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Do you ever wonder if you were born with a purpose?
Like, something other than the time you helped that old lady with her groceries, or when you donated to your local food pantry? I do…
My mother was 17. A good girl by all societal standards. She lived in a small town in Calvert County, Maryland. Her parents both came from local families with good names and were known as hardworking, honest, and kind people.
“What’s in a name?” ~ Shakespeare
My mother was quiet and timid to most people. Pamela Gail was her name. Pam to those closest to her. She had beautiful features, I thought. She loved when others told her she resembled the oh-so-talented actress Meryl Streep.
My father was and is a “handsome devil” as I am told quite often. He always scowls when I tell him another old lady commented on his Sylvester Stallone type appearance (but I know he secretly likes it). He, like my mother, came from a local family—hardworking , honest, tenant farmers. “Good people” I always heard from others when I mentioned them. Working the fields for the “money crop,” or tobacco here in Southern Maryland. He and my mom met in their local school. They were high school sweethearts.
You, me, and baby makes three….
The year was 1976.
My mom wore bell bottoms, clogs, had long, sleek hair, and looked like the quintessential poster child for the 70s. She was a senior in high school, and my dad had enlisted in the army. He was on a short leave and wanted to drive down to Florida to visit one of his favorite aunts and uncles. He asked my grandparents if my mom could accompany him on this impromptu road trip. To my surprise when I heard this story, they said yes?!
I asked my gram one time why she allowed this. What were they thinking? She replied, “I don’t rightly know. It was a different time I guess, and your mother never got into any trouble…”
A guy and a girl on a road trip to Florida in a van with a shag rug in 1976. Freedom and love, baby. Enough said. Moving on…
I think we can skip over the “birds and the bees” lesson for today.
My mom returns to suburban living in her small town while dad heads back to the good ole army.
Life as normal right? Talk about leaving one way and coming back another. My mom and dad came home with an extra passenger, a “stowaway” on that road trip to Florida who they were completely aloof and unaware of.
I often play out in my mind what and how my mom must have felt when she first found out. She was still 17 at the time. I cannot imagine the sheer anxiety and panic, the disappointment and shame she thought she would bring to her family. How scared she must have been when she first told my dad!
My dad “manned” up and told my mom he would go with her to tell her parents. He never considered that they wouldn’t keep me. My mom was riddled with fear at the thought of muddying up her family’s good name and reputation. She couldn’t bear to look her father and mother in the eye while telling them their timid, good girl of a daughter had actually had sex.
Not only did she have sex, but she also made a baby. A child produced out of wedlock. That probably equated to “Satan’s spawn” in that time and place.
No. She couldn’t; she wouldn’t. She let my father know that she had decided to terminate the pregnancy, and he didn’t need to help her. She had borrowed the money from her best friend to pay for the abortion. It’s not what she wanted to do. It’s what she felt she had to do. That always breaks my heart for her.
My dad was beside himself. He told her he couldn’t get behind the abortion and that he would not stay if that was the case.
And so it was. Mom was determined it was the only way forward.
Life went on, literally.
My dad moved on and ended up in those next nine months rekindling and marrying his childhood friend.
It can’t get any worse than that, right?
Oh, it could and it did.
Mom was an avid softball player and a good one at that. In her sheer desperation, she devised a plan to help nature take its course. She would slide extra hard on the bases in hopes that through no real fault of her own, the pregnancy would no longer be viable. My heart hurts for her every time I rehash that part of the story. I can’t imagine having to be in that position. God had other plans though. Her plan failed.
My mom was raised in a home that knew and loved the Lord. They were not the go-to-church-every-Sunday kind of people, but the big Bible was in the living room, and Sunday school for the kids was a given.
I asked her what made her change her mind on terminating the pregnancy. In her summary, she feared disappointing God more than her parents.
I’m thankful for that, but when I think of all she had endured, suffered, and sacrificed, I can’t help but grieve for her.
Let’s recap shall we?
>> Pam is still pregnant.
>> My dad thinks she had an abortion, and he married another woman.
>> No one knows she is pregnant.
September 24, 1976.
My mom was nine-months pregnant and went into labor. She called her closest friend and cousin, Cindy, to take her to the out-of-town hospital so no one would know she had given birth. Upon arrival, it was deemed that my mom was in critical condition with pre-eclampsia and needed to be flown to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore .
Can we pause there for a moment? Can you even begin to imagine this young girl, all alone in a helicopter, about to give birth? She is so much stronger than I could ever be.
She was rushed into emergency surgery upon arrival for a C-section in an attempt to save at least one of our lives. Her blood pressure kept rising, and she lost her vision. Yes, you read that right. She was now totally blind with no promise of recovered sight.
The amazing medical team kept my mother and I alive that night, but God saved our lives. This I have no doubt about.
Once mom and I were stabilized, her first feeling was shame.
She told me that she was being pushed in a wheelchair to the blind center and feeling the flush of heat on her face from embarrassment at the prospect of being seen not fully clothed. She was in a thin hospital gown, and she could not see to fix it so that she wasn’t exposed. No joy was found on the evening she gave birth.
Mom did regain her sight in the days that followed, thanks be to God.
That wasn’t her biggest hurdle however. She still had her parents and my father to deal with.
I often try and imagine the ride home from the hospital with my mom and grandparents in the car together for the first time. My mom said she remembered there being total silence the 1.5 hour ride home.
My dad found out he had a bouncing baby girl via a telephone call from his mom. (No cigar and toasts of champagne to be had.) I wonder what he felt in that moment. Shock, anger, resentment, grief, hopefully some joy?
He tried to see me, I was told, but my grandfather wasn’t his biggest fan at the moment.
The story went like this: my dad secretly got in touch with my gram and begged to see me. My gram (always a sucker for the underdog) took me on a little car ride to the old country store called Buehlers Market where I would meet my dad for the first time in secret.
Gram said it broke her heart. My dad scooped me up and kissed me all over my face and remarked with tears, “She has the sweetest baby breath.” It’s my favorite part of the story.
My dad came from a divorced family and wanted nothing more than to have a family of his own. My pop pop eventually came around and let my dad visit. One thing led to surgery and…here’s where it really gets “twisted.”
Three years after I was born, my dad had divorced his wife and married my mom in an attempt at a real family. Is that incredible or what?
They were young and they loved one another. They tried to create the family they both wanted, but the childhood trauma they each brought into the marriage made for a difficult life. They split for good when I was 10. Years later, they were able to become good friends again like the boy and girl they once were. They laughed at one another and were at peace. It was a blessing to see.
My mother was and always will be a real life superhero. She broke down the wall of shame, tore open the fear of being alone, blew up the bridge of selfishness, and gave up herself to save another. To save me. To give me a chance at life.
She missed out on walking the stage at her high school graduation. She missed out on college, her dreams, and passions, all so that I may grow to chase mine. Is there any greater love than self-sacrifice?
What is my purpose in life?
At “45-years-young,” I’m not sure yet. I do know this: I hope to use my gift of life to spread God’s message of hope where there is discouragement. Love where there is pain. Grace where there is judgement.
My greatest desire is that the journey my mother embarked on to bring me into this world was not in vain, and our story will give courage and hope to all who need it.