I sat in the hot car smelling old French fries. There were always some under the seat where the kids spilled them, but the kids were gone now. I didn’t know where. I looked through the grimy windshield at the building in front of me and read the words on the door over and over again: Planned Parenthood.
Sweat was running down the back of my neck, but I didn’t turn on the air conditioner. I wanted to feel the heat. I wanted the distraction from the pain. My hand strayed to my stomach. I was more than two months pregnant. Still time to kill the baby. And killing was what it was. No one could tell me otherwise. I’d had two children. I’d lost two others. I knew what it was like to feel a child grow inside of me. The little twitches of life, the turning of an elbow or a knee as it rolled across my stomach, the flutter of faint hiccups.
I watched as a young girl and her friend hurried from their car to the building. They slipped inside, with the door banging behind them; I wondered which of them was pregnant. I looked in the mirror. I was 33. Hardly a teenager. I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror. I saw only shame.
I wanted to get out of the car, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that hospital in Florida six years before. I’d been rushed to the emergency room. I was bleeding and they were rolling me into the ultrasound room to be examined. The room was freezing, and I couldn’t stop shaking. The technician spread jelly across my stomach and turned on the machine. I expected to see my baby dead, his heartbeat silent, his body still. I’d seen that before, and I braced for it. But God had other plans.
My son was alive and well, his little feet moving. His heartbeat was steady. I stared at him, thankful to be able to peer into his world, to see him safe and sound inside of me. I never felt love like I felt at that moment. A mother’s love. So pure. So natural. His features were undeveloped. His fingers fragile, his toes so tiny. But he was my son, and I knew he would grow up to bring happiness to this world. The ache I felt at that moment was one of expectation, longing, and inexpressible joy.
Very different from the ache I felt as I sat in the hot car outside of Planned Parenthood. I felt no joy, no longing, no hope. Only despair and a desperate desire to fix what I’d broken and to get my life back.
I’d separated from my husband. A selfish choice. Oh, I could tell you a thousand reasons—many of them understandable, maybe even justified, but it doesn’t matter. The bottom line was I’d separated and began a new life, one with another man. It wasn’t long before I knew I couldn’t live with that choice. My two children meant too much to me. Children are supposed to live in a stable home where they grow in the confidence and assurance of both their parents’ love. I couldn’t live with the sadness I saw in them since the separation, during those weeks they stayed with me before returning to visit their father. Their confusion and their fear were burdens I didn’t want them to bear any longer. So I decided to reconcile.
There was also my church. I had left it too—another broken part of my life I needed to fix. I had been publicly excommunicated, shunned. Church members weren’t allowed to eat with me. When I saw them in town, they turned the other way. They saw me as an untouchable, no longer a Christian, no longer a mother. Unforgiven. Cast out.
I deserved it. I believed that.
I’d received several letters from leaders in the church that my divorce meant I was no longer a mother to my children. If I broke the covenant of marriage, I wasn’t allowed to enjoy the privileges of the covenant—being a mother. In other words, if I left my husband, I had to leave my children as well. I was no longer a mother in the eyes of the church or of God.
I had received a letter just that week from an elder’s wife, telling me “to do the honorable thing and stay completely separate from your children until by God’s grace you repent and live by faith in obedience to God.” My husband had also written to me that I was to “sever all communication and contact with the children: no visits, no phone calls, no emails, and no letters….You are no longer the mother of these children.”
I read those letters many times, and I knew what I had to do — not just because of the threats but because I loved my children. I wanted them happy again. At peace.
I’ll never forget the day I returned. I went to the elders and begged for forgiveness. I wanted to tell them reasons I’d left, neglect in my marriage — surely some of them would understand —but I didn’t. I kept quiet. I knew what I had to do and I was willing to do it. I was willing to make everything right again.
We sat in a dimly lit classroom at the church. Six men and me. A tribunal of sorts. Bibles open before us. The anger in the room was palpable. So was the grief. The fluorescent lights overhead blinked, and it was raining outside. Streams poured down the windows in thick curvy lines, and thunder echoed through the mountains. The men listened to me and said they would give me the help I needed to fix my marriage, to make my family whole again—if I complied with their admonitions and requirements. I would be a mother again under the authority of my husband and the church.
I went back to my apartment to gather my things, but that night I found out I was pregnant. I had worried about it and put off the test, but I couldn’t live in denial forever. I sat in the bathroom on the floor, my knees pulled up to my chin, and I watched as the red line turned into a cross. My world shattered.
I was at a crossroads. I couldn’t keep my baby and fix my marriage. I couldn’t keep my baby and have my children returned to me. Even then, I didn’t know where they were. They were either with the church people or out of town. I didn’t know. My husband hadn’t told me. He had simply taken them and said I was no longer their mother, that I was dead to them. I wondered if he had told them I’d died. Part of me wished he had.
For two months, I wrestled with what to do. I stayed in my apartment, trying to decide how to face my future, how to fix what was broken. But I knew that some things can’t be fixed. Sometimes we shatter things so badly that all the pieces can’t be put together again no matter how we try. I was going to lose a child somehow. No matter what choice I made, there would be loss—and not just my loss, my children’s loss. They would lose a mother. Everything had changed for them. Nothing would be right or whole. I had created a world by my own choices that brought pain—to everyone. The shame, the isolation, and the guilt were overwhelming. But I deserved it. I deserved the pain, the punishment, the loss. My children didn’t. None of them did.
I considered giving the baby up for adoption, but the father wouldn’t hear of it. He would raise the child. But the church and my husband refused to accept that. I would not be allowed back to raise my two children, to restore my family, as long as I knew where my illegitimate baby was. The only choice was to deliver the baby, and someone (a person from the church or my husband—I didn’t know the details of the plan) would take her from me without me ever seeing her. I would sign over legal rights and they would give her up for adoption. I could do that because according to the law, the father had no legal right to the child since we weren’t married.
But I couldn’t do it. I knew the father would fight it—a battle I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t even know if I could give my baby up for adoption. How could I live with her alive in this world, alone? My child? One day she would grow up and she would wonder why I rejected her. I couldn’t bear to think of it. Maybe if I’d never raised children of my own, I could do it. But I was a mother. I knew what it was like to hold my child at my breast, smell her new baby smells, feel the softness of her skin. I knew what it was like to hear her first words and see the wonder in her eyes when she swam for the first time, or ate her first ice cream, or learned to read her first word.
The tangled web of emotions and consequences was a noose I couldn’t escape. That’s when I thought about abortion. Killing the baby. It would fix everything. How ironic—how twisted—that I couldn’t bear the thought of adoption but I could contemplate death. Yet, in that moment of darkness, I thought it was the best choice. It would be so easy. Millions of women did it every year. My life could go on like it had before. My marriage whole. My children would have their mother again. God would forgive me. The church would accept me back. My family would be together. My children would be happy.
But my baby would be dead.
Could I sacrifice this child on the altar of my selfishness? This beautiful child growing inside of me? A child I was responsible for? A baby I had brought into this world by my own choice to have sex?
The car was like a furnace, and I looked at the door to Planned Parenthood through the haze of heat on the hood. The smell of stale fries brought back memories of my children laughing, of days when everything was good. Maybe not perfect. But good. It could be that way again. Just step out of the car, keep the appointment, lie down on the table, close my eyes, spread my legs, and let them cut out my mistake.
I opened the car door and walked across the parking lot to the entrance. The sky was so blue and birds were singing, but all I heard was my heart beating. All I could see was the blurry haze of the building in front of me. I stepped inside as a bell on the door jingled, and I felt a wave of cold air wash over me. A woman sitting behind the desk looked up.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I glanced around the room. The girls who had entered earlier were sitting off to the side. One was flipping through a magazine. The other looked up at me. Her eyes were filled with tears. We looked at each other—a shared moment of guilt, of compassion, of pain—and then she turned away. I couldn’t move.
“Miss, can I help you?” the woman at the desk repeated.
I shook my head. “No. I’m sorry. No, you can’t.”
I left and ran to the car. I can still hear the bell on the door ringing. I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill my child on account of my own miserable mistakes. I didn’t know what I was going to do—I didn’t know what I had the strength to do—but I had to accept the consequences of my choices. I couldn’t end a life to make my life easier or better.
I had to face my pain. Grief is the result of wrong choices. Suffering is the consequence of sin. If we’re willing to sin, we need to be willing to accept the suffering that comes with it. To run from it, to do even worse things to avoid it—piling one wrong upon another—is no answer. It only causes more pain, more suffering—maybe not for you, but certainly for the child you’ve killed.
I didn’t kill my daughter. I’m ashamed that I wanted to—even for a moment. In the end, though, I couldn’t do it. Her blood would not be spilled to make my life easier, no matter how right my motivations might have been when it came to my family.
Choosing life changed my world forever. It was never the same, and it has been difficult as I’ve struggled to navigate the waters of a broken life. Women who abort their children do it because they say they want a better life. But it’s not a better life they want—it’s an easier one. It’s a life without outward struggle, without the consequences of choices already made. It is easier. But it’s not better. It’s never better. Death is never better.
If I had chosen to abort my baby, I would have chosen death. Blood spilled to wash away my sins. Another’s life taken so I could have mine, so I could be free of the consequences of my choice to have sex. But the blood of a child can never fix what is broken. That sacrifice is a lie.
The only blood that can bring life has already been spilled. That red line has already been crossed, and it wasn’t in a dark bathroom as I lay curled on a floor. It wasn’t on a surgical table at Planned Parenthood. It was on a hill far away and long ago. A sacrifice already made. A life already given, so we can live ours—not free of pain—but free of guilt and full of joy.