Today is the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision, which made abortion legal in all 50 states. My sister marches today with her Ave Maria University friends in the March for Life in Washington DC. By the grace of God, my brother was born on this day 15 years after the decision. Though it haunts him that he was allowed to live when tens of millions never were, our family is grateful for his life. We remind him annually that he is a testament to the beauty and the sacredness of human life. What follows is my own experience with a crisis pregnancy.
My first experience in the pro-life movement was entering an essay contest in elementary school. The topic was “Why I am Pro-Life,” and I had to go home and ask my mom what that meant. I knew about the birds and the bees. I did NOT know that our country sanctioned the killing of innocent babies every year. When I learned the truth, I was horrified. As I got older, I began attending the Pro-Life rally each year at the Capitol in Austin, and getting my local Junior Catholic Daughters court involved in the Life Chain events in Houston. I attended the Human Life International conference when it came to Houston in 1998, and met pro-life hero Joan Andrews Bell (and got her autograph!) I was passionately Pro-Life, and couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever kill their child. When you’re 12, naive, and have no idea of the harsh realities of single parenting, teenage pregnancy, financial woes, or an abusive partner, you literally cannot fathom how a woman could feel so hopeless. I prayed for abortionists, and I prayed for the moms of babies that felt they had no choice but to abort their children. I studied Church teaching about sex and contraception, and vowed to not lose my virginity until my wedding night. As my good friend went through her high school years and started seeing girls around her become sexually active, I steeled my will to save myself for my future husband. I believed very strongly in the beauty of God’s plan for marriage, and that “The temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (1 Corinthians 3:17) I began praying for my future spouse, whomever he might be, that he would feel God’s grace in his life and be safe and grow in God’s love. I made a list of qualities I wanted in a husband, and decided I wouldn’t date anyone who didn’t meet the basic requirements: he had to be Catholic, pro-life, and be opposed to artificial birth control. I didn’t want to waste my time with anyone who didn’t have these characteristics.
Then, I started college. In my late teen years, I had gained a lot of weight. I was about 180 pounds in college, and I hated my body. I was also mad at God for some things, and decided that those loving commandments of His were more like suggestions. I was ugly and fat. I was completely intimidated by all the girls around me. I thought about the list I’d made as a 12 year old. What were the odds I’d find a Catholic, pro-life, contraception-rejecting guy who would ALSO love a fat girl? Not very good, I decided. I was insecure and weak, and thinking far more about my temporal than my eternal happiness. So when this guy started paying attention to me, I was over the moon. He was quiet and shy, but he liked my outgoing personality and I could make him laugh. We became friends. He was several years older than me, but that was ok because boys my age were immature anyway. He was pro-choice and saw nothing wrong with birth control, and he was an agnostic. It was ok, though, because we weren’t dating, we were just friends. Gradually, our friendship became more, and he asked me to be his girlfriend.
There were so many red flags, and though I knew some things weren’t good, I also knew that a boy was actually interested in me, so it was easier to look the other way. “This is just a trial relationship,” I told myself. “It’s not like you’re going to marry this guy.” Our relationship turned physical very quickly. Because I had such low self-esteem, I was willing to go further than I’d ever thought I would. Within weeks, I was crossing lines that in my heart I knew I shouldn’t be crossing. He decided to transfer to a college in another city, and that meant he would be leaving me behind. I knew he’d been in several relationships before, and that I was just another girlfriend. Though I’d told him I loved him, he hadn’t reciprocated. I didn’t want this relationship to end, not now, not when he hadn’t realized that he couldn’t live without me. I knew he would find someone else once he moved, and I was determined not to let that happen. I was so fat; who else would ever pay attention to me? So shortly after my 20th birthday, I began having sex with my boyfriend so that he wouldn’t break up with me.
And then…I took a pregnancy test. In the moments I waited for the results, I was the most petrified I’ve ever been. Sixty agonzing seconds later, those lines were blazing clear. I was pregnant. My world stopped in that moment as I stared at that stick with two lines. And in that shocked stillness, I heard a voice. “You know, you’re moving next semester to go to a school four hours away from everyone…no one would have to know. You don’t even need to tell your parents.” WHAT was I thinking? I can’t do that! “Sure you can,” the voice said. “No one has to know. Look at how many people would be so disappointed in you! You can have your boyfriend meet you up there one weekend, he can stay a few days to take care of you, and your life will go back to normal. No one ever has to know.” I thought about this. The voice was right, I reasoned. No one would need to know. Then, almost as suddenly, I heard another voice. “You are going to be a mom! You are going to hold a baby that is your very own! This will be your precious, beautiful child! This child whom God has made will call you ‘Mom’.” I knew that voice. It was my Guardian Angel, whom I hadn’t heard in a long time. And I knew my angel was right. I knew that the decision about “my body, my choice” was made the day the baby was conceived. And as quickly as the thought of abortion had entered my mind, I banished it indignantly and begged God not to let me think that way again. It was my first heartfelt prayer in a long time.
I was petrified to tell my parents. As NFP-practicing Catholics, I knew they’d be justifiably horrified and terribly angry. I was certain they’d kick me out of the house. I started wondering which of my friends’ parents might be willing to shelter me, and started formulating an escape plan in my mind before I dropped the bombshell. It was three days before Christmas when I told my parents that they would soon be grandparents. And their reaction? Shock, of course. But then, love. SO MUCH LOVE. Empathy, compassion, resolve, and LOVE. They just sat and cried with me. To this day, I cannot believe how much I underestimated their faith and love in Christ. They helped me through the next several months. They supported me when I said I was marrying my boyfriend. They loved me through every doctor visit, every ultrasound, every pregnancy craving, every contraction, every post-partum ache, every late-night feeding session. They were in the delivery room when our baby arrived. They helped me plan her Baptism. THEIR WITNESS, THEIR LOVE, THEIR GENEROUS SACRIFICES solidified my decision and affirmed my choice for life. I thank God every day for that.
Today, on a day where we face the realization that one third of her classmates were never granted the gift of a birthday, that sweet little baby is a thriving 8 year old. She is a thoughtful, curious, and sensitive child. She is smart, excelling in school and participating in academic competitions. She is a loving big sister to her younger siblings. She is kind. Her sense of empathy and compassion is well beyond her years. She loves to read, to crochet, and to help us cook. She is silly and sarcastic, witty and charming. She has a sparkle in her eye and is the apple of mine.
I am still married to her daddy, and he is now our Superman. Seeing her on the ultrasound started to weaken his pro-choice stance. After seeing all four of our kids on that monitor, he could no longer deny the humanity of a fetus. He is pro-life. After many long years of sacrificing and praying for him (I offered the pain of childbirth four times for his conversion!) he has come Home to the Catholic Church. Our life and our marriage isn’t perfect, but we are doing our best to help each other and our children on the path to Heaven.
My decision to spare Elizabeth’s life was unequivocally the best choice of my own life. I pray for all mothers who might be in situations similar to mine. I pray for the fathers, too, who might be confused or angry or indifferent. I pray for the friends and family of those who find themselves facing a crisis pregnancy, that they may love and support the mother, and find ways to be helpful to her when she needs it most. Most of all, I pray for the women who feel they have no other choice. May they feel the abundant love of God through the love of their neighbor.
May each of us be their neighbor.