Although both my husband, Bill, and I had found professional fulfillment in the corporate fast lane, we longed for the deeper personal fulfillment of parenting. So when I became pregnant in December 1983, it felt like a Christmas miracle.
Several months later, however, without warning, I was seized by intense pain. I'm only five months pregnant! I thought. I can't be in labor!
Bill rushed me to the hospital, but it was already too late. Our unborn daughter had perished.
Our baby's death carved a deep grief into my soul. My arms ached to hold the daughter we'd lost. After returning from the hospital, Bill and I sat quietly in our darkened living room, trying to come to terms with our loss. A thought from a sermon I'd heard years before kept returning to my mind: "Unless there's a Good Friday, there will never be an Easter Sunday." Those words began to take on a new meaning.
"Bill," I said softly, "if I feel this much sorrow over a miscarriage, what kind of anguish must a woman who aborts her child feel if she felt that abortion was her only choice?"
As the days slipped by, I found my thoughts incessantly returning to women who abort their babies. As I prayed, I felt called to help them. Little by little, from the loss of our child's life, the Nurturing Network was born.
As a successful strategic planner, I knew I needed to know which women were most likely to choose abortion and why. The answers I discovered shattered my safe stereotypes. Of the 1.6 million abortions in the U.S. each year, between 70 and 75 percent are performed on women age 20 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
These women are mostly middle class, I found. Many are in college or on their first job. As young professionals, they've been told they have "the most to lose" by continuing an unplanned pregnancy.
Our sophisticated society seems to assume that professional and college women don't have crisis pregnancies. And if they do, they know how to handle it. But the banker hurts just as badly as the high-school student. In fact, unwed pregnancy can be especially difficult for a woman in the business world. She often faces losing credibility and is judged as irresponsible and naive. College students also are supposed to be "smarter than this." It became my special challenge in the months ahead to respond to those needs.
My first step was to conduct an informal survey. I contacted ten abortion clinics nationwide and asked that my telephone number be given to women willing to discuss their experiences anonymously. More than one hundred women responded. I asked them, "If you had had access to whatever help you needed, would you have preferred to give birth to your baby?" The answer was a resounding "Yes!"
I then asked what "practical" meant to those women in crisis. I learned it meant a quick college transfer, a discreet job relocation, or a confidential, supportive place to live for the duration of a pregnancy. These women frequently mentioned desiring the support of someone who understood their fears and loneliness. They talked about the importance of meeting their professional responsibilities and of being able to meet mortgages and car payments.
I asked about the fathers of these unborn children. Could they be counted on for help? What support could these women's own families provide? The same sad refrain echoed throughout the stories. Men who were important in their lives had walked out. Embarrassed parents had rejected them or weren't even aware of the abortion.
One theme clearly emergeda woman in this situation isn't experiencing "freedom of choice." Shame and hurt propel her toward abortion out of desperation because she feels she has no other choice. The more I prayed about it, the more determined I became to turn my tragedy into a blessing for other mothers.
As a Christian, I needed to ask the essential question, "What would Christ do in this situation?" If he would heal, clothe, and feed, then this was what I should do, too.
With that realization in mind, my blueprint for the Nurturing Network became a Grand Central Station of caring and support to link each mother-to-be with the help she needed in six vital areas: employment, education, housing, medical care, counseling, and finances.
In two years' time, I conducted a formal marketing study, drew up a realistic strategic plan, and completed a financial analysis and budget. I then invited several of my business colleagues and friends from my corporate days to join our fledgling effort. Their response was encouraging.
Using the proceeds from the sale of our second home as seed money, the Nurturing Network was launched on Mother's Day in 1985. With a small volunteer staff, I opened the first office in Osterville, Massachusetts, where Bill and I lived at the time. My initial goals were modest: to help just one woman each month. But we ended up serving twelve clients in the first month alone!
That was 9,000 clients ago. They hear about us through word of mouth, from other organizations, on television or radio broadcasts, or in newspaper or magazine articles. The Network has grown to include more than 22,000 dedicated volunteers in the United States and 23 foreign countriesfriends willing to step forward to help a pregnant woman in need. These supporters may be professionals such as doctors or counselors, caring families with an extra room and love to share, or compassionate people with the heart and means to help financially. Every type of support is neededand each is deeply appreciated.
I still remember one pregnant young woman, Muriel, who contacted us. Although her job was never formally threatened, her situation was tenuous. At twenty-eight, she'd worked her way to the top of her company and had a visible position within a large interior design firm in a major city. She dreamed of returning to school for a degree in architecture and needed her job in order to pay tuition.
As the weeks crept by and Muriel's waistline thickened, she became increasingly fearful. She was convinced she'd be demoted or lose her job when her pregnancy became obvious. Muriel had never given much thought to abortion. It was something on the evening news that didn't affect her life. Now it beckoned as a quick solution.
Muriel didn't usually watch TV. She just happened to have it on one Friday night and heard me share our Network program with an interviewer. Muriel called our toll-free number in the middle of the night and left a message.
We talked at length early the next morning. She tearfully relayed her concern that if she lost her job, college would be an impossibility. Her parents could never afford to pay for tuition, especially with the extra expense of an infant. When I asked if her boyfriend was supportive, Muriel said, "Phil's not ready for the responsibilities of marriage, and neither am I. Rushing into a hasty marriage would be disastrous."
I listened empathetically and assured her we could help. Within days, we located a Nurturing Home for Muriel near a fine architectural school in another state. The couple she stayed with helped her apply for college admission and find a part-time job.
Several weeks after delivery, Muriel put her daughter up for adoption because of her conviction that children deserve and prosper better with two parents. Although this was a difficult, lonely decision, she also saw it as an opportunity to find a loving, grace-filled solution to a personally agonizing problem. Muriel's confidence and self-respect grew tremendously in the process of turning her unplanned pregnancy into a bountiful blessing. I felt a deep joy as I witnessed Muriel's emotional and spiritual growth.
The saddest moments at the Nurturing Network are when we receive a call or letter from someone for whom our help came too latelike one sobbing woman who was speaking from a pay phone in a laundromat. She'd just come across one of our brochures, telling her that help was available by calling our toll-free number. "I had an abortion yesterday," she cried. "I had no idea you even existed. If only I'd known."
Those words tear at my heart with special poignancybut they also keep me going. On the days when there doesn't seem to be enough hours and energy available, I hear her voice. I hear another Voice as well: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
This is the Nurturing Network's continuing promise to mothers and children in need: You are not alone. With the Lord's help, we'll carry you in our arms. You don't have to forsake the life of your child out of despair. In the midst of all you're going through, never forget for one moment that your baby is the greatest gift the gift of love the gift of life.
Una McManus is a freelance writer . To contact Mary Cunningham Agee at the Nurturing Network, visit www.nurturingnetwork.org.
Copyright © 1997 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.