Through Pain and Grace Toward Redemption: Part Two
Shelby was 17 when she became pregnant. Her boyfriend was 19. She gave birth shortly after her 18th birthday.
When you discover that your unmarried teen-age daughter is pregnant, you feel anger, grief, sorrow, and shame among other emotions. There is no easy way through that turmoil, but eventually things settle down and everyone involved accepts the reality of the situation. After that, there are decisions to be made. And these are critical decisions that affect many lives for long periods of time. Unless she is an exceptionally mature young woman, the decisions facing her will be more than she is equipped to handle.
Mother and father, you better be VERY careful guiding your daughter in these days. The implications of her decisions are much larger than the pregnancy. You will be tempted to take control, particularly if your daughter is frightened and in a state where she might submit her will to yours. You probably do know best, but your daughter’s life is bigger than this event. She and the child she carries will live with these decisions long after you are gone. If you force her into a decision when she is vulnerable, she may carry lasting and deep resentments.
Never in your parenting experience have you been more in danger of winning a battle but losing the war.
You must bring all the wisdom of your years to this task. You must boldly tell her the truth but do so with gentleness and love. You must not let her idealize what it would mean to have a baby of her own, but neither should you scorn her natural feelings of love and attachment. You must stand with her in public as her pregnancy becomes obvious. Your love for her must lift you and her above shame and embarrassment. You must give her the time she needs for decisions while watching the calendar to make sure she does not avoid those decisions. You must understand the art of knowing when to push and when to wait.
And, as Christ is our guide, you must also love and include the father of the child, if the situation is one where he is willing and it is safe and right for him to be involved. He is also a parent of the child in her. We cannot fault young men for not being involved with unplanned pregnancies if we do not allow them to be part of the decisions.
The circumstances of this pregnancy were not complex, and it did not match up with our values to consider abortion. But God made Shelby a free being, so even in this area I wanted to find out what her feelings were. I was relieved to hear Shelby say that she didn’t feel that would be right. It gave me an opportunity to affirm her courage in going forward with the birth. I don't know how I would have handled things if she had wanted an abortion. In times like this you learn to deal only with the questions that are facing you.
It seemed very clear to Jeanene and me that Shelby was in no way ready to be a mother. She hadn’t yet mastered the complexities of high school. But she had a woman’s body, and we knew that she would be feeling the righteous love of her child that is the birthright of all women.
Jeanene and I also felt righteous about making our own claim. Our lives are also important. So we shared gently with Shelby and her boyfriend that we were not going to raise their child for them. They would need to raise this child or consider adoption. If they decided to raise the child, we would help them as grandparents. We were bold in telling them that those were the only two honorable options.
We told them that the decision was theirs, but we would help them get all the information they needed. We got packets of information from social workers designed to help young people understand what it means financially and emotionally to raise a child together. We also took them to an adoption agency to ask questions.
And then we waited.
Waiting was very hard. Our lives were on hold, waiting for a decision from a couple of teenagers. We knew they would have to live with this decision, so they needed to take ownership of it. We helped them set a date by which their decision had to be made. It was a date that gave them three months to consider things while still leaving enough time to make arrangements before the birth. During those waiting days we talked and we listened. Shelby and her boyfriend took walks together and talked on their own.
One afternoon Shelby and I sat on our back porch together. She told me the burden of the decision was almost more than she could bear. And then she said something that was wise beyond her years.
“You know Dad, I feel that whatever happens, this child should not be born with anyone thinking his or her birth is a bad thing. If I choose to keep the baby, it would be hard - I know. And maybe not even the wisest thing. But the child would have a life, and I know he or she will be happy to be alive. Even people born into hard situations are grateful they were born, you know? And if we give the baby to a couple who can’t have children, well, that would be good too. I think I’ve reached a place of peace where I can see goodness either way.”
Up until that moment, I had not been able to emotionally accept the reality of the child inside her. In many of our conversations I had encouraged Shelby and her boyfriend to put the welfare of their child first. Those were just words. Good words, but my heart was mostly concerned with her life and, selfishly, with my own life. But the moment Shelby said this, the child inside her became real to me. And I found myself increasingly able to be at peace.
I said that mothers and fathers should bring all the wisdom they can to this decision. But as often happens, our children have wisdom of their own.
I leave you with the waiting, because we waited so long for their decision.