — women tell us what size clothes they want for their infants and we put together a bag of outfits, diapers, and wipes that will hopefully sustain them until their situation improves.
One woman, whom I will call Mary, came in looking for more than baby clothes– she needed a pregnancy test. I tried to act as nonchalant as I could, but inside I was freaking out. Pregnancy tests to me are synonymous with freaking out. If you are pregnant, you freak. If you are not, you freak. You may be happy or sad depending on the results — but either way, it’s a big deal. After all, the potential for new life exists, and even when unplanned, it’s ever precious.
She returned from the bathroom with her cup of urine (you ladies know the drill), and I inserted the pregnancy stick inside trying not to obsess on freaking out. It was a little awkward sitting across from someone whom I just met, with a cup of urine on the side table like we were just two girlfriends at Starbucks for an afternoon latte.
She said she was a little nervous. Feigning calmness, I asked why, and listened as she told me how she couldn’t afford to have a baby right now. Clearly she hoped she wasn’t pregnant. As I listened, I watched the pink line on her test magically appear affirmative, striking through her concerns as unapologetically as a teacher crosses out grammar infractions with red ink.
I told her that the test was positive. “I guess that means I am pregnant, right?” she asked. Not being sure if it was rhetorical or not, I gently said yes. I offered her tissue, but she wasn’t crying – at least not yet.
The mission of the Women’s Help Center is to encourage women to have their babies – to choose life. It was up to me to assess what was in this woman’s heart, even if perhaps she wasn’t sure herself.
As she spoke, her suffering was revealed in layers of heartache caused by multiple abortions, failed relationships and daily struggles of parenting and poverty. Her pain was palpable and her words flowed continuously like a fountain of regret. She had so much to say that it seemed as if she had been in solitary confinement for years – her wounds finally exposed to light and air.
Mary told me how her mom made her have an abortion the first time. She didn’t want to; she didn’t believe in them. However, Mary’s mother gave the ultimatum that is more typical of a scorned lover than a gentle parent – it’s me or him. She would have nothing to do with Mary if she had her baby.
Her mother, while referring to the baby’s father, asked Mary, “Who do you think is going to be there for you in the end, me or some guy?”
Now, normally I would agree that when betting between a mother and a boyfriend, the odds will always favor the mother. However, Mary’s mother was telling her to abort her unborn child or else get out of her Mama’s life. It’s a losing bet and Mary took it.
Perhaps the Bible should have a modern-day addendum with a parable about a prodigal mother since it’s not just wayward sons who abandon their fathers. How heartbroken God must be to see mothers threaten to shun their daughters over life He created.
So, that was her first abortion. I didn’t ask her how many others there were because I didn’t want to seem judgmental. She did say at one point “all my other abortions…” So I knew there were others, and that made the inconceivable seem even more so.
The abortion Mary seemed to really want to talk about was her last one which was in the spring. This time there were tears, lots of tears. She called it the worst experience of her life. She was supposed to be sedated, and apparently either was not, or it was ineffective — because she felt everything. Mary said everything several times like she was in shock from what it entailed. It was obvious that the experience had been traumatic, and for whatever reason she couldn’t escape into the oblivion of numbness that sedation had afforded during previous abortions.
Mary told me that it felt like a turning crank inside her womb. She was screaming from the pain, and the abortion provider told her she needed to calm down so she didn’t scare the other patients. She wanted them to stop, but didn’t think she could ask them to because she had already signed the forms. Really, life aborted and the indelible ache in this woman’s heart all comes down to honoring a contract?
I tried to bring her back to the present; I needed to focus her on keeping this baby. As obviously pained as she was, and as much as my own heart ached for her and her unborn children, I knew I couldn’t change her past. Choices had been made and fates decided, but still there was this baby. He could know life.
Focusing on the present, Mary talked about her husband. It was obvious that she loved him, and she told me how they grew up together. In high school, he even told her he loved her, but regrettably she thought he was joking.
He wasn’t, and she lamented all the time they wasted and all the pain they would have avoided had she realized his feelings sooner. They are married now, and have a young child.
It was because of her son that she said she suspected she was pregnant. Mary said all of a sudden he had started kissing her belly. “He never did that before…all the time now he just comes up to me and kisses my belly! I knew. I just knew.”
I gushed at her sweet story and how happy I was for her and her husband – they were finally together, they had a precious son and now he would have a sibling. At last, she was smiling.
Mary did want to have her baby, but she just didn’t see how they could afford another one. I had to get her past this, and that was going to be tricky.
You see, in my world when people say they cannot afford any more children what they often mean is annual visits to the Magic Kingdom, pricey dance lessons and dining out would be jeopardized with a new addition.
I get that these things are important to us, and know that everything is relative, but Mary makes less than $10,000 a year. She isn’t worried about seeing Mickey Mouse; she worries about feeding her son, getting to work without transportation, and finding reliable child care.
Currently she is employed full-time. Her husband works at a fast-food restaurant and has had trouble finding a better job because of a misdemeanor charge. He would work more often than he does, however finding childcare is a huge issue for them.
Naively, I asked Mary if her mom would help with that, but shockingly babies aren’t her thing.
I told her I would find out what resources are available to ease the hardship of child care. Her problem, I assured her, was solvable. I tried with everything in my being to explain to her this moment she is in will pass. Her suffering, while real, is just a temporary adversity. I assured her it wouldn’t last forever.
“But it has already lasted so long,” she pleaded. Again, I reassured her of all the blessings in her life – her husband, child and now this baby whom her son instinctively knows. I knew she could do this and encouraged her as such.
I took Mary’s phone number and promised to call her the following week to let her know what I found out about childcare. We hugged goodbye, and since the Center was now closed, I went straight to church to pray for her.
I was so overcome by her pain and the struggles she faces. I badly needed to pray for her healing. Most of all, I prayed that the life in her womb would come to fruition. Please God, please let this work out.
It was kind of a stupid prayer when you think about it. Nobody wants her to choose life more than He does. Still, I figured God understood what I meant.
After speaking to the Director of the Women’s Help Center, I called Mary as promised. I was nervous and wondered if she gave me a fake name or number, or both. My own doubt rushed over me as I questioned whether she would abort this baby too.
Her husband answered. She wasn’t home. I didn’t want to divulge how I met her or what I was calling about, because I couldn’t be certain what she had told him. So I simply said I would call back.
When we finally spoke, Mary seemed genuinely happy to hear from me. We talked for a few minutes and I told her that the Director at the Women’s Help Center was getting together resources for her, and she needed to go see her. I told her to take her husband and they could get a free ultrasound and see their new baby. She seemed excited about that and hopeful about finding help.
She did get her ultrasound and the Director gave her the list of resources she was desperate for. Mary thanked me for my help, and I felt the gratitude in her heart swell into mine. Through the grace of God, I had given her hope, and through her womb she embodied it.
Corinthians 13:13 says “As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of them is love.” No doubt love is the greatest—especially the purity of God’s love. Still, hope isn’t too shabby, especially when giving it to someone else has filled your own heart with the same.