When I was 17 I found out I was pregnant. It was October. I can’t remember the weather, but I remember my mother’s reaction when I told her in the car on the way home from the doctor’s visit that the rabbit died. Yeah, I used those words. I was not a sensitive child.
Mom was angry, which I understand. My sister was a mother at fifteen and now here I was ten years later doing the same thing. When it came time to tell my dad, mom was impatient. It was really pretty awful. Dad said some very hurtful things, and mom was buzzing around in the background adding to the hurt.
All of this was supposed to go down better; it had for my sister. Family legend has it that he was very supportive. Discussing it with later my sister, the legend was a bit more fantastical than factual.
Those first few months of my pregnancy were rather awful. I spent Christmas with my sister who was due to have her sixth child on Christmas Day, although she ended up giving birth the day before Christmas Eve. It wasn’t a peaceful Christmas, but at least I wasn’t the focus.
After Christmas we began to make plans for me to stay in a maternity home so that my last months of pregnancy would take place away from all the stress of home.
I moved in to the maternity home in April. The home moved from one house to another during my stay. I spent May, June, and July in Amish country in Lancaster, PA. My daughter was born on July 16, and I “celebrated” my eighteenth birthday two days later. On the nineteenth, I left the hospital and my daughter behind. After two more weeks at the maternity home, I left for home—childless.
In the twenty-six years since, I have had no more children and I have never married. I have never stopped loving and missing my daughter. I think of her every day. I pray for her as often. When my daughter turned eighteen she looked me up and I got to meet her. In the years since, we’ve begun to work at a relationship. She’s married now and will at any moment deliver her third child.
That is the bald version of the events of that year and those since.
The real meat of being a birth mother is what happens in your heart and mind while pregnant and in the days, weeks and months after the birth.
I am asked often enough, “Wasn’t it hard?” “Didn’t it hurt?” and other questions of that sort. It was desperately hard and terribly painful. I still cannot talk about the day I left my daughter in the hospital. Even now my heart is wrenched just writing this twenty-six years later. It was excruciating. That moment was the worst moment I’ve ever experienced, which is why I don’t speak about it. It’s too full of pain.
Yes, giving up a child for adoption is painful and hard.
But I believe those questions—the hurt and the pain questions—are the wrong questions. Obviously, giving your child up to another woman to raise as her own is painful and hard. God designed us to, generally, love our children. I did love my daughter. Very deeply. I still do.
The questions that a girl or woman needs to ask of herself and have asked of her are about value and worth. Is this child, this pregnancy, worth anything? Is going through a pregnancy and delivering a baby you do not mean to keep and then giving that child to another woman worth it?
I had to answer those questions. If I hadn’t answered those questions, I couldn’t have given up my child. Even at seventeen I had to wade through the swamp of worth, life, convenience, pain. I had to do the hard calculations of life. Was this thing I was going to do worth it in the end?
In the end, all considerations came back to my daughter’s life. I needed to answer questions about her, not me. Was her life, just her life, important? What was her life worth? Was her life worth more than mine? Worth my time? Worth suffering for? Worth anything? Did her life matter?
There are other questions I needed to answer: Would it matter if she never lived? What if I just made her go away? What if I just aborted her? No one had to know. I could keep that secret and then I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. Easy peasy, problem solved.
Before any consideration of whether it was hard, difficult, or painful, I had to figure out what her life was worth. Once I decided that her life was an irreplaceable treasure, my choices were narrowed. I could not end her life. Abortion was no longer an option. I was left with keeping her or giving her up for adoption. I chose adoption.
By the time I had given birth, I had sorted through all of those questions and chose a closed adoption. That meant there was a possibility I would never see my daughter again. I signed over all rights to her adoptive parents. I released her to them. She was and remains their daughter in a very different way than she is mine. They now share a lifetime of parent–child experiences, relationship, and love. I won’t ever know that with her. She is their child.
I do not regret my choice, even though I have never had more children. I would not make any different choices about that part of my life. I do not regret the sacrifices I made at seventeen because the value I placed on her life made my choice to carry her and love her while preparing to give her up to others worth something. I could do this because her life was worth my time—my body’s suffering through a pregnancy, my heart aching, tears and a sadness that doesn’t go away. Even now that I know her, still there’s an ache and a sadness. That is just the way it is. Everything I did, everything I went through, everything I suffered was absolutely worth bringing my daughter to this world and giving her to another family to raise as their own. I am glad I chose life for my daughter. Every single day I am glad.
There’s another layer to this question: God. What role did God play in this decision? When I was 17 I was a nominal Christian. I knew the gospel, could answer my catechism questions and knew that my church was pro-life. I’d already been on a couple of March for Life outings. It’s different, though, when the rubber of your convictions comes knocking on the road of your life. All those things I’d been taught about the sanctity of life were now things I needed to look at, to see if I really believed them for me or just believed them for you people who should do what I say and not as I do. My relationship with God heated up quickly after I discovered I was pregnant. The question of how much a life is worth was answered by my belief in God, in Jesus. I believe that God created life, each life, and that he specifically crafts each embryo for his purposes. I believe that life is worthy of sacrifice. All along the way, through all my choices, God guided me through the wisdom of others, and with that came a growing understanding of his Word and grace.
I don’t believe I did anything necessarily amazing when I gave my daughter up for adoption. I think I just answered hard questions in the only way I could and then I lived with the answers.
This last week as I read the grand jury report about Kermit Gosnell and his abortion clinic in Philadelphia, I found myself freshly grateful for God to help me answer those ever so important questions correctly. The squalid, filthy, banal malevolency of the Gosnell clinic is what happens when “Not so much, actually” is your answer to the all important question, “What is my baby’s life worth?”