She called ahead, speaking rapidly, asking if she could make an appointment for the next hour. When she walked in, she was shadowed by a large man, who proceeded to the far corner, where he could easily avoid making eye contact with whoever was at the front desk. She wore tight clothing, a short skirt, and had a number of tattoos up and down her arms. We pay attention to that, because we know that women caught in human trafficking often have tattoos with a bar code, or numbers to identify them to their pimps, but she didn’t appear to have any visible markers for being trafficked. I wondered at first if she had some kind of tooth piercing – I’d seen women before with diamonds on their teeth, or something similar, but this woman appeared to have dark sunken pits at the base of each tooth, so we concluded that the teeth were rotting from the bottom up. She’d made an appointment for a pregnancy test, but when she walked in, she was visibly pregnant – at least into the later second trimester! Her LMP told us she was 26 weeks along. And she filled out in her paperwork that she was looking for an abortion.
In California, the law states that you can have an abortion, without question, until the baby is viable, sometime between 24 and 28 weeks. It depends on the abortionist, how late they are willing to do it. And if the mother claims it will cause her significant emotional pain to continue carrying the child, the abortionist can legally abort the child up until the baby is born.
Our client shared her life story, full of struggle and pain, but she laughed as she described her experiences. In order to survive, she’d had to shut off all emotions relating to her well-being, including her emotions relating to her child. She had three children at home, and had had three abortions and one miscarriage. She said the miscarriage hurt, because she’d “wanted that one”. Her elementary age child kept talking about the baby coming, and our client said she simply kept telling her daughter “it might not happen”. The older kids never said anything when those conversations came along, because they’d seen it happen so often already.
Hearing about the fetal development of her child, and what exactly happened in those abortions while she’d been unconscious, she turned away, and said she’d think about it, but when it came time for the ultrasound, she refused to undergo the ultrasound. She knew what she would see, and she didn’t want to go there.
Why doesn’t this feel like a blessing?
You know how after sitting in the same place at church for years it becomes “your seat”? Well this girl sat in my seat about five weeks ago, and instantly became close friends with the girl sitting next to her. A couple weeks later, that new friend began volunteering at the Life Center! Her name is Destiny, and I was delighted to have her join the team, but almost immediately, with the Coronavirus shutting everything down, we had to put Destiny’s training on hiatus. Last week I got a midnight text message from her, asking for prayers. A friend was considering abortion, and asked Destiny for help. We set up an appointment, and when I opened the door, the client and I stared at each other as she said, “Nice to meet you…again…” She was the girl who’d sat in my seat five weeks ago! As we talked, she told me how she’d sat in that seat, praying to make a new friend, a girl who could help her grow closer to God. As soon as she finished praying, she met Destiny, and they hit it off. Neither of them thought it was a coincidence that Destiny then felt called to join the Life Center, or that in her moment of need this girl decided to confide in the brand new friend who could so easily decide to judge her and then abandon her.
“Anna” spoke and listened, and shared her heart, her fears, her difficult relationship and lack of support. She said “I know children are supposed to be a blessing from God, so why doesn’t this feel like a blessing?” She agreed to not make any decisions until after seeing the ultrasound. For most of our clients, we don’t see or hear from them until that next appointment. We think about them, pray for them, imagine what they’re feeling, but it hits differently when you hear each day about the midnight tears, the switching back and forth about whether or not she wants to see the ultrasound, because she knows that once she sees the baby she’ll have a harder time seeking out an abortion. The night before her ultrasound appointment I kept waking up, thinking about her, and there were text messages; she’d been up all night too. When she came in, her boyfriend was there too! He’d insisted upon an abortion when he first heard, but with a couple of weeks to think, he’d changed his mind, and wanted to be there for her. Both of them became emotional when they saw their child for the first time, abortion was no longer an option.
All Life Is Precious
Yesterday I filled out a form for one of our affiliates annual collection of statistics, and there was a question: “How many of your clients this year were victims of human trafficking?” My answer was none; we’d had several victims of domestic violence, more than several actually. But none had identified themselves as victims of human trafficking. I was glad we hadn’t encountered any with such horrible experiences – so many clients had such difficult stories, I couldn’t imagine how painful it would be to hear about someone’s entire life being ripped away so violently. As I reflected on that, I got a phone call about a woman who wanted to come in, not for a pregnancy test, but for some baby clothing; she’d just given birth!
Lisa, a new volunteer, and I welcomed her in and sat down to hear her story. She was unmarried and had not identified a father in her paperwork, but had two little boys – a newborn and a 4 year old. The older boy was so friendly and eager I couldn’t stop smiling back at him! His mom identified herself almost immediately as a victim of human trafficking. She’d been brought to this country with her older son, both as slaves. My mind went straight to all the statistics I’d learned in my studies of this issue. Now her son’s brain damage took on new gravity. His mouth was full of something shiny – I asked if he had braces and heard what I didn’t want to hear. All of his teeth had been removed due to cavities from malnourishment, and the insurance she could afford would only pay for silver teeth. The amount of suffering that would lead to every single tooth being that damaged… The saving grace is his youth. New teeth will grow, and we can pray that his health will improve so greatly that the next set of teeth will be strong and healthy.
Our client didn’t tell us exactly what she’d been forced to do while captive, but she did tell us that she conceived while being held. A study performed in 2012₁ found that 52% of all women asked (all victims of human trafficking) had been forced to have abortions, and 16% of them had had 3 or more abortions during their time as victims. Our client was able to escape before that occured, and is now being treated for the physical and emotional scarring she has sustained. Her second child (the one who motivated her very risky escape) had been born prematurely, but was doing well. We were able to provide both emotional support and some material assistance in the form of clothing, diapers and a stroller.
As painful as it was to hear her story and empathise with her suffering, she reminded me of just how serious a mother’s love for her children is. She was willing to do anything her captors demanded to protect her oldest son, to ensure they did not harm him. When she became pregnant and learned of the danger to that child she risked what most women in her situation do not – she attempted escape, knowing what they would do to both her and her older son if she failed in that attempt. But the attempt was worth it to defend the life of her unborn child. Her devotion to her children is an inspiration to all who fight for the lives of unborn children. Lord, let us all be willing to risk as much as she did for such a beautiful cause.
I’ve told myself I need to start stories differently; I always begin with a client on the phone, or how she sounded, but that’s how the story starts for me! I have a picture in my head of the first time I saw her face, or the way she sounded on the phone. Most of the time the voice on the phone will be described just like all the other women, but in my head, each voice is distinct. They may all be shaking and scared, high pitched and nervous, but in my memories, I know each voice, and pair the voice with a face, and a story.
She was so sweet. She was older than some of our other clients, but seemed so young. She already had an abortion scheduled for Saturday, but she wanted an ultrasound. She said she hoped seeing the baby would convince her to change her mind!
Her first pregnancy was in early high school, and she followed up with a second baby right away. She thought she’d be with that same boy forever, but as she graduated high school and found a job, she noticed he still wanted to do nothing all day, just play with the babies. He didn’t want to work, or go to school, or even really take care of the kids, he just liked playing with them.
She realized he wasn’t a dependable partner, and decided to end that relationship. He’s still around to play with the kids, but she lost all respect for him. While pursuing a career path, she found a new love interest – one she does respect. He has a plan for his life and is very close to finishing school. But they’d only known each other for a few months before she conceived!
Jamila was worried – she had a perfect vision of her life – one man, her husband, and their children. Good jobs, so they can support their family and live independently. No complicated relationship with other men who are parents to her children. No struggling to support a family with no father. What if this man isn’t the one? What if he turns out like the last father? What man will want to marry her if she has two men following around as fathers of her children?
Her concerns were valid. Her picture of the perfect family was perfect! She just had to make decisions that would enable her to have that kind of life. She shared that with her first child she never wanted abortion. Even though others told her it was the right decision, she thought her boyfriend was perfect, and she wanted to start a family with him. With her second child, there was even more pressure to abort, and she was even more determined to keep her baby.
She tried to picture what her life would have been today if she had aborted those two children. The vision made her shudder, and she knew she couldn’t abort! Her babies were so perfect, her job was able to support them all; she wasn’t even struggling. She couldn’t imagine life without them, and she didn’t want to think how she’d feel five years down the line, if she chose abortion this time. She knew she’d always wonder what that baby would be like, and even if her boyfriend didn’t support her, she’d choose her child above anything else.
After her first appointment, she didn’t know for certain that she’d cancel that abortion. We prayed hard, and when she returned for her ultrasound, we rejoiced! She hadn’t yet told anyone in her family, but she took her pictures home, and promised to call us back to share how those conversations go. Her hopes are high! She knows she can finish her preparation to ensure she’s on the right career path, and by the time the baby is due, she’ll have her job, her boyfriend will have finished school and begun his career, and they may even be able to get married and move in together! Whatever happens, she knows how to ensure her relationships are filled with respect, and she knows that her love for her children will get her through any struggles that come.