And They Would Not Be Comforted
February 10, 1991: Ashwood Hospital, Atlanta, GA
I was at Emory University my sophomore year and he was waiting.
I ran to him as fast as my Doc Martens could carry me.
His car was parked at the edge of the street and I knew that the cold I was feeling would soon be gone the minute Luke opened the warm door of his Camaro.
Luke will make it right.
It will be okay.
We will get married and we can both finish our degrees. It was early to start a family, but between his parents and mine, we will get by. I touched my softly rounding stomach and spoke to my Lauren (or would it be Jack?) – We will make it right. I promise you. We messed up, but the Lord will forgive us of our sin of fornication and deliver us. We will get married and make everything right. Isn’t that what second chances are for? Yes, I was taking an anti-depressant because of my anxiety and depression; and, yes, the doctors told us to be abstinent while taking it. However, we did not listen and the condom failed. Despite that, I still believed that everything was going to be fine – I just needed Luke to reassure me. He would know what to do…or so I thought. I had hidden my pregnancy as long as I could.
How innocent I was as I dashed to the car and the man I loved who was waiting, unbeknownst that I was about to change everything in our destinies.
True love always won out in the end, I vowed, as Luke opened his car door and gave me his hand. Always.
I awoke from my dream. I hurt badly. Pain permeated throughout my body as my eyes groggily flickered open and focused on the lone painting directly in front of me on the sterile hospital room wall.
The Monet pictured a woman in a field of flowers. One of my favorite Impressionist paintings, my eyes searched for the child barely visible in the painting.
Where was my child?
“Banner?” my mother, Joyce Atwood, whispered as she slowly arose from her chair, her curly red hair unkempt, the deep lines on her face and the dark circles around her eyes making her appear to have aged many years in less than 48 hours, and moved ploddingly, as though in a daze, across the room to my hospital bed.
“Do you want some water, honey?” I looked up into her tired, sky blue eyes, mirrors of my own, and asked the question I feared.
“What was it? A Lauren or a John?”
“Lauren,” my mother stammered, putting her hand to her mouth as she turned her face away to compose herself. Minutes passed.
I rolled onto my side and felt the padding between my legs as sharp pains shot from my abdomen to my private parts. I knew I was bleeding because I could feel blood trickling in my privates, similar to a bad menstrual cycle. The padding was thick and the catheter inside my urethra throbbed. The nurses had said the catheter’s insertion would prevent urination, I recalled, fleetingly. It was only then that I realized someone was missing from my hospital room.
“He took her home, Banner. Home to South Carolina to bury her with your grandparents at our family plot at Bethel Methodist Church.”
“Was she hurt? Did she hurt?”
“She died before you gave birth.”
My mother slumped down into a chair and stared at her feet. Placing her palms on her thighs, she did everything to avoid looking at me.
“Your father baptized her Lauren Elisabeth Atwood,” she whispered, “as you requested.”
Tears poured down my face as I stared at the Monet and wished I were in any other place and in any other time but right here, right now. “She should have been a Jennings, Mama.”
“Well, he didn’t exactly do that, did he?” My mother abruptly ended her silence. “He’s not even here! Luke hasn’t shown up here even once during the two days you were kept unconscious!”
I wanted to retort something hateful, something to drive home that my parents had barred Luke from being with me – but what was the point? I stared at Monet’s colorful painting, his great concentration to detail and love for the outdoors obvious in every master brushstroke. Through my tears, the flowers in the painting blurred as I asked my mother the greatest question of my life—one that would take many years to answer.
“How will I ever forgive myself – or you all – for this? Even the doctors who said it was the merciful thing to have an abortion that got me pressured into this?” I wept uncontrollably as I curled up into a ball at the realization that Lauren was gone – forever – to my family cemetery in South Carolina, sleeping for all time without her father’s name. Was she in heaven? Or just dead in a grave?
My aborted daughter.
My mother, regaining her composure after her angry outburst, bent over me, staring at the IV strapped into my hand. She touched my empty left ring finger. “You will return to Emory University. You will get your degree. We will forget about this procedure. Everyone thinks Lauren died of natural causes. For you—for all of us—now and forever more, that’s the story. We must protect the family’s reputation.”
“I want to die. Just let me die.” I need you, Luke. I need you to be the chivalrous knight, riding in on your magnificent white steed and rescuing me, your maiden fair.
I cried inside as I felt the wetness of the seeping blood saturating the pads between my legs, allow me access to a time machine and send me back weeks ago, or even months ago, so I can change history by not asking for and being granted an antidepressant to help me as I struggled with anxiety and depression. I would not run into dark nights to spend hours until dawn in Luke’s arms. I would not have gotten pregnant on an antidepressant. I would not have aborted my daughter.
“You will go on,” my mother asserted, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d…it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.” She quoted Shakespeare to me at the worst moment of my life.
I turned to my mother, knowing my goal of seminary was ruined. A missionary or someone in the ministry could not have an abortion in her past, especially a second trimester abortion. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I silenced her.
“Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”
“Matthew 2:18, Mama” my empty blue eyes stared vacantly at her before I turned my back and faced the wall.