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Advice and encouragement for the families of unwed moms and dads
”Mom, Dad . . . I’m Pregnant.” These are words you never want to hear from your unmarried daughter. In an instant, your dreams and hopes for your daughter or son permanently change. You feel battered by an array of conflicting emotions. What you and your family need now more than ever is compassion, understanding, and direction. Jayne Schooler, a long-time educator, writer, and speaker on family life issues, offers...
Advice and encouragement for the families of unwed moms and dads
”Mom, Dad . . . I’m Pregnant.” These are words you never want to hear from your unmarried daughter. In an instant, your dreams and hopes for your daughter or son permanently change. You feel battered by an array of conflicting emotions. What you and your family need now more than ever is compassion, understanding, and direction. Jayne Schooler, a long-time educator, writer, and speaker on family life issues, offers a comprehensive guide to the challenges faced by parents of children who experience unplanned pregnancies. As a mother and grandmother, Jayne also chronicles her own family’s experience—from the initial heartbreak and shock upon hearing her daughter’s news to a new level of love, maturity, and spiritual commitment. By sharing her own story and those of other parents, as well as the expertise of a broad range of professionals, Jayne offers deep insight and hope to those who need to know that God’s love and grace is readily available for all. Tyndale House Publishers
ONE FAMILY'S JOURNEY
When I heard the words, "Mom, I'm pregnant," I thought my life was over. I thought that this was the worst thing that could ever happen to us as a family. I have since learned that our life as a family wasn't over, but it has been forever changed. Katherine, a birth grandmother
WHEN OUR BEAUTIFUL twenty-one-year-old daughter came home from college on a spring Sunday afternoon in 1998, it appeared to be her usual drop-in-and-do-laundry visit. However, the real reason for her visit would propel us on a path of emotional turmoil, hurt, and confusion that we never expected to travel. We never expected to be here-not with her-not at this point in our family's life.
After returning from church that evening, Kristy sat down at the kitchen table and tearfully asked me to join her. "Mom, there is no easy way to tell you this. I'm pregnant," she quietly said. "Eight weeks, I think."
Too stunned too respond, all I could muster was, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I took a pregnancy test and I have been so sick."
"Who knows?" I weakly asked.
"Sean does, but he won't speak to me," she said. "And Ray, Mom." It turned out that our son had known for a couple of weeks.
"I didn't mean for this to happen," Kristy whispered through painful tears. "I was foolish and careless."
I sat in dazed silence. This can't be true. I wanted to ask a million questions. "How could you have allowed this to happen?" "What were you thinking?" "What are you going to do now?" But I couldn't ask anything. Shocked, I sat looking at our child-a profoundly hurting, desperately frightened young lady-our daughter, our only daughter. My husband was yet to be told.
Just one hour earlier, I had been enjoying conversations with women at church, encouraging them in their Christian walk and laughing with them about family antics. All that seemed light years away now. Suddenly, it felt like my world crumbled around me. I didn't have any answers for my daughter at that moment. I didn't have answers for us.
After David arrived home, Kristy told him the news in the same hushed manner she had told me. His response-one of numbed disbelief-was similar to mine.
"As the news sank in," David recalled, "one part of me stayed in the kitchen, feeling the nauseating pain of what our daughter had just told me. Another part of me went away, thinking about all the issues and concerns we all would have to face. What we had supported, believed, and taught throughout our ministry-choose life-do the right thing-was no longer just a slogan or statement supporting the pro-life movement. It was a pronouncement that now touched us at the deepest, most personal level of our lives."
Some tense conversation followed. With nothing more to be said at that point, and the feeling of helplessness suffocating us, we all went our separate ways. Kristy, deciding not to return to school that evening, headed straight for her room and shut the door behind her. David, needing time and space, left to run an errand. I went to our room to prepare for bed. I could hear Kristy crying through her bedroom door. My heart was breaking for all of us.
David and I struggled with awkward conversation as that devastating evening finally ended. We attempted to sleep, but that luxury eluded us. For the first time in many, many years, I literally lay awake all night. Questions swirled around me. "What will be the future of this baby?" "What about Kristy's future?" "What about ours?" "Who do we tell, and when?"
Over the next several days we went numbly through the motions of returning to our work and carrying out our ministry responsibilities. Kristy returned to college. The journey was just beginning for us.
telling the news
Because David was the senior pastor of a large church, we were in an extremely difficult position. Our first concern, of course, was for our daughter; but at this early stage, still in shock, other concerns quickly emerged as well. David and I were both concerned how the church family would react. Would they still want us to continue in leadership under these conditions? Would they see us failing as parents? Would they still trust us? What would it feel like to be the subject of gossip? Would we have the emotional and psychological strength to continue meeting the demands of a vibrant, growing church amid such personal heartbreak and uncertainty?
After many hours of discussion, weighing the pros and cons of how we would proceed, we made a decision within the first weeks of learning about Kristy's pregnancy to talk with our church board as soon as possible. We did not want "the news" to trickle out, placing us and our church family in an awkward position. Following the regularly scheduled board meeting, my husband called me.
"It is time to come over," he told me. "I asked them to wait as we had something to share."
I walked in the board meeting room and sat next to my husband. In a calm manner, David related our news.
"For many years we have stood by you and your families in crisis. We now face our own. We need to share with you tonight about a family situation. Kristy just told us within the last several days that she is pregnant. We want to apologize to the church for any embarrassment this might bring. We will respond to whatever you ask us to do regarding our future leadership here. All we do ask of you is that you allow us time as a family to regroup and begin to work through the issues that face us."
As we turned to leave, some of the board members stood and walked toward us. We were surrounded with words of encouragement, prayers for wisdom, and hugs of support.
The following Sunday, I faced another difficult moment. I taught an adult women's Sunday school class. Through the years, the class cared for each other through various crises. We all had experienced God's provision in trying and tragic circumstances. I knew the class's history of loving support and maturity, but I still dreaded telling them our news. As the hour drew to a close, I ended the lesson early.
"My friends," I told them. "We have laughed together, cried together, prayed together over the last three years. It has brought healing to all of us. However, I need to tell you that our family is now entering a place where we have never been. Our daughter, who many of you know, is pregnant. We wanted you to know so that you wouldn't hear the rumor and wonder why I had said nothing. We don't know what the days ahead will bring. I know that we have talked a lot and encouraged each other with the knowledge that God's grace is sufficient. I believe that God will teach me at a deeper level what that means in the months to come."
What followed here, just as with our earlier announcement, were expressions of love, acceptance, and encouragement. What I had feared-church gossip and rejection-never materialized. In fact it was quite the opposite. Sitting one afternoon at a church luncheon, I talked openly with one of our ladies about Kristy, assuming she had heard. She began to tear up and said, "I didn't know that, no one told me." Kristy was well into her sixth month by then.
riding the roller coaster
In the early weeks following the disclosure of this news, I felt as though I had stepped onto an emotional roller coaster, and with every heart-stopping curve I encountered a new or recurring emotion... guilt, grief, loss, anger, rejection, fear, despair, hurt, sorrow. The ride jostled me from every side. My husband experienced a similar emotional assault.
Guilt was the first emotion that rose to the surface as the reality of our situation hit home. I felt as though I had failed Kristy as her mother. For a period of time, guilt became my constant companion. My mind constantly rehearsed: What went wrong? What did I do to cause her behavior? What didn't I do? How can I fix this since I am to blame?
A close cousin to guilt is "if-onlys." If only I had been more attentive. If only I had spent more time with her. If only I had allowed her more freedom. If only I had not been so rigid about some things. If only I hadn't smothered her as a parent. If only, if only...
David, too, was tormented. "I kept asking myself, would this have been different if I had listened more-if I had been home more," David related. "We knew during Kristy's adolescence that she was struggling with a lot of issues. She kept her heart walled off from us, and I continually asked myself, 'What if I had been more competent to reach her? Would we be here dealing with this?'"
I think at the heart of a family crisis of this nature is the sense of loss and the accompanying grief that follows. It was for us. One of our bedrooms serves as the memory wall for generations of family photos. One particular frame contains pictures of Kristy's growing-up years. When I walked into that room and glanced at those happy, carefree, smiling faces of a three-year-old, ten-year-old, thirteen-year-old, overwhelming emotions of loss and sadness rose up within me.
Memories of happier days flooded me. I remembered the joy we had watching our daughter's basketball games during her junior high and high school days. I wouldn't miss a game. She was an assertive rebounder and won county-wide honors. I recalled the excitement we all felt when she was chosen from nationally conducted interviews as a counselor-in-training for Kids-Across-America camps, a Christian inner-city program in Missouri. Kristy has a heart for inner-city kids, and in those late high school and early college days, God provided summer outlets for ministry both in Missouri and Ohio. She was invigorated by living out her dreams. But now she was traveling a different road.
Occasionally, I would sit down on the edge of the bed and cry-grieving the losses-loss of the dream of what "should" have been:
Enjoying her college graduation
Watching her dreams of ministry emerge
Seeing the wonder of her falling in love with the right man
Planning a wedding
Anticipating the birth of a grandchild under happy circumstances
Our grieving was also for Kristy-for her losses and struggles-now and in the future. In the midst of your own hurt, anger, and pain, you can't help but feel fear and desperation for the child to whom you've given your heart and life.
Although we knew we had the support of our church family, facing them each week in ministry capacities proved to be difficult. David found stepping into the pulpit each Sunday even more emotionally demanding than he expected it to be.
"I felt that I had lost my credibility. It was very difficult to continue to function in those early days. It was incredibly challenging to face the congregation each week. How could I talk to other families about their spiritual and emotional issues when we were facing such a mountain of concerns within our own family? How could I help them when such deep hurt was shackled to me?"
What engaged our imagination most during those early weeks of deep pain and disappointment was the fantasy of flight. "Why don't we take a sabbatical for a period of time," we asked ourselves. Withdrawing temporarily from all our responsibilities was tempting to us. We felt that in so doing we would have time to work through our issues and concerns with Kristy and the soon-to-be born child alone and out of the public view.
We actually drove over to a neighboring community to look at available housing. We knew that following through on that decision would ultimately mean David would have to resign his position as the senior pastor, as our church did not have a sabbatical option. This flight plan, however, was not God's plan. In the midst of this fantasy of flight, a young pastoral friend of David's, Jamie Johnson, dropped by his office. We now believe he was sent there by God. In their conversation, this young pastor challenged David.
"You are not finished here," Jamie told David. "You are not going to walk away from your calling. You are not going to end your ministry like this. When you do finish, you need to finish strong."
It felt like a profound admonishment from the Lord to David. Calling me after Jamie left his office he echoed his words, "We are not going to run from this. We are not going to finish like this. Whenever we are done here, we will finish strong!"
For families in crisis who also serve in leadership roles, finding a trusted, listening ear feels out of reach. We felt, as do many other pastoral families in crisis, that we really couldn't or shouldn't talk to anyone in the church. This perception brought a deep sense of being very alone. Fears of betrayal, concerns of a judgmental response, or loss of respect blocked that source of support.
After the initial shock of disclosure, I found myself desperately needing to share what was happening in our lives. Talking with my husband was helpful, but he was hurting too. I was convinced that a confidante needed to be outside our church.
I contacted a local counselor, who was also a pastor's wife. I went with great anticipation of hearing words that would sustain me in the coming months. That didn't happen. I am not really sure to this day how the conversation moved in the direction it did, but we spent almost the entire hour discussing her challenging role as pastor's wife. Very little dialogue touched where I was and why I was there. As the hour ended, she said, "Don't think about paying me today, I just enjoyed our talk."
That was it. The session was over. I went out to my car and cried. I needed an outlet for the whirl of thoughts and feelings inside of me. Now who would I talk to?
I didn't realize at the time that God had always intended my support to be from friends who were right there in front of me. There were Pat and Robin Shadowens, a mother and daughter who had journeyed this way more than a decade earlier. I felt drawn to them in a desperate need to speak out loud the confusion I was experiencing. There was Marcia Southerland, an incredible woman with the gift of mercy who just seemed to know the right words at the right time. Then there was the time John and Kelly Bayse and I met for lunch. They asked good questions about feelings, thoughts, and plans for all of us.
What was amazing to me in those early days was the healing that was beginning to take place in my heart. Their comments of understanding began to quietly soothe open sores of woundedness and hurt: "We've been there," "This is a detour, but you, David, Kristy, and the one to come will make it," "Your pain will not last forever."
Excerpted from "mom, dad... I'm pregnant" by Jayne E. Schooler Copyright © 2004 by Jayne E. Schooler. Excerpted by permission.
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