07 Aug THE COST OF DEATH AND LIFE
I lay there, bleeding. I held the heating pad against my cramping womb as the final evidence of the little life that had been drained slowly from me. I stared at the white tiled ceiling and did not cry. Not one single tear. My lack of emotion went beyond apathy. Death had physically, spiritually, and emotionally entered my body.
I had chosen this. Paid for this.
I had paid in full—but the cost was only beginning.
The thin curtains that separated my bed from the others in the room did not muffle the soft sobbing I heard. Sometimes the most soul-piercing sounds are barely audible. I don’t know how many other girls lay in the beds lining the walls of the small, cold room. Maybe six? Eight? Several more were in the lobby. Filling out paperwork and waiting their turns for chemicals or a curette to separate them from the life that was clinging, trying to develop inside of them.
The lucky ones would swallow pills to dull their pain. I could not. I had never been able to swallow medicine, no matter how tiny. Even knowing the surgery before me, my brain could not force an exception. My throat refused to pass down any dulling comfort. And because I had driven myself to the clinic, intravenous sedation was not an option. I would experience the removal of my first baby completely sober, alert, sensitive. Alone.
I remember the concern etched on the nurses’ faces. I had no idea what the surgery would be like, I only knew the end result. Still, I assured them I would be fine. One of them went in the room with me. She stood by my bed the whole time, and held my hand when the tugging began and my face twitched with pain. I kept my eyes fixed on the ceiling. One warm tear rolled straight back, down my temple, to my hairline. The nurse squeezed my hand. She told me it would be okay, that it would all be over soon. I remember thinking I didn’t care that it hurt. That it should hurt me. I wanted it to hurt me.
The metal was cold. I could feel the ripping. The forcing my womb to let go of what it was designed to carry. Then it was over. I was given a pad and moved to a wheelchair. Rolled into a room with other girls. We didn’t make eye contact with each other. I was helped onto the bed, given a heating pad, and told if I wasn’t bleeding too much in an hour then I’d be free to go.
I stared at the ceiling, at the time on my cell phone, and waited for my hour to be up.
Even though there was some noise, the room felt heavy with silence in a way I’d never known.
Death has a silence to it that sucks all the sounds away and somehow makes them vanish in the weight of what has happened.
I was approved to leave. My baby was gone. I could walk away now. “Free” to go.
I walked past a life-sized Margaret Sanger cutout in the lobby on my way out. I saw the girls in the waiting room, and I knew this: Whether or not anyone knew the fullness of what she was doing before she had her abortion—she knew after. You cannot kill your own baby and not be deeply affected. You do not walk away from that experience the same woman.
I was already planning to tell my best friend (the only person who knew about my baby) how fine I was, that I did not regret my decision. And with my broken perception of reality, I almost convinced myself that was true. But I did not realize a first stage of grief is denial. In complete denial, I walked to my car and calmly thought about how I could flip it or drive it off the road on the way home. But I didn’t want to hurt anyone else, so maybe a car wreck wasn’t the best way to end my life. I began thinking through scenarios for suicide that wouldn’t harm or traumatize anyone else. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had paid for death to enter me, and it had. My obsession with death had begun.
* * *
I crouched in the dirty bathroom stall of a big box store, staring hard at the two pink lines that were forming. I shook my head in disbelief. I threw the positive pregnancy test in the trash and stepped out to the rust-stained sink. As I washed my hands I determined to wash away the whole situation. I thought, God, why did you allow this? You knew what I would do…
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed. I could hear my voice robotically agreeing with the receptionist about a date, time, and the cost. I was on the schedule for another abortion. At the same clinic I’d sworn to myself I would never step foot in again.
My plan was to not think about it. Keeping the baby was out of the question. I wasn’t sure who the father was, but there was a solid chance the baby wasn’t my current boyfriend’s child. I would have to tell the truth, and face the fallout. I knew I would lose him. I knew I would also lose my decade-long professional modeling career and have to move back home with my parents. I would be a single mom. College would never happen. The alcohol and drugs in my system would have already damaged the baby anyway, right? And what kind of an example would I be for my seven younger siblings?
I never wanted to make this choice again. But it had to be.
Now, I just had to not think about the impending abortion appointment for one very long week.
My phone rang. It was my dad. He asked me if I could meet him and Mom for dinner while I was in town over the weekend. He said they’d like to talk with me. Dinner dates with my parents were not the norm. I knew there must be something specific they wanted to talk with me about. I did not want to talk about my life, but I could hear my voice agreeing with him about a date, time, and place to meet. He let me know they would pay whatever it cost.
A couple of days later as I drove the boring four hours to the Houston area, a nervous, sickly feeling grew in my stomach. I ignored it. I turned the music up and drove too fast.
At the restaurant we all smiled an awkward greeting to each other and sat down. Dad talked easily. Mom remained pretty quiet. I ate too much French bread to stuff down my rising nerves. It didn’t take long before Dad came to the point for this dinner meeting. He wanted me to know that they were there for me if I needed anything. He wanted me to know that they loved me, no matter what. And then he asked me point blank if I had anything I wanted to share with them.
I felt raw and exposed. I tried to casually dip my bread in olive oil and Italian herbs. Was I shaking on the outside or only on the inside? I reasoned there was no way they knew about my scheduled abortion. I thought they couldn’t even know for sure that I wasn’t a virgin. But here they sat, looking straight at me, and I knew that, somehow, they knew.
It was utterly unsettling.
(Later I would learn that my mom faithfully prayed for me. During one of her prayer times, she felt the Holy Spirit impress upon her clearly: Elise is pregnant and she is considering an abortion. So she told my dad, and they scheduled dinner to express their love and support to me. They were clearly offering me a way out.)
I wiped my mouth and told them everything was fine. We finished dinner. The moment I was in my car alone, a silent scream began forming behind my calm exterior. I couldn’t drive. I felt seen. Watched. Cornered. God knew what I was planning. And He wanted this baby to live. He was looking me straight in the eyes, though I refused to look up. He was offering me a way out.
No. I would not accept this new life.
I called my best friend and explained my new plan: to get high on drugs that would be bad for the baby, because I needed to force myself go through with this abortion. And if I did those drugs, I’d definitely go through with it—intentionally having a baby with defects wouldn’t be something a good mom would do. Right?
Pretty models acquire drugs easily. In the year since my first abortion, I’d learned how to swallow pills. This plan was going to work.
But instead of entering a happy place of drug-induced euphoria, I entered a spiritual wrestling match with God that I could not escape. I tried to kill myself to escape thinking about the baby, but He thwarted my every attempt. All night long, we wrestled.
Finally, exhausted and sober in the morning light, I began to talk with my friend about the option of keeping the child. I knew that saying yes to this baby meant saying yes to God. Yes to a completely different life, a different me. After several hours, I finally said it out loud: “Ok. I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep this baby.” Immediately the words “Hope” and “Reason” entered my mind. I knew God had spoken to me, but I had no idea what He meant.
I could not have imagined how He’d unpack those two powerful words for me over the next twelve years, through single motherhood, marriage, four more kids, and ministry.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jesus had paid for life to enter me, and it had. My relationship with Life had begun.