EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press today continues a 12-part serialization of the novel, “A Scent of Jasmine,” by David Dockery, a member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson, Miss.
Among the picketers, Stephanie noticed, was a young teenage girl. Though her face was very youthful, the girl was almost as tall as the women. She was trim, well-postured, and had shoulder-length blond hair that was nearly white on top. Stephanie could see the glint of blue in her eyes from a distance. The girl resembled more a debutante than a protester.
Her parents must have put her up to this, Stephanie thought. “Who’s the blond?” she asked Ms. Erma.
Erma looked in the direction Stephanie pointed. “That’s Libby Anderson. Brother Anderson’s daughter.”
But of course, Stephanie mused wryly, a blond picketing a cause without a clue. “I’d like to hear her story. Why isn’t she in school?”
“Libby!” Erma called and waved her arm.
Libby dropped her sign and hurried to Erma’s side. Her coat was partially open in spite of the chill, revealing a T-shirt with the motto ALIVE.
“Who are you?” Stephanie asked.
“I’m Libby Anderson. Who are you?”
“I’m Stephanie McAllister.”
“Oh, I’ve read your columns.”
“Really? What did you think about yesterday’s column?”
“I agreed with you that women should be paid the same as men for the same job. But I disagreed with last week’s column. If you labeled abortionists as pro-choice, then you shouldn’t have labeled the pro-life people as anti-abortionists.”
“She has a good point,” Erma noted.
“Do you read a lot?” Stephanie questioned.
“I love to read.”
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“My father left the choice to me. I decided a baby is far more important than a day of school.”
“Are you sure this is your cause and not just your parents’?”
Libby focused her deep blue eyes intensely on Stephanie. “The reason I oppose abortion is personal. You see, my mother elected to have me adopted rather than aborted. Because of that, I have a wonderful family and a good life.”
“I see.” Stephanie studied Libby’s expressive face. “So this really is your cause. Is that what your T-shirt’s about?”
“So many girls at my school were adopted from this clinic that we formed our own sorority. We chose the name ALIVE, because our mothers chose against abortion. All of us would like to find our biological mothers. We had a website with our pictures and birthdates, until the perverts found it. Then we had to shut it down.”
Libby looked up to the clinic’s second floor. “Reta’s baby is like one of us. If a girl, she could be adopted, have a good home like I have, and be my ALIVE sister.”
“When did you find out you were adopted?”
“I’ve always known I was adopted. All Ward Clinic children know they are adopted; it’s who we are. Dr. Ward expects families to give his adopted children two birthdays, one for when we were born and the other for when we were adopted. It’s something we celebrate. I’m privileged to have two families; the one I know and love, the other one I don’t know. But someday I’ll know and love them both.
“My father says that I’m the only child for whom he was given a choice. When my older brothers and sisters came, he had no choice. So I feel special because my parents picked me out. Still I want to find my biological mother. I’d like to give her a hug and be her friend. I’d like to know what she looks like. Dr. Ward says she is a beautiful lady.”
“I might be able to help you with that. Our computers at work have some powerful search engines.”
“Would you?” Libby’s eyes lit up, and the glow on her face made Stephanie realize what a pretty girl she was. Even her fragrance enhanced her presence.
“What perfume are you wearing?”
Libby tossed her hair, filling the air with a floral scent. “It’s my herbal shampoo. Do you like it?”
“Oh yes.” Stephanie pulled out her note pad. “Now how old are you?”
“When is your birthday?”
“January the third.”
“January the third!” Stephanie inadvertently exclaimed and then paused with some uneasiness.
It was just enough time for Erma to interject, “It was some fifteen years ago that Stephanie had an abortion at this clinic.”
“Ms. Erma!” Stephanie said, exasperated.
“Are you ashamed of it?”
“No, but it’s a very private matter. Please don’t tell anyone else.”
“Libby can be trusted,” Erma promised. “If you can explain your abortion to the president of the ALIVE sorority, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“OK, OK!” Stephanie conceded.
“When was your baby’s due date?” Erma pressed.
Stephanie looked down at her pad. “In January, when Libby was born.”
“How could you do that?” Libby’s eyes showed deep hurt.
“It’s hard for me to talk about. But I do remember other women at this clinic who chose to have their babies. One of them may have been your mother.”
“What were their names?”
“There was Gail, Terri, and… and I think the other girl was Brenda. I didn’t know them then, and we only used our first names. And I’m sure there were others that I don’t know about. Dr. Ward told me he sees lots of pregnant young women at the end of a school year.”
“Why did you choose abortion?” Erma persisted.
“I’d rather not talk about it. This is not just about me but also the man I thought I loved. He grew up in Westhaven, too, and everyone knows him.”
“Go on,” Libby coaxed. Her expression of concern showed she really cared—that she really wanted to know.
Stephanie didn’t know why she felt she should trust a teenager with what had been her secret up until now, but somehow it felt right…all except for the gossipy Erma. Stephanie hesitated.
Erma got the message. “I’ll let you girls talk about this between yourselves.” She picked up her sign and returned to the picket line.
“He was my cousin,” Stephanie began….
“Your cousin?” Libby blurted before covering her mouth. She peered quickly around to see if anyone heard her.
“Sonny Shamrock was my third cousin twice, both on my father’s side and my mother’s side,” Stephanie said, surprised at her own openness. “My father’s McAllister line came to this country from Scotland with the Shamrocks in 1635. They’ve married each other ever since. Sonny was tall and handsome with wavy blond hair, blue eyes, and dimples. I didn’t care whether he was my cousin or not. But if he followed in the family tradition, he would marry a McAllister. I thought that McAllister should be me.”
Stephanie paused and continued with difficulty. “I was in grade school when I first admired Sonny Shamrock. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of him. But he never noticed me; I was much younger. I finished high school early and followed him to college just in time for his senior year. It was the year of my dreams, the year Sonny noticed me. My friends told me that he had an engagement ring for me with a large diamond. The rumor was that he would propose to me after graduation. It was a rumor I so wanted to believe. I was just sorry that my parents were not alive to share my joy. I would have done anything for Sonny. He was all the family I had.
“I got pregnant two months before Sonny’s graduation. It was the only time we…well, we both regretted it the next day. We were ashamed we had gone so far. Our relationship cooled somewhat; I thought we both wanted to prevent a reoccurrence. Then I found out I was pregnant. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want to be a pregnant bride, and I knew everyone would be counting the months to see when the baby was conceived. Still, I was happy to have Sonny’s child. I decided to tell him after he proposed.”
Stephanie took a deep breath. “Then graduation came. That night I looked forward to finally telling him about the baby. But he didn’t propose. Instead, he told me he was going abroad to graduate school. His parents were working overseas at the time, and he planned to live with them. I was devastated. In that moment my joy and excitement at planning our future together, and having the baby be a part of it, turned into the deepest hurt I’ve ever known. It built to a consuming rage.
“He promised to keep in touch, but I turned away. I was so angry. I snatched the locket he’d given me from my neck and threw it to the ground. Then I told him I never wanted to see him again. He tried to speak, but I warned him never to speak to me and not to call either. I told him I never wanted to hear his voice again.
“Then I went home to my parents’ empty house and cried for two straight weeks. He had destroyed my dreams, my joy, my only consolation after losing my parents, and the love I had felt for him since I was a child. Nothing he could say or do—even if he’d tried—could ever repair the damage. I could barely eat, and I hardly ever left my room. My parents were gone. I had put all my hope in Sonny and our future. Now that too was gone. My friends couldn’t console me. Finally, with no tears left, I decided that no man was worth so much misery. From then on, I treated him as if he didn’t exist.
“Over the next several months, Sonny wrote letters but never called. As the years passed, he continued to write. His letters often contained several pages and came from his U.S. State Department placements in Europe. I knew his diplomatic career had always been his real love and would continue to be. There was no room for me. I threw his letters away unopened.”
“So he never knew about the baby.” Libby’s voice and expression reflected the disappointment and empathy she felt for Stephanie.
“He never knew. I had no one to help me raise a child and no money. A college education was my only hope of a decent life for either me or a child. So I went to see Dr. Ward. He tried to talk me out of an abortion, but I insisted. He knew I would get it somewhere else if not here.”
“Why didn’t you choose to have the baby adopted?”
“A friend of mine in high school was sexually molested by her adoptive father. After years of abuse, she told the police. Her father got an expensive lawyer who portrayed her as a sexually active and ungrateful teenager. He was never convicted, and her reputation was ruined. She still suffers from that abuse today. After living through that with my friend, I decided I could never give a child up for adoption. I would worry about the child every day. How she or he was being treated. An aborted life is better than a life of suffering and abuse.”
Libby was quiet, as if she were thinking about a life that had turned out so differently from her own. “It still bothers me…”
“What?” Stephanie asked.
“How cruel the abortion is to the unborn baby. They have to cut a baby up to abort it.”
“Not Dr. Ward. He puts the mother under anesthesia so that he can extract the entire fetus with a suction device. I felt like I had passed a grapefruit when I woke up. It’s Dr. Ward’s own patented procedure. A week before, I gave a pint of blood in case there was any bleeding. I didn’t need it, but someone else did. I gave blood several times that year. I still give blood during the clinic’s blood drives.”
“So do I. Dr. Ward said that I needed blood as a baby. I keep giving it so that other babies can live. Dr. Ward is careful not to accept blood from patients he doesn’t know. My blood is especially rare, so he’s glad to get it, he says.”
“What blood type are you?” Stephanie asked.
“B negative,” Libby answered.
“That’s my type too!”
“Who knows? Maybe your blood was given for me. You know that only three in a hundred are like us. I still don’t understand how Dr. Ward can birth babies—and then abort them too. It just doesn’t seem right,” Libby concluded.
Stephanie gave her a sarcastic look. “Do you know why Dr. Ward does abortions?”
“So he can talk some of them out of aborting their babies?”
“He performed his first abortion after the death of his youngest daughter,” Stephanie explained. “She went out of state to have an abortion, because she didn’t want her parents to know about her pregnancy. She came home with an infection so bad that not even her father, a doctor, could save her. She died, crying out for her daddy to help her. My father was there, at her bedside, when she died. He told me it was the saddest thing he ever saw. Dr. Ward wanted to make sure that no other fathers lost their daughters the way he did.”
“That is so sad,” Libby said. “But I still can’t imagine being the doctor who ends the life of a child…or being the one to choose to have the abortion. Don’t you have any regrets about aborting your baby?”
“I’m happy that your mother chose adoption for you, Libby. Adoption has worked well for you. But I have no feelings, good or bad, about my decision.” Stephanie paused.
“But there was something that disturbed me as I was recovering from anesthesia on the operating table,” she said. “A dream really scared me; I had never felt such sheer horror. The heart-monitor alarm was ringing in my ears. Nurses and physicians in white coats were frantically working to save me. But there was something else that I can’t remember, something that really upset me. I screamed aloud. Then a face with a surgical mask turned to me. I could tell it was Dr. Bill, because of his eyes. He covered my face with a gas mask, and everything went black. I could have died on the operating table. I feel sorry for women who have abortions without proper medical care.”
“Someone did die on the operating table,” Libby interjected.
“I suppose I should have died too,” Stephanie threw in.
“I didn’t say that,” Libby protested. “I just think it’s sad that you didn’t both live!”
“Well, you asked me if I ever felt bad about my abortion. That dream was one moment that I did. Now I’m thankful for my career. I’d never be where I am today, if I had to be a single mother.”
“But what about your baby’s career? He or she could have become a wonderful artist or a future president.”
Stephanie sighed and shook her head before looking intently at Libby. “Libby, life is hard enough without asking hypothetical questions like that. But if you must ask such questions, then you also have to face the reality that the baby could have become a terrible criminal. I believe that when the fetus is inside the mother, it’s the mother’s choice. Once the baby takes its first breath, then taking a human life should only be God’s choice.”
Libby’s face grew determined. “I think God should have both choices.”
Stephanie cocked her head toward Libby. “Are you trying to make me feel bad?”
“No, I’m trying to change your mind about abortion.”
Stephanie smiled. “I don’t believe I’ve ever argued so much with a fourteen-year-old before.”
Libby maintained her resolve. “One must practice her skills to be persuasive.”
Taken from A Scent of Jasmine by David Dockery (OakTara, www.oaktara.com). The entire novel is available from amazon.com, christianbook.com or barnesandnoble.com. Used by permission of the author and publisher. David Dockery is a Mississippi geologist and member of Pocahontas Baptist Church near Jackson.
To read the initial installment on Baptist Press, go to http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=34444.