by Jan Toom
I sat alone in the doctor’s private office, watching the hands on the wall clock move slowly, ticking away the minutes. How long had I been here? A few minutes? An eternity? I felt numb. My eyes were fixed on the clock as if it held some sort of destiny for me.
At last, the door opened and the doctor walked in. “Congratulations, Mrs. Rosso, you’re pregnant.”
My first stupid thought was, I’m not Mrs. Rosso. I’ve been divorced for thirteen years. “I can’t have this baby.”
I hadn’t realized I’d spoken until the doctor said, “Excuse me?”
“I can’t have this baby. I’m not married.” The doctor cleared his throat, walked around his impressive oak desk, and sat on the edge. He watched me and waited.
I don’t know how long I sat there, or how long the doctor patiently waited. This couldn’t be happening. I was forty-two years old and had raised my three children on my own, sometimes working two jobs to make ends meet. What was I going to do? How could I tell my grown children? How could I tell my mother? My co-workers, my Christian friends? I had no health insurance or savings, not the least of my concerns. How could I possibly take care of another child?
I had spent the last two months going through my daily routine like a zombie. Hiding it from my kids. Going to work every morning as if nothing was wrong, hurrying from my desk to the restroom down the hall when morning sickness struck.
I was grateful to have managed to raise my other children successfully. It had been hard, but we got through. But to start over again? Alone? I didn’t think I had the strength.
I don’t know how long I sat there saying nothing, staring into space. Finally, the doctor spoke. “I know this must be hard. But you’re strong and healthy. However, I must tell you that pregnancies in women your age can be difficult and also more dangerous for the fetus. The chances of having a healthy baby is about fifty-fifty.”
He stood and walked over to me. “But you’re healthy, so it may not be a problem.” He patted my shoulder, awkwardly. “Just things you should think about.” As if I didn’t have enough to think about.
It was 1976 and things were different then. Late pregnancies could be physically difficult, even dangerous. Chances for a normal baby were also a concern. Since abortion had recently become legal, many women and young, unmarried girls were desperately considering that as their answer.
Abortion. A horrid, ugly word that I knew little about. Only that it was often a sordid solution to an unfortunate pregnancy. I didn’t know that life begins at the moment of conception, and from the beginning, the baby could feel. I didn’t know that at only a few weeks, the baby’s little feet and hands were already formed.
How often had worried about my own teenage daughters? If they got pregnant would they come to me? Would they trust me to help them work it out? More importantly, how would we work it out? How ironic that the situation was reversed.
The doctor’s voice brought me back to the present. “Of course, there are alternatives,” he said, walking back to his desk. “If it would make you feel better, you could go to the free clinic for counseling.”
I thanked the doctor and rose numbly to my feet. Outside, I pulled my sweater tight against the May breeze, and walked the few blocks to the Laguna Beach Free Clinic. It was located in a small building on a back road near the heart of town. I walked up the three stairs to the door and entered. All the chairs were taken, and the walls were lined with clients. Desks with seated counselors were scattered about the room. I took a number and waited.
The name plate on the desk of the woman who called my number read, Ms. Tomosato. She was young, attractive, and aloof. She gave me a list of names, address and phone numbers of doctors who performed legal abortions, and that was the extent of her counseling. I left there feeling worse than I did when I left the doctor’s office.
I’d left my car parked by the doctor’s office, but I continued to walk until I found myself on the beach. The water and the sky matched my mood, dreary and gray. A seagull left its perch on a rock and lifted off into the wind. I took the seat on the rock the bird had vacated, and watched the clouds roll in over the ocean. I didn’t think. I didn’t feel. I just sat and let the salt air bite my skin.
How long it had been raining, I didn’t know, but I began to shiver and realized my clothes were soaked through. Maybe I would catch pneumonia and die. That would solve my problem. I walked back to my car and drove home.
I had met Fred, the father of my baby, through an acquaintance from my church. She assured me that this man, Fred, was a terrific guy.
“Jan, Fred is a really nice man. He’s a kind, level-headed, steady kind of guy. He just bought a home, and he’s starting his own computer business. And did I fail to mention he’s good looking?” She continued to rave about him until I finally agreed to meet him.
I discovered Fred was indeed all she had told me about him. Although he asked me out the very night we were introduced, we had little time for actual dating. His new business required him to work late nights and most weekends.
One night he asked me, “How would you like to make a few extra dollars working for me in the evenings? I have a few girls working now, but I could use one more to help with data entry.”
I had no clue what data entry was, but he assured me it was easy, so I agreed. Every night when I got off work at five, I’d drive to his office and we’d work until ten. Then go somewhere for a late dinner and drive to our separate homes and collapse.
We had been seeing each other for a year or more and rarely had the time or desire to be intimate. However, it only takes one time. One slip. One mistake. One reckless, passionate moment.
After visiting the free clinic, several alternatives ran through my head. I could have the baby and raise it alone. I could go away quietly and give it up for adoption. Or, as the clinic had subtly suggested, I could have an abortion. But first I had to tell Fred.
We met at a nice Mexican restaurant in San Juan Capistrano. Although Mexican food was one of my favorites, it was the last thing my sensitive condition wanted. I didn’t feel like eating anything. Fred was halfway through his margarita, and I threw my water when I blurted it out. “I’m pregnant.” Not subtle. No leading up to it. What difference would it make? No matter how long I took to say it, or how many different ways, I was still pregnant.
Fred set his margarita carefully on the table. “What?”
Fred studied his drink as if the answers would swirl to the surface. “You’re sure?”
We sat for a long time in silence. Fred starred down at his plate. I looked out at the people in the restaurant, oblivious to the laughter and chatter, the colorful pinatas that hung from the ceiling. The only reality I felt was that I was unmarried, with grown children, and pregnant. Most significantly, I was a born-again Christian with the dilemma of telling my children, my mother, my fellow Christians, and coworkers that I was pregnant. I thought; you reap what you sow. There was a price to pay. Was I able?
Eventually, Fred looked up and met my eyes. “You can have an abortion. I’ll pay for it. I’ll go with you. I’ll stand by you.”
I didn’t know what to do. Or what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know what the right thing was to do. Fred said he would be with me. Even if I refused to have an abortion? Would he still be with me? Regardless, it was a decision I had to make alone. Maybe I didn’t want him with me all the way. Maybe I didn’t want him at all. My mind was a whirlwind of confusion. I needed time, but because a baby was growing inside of me, I didn’t have a lot of time.
Days went by and I kept going to work, struggling with morning sickness striking at inconvenient times. I can’t believe that no one suspected when I was always hurrying down the hall to the restroom. There is only so long you can hide a pregnancy. The time would come when I would have to confess to everyone. Or make an alternative choice.
The thought of abortion kept inserting its ugly head into my mind. It was everything I was against and yet… I tried to imagine raising another child, continue working and having everyone disappointed and angry with me. Which was the lesser of the two evils? An abortion would be over before anyone knew I was pregnant, but I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. On the other hand, raising a child would take the better part of my life that was left. And I would be doing it alone. Again. Now that my other children were grown, I had expected to have a little freedom. I was so angry and confused.
Every night I searched the scriptures, hoping God would either affirm the abortion or tell me in no uncertain terms not to. But there was nothing. One night, when I went to bed, I prayed, “God, if you don’t tell me what to do, I’m going for that abortion tomorrow.”
The next morning, as soon as I awakened, I set up in bed and opened my King James Bible to Isaiah, one of my favorite books. I opened it to the thirtieth chapter and read the first verse: “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, who take counsel, but not of me, and that cover with a covering but not of my spirit that they may add sin to sin.”
The scripture struck me like a lightning bolt so strong that I knew I felt God’s presence. Through His scripture, he’d laid it all out before me: I had been rebellious. I had not taken counsel, but not from Him. I was ready to have an abortion to cover one sin with another. Instead of telling me what to do, He showed me what I had done and what I was thinking about doing. Then He’d left it up to me. It was my decision. Should I take the world’s way out, or the Lord’s way? It was my choice. Whatever I chose, I would have to live with it for eternity. I knew at that moment I would have the baby and relief flooded my soul. I had the answer I’d wanted all along.
Still, I had to bargain with Him. “Lord,” I cried. “I’ll have this baby, but you have to be here with me all the way. You have to keep me healthy to raise this child until it’s grown. You have to provide for me so I can take care of it.”
I walked out onto the deck, and a cool breeze dried my tears. Rain clouds were forming over the ocean. The old quote, Into each life some rain must fall, came to mind. But I knew that God promises rainbows after the rain. “Please, God,” I whispered. “Help my family and friends to understand.”
I told my daughter, Julie, the news first. After I stammered around trying to find a gentle way to say it, Julie started crying. “What Mom? Are you dying?”
“No,” I told her quickly. “I’m pregnant.”
“Oh, is that all? I thought you had cancer or something.”
So, I told my other kids, and my mother point blank and got it over with. They were hard to read, I know they were disappointed in me, but thankfully they gave me their love and support.
Although I had boldly decided to have the baby, I knew it would not be easy. I’d made a decision that would change my life. Could I do this? Yes, I could. God was going to help me. We’d made a pact. Right?
My solution was to start over… again… In a new place so my co-workers and Christian friends would not know. I didn’t think of myself as a closet Christian. But I had done something that was not according to His will. So here I was wanting to hide what I’d done.
I would need money to pay for hospital and doctor’s bills. I had no savings or health insurance so, I put my duplex up for sale. I lived in the side with the terrific ocean view and rented the other half to pay my mortgage. During the ten years I lived there, the value increased considerably. It sold almost immediately with enough profit to pay cash for a house in Lake Arrowhead and still have money to pay for the doctor and hospital fees I would need. The first of God’s many blessings.
I’d always loved the mountains, and Lake Arrowhead was a beautiful community in which to start over. Julie moved with me to the mountains. Although nineteen, old enough to stay behind with her friends and waitressing job, she chose to come with me. I bought was a cozy place nestled among the trees beside a small stream bordered with Tiger Lilies and wild Iris. The house had two bedrooms, a loft, a tiny kitchen, and a small washer and dryer tucked beneath the stairs. It felt comfortable and right.
I knew there was a hospital in Lake Arrowhead, but did not know there was no maternity ward, not even an OB-GYN on staff. So, I had to drive down the mountain to San Bernardino to find a doctor. Through a doctor’s referral service, I found only two qualified Doctors. So, randomly, I chose Dr. Gordon and made an appointment. When I arrived, I was surprised to see the doctor’s office located in one wing of the County Hospital, not knowing this would play a huge part in my future.
After filling out the necessary new patient information, I was directed into the doctor’s private office. I had no sooner sat down when Dr. Gordon entered. He was probably in his forties, tall, thin, and the sharp bone structure of his face reminded me of Washington Irving’s fictional character Ichabod Crane. But his kind eyes and easy manner put me at ease instantly. He sat behind his desk and lit his pipe.
“So, this is your fourth child. No miscarriages. It’s been how long since your last one?”
He nodded. “Quite an age span. But you’re healthy and if you take proper care of yourself, you should have a healthy baby around New Year’s Eve.” He smiled. “A brand-new member of the family just in time for the New Year.”
“I’m not married, Dr. Gordon. I moved here to start over.” Better for him to know right up front.
He chewed on his pipe stem, waiting for me to go on.
“I have enough money from the sale of my house to pay for your bills, and the hospital, too.”
He smiled. “You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about a thing.”
Two weeks after my beautiful Jeni was born, I received notice that since my baby was born in a county hospital, I would be reimbursed for my hospital bill and doctor’s fees. Soon after, the check arrived. One more of Gods many blessings.
When Jeni was two months old, I went back to work and found a great job as a copywriter for the local radio station.
Julie married and moved to Orange County, California, leaving Jeni and me to spend two wonderful and challenging winters alone in the mountains before moving to San Diego.
Jeni grew up a typical teenager, happily spending time between her dad and me. Fred and I never married. Eventually, we married other people, and Jeni loved her stepdad, John. She often said, “I have the two best dads in the world.”
Jeni, a born again Christian, went on to become an attorney, passing the bar exam on her first try. She married the man of her dreams and raised two wonderful children.
Now alone in my condo, I remembered when I was so frightened and ashamed because I was unwed and pregnant. I was devastated because there was no hope for my future. How could I go on? I remember how I told God that He had to keep me alive and healthy to raise my child, that He needed to let me see her grow to adulthood. He not only did that, but I’ve also seen Jeni’s precious kids grow into awesome young adults.
I lie down on my bed, thanked Him, closed my eyes, and was at peace, cocooned in God’s love. What a wonderful place to be. All those years ago, when I thought I couldn’t go on, God performed a miracle. The miracle of life. Sometimes, when things seem the darkest, God steps in and lights the way. Sometimes it is a blessing in disguise.
Jan Toom has worked as a copywriter for a radio station, wrote a column for a daily newspaper, self-published a novel, and won the 1st place for Best Children’s Story in San Diego Showcase. She resides in San Diego, where she is working on another novel.