While Wade was at his sailing lessons, I took Keelie to a nearby park. The park was huge but completely enclosed with a wooden fence. At first, I was nervous to take Keelie in, because it looked like there were way too many places for her to hide, but then I noticed it was divided into two sections. The bigger section was for older kids and the smaller section was built for toddlers with a playhouse, climbing area and slide, baby swings, and a sandbox. The area was completely enclosed with only one way in and one way out. Keelie could freely and safely explore, which was great because she was fearless. Whoever designed this park was a genius.
I carried Keelie into the toddler area where several kids around her age were already playing. As soon as I put her down, she took off running toward an open baby swing. “Uppie, uppie, momma!” Keelie loved to swing.
“Ok, honey! Hold on tight.” I picked her up and gave her a big swing.
There were two other women there swinging their boys. “She is just adorable,” one of the moms said. “How old is she?”
“She just turned 16-months,” I said. “How about yours? He sure is a cutie.”
“This is Jackson, he’s 18 months.”
“Hi Jackson, this is Keelie,” I said. Neither of the children seemed to register the introduction. “And what’s your name?” I asked the little boy in the swing next to Jackson.
“This is Matthew,” his mother said. “He’s 15 months.” A little girl with blonde ringlets came up and hugged her legs. The woman gave the little girl a squeeze. “And this is Gracie.”
“Hi, Gracie. My name is Nicci. Nice to meet you.” It dawned on me that I introduced myself to the children but not the moms. I’m so weird. “Hi, I’m Nicci.”
“Hi, I’m Lisa,” Gracie and Matthew’s mom said.
“And I’m Pam,” Jackson’s mom said.
We all pushed our little ones on the baby swings and chatted about the weather, plans for the summer, and little things like that.
“Do you live around here?” Pam asked.
“No, I’m from Cadillac,” I said. “My husband’s taking sailing lessons up here and we decided to join him for the day. I got him sailing lessons for our anniversary.”
“Oh,” Pam said. “That’s a great idea! I never know what to get Jeff.”
Gracie came running up to her mom. “Mommy, mommy! What kind of ice cream do you like?”
Lisa smiled and tapped her chin, thinking. “I’ll have cookies and cream please, with sprinkles on top.”
Gracie ran back to the playhouse, pretended to scoop ice cream, and came back holding her hand up like she had an ice cream cone in it. Lisa took the pretend ice cream. “Oh, that looks delicious, Gracie! Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Mommy.” Gracie looked so proud of herself.
How cute is that? I need to start playing pretend with Keelie.
Gracie offered ice cream to her brother, Jackson, and Keelie.
“Ice cream?” Keelie asked, kicking her feet.
“It’s pretend ice cream, honey. Do you want to go play?”
Keelie lifted her arms for me to get her out of the swing. I watched her run with the boys over to the playhouse.
Pam picked up her diaper bag. “Let’s go sit at the picnic table.”
Just as we sat down, a very pregnant woman came into the park with a little girl and waved. The little girl took off toward the playhouse. “Gracie, Gracie!”
“Hi ladies,” the pregnant lady said as she greeted Pam and Lisa. “Oh, I need to sit down.” She sat on the bench next to Lisa facing out. I sat on the other side, next to Pam. Pam introduced us, “This is Christine.”
“When are you due?” I asked.
“Not soon enough.” Christine rubbed her belly. “This kid has been kicking me all day.”
The three ladies started talking about their pregnancies and I could tell they were old friends. Why is it that every time I get together with other moms, the conversation always turns to pregnancy and labor and delivery? I smiled and picked at the cuticle on my nail.
“This park is really nice,” I said, trying to engage in the conversation. “It’s the first time I’ve taken her to a park where I don’t feel like I need to hover.”
“It is nice to be able to relax, isn’t it?” Lisa said.
Christine slapped the table. “Oh, my word! Did you guys hear about that baby they found in the dumpster?”
Pam nodded. “So sad.”
I nodded and winced. A baby boy was found dead in a school dumpster. The girl gave birth in the school bathroom, wrapped him up in her hoodie, threw him in the trash, and went about her day as if nothing happened. The garbage man noticed the baby when he went to turn on the trash compactor, but it was too late.
“That poor man,” Lisa said. “Can you imagine finding something like that? He’ll never get that image out of his mind.”
“How did her parents not know?” Christine rubbed her belly. “There’s no way to hide this.”
I thought about Samantha and how she didn’t know she was pregnant with Noah.
Pam took a sip from her water bottle. “My question is, why not put that baby up for adoption?”
“No kidding,” I said. “There’s even a safe haven law in Michigan. She could’ve dropped the baby off at the hospital. No questions asked.”
Pam shook her head. “What she did was murder. I hope they lock her up and throw away the key.”
“Honestly,” Christine said, “how is it any different than an abortion?”
“I know, right?” Pam agreed. “I don’t get how anyone can say, ‘it’s just a fetus.’ I mean, seriously. It’s a baby.”
“Yeah,” Christine said, shaking her head. “Don’t sugar coat it. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Pam shook her head. “There’s absolutely no excuse.”
I was just about to tell them that I was an adoptive parent and that we were hoping to adopt again when Lisa spoke first. “What if there’s something wrong with the baby?”
“Pfft.” Pam rolled her eyes and grabbed a bottle of water from her diaper bag. “My friend was told her son had something wrong with him and they should abort. Thank God, they fired that stupid doctor. Their son is fine. He has a lazy eye, but he’s super smart. You should hear that kid read.”
“Seriously,” Christine said. “You hear stories like that all the time.”
Pam took a sip of her water. “There’s no excuse. It’s murder. Abortion just needs to be illegal, plain and simple.”
“Well,” Lisa said with a pause. “I should have aborted my first child.”
Everyone’s eyes turned toward her. She was staring out, watching the kids.
Did she just say what I think she said? I looked over at Lisa’s daughter, her blonde ringlets bounced as she ran up the stairs to slide. Gracie? Cute, imaginative, Gracie?
Everyone was silent until Christine playfully slapped Lisa’s arm and laughed. “Oh come on now. I know three-year-olds are tough but-”
My heart was pounding as I listened intently.
Lisa turned and put her hand up to stop Christine from talking. Her dark sunglasses hid her eyes, but her facial expression was serious. “Not Gracie. Emma, my firstborn.” She turned back to watch the kids. “When we had our ultrasound, we found out Emma had a severe deformity. Her brain was growing outside of her skull. We went to a couple of specialists. There was nothing they could do. Our doctor advised us to terminate the pregnancy. We talked to our priest and even he understood. So we went to go get an abortion.”
“It was raining that day, not heavy, but more than a sprinkle.” Lisa shook her head. “At first, we didn’t notice what they were doing. They were huddled together under their umbrellas but as we walked toward the door, we could hear them praying. They stepped in front of us with their signs, called us murderers and unimaginable things. They asked me what kind of mother would kill her own child and said we would burn in hell.”
Lisa paused and shook her head again. “Mike ushered me out of there and we spent the next few months praying for a miracle. When Emma was born and we saw her face… Oh God, it was awful. Half of her face was gone, her brain bulging out. And then she cried, but it didn’t sound like a normal baby’s cry. I can only describe it as a death rattle- nothing but pain. She died in my arms after three minutes. Three painful, heartbreaking minutes. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I would’ve spared her that. It was inhumane.”
Christine put her arm around Lisa. “Oh, my word, Lisa. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Of course you didn’t. We didn’t tell anybody about this. Not even our family. We told them that I miscarried.” Lisa sounded firm but not angry. “That’s the whole point. It’s nobody’s business except the parents and their doctors.”
Lisa stood up and grabbed her diaper bag. “Gracie, Mattie, it’s time to go!”
“Lisa, I-” Pam reached out to Lisa. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m just tired of the self-righteous bullshit.” Lisa walked away, playfully scooped Matthew up, and held Gracie’s hand. “Let’s go get some ice cream!”
“Yay!” Gracie started skipping and singing, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”
We watched Lisa leaving with her children in silence until Christine’s daughter came running up. “Can we get ice cream too, Momma?”
Christine dabbed her eyes. “We sure can, honey. Let’s go.”
It was time to go get Wade from his sailing lesson. I picked Keelie up and nuzzled her. “I love you, bear.”
Keelie rested her forehead on mine and held my face in her hands. “Ice cream?”
“Yeah, baby. Let’s go get daddy and go out for ice cream.”
On my way to pick Wade up, I replayed that conversation over and over in my head. Was I being self-righteous? Yes. Yes, I was. And self-serving. Thank God, I didn’t speak up and say something stupid. Poor Lisa. I can only imagine her nightmares.
**This is a true story, from my own perspective, though I changed the names of the women and children. I never saw these women again, but Lisa’s story has stuck with me. You just never know what the person sitting next to you may be going through. This is how I can be an adoptive mom and pro-choice.