“There it is,” Audrey said to Becca, pointing to the brick building tucked between a consignment shop and a law office. The same sick feeling she’d had the last time she’d been here flooded back.
Matt’s vile reaction to Audrey’s predicament was enough to convince her that she was in over her head. People weren’t going to rally around her and support her. They would place blame on her. Matt’s icy glare had sent shivers down her spine. She imagined getting negative reactions from more people when she’d go back to school—dirty looks, whispers behind her back, and false rumors. She didn’t think she could take that kind of judgment.
And how could she raise a child? She didn’t have the know-how, and she didn’t want to burden her parents. For the first time, she understood how people could feel backed into abortions. In the least, she needed to get more information on her choices.
Becca parked on the street and cut the engine. “Do you want me to wait here?”
“Are you kidding me? You better not leave my side for one minute.”
Becca smiled warmly, “They’re not going to do anything today. You’re just getting information.” She unbuckled her seatbelt. “I promise I won’t leave your side.”
“Let’s do this.”
Half an hour later, Audrey felt more confused than ever as she and Becca exited the clinic. Her life felt like a big hopeless mess.
“Audrey?” A man called out to her from the sidewalk. He was running toward her.
Terrified, she looked up to see who this man was that saw her exiting the crisis pregnancy center. She feared it was her dad. Blinking away tears, she recognized the man to be Pastor Mitchel.
He ran to her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“What are you doing here?” She looked to Becca in search of an explanation. “Did you tell him?” she asked Becca, backing away from her friend and shrugging off Pastor Mitchel’s arm.
Becca shook her head. “I didn’t tell anyone.”
“But you’re the only one I told about this appointment. How could you tell Pastor Mitchel?” Audrey crossed her arms across her abdomen, widening the distance between herself and Becca. “You promised to support me.”
“I texted Darcy. I’m sorry. I was trying to be supportive. I was just…I don’t know…scared that you’d have an abortion and regret it. I got nervous when the doctor asked to talk to you privately. I was starting to feel like an accomplice or something.
“Ladies, we’ll sort through all of this later. I’ll give you a ride to my house. We’ll talk there,” Pastor Mitchel took control of the situation.
Audrey looked up at him. She’d never felt so much shame. “Is Mrs. Mitchel there?” She didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Mrs. Mitchel.
“She is. Would you rather talk at your house?”
Audrey sniffled. “Are you going to tell my mom and dad?”
“Do they know about the pregnancy?”
Audrey shook her head. “I only told Becca and Darcy and Trevor…and a college friend. Make that ex-friend.”
“You need to tell your parents. I’ll drive you home. I’ll stay with you, if you’d like, but you can do the talking.”
She’d have to tell her mom and dad eventually. Having Pastor Mitchel by her side would give her courage. Anyway, she didn’t really have a choice at this point. She nodded.
Audrey deliberated between strangling her sister for opening her big mouth and thanking her for the same. Withholding her state of affairs from her parents had become a burden she could no longer bear. Darcy kept a safe distance from Audrey, sitting across the room from her. Wise decision.
Audrey sat in the corner of the couch with her knees pulled up to her chest. Her mom sat next to her, still oblivious to what all the fuss was about. She was worried all the same, rubbing her temples and glancing furtively at Audrey. Her dad was on the couch next to her mom. Pastor Mitchel sat on a chair adjacent to Audrey.
Pastor Mitchel was the first to speak. “Allow me to open in prayer.” He bowed his head, and everybody followed his lead. “Heavenly Father,” his voice shook. “Where two or more are gathered in your name, you promise to be present. Meet us here today, Father. Fill this home with your Holy Spirit.”
Audrey, although her eyes were closed, felt her mom’s gaze.
“Let us speak honestly and in love. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Everyone looked around at each other, not knowing how to proceed.
“What is this all about?” Audrey’s mom asked.
Audrey wanted to tell her mom, but she couldn’t find the words. Didn’t know where to start. She looked to Pastor Mitchel for encouragement. He nodded at her. “Take your time,” he said.
So it was on her shoulders. But she was at a loss for words.
“She had an abortion,” Darcy blurted out.
Her mom and dad gasped simultaneously. “Audrey?” Her mom demanded an explanation.
Now Audrey really wanted to strangle Darcy. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” she yelled at her sister. Audrey covered her face with her hands, sobbing. Her mom knelt in front of her, placing her gentle hands on Audrey’s knees.
“Honey, tell us what happened.” Her mom’s voice was soothing, devoid of the resentment Audrey had expected. “Tom, grab a box of tissues.”
Audrey wiped her face, discarding the tissues on the floor. She drew ragged breaths, wanting to tell her parents the truth. “Remember the party I told you about?”
Her mom nodded, still at Audrey’s feet. She was trying to be strong, but fear radiated from her blue green eyes. Fear that would soon be justifiable.
“I was raped.” The words spilled hastily from her quivering mouth. “I don’t know who did it. It was dark, and I figure someone drugged me. A guy was dragging me to another room…I passed out so I don’t even remember much. But…I’m pregnant.” She covered her eyes in shame. “I don’t know what to do.” Sobs racked her body again.
Her mom sat next to her on the couch, cradling her, rocking her, crying with her. “Honey, I’m so sorry.”
Her dad paced the floor. He was also crying and murmuring under his breath. Audrey didn’t know if he was praying or cursing. Or a little of each. He joined Audrey and her mom circling his arms around them. His strength and vulnerability commingled.
“Wait a minute.” Darcy stood up. “You said you are pregnant. But didn’t you have an abortion?”
Audrey pulled away from her parents, mopping her wet face with her sleeve. “No, Darcy. Becca drove me to the clinic to get more information.”
Darcy’s face paled. “Oh. I assumed—”
“You’ve said enough!” Audrey didn’t want to hear another word from her little sister.
Darcy shrank into her chair.
“You did the right thing, Darcy.” Of course her dad would say that. He turned to Audrey. “Why didn’t you tell your mom and me about this? We could’ve helped you.”
“You know you can tell me anything.” Her mom swept a lock of hair out of Audrey’s eyes.
“I’m sorry. I knew you guys would be disappointed so I just wanted to figure it out. I didn’t want you guys to worry.”
Her dad sat next to her. He regarded her with untainted love. “It was not your fault. We are not disappointed in you.” He spoke slowly so that she’d fully grasp the message in his words. And she did. “I love you. We love you.” He clutched her mom’s hand. “We’ll get through this together.”
At one o’clock in the morning, Audrey hugged Pastor Mitchel goodbye. She was finally able to look him in the eye after talking things over with him and her parents over the last few hours. The humiliation and anger she’d felt when he’d first approached her outside the pregnancy center were diminished by a sense of relief. It felt good to unharness the secrets she’d been harboring for so long. “Are you going to tell Mrs. Mitchel?”
“Only if you want me to.”
Audrey thought about it. Soon everyone would find out one way or another. She’d rather Mrs. Mitchel heard it from her husband. “I want you to tell her for me.”
Pastor Mitchel nodded. “I’ll let her know. And don’t worry. I’m sure she’ll understand. Call me if you ever need anything. Even just a listening ear or someone to pray with you.”
She promised to call him if she ever needed someone to talk to. She’d done enough talking for tonight.
As she brushed her teeth, the discussion from the night echoed in her mind. It was not your fault, her dad had said. His words washed over her. This was a new concept to her. Of course she knew it wasn’t her fault that someone raped her, but it was her fault that she chose to attend the party and that she drank alcohol. So, she’d felt responsible for the horrific crime.
But now she saw it through her dad’s eyes. His daughter had been hanging out with friends she trusted. Someone had taken advantage of her. Violated her. She remembered the feel of the guy’s disgusting hands on her waist before she blacked out.
Her stomach lurched. She spit toothpaste into the sink and rushed to the toilet. Kneeling on the floor, she heaved into the toilet until her stomach was emptied. She didn’t know if the vomiting was a result of morning sickness or being grossed out by the repulsive crime that she suffered. She ripped toilet paper off the roll, wiped her face, and lay on the rug, her energy depleted.
None of this was her fault. She had just wanted to spend time with friends before moving to college. She hadn’t done anything to justify what that guy did to her. It was completely unfair. She lay on her side, hugging her knees to her chest. Tears streamed down her face, soaking into the rug.
Now her life was completely messed up. How was she supposed keep going to school when she was pregnant? The indoor track season would be starting soon. Could she compete? Would she be able to run at all in a few months? Probably not if she was ginormous, puking all the time.
Audrey pounded a fist on the tile floor. The jerk even stole running from her that night. That made her blood boil. If only she could rewrite the story of her life, deleting the party scene and inserting a relaxing night at home with her family. Then her life would be normal. But her story had been written in ink. Etched into stone. There could be no deleting or ignoring the fact that the party happened as long as this fetus was growing inside of her.
There was a way to undo the pregnancy. Abortion. She let the idea percolate in her mind. After an abortion, she could resume life as usual. She’d always considered herself to be pro-life. But the way she saw it, there was no other choice. She peeled herself off the bathroom floor, splashed cool water on her face, and went to her bedroom.
With her phone in hand, she slid between the sheets and propped herself up in bed, leaning against the headboard. Her hands trembled as she searched for the crisis pregnancy center. She needed to call the 24-hour hotline to set up an appointment for the procedure before she’d have a chance to change her mind. The sooner she had the procedure, the sooner she could get back to being her normal self. She couldn’t stand this dismal person she’d become.
She searched for the local crisis pregnancy center and clicked on the link. A photo of the familiar brick building appeared. Below the picture it read Closed now. She clicked on the website and searched for a 24-hour hotline number. All she found was a number to call to leave a message. She dialed the number and listened to a recorded voice reminding her of the hours of operation, directing her to leave a voice message, and telling her to hang up and dial 911 in case of an emergency. Frustrated, Audrey hung up. This was an emergency, but she didn’t need an ambulance. She needed to make an appointment. Now!
Maybe there was another local crisis pregnancy center that understood crises don’t only happen during business hours. A list of women’s clinics in Minnesota filled the screen. She skimmed over the results. A place called “Zoe’s Place” caught her eye.
Honest information about your health, your baby, abortion, and adoption. Our counselors will assist you by answering your questions, supporting you throughout your pregnancy, and providing aftercare no matter what path you choose.
The part about supporting clients after the pregnancy sent shivers down Audrey’s spine. Why would she need support after the baby was out? Wouldn’t she just be able to get on with life? She clicked on the word Aftercare. Testimonials of women who had undergone abortions were posted. Women talked about feeling sad and guilty because they ended their babies’ lives. Some even struggled with depression and suicide.
Audrey clicked on a page titled Birthmothers. A picture of a teenaged girl named Camille appeared on the screen along with her testimonial. “The free ultrasound changed my life and saved my baby’s life. When I saw my baby’s beating heart, abortion was no longer an option for me. ”
The other clinic hadn’t offered Audrey an ultrasound. She placed her hand on her belly, imagining what her baby might look like at this point. The information from the doctor at the crisis pregnancy center had described it as tissue. But Camille said it looked like a baby.
Audrey read every testimonial on the entire website, and then she re-read them until her eyelids would no longer stay open. She put her phone on her nightstand and snuggled under the covers. Before making an appointment for the abortion, she needed to get an ultrasound. If the results showed nothing more than tissue, she’d get the abortion, move on with her life, and never look back. On the other hand, if the ultrasound revealed an actual baby…she sighed…then God would have to show her what to do. Because she didn’t have a clue.
First thing in the morning, Audrey called Zoe’s Place. She wasn’t sure if anyone would answer since it was Sunday. She held her breath, waiting for someone to pick up. “Zoe’s Place. Ally speaking. How may I help you?” The woman’s voice was warm and friendly.
“Hi.” Audrey’s voice was gravelly from just waking up. She cleared her throat. “I need an ultrasound. I mean…I’m pregnant, and I want an abortion. Except if it’s really a baby and then I don’t know—”
“I’m glad you called. That’s exactly what I’m here for. Would you like to come in today or would you like to schedule a time for later in the week?”
Audrey was relieved the lady had interrupted her rambling. She took a deep breath and relaxed a bit. “As soon as possible.”
“No problem. Can you be at Zoe’s Place in thirty minutes?”
Audrey checked the time on her wall clock. Her family should be leaving for church in just a few minutes. They probably assumed she was sleeping in after the late night talking with Pastor Mitchel. “Thirty minutes will be perfect.” Audrey ended the phone call and breathed a sigh of relief. Soon she would see for herself what was growing inside of her and be able to make a decision that would change the course of her life.
Audrey lay on her back with her shirt pulled up enough to expose her lower abdomen. Ally, a middle-aged woman who was just as warm and friendly in person as she’d been on the phone, squirted a jelly-like substance onto Audrey’s belly and began moving a wand slowly over the subtle bulge below Audrey’s belly button. The room was dark except for the soft glow of light coming from the ultrasound machine’s screen. Audrey closed her eyes, preparing herself for the moment of truth.
A scratchy noise sounded from the machine as Ally moved the wand back and forth. “That sound is like a microphone,” Ally said. Gradually, the noise morphed into a steady beating rhythm.
“Is that my heart beat?” Audrey was embarrassed at the fast pace of her heart. As a runner, she’d prided herself on her low resting heart rate. Her nerves must have multiplied her heart rate exponentially.
“That’s your baby’s heart.”
Audrey gasped. Her eyes flew open and she looked at the screen for the first time. The black and white picture was fuzzy and hard to make out; she squinted in concentration. Ally pointed to the screen. “This is the baby’s head. Here are the arms, and here are the legs.”
“I see the heart.” Audrey fixed her eyes on the pulsing spot in the baby’s chest, flashing in sync with the sound filling the room. Awestruck, Audrey stared at the screen while Ally took a few measurements.
“The baby is about two and a half inches long. That means you are almost twelve weeks along. The baby has fingernails and is starting to grow hair. Oh, look. Someone has hiccups.”
Audrey saw the baby making jerking movements. “Hiccups already? Wow.”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Ally smiled. “I can print off a picture if you’d like.”
“Yes, please.” Audrey decided she’d need the picture as proof that this was real. That a baby was growing inside of her. A real baby with fingernails and a beating heart.
Ally wiped the jelly off of Audrey’s belly and turned on the lights. Audrey straightened her clothing and sat up. “This is really happening.” She was numb. Overwhelmed.
Ally handed her the printed picture of the miniature baby. “Do you have any questions?” She sat down on a stool, holding her folded hands in her lap.
Speechless, Audrey studied the picture. One of the baby’s arms was extended, almost as if the baby were waving. Tears welled in her eyes. “I have so many questions. I just don’t know where to start.”
“Take your time.”
“For now, I just need to go home and think about everything.”
“I understand. Is it okay if I call you tomorrow?”
Audrey nodded. “I would appreciate that.” She hopped off the exam table and put on her coat. She slipped the ultrasound picture in her coat pocket.
Ally led her to the door. “Was the ultrasound helpful?”
Audrey fingered the picture in her pocket. It took her a moment to sort through her thoughts enough to answer. “To be honest, I came here looking for proof that an abortion was my best solution. I didn’t expect to see a cute little baby hiccupping and waving at me.” She expelled an incredulous laugh. “Abortion is no longer an option.”
“I’m glad it was helpful. Feel free to call me anytime. Day or night.”
Audrey thought back to last night when she was making a phone call in the middle of the night. “You might regret telling me that.”
They exited the building, and Ally locked the door. “Can I give you a hug?”
Audrey was amazed at Ally’s genuine interest in her case. So far, this pregnancy center’s care far surpassed the other center. Audrey accepted the hug and thanked Ally for everything.
On the drive home, Audrey thanked God that she hadn’t killed the cute little baby rapidly developing inside of her. She never would’ve believed it was already a baby had she not seen it for herself. She also thanked God for Ally. The sweet gentle woman was exactly the confidante Audrey needed. However, the morning’s events were taking her on an emotional rollercoaster that made her sick to her stomach. Now that abortion was ruled out, Audrey had to face the fact that she was a mom. An eighteen-year-old, unwed, college-bound mom.
“Trust in the Lord,” she reminded herself in effort to ward off a panic attack. “Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.