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Being Pro-Life When it Isn’t Easy

March 6, AD2016

CS_Pregnancy5_PixabayI held the pregnancy testing stick in my hand, praying not to see the second line but I didn’t have to look down to know it would be there. I’d been here before in other surprise pregnancies; my body and heart already told me what my mind could not grasp. We’d already had our “last” child. We were done having babies, and here I was: Pregnant and Pro-Life.

It’s easy to say you’re pro-life, but when push comes to shove, what does it really mean? Is the pro-life movement just people who bury their heads in the sand, people who don’t understand what challenges life presents? Is being pro-life solely about the life of the unborn or does it extend to others too?

Being Pro-Life While Losing Your Baby

Even before we knew we’d lose our first baby to an ectopic pregnancy, before I had to make a horrible choice, I was pro-life, but I didn’t fully understand what being pro-life meant and had never taken the time to connect my claiming to be pro-life with my lukewarm existence.

This ignorance ended on May 10, 1996, when I began bleeding and again on May 13th when the doctor told me with a shrug of his shoulders as he wiped off his hands, “It’s just a miscarriage.” Other dates are a blur of pain and weakness as I lived in a fog knowing my baby would die inside me.

I went in often for blood work, sitting in the ob-gyn office with smiling, happy women massaging rounded bellies, asking me how far along I was. There were times I couldn’t speak as I sat desperately hoping this unplanned child would survive, knowing it would not do so. I wondered how to explain I was closer to the end of my pregnancy than they were to theirs, even though i had a flat belly.

I’d begun bleeding at about seven weeks. Four weeks later, when the “pregnancy tissue” was finally found in my fallopian tube, I was sick and weaker than I’d thought possible. I tried to find ways to stop the “procedure,” begging the doctor to let the baby develop a little more and just be born early. I even thought about surgically moving my baby to the uterus where she would have room to grow or even to take it out and let her grow it in a dish.  I cried out, “For Heaven’s sake, just do not let my baby die. ” I begged God to please not let me be the one who had to make a decision about my life or hers.

I would have gladly traded my life for that child’s, in a heartbeat, without a second thought. With all the joy my life has shown, I would still give my life for my unknown child’s – except it was not an option.

A baby implanted in the fallopian tube could not develop beyond a certain point. I was in such agonizing pain and having such difficulties because my baby was almost 11 weeks old and my tube was ready to burst. I learned being pro-life means you need to make tough choices. If I didn’t have surgery, both the baby and I would die.

Today, things have changed. I’ve heard it may be possible to move a baby from the fallopian tube, but in those days, an ectopic pregnancy meant certain death for both the baby and mother. My healthy, strong, athletic body had betrayed us both in ways I couldn’t have fathomed only a few weeks before. Knowing I chose to live rather than die with my child is a pain which will live on forever in my heart.

It would have been easier to die with my first baby than to have gone on living but this is not what being pro-life is about.

12 Years Later & Another Surprise Pregnancy

Being pro-life is about making hard choices. It’s about valuing life, even when it’s a sacrifice to do so. It’s about learning to find joy again and to trust in the Lord for the plan He has for you.

Twelve years after losing my first baby and making a horrible decision to save my own life, I held another pregnancy stick in my hand and watched the second line creep up.

This time, things were different. We had four wonderful, healthy children proving the doctors wrong. I  still wonder despite even my own desperate research, whether we could somehow have saved our first baby, the one who lives in heaven and in my heart.

Our youngest had started kindergarten; our oldest had started middle school. My husband had a hard job, but it was a job he loved and took pride in. I was a part-time youth minister. The home we had built was nearing completion. Life was good.

The stick with the two pink lines was going to change things. I questioned God’s giving us this baby. I questioned why He hadn’t given it to a loving, infertile couple. I selfishly wanted our time back, time we had planned to travel, to put in the pool table and basketball set and bar in the basement. Time and money to do things which had eluded us for so long.

Things did change. I had to be put on a home IV and developed complications until the final PICC line was put in. The baby was at high risk for Grave’s Syndrome, and, in the perfect storm, Facebook came into play that year and my husband reconnected with a girl he’d dated 20 years earlier. This girl was now a wealthy woman, living as we’d planned for so many of those early years.

We’d entered the perfect storm, and five months after conceiving our baby in love, I was a suddenly single mom, pregnant with four scared, confused little boys ages five to 11. No fault divorce and society’s acceptance of divorce have crushed women and families, and we were no exception. The financial hardships we endured and, continue to face to some measure, were incredible. We would not have survived without family and friends who got us through in relative comfort. The emotional devastation of sudden abandonment is still impossible to describe accurately.

Never once, though, not when dealing with my hyperemesis gravid arum or the thought of having a child with complications or when my husband left or when we lost our home, did I consider any choice other than to offer this precious child life. This is what being pro-life is about.

There are those who say they couldn’t have a child alone, and since starting my website, Single Mom Smiling, I’ve had people say incredibly encouraging things and others write to express anger and shock at my husband and this other woman, but I’ve also had women from all over write about similar stories.

There are more stories than one might think, stories about men walking out on pregnant girlfriends and on pregnant wives too, about men who desert newborns, leaving postpartum mothers to care for children alone. Courageous, loving, overwhelmed women who don’t understand what has happened to their lives but who give their child life. Being pro-life, even in the face of adversity and abandonment, gives these women love and someone to hold onto.

What Being Pro-Life Really Means

Being pro-life means choosing life over your own desires. It means giving hope and a chance at love when the world tells you you’re not enough. Being pro-life means choosing life when the choices aren’t what you want them to be.

Being pro-life is the faith-filled diabetic woman who chooses to fight her fear and carry her unplanned child. Being pro-life is the family supporting this woman and unknown baby, knowing both are at risk and your heart may break if you hope too much. Being pro-life is understanding sometimes babies happen for reasons we don’t understand and loving all parties unconditionally.

Being pro-life is the woman who has cancer and finds alternative treatments getting her baby to the point where she will survive before beginning treatments. Being pro-life is the neighbor who cooks dinners and helps with laundry and housework and childcare while the mom is on bed rest.

Being pro-life is seeing the mom in the grocery store with children hanging off her and on her and under her, children whining, with runny noses, and lying on the floor having a fit and, instead of making snide comments, reaching out to help, offering a kind word, an understanding glance, and an empathetic smile.

Being pro-life is about seeing girls brought in to have abortions and realizing many of these girls are sexual victims rather than promiscuous teens. It’s about researching and posting pictures of missing children and sex-trafficked victims and holding people and politicians accountable.

Being pro-life is about teaching young people they are valued and worth waiting for and  there are alternatives to pleasure in the here and now. It’s about teaching those who have already had sex they still have worth. They don’t need to give themselves away to the next guy. They don’t prove masculinity through sexual prowess and there are always choices beyond Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Being pro-life is about courage and talking to another about what a mistake your abortion was. It’s about being honest with yourself and with others who may follow your path so that changes in direction can be made and lives can be saved. Being pro-life is about overcoming your mistakes because you now know better and so you now do better.

Being pro-life is about teaching our boys and young men they cannot be excluded from this discussion because these choices affect them deeply. Being pro-life is about men knowing they are leaders and life is not a woman’s issue because these babies are their children, their flesh and blood, their legacies.

Being pro-life is about stepping out of your comfort zone to stand, to be gawked at, yelled at, and flipped off outside the abortion clinic in silent, prayerful hope. It’s about speaking out at schools and in churches. It’s about recognizing abortion tempts Catholics and Christians and older women and mothers too. It’s about watching what you say and jokes you make when you don’t realize the impact your words may have. It’s about listening and reaching out.

Being pro-life is about letting your story be known. It’s about standing up and speaking out. Being pro-life is about Faith, Hope, and Love in a better tomorrow.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Strahlen is a single mom of five boys. The fifth little guy was a surprise pregnancy and her husband left suddenly in the middle of it for a woman he met on Facebook. The next few years would bring financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges beyond her imagining, but they would also bring a faith she never knew existed. Strahlen is now a life coach working with women in transition and hopes to reach out to other divorced Catholics to let them know there is Hope and Love in the Catholic church. Today, she and her five sons work hard for everything that comes their way, but they are also successful, happy, and faithful. They enjoy camping, sports, and (highly competitive) board games. And if you're wondering about that last little Baby Boy - He is a bundle of giggles and goofiness. He is such a gift to his mother and brothers and he constantly proves that God's plans are greater than our own! Check out more of their story at Single Mom Smiling.

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  • niknac

    Good article. One must choose to be pro life. There is no conflict between pro life and pro choice. You cannot have one without the other.

    • Yes, Niknac, you must choose to be pro-life. I’m not sure what you mean by the rest…

      “There is no conflict between pro life and pro choice. You cannot have one without the other.”

  • Birgit Atherton Jones

    “Being pro-life is about letting your story be known. It’s about standing up and speaking out. Being pro-life is about Faith, Hope, and Love in a better tomorrow.”

    What a beautiful testimony! I can empathize with you in my own way as I was forced to make the decision to remove my ovaries and uterus due to testing positive for the BRCA1 gene. As someone whose relatives, at least three generations back, died in their 40s and 50s, my choice was difficult none-the-less. Losing my fertility at the young age of 32 felt like the end of the world, even though I had given birth to four healthy children.

    The recrimination still surfaces sometimes -even at age 58. Watching my daughter struggle through breast cancer while pregnant brought it all home again.Today we are three survivors – me, my daughter, and her precious miracle child.

    God bless you for sharing your journey and giving a true life witness to so many. I know you have been an encouragement to others and a soothing balm for their fears.

    • Thank you Birgit for your encouragement and for sharing a bit of your story too. So many suffer in silence when sharing could lift others up. I imagine it’s hard partly because so many people don’t understand the loss. So many people try to be comforting by just applying the “There’ll-be-other-babies” formula, but we know firsthand you don’t replace a lost child.

      When it became apparent that I was losing the baby (when the bleeding continued but before the baby was found) each doctor referred to that child as “pregnancy tissue,” “fetal tissue,” “products of conception,” so many misnomers belittling and dehumanizing my loss, invalidating the Love I have for that little one, and the vacancy of absent Hope I carried in every aspect of my being. Abortion has not helped women. It has invalidated their emotions and ridiculed their natural instincts to Love the helpless.

      I read about your daughter. She is the one I was thinking of when I wrote about the cancer survivor…She is an inspiration and has been in my prayers. Let me know if you do an update!

      God Bless…

  • KarenJo12

    Why do you consider the decision to save your own life “horrible?” Ectopic pregnancies, at that time, NEVER became babies; they were a death sentence unless the mother had an abortion. Even for people who consider an implanted blastocyst a person, that blastocyst would have died if you did as well. I admire your courage and I think you ex was a total pig, but having the surgery for the ectopic pregnancy was no more horrible than having cancer treatments. There is nothing at all wrong with a young woman who doesn’t want to die. Why would you or anyone else ever think there was something wrong with that?

    • Patricia

      KarenJo12, The life growing within a mother during an ectopic pregnancy IS already a baby…a living, growing nascent human being. Treating an ectopic pregnancy is not abortion…the two are entirely different. The sole aim of abortion is to destroy the life growing within the womb. The aim of the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is to safeguard the life of the mother. That the child also dies as a result is not the intention of the procedure, but a tragic secondary effect. This is the principle of double-effect. Like you mentioned, it would be the same as treating a pregnant woman who had (uterine) cancer. If the woman opts for surgery to have the cancer removed, the intent of the procedure is to save the woman by ridding her body of the cancer. Sadly, though the child would also die, the intent of the treatment is not the direct killing of the child…which is what abortion is. I believe it is important to distinguish between the two. In one instance, the child sadly dies as a consequence of the procedure (cancer, ectopic pregnancy, etc.)…in the other, the sole aim of the procedure is the death of the child.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      You explained this very well.

    • Thank you Patrician. You did explain this well.

    • Guy McClung

      I will pray for all here, especial remembrance today at the offertory of the Mass, as I ask that all pray for me and my family, and I will pray for yours, and for Strahlen and all of hers, and knowing what sins I have confessed since that long ago first confession in second grade, I will also sincerely pray for the “total pig,” made in God’s image and whom God wants with Him for all eternity. I also have been, in terms of rejecting God’s mercy and His love, a total pig; but this prodigal pig is trying to return to the Father. Guy McClung, San Antonio

    • Thank you Guy. Yes, none of us is innocent. I often pray for my husband and his new wife to turn to the Lord. Right now, they profess Catholicism and claim to be good Catholics but don’t see the sin they commit or the pain they cause. I wonder how beautiful a meeting would be in Heaven when we are all washed of our sin and look as we are created to be. Thank you for praying for them and especially for me and my boys too!!

      God Bless…

    • Hi KarenJo12, You’re right and you’re wrong. You’re right that a baby implanted in the fallopian tube could not survive, which is why I had the surgery. What you are missing though is that a baby implanted in the fallopian tube is nothing less than a baby and my body somehow got things wrong. That baby could have been perfectly formed and was probably pretty well developed when she was finally found. The baby was doomed because she lived in me. In another woman she’d have even fine. In me, she could not have survived for much longer. I know that, but I had to make that decision. I had to go to the hospital, be prepped for surgery, and wake up in pain and post-op confusion knowing what was about to happen to that well formed child.

      I had to have that baby die so I could live. That is a choice no person should have to make.

    • Guy McClung

      Your baby lives and will now, because of your love, live forever for all eternity, and someday you and this baby will be happy together again. This is for you the “beautiful meeting in heaven” to which you refer above. But for you, and God, this child would never have been.

    • Thank you Guy. This brought tears to my eyes…I do wait for that reunion.
      God Bless…

  • This question of choosing life is close to my heart and permanently implanted in my memories making this an emotional article to write. Thank you all so much for your encouragement. God Bless our littlest ones and their parents and doctors…

  • Ann Hessenius

    WOW, Wow, wow!!!!!!! Thank you for such a tremendous, thought-provoking article….and may God continue to bless you, your whole family, AND YOUR WORK!

    • Thank You Ann!!! Your encouragement is heartwarming!!! We need to protect and strengthen Marriages, families, babies, and our Faith in the Lord! We are in crisis and few want to acknowledge it, fewer still want to do the hard work to fix it – or even to speak up about it.

  • Guy McClung

    Awesome! Being prolife is being Strahlen

    • Thank you Guy! I don’t deserve that much credit, but I am touched by your words and thank God every day that I am prolife. Thank you again Guy. Your words mean a lot.

      God Bless…

  • james

    Being pro-life is being a rare diamond inside a mountain of dirty coal. God bless your holy sacrifices.

    • Thank you James. My sacrifice to choose life did seem Holy at the time. Had I not been prolife, I’m not sure what my reaction would have been.

      I do know that I now know that what I thought at the time was MY Holy sacrifice of MY future plans was actually God’s Holy gift for His future plans and that His plans are SO much greater than mine!! How silly of me to mistake God’s gift of a baby as a sacrifice made by me!! 🙂

      Thank you for the diamond analogy. Beautifully put!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Thank you. This is a powerful testimony.

    • Thank you Kevin. God Bless…