Choosing Life


shutterstock_16545007I 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. 

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  1. user_432921 Inactive

    Thanks Denise, you are a terrific model of strength.  And your strength encourages folks, like me, who hope to become stronger.
    Jim Beck

    • #91
  2. Yudansha Member


    I have no words… 
    As the son of a single mother who no doubt faced this choice I can see,  in a mirror, darkly; some of what she must have gone through. 

    Thank you very much for sharing this story.

    • #92
  3. user_645127 Lincoln

    EThompson: …My take on DCM’s humble story was this: She was victimized by a group of very scary people who adhere to cult-like behavioral patterns and managed to make life miserable for a quality person.

    My thoughts exactly.

    Very moving story, Denise. And your daughter is beautiful. 

    • #93
  4. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Jennifer–thank you. Today’s her birthday. We watched home movies of her as a baby. I noticed how tightly I held her. A precious treasure. She noticed too. I wish women who find themselves contemplating abortion could imagine the future. The amazing love between a mom and her child.

    It was a pleasure meeting you and your lovely daughter in LA. We are blessed as moms, aren’t we? :) (of course I try to remember that when my daughters are giving me their typical teenage attitudes–my mom assures me that it passes in time.).  :)

    • #94
  5. Coolidge

    You brought tears to my eyes.  I’ve debated many times with myself if I should join Ricochet, and while reading this post and not knowing how it would turn out, I said to myself if she had the abortion I’d probably never come back and if she chose life I’d join immediately.  You restored in me a bit of faith in humanity.  You are a hero.  God bless you, and may that child grow to be the most wonderful part of your life.

    • #95
  6. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Manny—We are happy you are here. Thank you for your kind words.

    • #96
  7. Boomerang Inactive

    I just read the passage below in a devotional, and thought of the church you described, Denise.  Their failing is a common one, Christians who insist on what seems right to them instead of submitting to God’s way:

    A community that cannot bear and cannot survive…disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealized image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community.  Sooner or later it is bound to collapse.  Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive.

    Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.  

    God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves.  They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.


    • #97
  8. Boomerang Inactive

    They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together.  Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure.  When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking to pieces.  So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves.

    — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

    • #98
  9. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Boomerang–thank you. Perfectly said.

    • #99
  10. user_282200 Inactive

    I’ve been away from Ricochet; this is the first post I’ve read in a long while.  Aside from the Olympian bravery girding DC’s willingness to share this stunningly moving narrative, I’m reminded by the comments of the elegance and robust humanity of the Ricochet community.  There is no other place like this.  It is…extraordinary.

    • #100
  11. Stad Coolidge

    D.C. McAllister:

    Here’s my Grace. To think, she might not be with us today if I had done what I thought was best in the moment.

     A beautiful child with wonderful, loving parents . . . (sniff)

    • #101
  12. Stad Coolidge

    D.C. McAllister:

    Mike LaRoche:

    D.C. McAllister:

    Mike LaRoche:

    D.C. McAllister:

    Here’s my Grace. To think, she might not be with us today if I had done what I thought was best in the moment.

    T’Pol: the Next Generation

    She does look a little Vulcan-like, doesn’t she? Definitely smart like a Vulcan.

    Will you teach her the Vulcan death grip? Might come in handy…

    Definitely. Keep those boys away.

     The Vulcan Death Grip is reserved for Dad, when she brings a boy home for the first time to meet her parents.

    • #102
  13. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost

    Denise, as you obviously know, I’m a Lutheran adoptee who’s met his birth mother.

    So I’m sure you’ll understand completely when I say I now have severe tightness in my chest, rapid and shallow breathing, and cold perspiration. It took me a moment to realize what this is: a panic attack.

    Such is the power of naked honesty and the inescapable tension between terror and transcendence. You’re finding it difficult to accept the accolades because you are not writing as self-aggrandizement, but as expiation. All well and good, so long as you do not succumb to one of the most vicious of Satan’s snares: the insistence that this sin is too much; that transgression God will not forgive. So we reject God and His forgiveness while Satan mocks us. Reject instead the Devil and all his ways, beloved Daughter of God, and know that you are treasured in Heaven and also in this, our fallen world.

    • #103
  14. Katelyn Crist Inactive
    Katelyn Crist

    I, too, was faced with this painful decision. I, too, was pregnant after I left my first husband with someone else’s child. I had to swallow so much pride, I practically choked to death. Every day I look at my son, though, I am grateful for a God who forgives and then gives us second chances…over and over and over.

    Thanks for being brave to write the things I am not yet brave enough myself to share.

    • #104
  15. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Godel–Thank you so much for your kind words.

    • #105
  16. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Kate–I know you, and I know you’re brave. You are a wonderful woman and I’m blessed to call you a friend. :)

    • #106
  17. Ricochet Inactive

    Prayers for you and your family, DC.  Thanks for sharing your story.

    • #107
  18. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche

    An excellent and moving essay, Denise. Thanks again for posting it.

    • #108
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