During my pregnancy, I read stories of other women who had become pregnant by rape, sometimes twice daily. Those stories were a source of hope and made me feel like I wasn’t alone and reaffirmed that it was normal to love my child. I’m writing my story now in the hope that other woman will know that they are not alone, but I also feel that I owe it to my son to advocate for babies like him.
Six years ago, through some friends who worked there, I took a volunteer position with Planned Parenthood as an outreach HIV tester and counselor, so I was out in the community and really never spent time at the clinic, except for the certification training. Being in the abortion clinic made me uncomfortable to know that in another room down the hallway there is a baby dying. I took the position because I wanted to help people know their status with HIV.
At that point in time, I described myself as “personally pro-life, but politically pro-choice.” I never would have encouraged someone to have an abortion, but I realize now that my silence on the issue of life had a real-life impact. One day, when speaking to a rape victim who came to me for an HIV test and thought she might be pregnant, I was silent. Years later, I knew I had been complicit in whatever occurred later when she followed up with clinic staff. I used to think of her occasionally. I knew what it was like to be raped because I had become a victim at the age of 16. But I didn’t know what it was like — as I used to think — to “carry a rapist around inside of you.”
Back then, even as someone who was “personally pro-life,” I thought it must be awful to be in such a position: choose yourself and your sanity, or this child created in horror. I would think, “How could anyone decide what to do there?” In my mind, I certainly could understand someone making an appointment for an abortion. The memory of that woman grieves me now, as I can see my own foolishness clearly.
This mind-clearing began in the summer of 2016 when I, as a single woman, unexpectedly got pregnant. This reel of unfortunate events began with a guy and a stupid decision and ended with a miscarriage and heartbreak. Few people in my life know about the baby I lost. I hid her away in my heart and tried to move on with my life, knowing that she was never meant to be. After all, I have a diagnosed infertility problem. Pregnancy was something I was supposed to work for and earn with years of doctors visits and prayer – in my mind anyway.
Losing that baby, for a time, felt like payback for my prior involvement with Planned Parenthood and my ownership of a political position which championed the “right to choose.”
My family helped me have a tiny memorial service for the little girl I carry in my heart, and things started to click for me in my head. If I believed my child’s life deserved to be memorialized even though she hadn’t taken a breath, didn’t all babies lost in the womb deserve the same? And if I considered them to be living — which would mean aborting them was a form of murder — how could I remain complicit in the murder of babies?
But what about those women who “NEEDED” to have abortions? What about the women who shouldn’t be “forced to carry rapists’ babies,” who “definitely needed the procedure?” I had to table my thoughts and just be okay with it for their benefit. Who better to speak for them than someone who had no idea what she was talking about? I laugh at my ignorance-based arrogance now.
January 2017 rolled around, and I began my year with hopes of returning to college to finish my four-year degree in the fall. I would spend the months in between trying to figure out if I wanted to prep for law school or try to pursue seminary education. Yes, I have a faith background. I made the decision to be baptized when I was 10, but I had always separated my religious beliefs from my politics.
I was getting to know a new guy who seemed nice enough. It was going to be a productive year. Halfway through January, I went out for a couple of drinks with a female friend on a Saturday. We participated in a fundraiser to support native water rights activists, which involved making a donation to get Standing Rock tattoos. With my arm covered in plastic wrap to protect the new ink as it began to heal, I stopped by this new guy’s apartment for a short visit. He did what guys sometimes do – made a move. My arm was hurting, and after my miscarriage, I had made a decision for purity and just did not want to go through that again. So I declined his advances making it clear to him I wasn’t interested in that and started toward the door to leave.
I was completely shocked and frozen when his roommate came out from his bedroom with a gun in his hand and got between me and the door. The guy I’d been with told me, “I don’t think you’re gonna leave right now.” I was terrified. I thought, “This is it for me. My life is going to end.” The whole time I was praying to God that I would live as the two of them raped me at gunpoint that night.
When it was all over, the guy told me I could leave, and as I walked out, he said “Thanks for a great time.” In that moment, I felt like a huge piece of trash. As I drove home, I got to the point where I didn’t really feel much of anything, like I was mere existing and just numb.
I went home and showered and showered and showered. I tried to call friends, but couldn’t reach anyone and was not about to leave a message.
At church that morning, I spoke to my priest who was very supportive of me as a rape victim. But she actually took me to Walgreens to buy Plan B, which I never took because it wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I don’t take birth control because I’m not comfortable with it. I already knew Plan B could have the effect of preventing implantation if an embryo was already created. I was worried about STDs, and of course, I was concerned about pregnancy since I knew the timing and that I could be ovulating. I’d had discussions with friends in the past about Plan B and we had talked about not knowing if you would have lost a baby or not, and I had already concluded that it would be horrible not knowing.
I guess I realized that what happened, happened, and that if I were pregnant, this was MY baby. I don’t know who my own biological father is, so to me, what’s the difference? Your genetic parents are not who define you and I already knew that.
Two weeks later, I found myself back in Walgreens, returning the Plan B, in exchange for pregnancy tests. I’m sure the cashier was ready to Facebook that hilarious moment!
“What if I’m pregnant?” I thought over and over. Twenty minutes later, looking at a positive test in my bathroom, I was able to answer that question: I was having a baby. . . . And I was overflowing with joy!
In the days and weeks that followed, I slowly shared my news with my closest friends, and more often than not, they offered me pity-ridden faces and one question asked in a way that seemed as if they thought the answer was obvious: “What are you going to do?” I guess they assumed I’d respond with an appointment time, a clinic name, or some other portion of a carefully-arranged abortion plan.
“I’m choosing joy,” I’d say, and it would be instantly clear that my answer was the furthest thing from the one they were anticipating. It seemed like everyone thought I was crazy, but nothing about wanting my child seemed strange to me. They didn’t understand that the moment I had seen that positive pregnancy test, I realized just how faithful God is to us.
I felt so dead inside for the entirety of those two weeks between my victimhood and the discovery of my pending motherhood. Everything I did in those two weeks seemed like an act of mourning. Rape is devastating. It’s the killing of one’s spirit in a deep, physical way. In contrast, pregnancy was such a revolutionary revival! The Lord had taken one of the worst things in my life — something so dark and damaging — and He had created life. After weeks of that darkness controlling everything I did, there was suddenly a light.
In a plot twist that the “old me” never saw coming, the only choice I — as a pregnant rape victim — needed to make was to embrace that light, and I did. It took about a second and a half for my heart to fill with love for the little one growing underneath it – so much love that my heart couldn’t contain it all and it began spilling everywhere. I smiled for the first time in two weeks, and I couldn’t stop.
Then the bleeding started. . . .
I was about 4.5 weeks pregnant and went to the bathroom at a friend’s birthday party only to discover blood. My heart sank. Was I having another miscarriage? The bleeding wasn’t heavy. I wasn’t cramping. A quick google search from the bathroom led me to a hopeful place: sometimes this can happen and it’s not the end. As the bleeding continued, I did a lot of praying while I waited for the day of my first ultrasound appointment to arrive. At 6 weeks and 5 days, my little one had a heartbeat and my smile returned.
My gynecologist referred me to an obstetrician, and a week later I had another ultrasound at her office. The bleeding had gotten heavier between the two appointments, but the baby was still okay. My new OB told me that bleeding happens sometimes in the first trimester. It’s not normal, but also not uncommon. She said I shouldn’t worry unless it got heavier. It did, time and time again.
Each time followed the same pattern: the discovery of extra heavy bleeding, tears, a call to the doctor, instructions to come in or (when outside of business hours) to go to the ER for an ultrasound — a wait that was always too long, then a strong heartbeat, and a tearful prayer of thanksgiving.
I prayed every day for months that my child would survive. All the while, I slowly informed a selection of people about my pregnancy. One minute, I’d be begging God to protect my unborn child from death in the womb. The next, I’d receive that question (“What are you going to do?”), followed soon after by the unwelcome advice to get an abortion “before it’s too late.” Sometimes they’d offer to pay for it, as if finances could be the only reason I wasn’t killing my child. The comments grew worse as the time passed:
“So you’re just going to give birth to the spawn of Satan? Abort it.”
“That thing is evil.”
“You should get rid of the devil baby.”
There are so many more, all permanently imprinted on my mind. I cut quite a few people out of my life completely. I had encountered enough pain during and immediately after my rape. The pain of hearing their comments, some made even as late as 26 weeks (long after I was calling my son by his name), was too much to bear. Having people tell me that my baby should be killed and comparing him to Satan was easily a thousand times worse than being raped. My son had done nothing wrong! How could he have? He hadn’t even had the chance to draw a breath of air into his lungs!
Around the time I was 16-1/2 weeks, my OB had become more concerned about the constant bleeding since it could no longer be blamed on first trimester weirdness. She did more tests and discovered that I had a [articular sexually transmitted infection I contracted during the rape which hadn’t been covered by the preventative treatments I received in the days following the assault. It had caused my cervix to become incredibly irritated and inflamed, and left untreated, it could lead to preterm labor and the death of a baby too small to survive outside the womb.
The diagnosis took about a week, but the subsequent treatment didn’t quite rid my body of the infection. It came roaring back, and the bleeding didn’t stop for good until a couple of days before I was 20 weeks pregnant, after two more rounds of pills. Peace was short-lived because, at 20 weeks to the day, I got a stomach virus which landed me in the hospital for severe dehydration. Yet, somehow, my son’s strong heartbeat prevailed.
Through all the terrifying moments, I was almost completely alone because too many people just didn’t understand how I could let this child continue to live, grow, and bounce around in my belly. Pregnancy is hard, but it’s definitely harder when your friends listen to the culture surrounding us and don’t value life.
My son’s movements got stronger, and I began to feel hiccups and turns. Before long, I was 39 weeks and checking in to be induced at the hospital. I didn’t accept offers for an epidural. The nurses kept telling me I was “such a rockstar” for dealing with Pitocin contractions without pain medication.
The truth is, no contraction is ever as painful as the experience of people telling me how much they hated my perfect and innocent son before he was born. They thought I’d see my rapist in my son. I didn’t and I don’t. (He actually looks exactly like I did at his age.) They thought I wouldn’t be able to love him. I absolutely do! They thought temporary financial hardship was too much to handle. It isn’t. They thought he’d be born evil. No baby has ever given a mama as much joy as he has brought into my life.
Every single one of these reasons is one that was used to justify targeting and killing him because people see him as having originated differently than others. My son was conceived in rape, but his life — like that of every other human being — began with God. And like any other baby, people fall in love with him easily — including some of the people who offered to pay a doctor to kill him. He shows people how wrong they were every single day.
That list includes his mama because I once thought the same way.
My son, Caleb Ehren Matthew, whose name means whole-hearted, honorable gift of God, is sun-shiny days and magic wands and a deep breath of mountain air. He is joy after and in the midst of mourning. He is light — so much light.
I recently read this quote often misattributed to Plato but of unknown authorship: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
That’s the one thing I pray Caleb’s life can teach others: there’s no reason to fear the blessing of light, even and especially when it comes in the form of a child.
LifeNews Note: Paula K. Peyton is a writer, mother to Caleb and now a pro-life blogger for Save The 1. She resides in Memphis, Tennessee.