Lives in the Balance
This is not my story. Yet, in a sense, it is, because it is the story of anyone who’s ever tried to save a life – so maybe it’s your story, too.
I met Dr. Doug last week. He’s a pudgy, balding ethnic minority with decades of experience as a primary care physician. Dr. Doug told me this story, and it was so powerful I wanted to share it. I know he doesn’t mind.
On an ordinary day many years ago, Sue came in to Dr. Doug’s office for a routine appointment. She lived with her mother and grandmother, both of whom were established patients of his. Her maternal aunt lived with them, too – three generations of four women, in one household with no men. Sue had just turned 16; too old now to continue seeing her pediatrician, Dr. Doug was the natural choice to become her new health care provider. Sue was smart, but didn’t have very good grades, and was a little rebellious. She was dating a much older man who, from the way she described him, was worldly and mature. Dr. Doug remembers gently suggesting this was not the most appropriate relationship for someone her age, but Sue would have none of it. She desperately wanted to get out of the house she was in and start her own life.
The two didn’t have great deal of direct contact; she was young and healthy, after all, and rarely needed to see a doctor. But he kept up with her via her mother and grandmother, who told him Sue was “coming into her own,” with a job and home and had returned to school. She was studying hard, too, and she and Bill, her much older boyfriend, had married.
One day Sue made an appointment to see Dr. Doug. He was impressed: it appeared she had indeed come into her own. She was professionally dressed in a business suit, her hair pulled back in a severe, no-nonsense style. Without pleasantries, Sue said flatly, “I’m pregnant. I want you to recommend someone who can provide an abortion.”
Dr. Doug was taken aback. He had a list of abortion providers. He could have easily given her a couple of names. But he was unwilling to do so without inquiry. “May I ask why?”
Her response was immediate, and probably practiced. “My husband goes out five nights a week and gets drunk with his friends. Then he comes home and fights with me. That’s exactly how my dad was. There’s no way I’m going to bring a child into this world to be treated the way my dad treated me and my mom.”
“Why are you asking me to recommend someone?”
She shrugged. “I trust you.”
“Could I talk with your husband?” he replied. “I can stay late one night or come in on the weekend if needed. Would that be all right?” Sue’s only answer was another shrug, which he took to mean assent.
Bill was in his office two nights later. He was an auto mechanic, and made a pretty decent living. His father, like hers, had been an alcoholic – their similar struggle was one of their things that had bonded Bill and Sue together early on. “Did your father do a good job raising you?” he was asked.
“No!” Bill said, “I hated my childhood.”
“Then why are you going to repeat your father’s mistakes and consign your child to the same thing you went through?” Bill’s head snapped up and he stared intently at Dr. Doug. “Your wife is pregnant. You need to be a better husband and you need to be a better father. You need to be a better man.” Bill ran from the room. He begged Sue not to abort, swore he would change for her and for the baby’s sake. She relented.
Some months later a baby girl was born, and Bill was good on his word – for a few years. But eventually his old ways crept back and he was as bad as ever, maybe worse. The couple divorced, and Sue and her daughter moved back in with her mother. Life went on.
Much, much later, Dr. Doug happened to be in a shopping mall where he ran into Sue’s grandmother. They chatted briefly, and then the older lady pointed out the young woman who’d strolled up to join them. She proudly introduced her great-granddaughter – Sue’s daughter – a beautiful 16 year old High School honors student. The young woman held out her hand to Dr. Doug, who could not shake it, but burst into tears and hugged her. “I’m convinced that to this day she thinks I’m a dirty old man,” Dr. Doug said, laughing. But at the same time he was also crying, just a bit, as he remembered.
All of the names have been changed, but nothing else is fictional. This is real. Sue’s daughter is undoubtedly very glad her mother allowed her to continue to live. She is a bright young woman with a great deal of potential. God alone knows what she may yet accomplish. And God alone knows what potential has been lost due to the deaths of over a million babies every year in this country.