It was the winter of 1972, and my mother Linda, a beautiful 17 year-old girl with long black hair and green eyes, was set to graduate Salutatorian of her senior class in just a few short months. Because she had already completed the credits necessary to graduate, she was able to finish her senior year in January, but was still planning to officially graduate with her fellow classmates and even give her Salutatory speech in the spring.
Linda had the whole world at her feet: a great family, a handsome and great boyfriend (Mark) whom she’d been with for nearly three years, college in the fall, and great friends.
That day came when her period, which she was expecting for some time, never came. She had heard that Planned Parenthood, located downtown, offered free pregnancy tests, so she nervously drove to their facility. Once there, she took the pregnancy test, which confirmed her fears:
She was pregnant.
Not only did Planned Parenthood offer free pregnancy tests, they also offered counseling. She met with the counselor who told my mom that, due to her young age and because she was still in high school, that she should get an abortion. The counselor also explained that although abortion was illegal in most of the U.S., it was legal in New York state, and that my mom should consider this option. My mom left the clinic that day with her head buzzing with questions and her heart pounding with anxiety.
What to do?
Back in early 1972, getting pregnant in high school was extremely rare. And there was certainly an element of shame and embarrassment that went with it. After telling her boyfriend Mark about her pregnancy, they both decided that they would like to keep the baby and possibly get married. But first, they had to work out an opportunity to confess to her parents that she was pregnant. She knew that her parents would be distressed by the news, as their family was a moral, church-going family. Although they were clearly taken aback by this disclosure, the only comment was made by Linda’s father was this:
“Nothing like this has ever happened in my family!”
After Linda revealed the news, her parents decided to go to their Presbyterian Minister for counsel and support. Linda’s mother, Inge, was also this Pastor’s secretary, so it was easy to set up an appointment with him. A few days later they met with their pastor and told him of their daughter’s pregnancy. They asked him what they thought her daughter should do, and what advice they (as her parents) should give to their daughter.
After hearing their story, their pastor told them: “Linda is young, and she is very smart. She should go to college.”
He paused for effect:
“In my opinion, she should get an abortion.”
My grandparents were shocked at his advice, coming from someone they considered a religious leader. Abortion was something that was only heard about in whispers, and no one they knew had ever had one. My grandparents strongly disagreed with his advice, and went home confused and frustrated. After my mom talked further with her parents, they all decided that it would be best that she should not seek an abortion, but rather that she would get married to Mark, set her college education on hold, and have that baby, even though her whole future lay ahead of her.
The spring rolled around and my mom was not even invited to her own high school graduation, or to give her speech.
Then one hot summer day my now 18 year old mom, her new husband, and her parents, all checked into the local hospital in Syracuse, New York, and eventually delivered a healthy, blond-haired baby girl weighing 9 pounds and 4 ounces. They named her Heather Lee.
That baby girl was me.
I can’t say it was easy for my mom to have a baby at 18. She proceeded to have another baby (my sister) two years later, but it was a difficult marriage, and my parents divorced a few years later. She was able to squeeze in a one year degree to be a Medical Secretary, and she indeed pursued that career for many years as a single working mom. It was very hard during some portions of my childhood for each of us. Years later, my mom remarried and had two more kids, and now she is working as a nurse. Things all eventually turned out really well, and through it all she never regretted her choice to have me, and neither have I. 🙂 To read more about some of the struggles my mom (and I) went through, click here.
As for me, I grew up, got my undergraduate degree, then my Masters, had a wonderful career, met an awesome man, got married, and become the mom of three great kids, with one adoption on the way. In a strange twist of fate I ended up working for a leading pro-life Senator, working on pro-life policy. (You can read about it here).
In another interesting twist, I actually had a chance to talk to that same pastor (who recommended my abortion) several years ago. I basically told him that my grandmother (his former secretary) had recently passed away, and then transitioned to tell him that I disagreed very strongly with his very sharty advice he gave to my mom and grandparents many years ago. (Actually, I was very kind and just told him respectfully that I disagreed with him, and that I was very happy to be alive.) We got into a weird debate/argument on the phone and he told me that “abortion is God’s will because it can naturally happen anyway,” (in other words, a miscarriage) and other things I won’t go into here. I honestly wasn’t looking for an argument, I just wanted to state my case. I guess somewhere deep inside of me I wanted him to apologize to me. To say something like “wow, I”m so sorry for the advice I gave to your mom’s parents, because, duh, if they had listened to me, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. I am so freaking sorry about what I said and did. Can you ever possibly forgive me?” But he didn’t. I think he felt defensive, so he was somewhat curt with me. The call didn’t give me the closure I was looking for, but I felt he needed to hear from me, as one of his Pastoral Advice Survivors.
I wonder how many kiddos are not here because lots of good Presbyterians listened to their Pastor during his 30 year tenure.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if my mom had made a different choice. Would Erik even get married? He is a super picky guy. One of his friends said he was like an oil-change service, with an 18 point check- list of what he needed/wanted in a future girlfriend or wife. What about Claire? Who would have adopted her? And Logan, we almost didn’t even get him in the first place. What if he was being raised by his birth-father right now? His birth-father who has a criminal record, by the way. How would he turn out? And what about Khloe? I’m pretty sure she would still be stuck in a Ukrainian orphanage, just waiting to age out. I don’t believe she would do well out on her own. And those are just four people in my immediate circle.
I believe God has a purpose for each of us on the face of the earth. We are here not just for ourselves, but to help and serve and to love other people. Every human life matters and every human life is meant to interconnect with other human lives! We all need each other. Maybe your story is supposed to intersect with mine, and vice versa. And what we do makes a difference, even if we can’t see it. Please read this post for more encouragement: Small Things with Great Love.
I will close with one final story. Many years ago, Erik and I hiked up to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. I was about to turn 30 years young and was feeling “depressed” about “getting older.” (HA. Foolish person.) Anyway, I was up on top of Mount Washington in the restaurant on top of the mountain, and my eyes wandered over to a list of people, mounted on the wall. This is not an ordinary list: it’s a list of all the many people who have died up on Mount Washington. This mountain is surprisingly very dangerous and is said to be the home to the “world’s worst weather” and has winds that have been recorded up to 231 miles per hour! As I read through the list, I noticed something specific:
I noticed the ages of all the people who died. Their ages were varied: fifteen, eighteen, ten, twenty, twenty-five.
So many young people had lost their lives. So many young people who died on the mountain who never reached their 30th birthday.
That was a reality check for me. Ever since seeing that list, I am grateful, rather than depressed, whenever I hit another birthday milestone.
In closing, I am so very glad my mom chose to have me despite the sacrifice and difficulty that choice brought into her life. And I’m glad this story had a happy ending (as I know that not all stories like this do). And I just have to add, as I get older and older myself, I absolutely LOVE having such a young and healthy mom. She is a volunteer firefighter, full time nurse, and she and my step dad run a homestead. She is a super busy and active grandma. As for my dad — he is still going strong and healthy. He retired from full-time work but still works part-time. He is a wonderful grandpa and makes his family a priority. It’s great to have such young parents.
So mom, if you are reading this post, thanks for bringing me into this world and giving me a chance at this thing called life. I am super happy to be here! I love you!
Happy Birthday to me!
P.S. from Heather : I know abortion is the most controversial issue of our day, and lots of people have strong opinions on either side, and lots of women have experienced abortion. My intention is not to judge, cause hurt or pain in someone else, to make someone angry, for you to unfriend me on Facebook, or for you to send me a scathing text. My intention is to share my own story as it pertains to this difficult topic. Perhaps it can help someone out there, or plant a seed. It is not my intention to cause division. And remember, this is only a story…my own story. Finally, I welcome all comments!! Even comments that have a different perspective. But I just ask that we all respect each other as we comment. Thank you for reading.
P.S. from my mom: Even though I was so young at the time, and I did not come to have a personal relationship with Jesus until several years later, I was still able to recognize the unfairness of depriving my baby a chance at life so that I could go on with my own life undisturbed. The choice I made did lead to hardships and difficulties that I would not have experienced otherwise, but I feel that these problems were used by God to develop my character and also to make me see my need of Him. So I am grateful that I gave the gift of life to Heather! As are Erik, Claire, Logan, Khloe as well as her many friends and extended family members. It is heartbreaking to me to think of how many relationships have been lost to abortion, and that is part of the reason why I have been involved in pro-life work ever since I became a Christian. Thank you for reading our story.