by Glenda Reynolds
I was conceived in the city of Brotherly Love, the birthplace of America’s freedom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a city rich in history, full of historical landmarks, places where events occurred that helped shape our nation. The people there boast that everyone is considered a brother – “outsiders will never understand”. It is a place where people can get their favorite food which some consider to be a cheesesteak hoagie, soft pretzel and a Tastykake. I wonder if someday I’ll have the pleasure of walking the streets of Philly and enjoying these delicious foods. Like many big cities, there are rich neighborhoods and a lot of poor ones. As with many big cities there are many problems that happen: crime, drug use, teen pregnancy, and people who prey on or abuse other people. There are unfortunate ones who fall through the cracks of society. My story is not unique, but it is worth telling.
My first conscious thoughts are of my own heartbeat and that of my mother’s. Does she know that I’m here? Does she know the potential I have of the man I can become? Someone big and strong to lead others, who makes a difference in the world, or does something as simple as hold her in my arms. Maybe after her bout with morning sickness she will realize I’m here. But no, she drinks a beer and pops some pills. Now I’m feeling sick myself. Maybe both of us will feel better tomorrow.
My mother really likes to dance! It’s really noisy for me. I especially find the subwoofer very irritating. I hear my mother laugh; she is having a good time. Except now I’m feeling woozy again after she drinks what they call “booze”. A fight is breaking out; people are yelling. One of them is my father who is yelling at my mother. I don’t understand what is happening, but there is no mistaking the slap to my mother’s face. We are lying on the ground. She is shaking with sobs as she puts her arms protectively over her tummy. She does know that I’m here! When I grow up, I will protect her from abusive people like him.
Many weeks have passed. My mama still remains with my father, afraid of living with him or maybe afraid of living without him. Which is the greater evil? I seem to be the topic of some heated arguments. My father is slapping Mama again, sending us tumbling down the stairs. We are a little banged up, but we survive. My mama realizes that she needs to get away. She gets up off the floor, throws her jacket on, and catches a bus to the other side of town. I hear the loud engine roar as we leave. We get off at Queen’s Village of South Philadelphia.
I can immediately feel the tension release in Mama as she walks silently through the neighborhood. She sits down at an outdoor café under a large tree. After the waitress serves her a small chicken pasta and tea, I enjoy the spices when I feed through the umbilical cord. She pays the tab and starts walking to my grandparent’s house. We stop at a tall, brick row house that has a window planter full of yellow and orange mums. After she raps on the door, Nana opens it, greeting Mama with a big hug and kisses. Then Nana’s eyes fall on the bulge that is me. Tears come to her eyes.
“I am so happy that you’ve come to visit with us! Come on in and say hello to your daddy.”
Grandpa is very welcoming, at least he sounds like a caring person. When they observe how far along Mama is in her pregnancy and the bruises on her face, they insist that we stay with them. At the sound of this, I smile a toothless smile. We are loved. Now we are living with Nana and Grampa. I love my grandparents even before I officially meet them. They both know what it is like to live in poverty. They both had dreams and aspirations for themselves and have much to show for it. This is as close to a loving, strong family unit that I’ll ever know. Why can’t my mother and father be more like them? Could it be that they like other things that aren’t good for them?
Days go by. Days turn into weeks. My mama’s life is one big party. It seems that I never get any good sleep to grow inside of her. My amniotic fluid tastes very bitter most of the time. It gives me the hiccups. It doesn’t matter that Mama is big as she carries me. She still loves to wear tight fitting clothing to show off her curves. The men folk love it. Women think it’s slutty. Someday I’ll know what that means. Although we still live with Nana and Grandpa, Mama comes and goes as she pleases. One day the police raid my grandparent’s house. They find pills and pot. No, this will not be my future training pot although it is spelled the same way. One smells different than the other. I wouldn’t know. The policemen are taking us to jail.
Here we sit on a cold bench, surrounded by other thugs. The lights are so bright that I roll inside my mama to get away from the glare. She cries and rubs her tummy.
“I’m sorry I got us in here. Things will get better, I’m sure,” she reassures us. This is her first arrest so they show leniency towards her. My grandparents arrive to get us out, to “spring us from the pen”. No, this isn’t the future (play) pen that is planned for me. The other one has a soft mattress and toys, something that all babies look forward to. I could hear Nana crying. She hugs us. One would think that my mama would be grateful. Instead, she goes back to him.
My father has arrived at my grandparent’s house while Mama and I are there alone. She let him in. He spun his lies about how they should get back together and have a bright future. He insists that it couldn’t include a baby just yet. I stick my tongue out as if I tasted something nasty. I even kick her sides to let her know my disapproval. He continues by saying that if she loves him as she says she does, she would come away with him. He could pay for an abortion, and they would live happily ever after. She believes him.
No! No! No! My bottom lip trembles as I cry.
My mama asks him to wait a moment. She leaves the living room for a few minutes then returns with her jacket.
My father drives us to West Philadelphia to 38th and Lancaster. Christian protestors are walking around the outside of The Women’s Medical Society clinic. The white, block-like silhouette of a man, woman and baby hangs above “Family Planning, Gyn & Geriatrics” on the corner of the brick building. My father is too cowardly to face these people. He drops us off to park the car. A kind middle-aged woman approaches Mama as she questions the reason for her visit.
“My boyfriend thinks that it’s the best for me to have an abortion at this time. I’m really too young to be caring for a child. I can’t even care for myself.”
“Sweetie, God loves you and your unborn child. He will provide for you. You don’t need to do this.” Mama kept her eyes on the ground, unmoved. “Haven’t you heard the stories about this doctor? He kills babies after their born!” She used her fingers with a scissors motion.
“I need to do this. You don’t understand.”
“I understand that once you get in there, you’ll wish that you never made this trip. Stop and think about what you are doing.”
“I’ve had time to think. I just want this over with.”
“And what about your baby? Have you thought about what he wants? Surely you’ve felt life inside of you?”
“I’m just sorry that I didn’t have birth control before I got pregnant! Now if you’ll excuse me.” Mama pushed her way past the crowd.
Once she was inside, Mama gags at the smell of urine from the many cats that are allowed to roam the clinic. The furniture is stained with blood. She notices that the emergency exit is padlocked. Is this to keep people out or to keep them in? After signing in, she tries to find a place to sit that isn’t soiled. There are several women present who are only there to receive new prescriptions for Oxycontin or other drugs for themselves and their friends. These are filled by signed blank prescription pads; the doctor doesn’t even have to be present. A clinic employee ushers Mama back to a room. On the way there, she peers through a door and sees a woman who has been given a labor induced drug. The woman has bled on the clinic’s furniture. No one is attending her. After Mama is taken to her room, she waits silently in a chair in the corner. Soon an unlicensed employee comes into the room. The staff person takes my mother’s blood pressure. She instructs her to lie back on the table as an ultrasound is done. All of the staff has been instructed to falsify the ultrasounds to do them at an angle in order for the image of the baby to appear smaller – to make it appear legal.
“There’s the little fetus. We’ll get him out in no time.”
“But he seems much bigger than that. I am seven and a half months pregnant.”
“I’m sure he does seem big.” She reached into an upper cabinet to retrieve some drugs. Mama was shocked to see jars of baby body parts stacked in a row inside the cupboard. “Now be a darling and take these pills.” The staff person made sure Mama swallowed the pills before leaving. The attendant leaves the room while my mother is left there alone for the labor inducing drugs to take effect.
Mama patiently lays alone there for about a half an hour. The noise outside distracts her. She slides off the table and walks to the window to view the protesters below. One man holds a sign with these words from the Bible, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life…” Deut. 30:19. It is as if the wind is knocked out of Mama.
Breathe, Mama, breathe!
She returns to the medical table with her heart and her mind in turmoil. Tears come to her eyes. She is changing her mind as she finds the courage within her. Just then the same staff person comes into her room.
“I can’t do this. I have to leave!”
“You can’t leave. We’ve already started the process.”
“I am leaving – just watch me.”
The staff person beat on my mama’s legs saying, “Stop being such a baby! You wanted this done. Let’s get this done and over with!” At that point the staff person is trying to physically restrain my mother to the bed. Mama is screaming in protest. Just then my grandparents bust through the door trailed by clinic staff.
“Get away from my daughter now!” yelled Nana.
My grandparents grab her clothes and jacket; they support Mama on either side as they help her out of the building. When we step outside onto the sidewalk, people start applauding and are in tears. The same middle aged woman comes up to my mama, plants a kiss on her cheek and says, “I was praying for you, darlin’. Thank God you and your baby are all right.”
We are taken to a real hospital. It isn’t my time to be born yet, but when I am, I have a bright future in front of me. I was meant to be here. God doesn’t make mistakes.
~***~ The End~***~
"You wrote a very touching story filled with emotion, love, and controversy. A very much needed as a wake-up call. It does a good job showing the tragedy of abortion." - Heather Schuldt
"I just wept reading your story. Please don't ever stop writing; You make an awesome difference. This story is your best." - Charlotte Thorpe