Mark and LaRee Pickup tell a compelling story of how abortion on demand has affected their lives, even over 38 years after the event.
They gave the keynote address for the 2010 US National Right to Life prayer breakfast, held in Pittsburgh, PA. They have kindly granted Pro Life Corner access to their notes; it is our privilege to reprint their notes in this article.
We hope to be bringing more articles and information from this wonderful Christ centered couple as time goes by. You can gain more insight from them by going to their website at: http://markpickup.org
LaRee & Mark Pickup’s speaking notes for their keynote address to the 2010 U.S. National Right to Life Prayer Breakfast, Pittsburgh, PA.
TEARS OF REGRET, TEARS OF LOVE
LAREE: What is the true extent of abortion’s tragedy? Well, of course, the most obvious tragedy is the death of a baby developing in the womb of its mother. But that is only the tip of the iceberg of human tragedy. Abortion kills conscience – both for the individuals directly involved and the collective conscience of a community … and even entire nations.
Canada sanctioned abortion in 1969. In 1971, I became pregnant at the age of seventeen and Mark was the baby’s father. I was living with my grandparents at the time. I was terrified. What would I say to them? What would we say to Mark’s mother? What would people in town think?
Mark and I had known each other for many years through our family connections. Like most young couples in love, we spent the majority of our time together. Mark was the focal point in my life. I was absolutely devoted to him and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Once I broke the news that my period was late to my Grandmother, she immediately booked an appointment with a local doctor to have the pregnancy test done. The news came back positive.
My initial reaction was both fear and excitement. I thought about marriage. I thought about our lives together, I thought about struggling financially, but most of all I thought about our love for each other. I knew exactly what I wanted, … but did Mark? When the two of us where alone, before anybody else became involved in our decision making, we spoke of marriage, the excitement of a new beginning, we even began thinking of baby names. Yes, we were both scared but we still dreamed of a future together along with our baby. Then, others became involved.
My grandmother began speaking about abortion. (To be honest, I didn’t even know what an abortion was!) Mark’s mother turned her back on me and treated me like I was a piece of trash that had come into her son’s life and took away his innocence. In other words, I was the cause of this pregnancy. She told me I had made my bed, and I could lie in it. I remember she would not even walk on the same side of the street as me. I was filled with shame. I didn’t have a friend in town other than Mark.
[I am not telling you this out of bitterness but as an illustration of how people should not behave toward a woman in crisis pregnancy. The woman is in a state of vulnerability. She needs to be surrounded by support not criticism. She needs to know that there are non-judgmental people who will help her make sense of her dilemma. She needs people to affirm the value all parties involved at a time when she may feel cut-off, confused or isolated in making her decision.]
I found myself thinking through my options, I even wrote them down in a letter to Mark that I have kept all these years. I refer to this letter every once in awhile, just to remind myself of my thoughts during that most frightening and alone time in my life.
I spoke of the four choices I had, and in these very words (keep in mind I was only 17):
- I can go to Edmonton and have an abortion, this would free me of all my problems, but it would also take away a big part of me, I love you too much to take away your baby, and I will love that baby as much as I do you, Therefore having an abortion is out.
- I can go into Edmonton and live in a home for unwed mothers, have the baby, then put it out for adoption, But I have thought this over and have come to the conclusion that I can’t do that either.
- I can go into Edmonton after the semester, have the baby and keep it, and raise it on my own…I know that by doing this, I am giving up most of my future but I just can’t give up something that is mine or yours for that matter.
- We can get married. As for me, I have no hesitations, because I know I love you. I can understand you being worried about how we are going to live, but you aren’t the only man in the world this has happened to.
Now let me tell you what happened through my eyes. Immense pressure was put on me to have an abortion. I was not provided with any information on how an abortion was performed or how the baby was dismembered throughout the abortion by vacuum suction.
I was not given any alternatives or any specific information on adoption or homes for unwed moms. (Remember, there was no such thing as internet). People I trusted said abortion was the best thing. And if the government is going to pay for the abortion … it must be okay. At 17 years old it didn’t take much convincing. Under Canada’s abortion law of that time, I was required to go through what they called a therapeutic abortion committee. Therapeutic? What a farce! The committee was a rubber stamp process. There was no therapy for me and it certainly was not therapeutic for the baby. I was booked to see a psychiatrist who spent about 2 minutes with me, ensuring that he asked me if this is what I wanted to do. I had already been coerced into believing this was my only way of resolving my problem) by friends, family and boyfriend.
I was placed on a waiting list and a hospital that performed abortions. They called (just in the nick of time) around the 3 month mark since I had conceived. It was late November. The Christmas Season was drawing near. The hospital where my abortion was performed was decorated with festive coloured lights. But there was nothing festive for me or my baby as I walked through the double doors into the hospital for my abortion that late and terrible afternoon. I remember the sadness and fear that I felt. Looking back now, I know that had someone given me another option, given me a hand, a loving embrace – I would have continued my pregnancy. But only the abortionist reach out to me, the pressure was on, and I felt I had no other choice. I made the wrong choice.
I spent the night at the hospital in preparation for the abortion. I remember hearing the cries of newborn babies down the hallway and was puzzled at why they would place me within earshot of the crying? I still don’t know to this day why? There was a nurse (and I wish I could meet her now) who came to my bedside twice in the middle of the night, touched my shoulder softly and asked me if I was sure that this is what I wanted to do?
Oh how I wanted to reach out to her and cry out “No! I love this baby.” But I was afraid to change my mind. That meant that I would let everybody else down. How would I face them if I didn’t go through with it?
I was rolled down to operating room and the procedure was performed.
A nurse asked me to count from ten backwards. Oblivion. Just before coming to, I remember hearing the sound of something that sounded like a vacuum cleaner. That sound is forever imbedded in my memory. (I imagine my baby being caught up in that machine!)
A few hours later, back in the ward, a male nurse came in to check me. I remember asking him if he knew if it was a boy or girl? He said something to this effect, “It might have been a girl, but I’m not sure….”
I was given a small meal, and told that if I was able to keep the food down, then I was free to leave the hospital. I threw up the meal, covered up the evidence, my ride had arrived and I was on my way back home.
After the abortion I felt relieved, but very sad. I went to see Mark where he worked and we talked for a short time. The stress was evident in both of us. Six months later we broke up.
I moved on with my life, and denied ever having gone through the abortion ordeal for many years. Two years later Mark and I met again and we eloped. (Family relations were not good but we were still in love). Three years after that our daughter was born.
The minute I saw her I realized that she was not my first child. Memories of my abortion came back. When I looked into the eyes of my daughter I often wondered if the child we aborted would have looked like her. My daughter was a beautiful baby and she is a beautiful woman.
[Let me share a small grief that persists even 38 years later: (Mothers will understand.) Every Christmas Season, memories of my abortion always come flooding back to me. If Christmas lights twinkle in a certain way in late afternoon shadows, I have a flashback to my feelings of fear and aloneness that day so long ago. Those feelings mingle and confuse my joy of the Christmas Season and the meaning of Advent. My first child would have been 38 years old today and a contributing member of society.]
Today in North America, a woman can have an abortion for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever. I am the Executive Director of the Pro-Life Association for the Canadian province of Alberta. My office is directly across the street from a major abortion clinic. They have a booming business. Every day, there is a steady stream of women entering that terrible place. Later they come out that door, pale and unsteady. Some stagger into the back alley and throw up and I think to myself: Nothing has changed in 39 years. Women are uninformed, kept in the dark about the real effects of abortion. Like lambs led to slaughter, their babies are sacrificed on the altar of so-called sexual liberation, and the women are left to pick up the pieces of their life changing decision that may haunt them for years – like it did to me. The abortionist pockets $600 and the woman swallows her internal poverty. Some freedom! Some choice!
About 25 years after my abortion I learned that in 1929, my grandmother became pregnant before marriage. She lived in a small town and consequently suffered the humiliation and was ostracized by the community. I honestly believe she thought she was doing the right thing in directing me toward abortion. She was trying to save me from people’s cruelty like she suffered. She had no idea about the long lasting effects of abortion.
My grandmother may have suffered humiliation of having a baby out of wedlock but I suffered sorrow and grief for having killed my baby.
Neither of these scenarios are God’s plan. Children should be born into the love and security of a family. Sex should be reserved for marriage. That is where sexuality is legitimately expressed.
In 1984, Mark became incurably ill with multiple sclerosis. It’s degenerative and has disabled him as you can plainly see. I vowed to protect him when the time came that he could not protect himself. You see, we now live in a society that is advocating the killing of people like my husband. This time, I will stand up for the vulnerable. Euthanasia advocates are trying to bring their agenda to America, state by state. One thing you have to give to euthanasia advocates – they are persistent.
LaRee is kinder to me than I deserve. I pressured her to have the abortion. I didn’t want to be a father. I wanted sex without consequences. But abortion has consequences for men too.
Sooner or later it was certain that I would face the fact that I did not protect my child,– that that my hands were bloody too. A great and terrible day came when my conscience would be silenced no more and like God said to Cain: “What have you done?! The voice of your baby’s blood cries to Me from the ground.” My conscience condemned me. I remember thinking “How could you abandon you child when you had such a wonderful father!” My heart broke. I could not even claim ignorance. I knew my baby was not a clump of tissue.
You see, my father kept in his library a Life Science series of books. One was entitled Growth.
[LaRee showed photographs of prenatal life from the book.] It was published in 1965. I remember as a 12 or 13 year old boy sitting with my parents and marvelling at these very early photographs of prenatal development. Some of these photos date back to 1957. This baby is at least 45 years old. When we had the abortion in 1971, I knew what we were doing.
In the 1990s I heard a Christian university professor of medicine claim when abortion on demand was accepted into the social fabric of North America (1969 for Canada and 1973 in America) we did not know about the humanity of prenatal life. I had this book with me and showed him the pages I just showed you then said, “If someone as dumb as me knew then surely those who passed the law and the doctors who participated knew.” The strangest thing happened. He looked away, almost imperceptibly rocking in his chair, and started ringing his hands. I don’t think he was even aware he was doing it. The thought came to my mind: “Pilate.” Not just him. I am like Pilate too, and so everyone who has washed their hands of helping women in crisis pregnancies make life-affirming decisions. Everyone is like Pilate who remains silent when we know that 98% of abortions are not medically required.
It seems fittingly ironic that now it is me who is vulnerable to the same society that does not protect unwanted or inconvenient preborn children. Indications are that eventually it may not protect its incurably ill and disabled people (like me).
There was a time when I was healthy, athletic and strong. Now I am chronically ill, disabled and weak. The journey from there to here has been long and painful. Is there an eternal lesson I am being taught? Perhaps. I’ve been so dense emotionally and dim spiritually. There were times when I would have given up if I had not been surrounded by people who loved me. I can see how a person can despair and want to die in the isolation of suffering. I cannot even imagine the abandonment of people agreeing to help someone with their suicide.
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 30. It has been slowly destroying physical function for more than 25 years.
My onset of multiple sclerosis in 1984 was sudden. It began one morning when I awoke to find I had no sensation below my waist. I could walk just fine, but I could not distinguish hot from cold or sharp from blunt. Then, overnight I lost the use of my right arm and hand. It initiated years of terror as MS ravaged my body. It would attack taking away a function, then remit and return most, but not all, the previous function. I would go to bed at night not knowing what function I would wake up with, or without, and no guarantee I would get lost function back. It was like was like a wild, savage roller-coaster ride.
One thing I lost early on was my sense of musical timing, and the coordination in my right hand. This was important to me because music was a huge part of my life. I played guitar, and at the risk of sounding boastful, I was very skilled. I grew up in a musical family. My mother taught music for 60 years. At any rate, about two years after losing my ability to play the guitar, I realized it was probably not going to return. And so I took my beautiful, top of the line instrument and sawed it in half.
LaRee was horrified! She yelled at me, `What are you doing! You`ve lost your mind!“ I put the two pieces of my guitar back in the case and LaRee and I spent the rest of the evening in stunned silence, but I wasn`t sorry. That night after the family was asleep, I got up and wrote a note and put it in the case with the destroyed Fender guitar. May I read you what that note said.
“I sawed my guitar in half today. It was the healthiest thing I have done in a long time. It gave me a release and a feeble way to express my grief. My love was music. As a youth I lived for my guitar and my music. I remember when I would rather play than eat. Now, my timing is gone, so too is the strength in my hands.
On September 27th 1986, my new reality came into clear focus. Life will not be normal again. I realized I must pick up the pieces remaining in life and forget what I`ve lost. Grief that would not focus for 2 years finally came to a head. I couldn`t cry so I sawed my guitar in half.
I couldn`t just give it away; that would only be more things slipping out of reach. There`s been too much of that already. I needed to sever the past with no tiny remnants to haunt me and taunt me.
I sawed to say goodbye to artistic expression. I sawed to say goodbye to a carefree youth. I sawed to say goodbye to life without a cane or other contraptions of the disabled. I sawed to release grief and say Ì hurt! But mostly, I sawed to say goodbye to an old and trusted friend – my guitar – a finely crafted instrument I can no longer play.
It didn`t seem right to just leave it in its case. I sawed my guitar in half today.
And so LaRee and I began a terrifying but illuminating journey with a catastrophic disability.
It was important for me to know I was loved by someone who was adamantly committed to my natural human dignity. I found it in LaRee who was also suffering.
I want to bring your attention to this aspect of suffering disability or chronic illness. It’s not just individuals who suffer, those who love them suffer too, sometimes more excruciatingly.
Mark lives with the real symptoms of aggressive, degenerative multiple sclerosis, which have their limits. I am left to witness it all, ― and imagine. Imagination has no limits. I believe it is easier to be than to watch. Despite countless trials love has prevailed. But love is like the two sides of a precious coin.
The two sides of love are this: It is life’s greatest ecstasy but also the cause of life’s greatest agonies and anguish. It is a paradox of love.
The 19th Century author, Victor Hugo said, “To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life. To love is a consummation.” — And so it is.
Yet as a wife, mother and grandmother, I want more, and I ask further.
I want to protect those I love from pain, emotional hurts, disappointments, and even life as it ends—but I cannot. So often I sat at the bedside of suffering loved-ones and prayed, “Lord give me their pain” – as though there is some quota of suffering to be filled which I can bargain over with God. There is not.
Romantic love begins with a glance and a hello and ends in tears of goodbye at life’s conclusion and separation – or it should. Life begins with the agony of childbirth but is quickly forgotten by the power of love. Such is the love of a mother for her children.
When Mark and I married, he was so healthy and active. For the first eleven years of marriage he was a super-achiever not only in his career but with family life. He was my Superman.
After being diagnosed with MS his career stalled and he was often too sick to participate in family activities he had previously led. Our children were 7 and 5 when Mark was diagnosed with MS. The children had difficulty understanding why their Dad could not play and be active like he used to.
At the time that Mark was diagnosed with MS, I didn’t even know what the disease was. I had no idea of the impact it would have on our future. And so I began to research the medical literature and even visited a few auxiliary hospitals to see if I could pick out the people with MS:
· I noticed the canes,
· the crutches,
· the wheelchairs and scooters,
· the van contraptions and curb-cuts. MS meant DISABILITY!!
I looked into the faces of loved-ones of patients with MS and wondered if I could face the heart-break and hurt.
My initial reaction was anger. It was irrational but my immediate response was anger. How could Mark do this to me?! How dare he get sick!
He was supposed to be the strong one. I was the weak one. “Damn you!” I thought. If one of us was to get sick, it should be me. I could cope better with disease. Mark was the one with the most energy. I could accept this much more easily if I was the sick one.
I could just slink away from the world, it would be okay. I was angry, sad, and bitter but most of al … I was afraid.
I wanted to correct the fate God allowed by trying to convince Him he made a mistake. Mark could raise the children, remarry, and go on with life.
“I can’t do this!” I cried. “I cannot sit back and watch this Lord.” I pleaded with God to give me the MS.
Mark’s faith was stronger than mine, his personality stronger than mine, his body was stronger, his upbringing stronger. His ability to make a living was better than mine. Couldn’t God see that?! I was so angry with Mark and GOD! I felt cornered … and so let down by life.
Mark’s MS started changing him. I began to gauge the distance between benches in shopping malls in case he needed to sit with exhaustion. I started fearing places with crowds. He might get impatient and I would see that look of frustration on his face.
Then one afternoon I looked on in horror as my husband began to crawl his way up the stairs in our bi-level house so he could use the bathroom. I realized our life had changed and I had to make some decisions. The first decision I had to make was whether I was prepared to stay in the marriage.
Many times Satan told me that there was an easier way out. “You’re still young. The kids would get over it,” He whispered over my shoulder. “You can start over like many other women after divorce.” The temptation continued: “You can get help from other family members. They will understand.” Even people at my work asked why I was staying with Mark. (?)
It did not take long to realize I needed to get serious with God and ask for his hand if I was going to jump on the wild MS rollercoaster ride.
My first prayer was to ask for a wheelchair accessible home so we could begin our new life TOGETHER: God, Mark, me, and the children.
We needed a house that would allow Mark to move about without a struggle, a home that would take us far into this disease. Where the MS would take us, we did not know. We had to trust God.
My prayer was two-sided. I had always had a deep longing for permanence, a place to call home. As a child I was moved from pillar to post (37 times throughout Canada). I didn’t want my children living like gypsies. There was nothing I wanted more than a stable HOME, a permanent address and an apple tree in the back yard. The Lord knew this had been my deepest wish.
And so, in 1987, God answered a need and a prayer. He provided us with a wheelchair accessible home in Beaumont just down the hill from the Catholic Church. During difficult times of MS attacks Mark seemed to find comfort sitting near the apple tree in the backyard and looking up the hill at the old church and listen to the sound of its bell. It seemed to draw his heart closer to God.
God has enveloped me with his love in such a way that I don’t need a Superman husband. (I must admit though, when I hear a noise in the night, I send Mark in his wheelchair whirring into the darkness swinging a cane to protect us from the bogeyman.) What more could I ask for?
Our home has become a meeting place for family occasions where our children and grandchildren gather. Every August we gather in the backyard to pick apples from the tree. Occasionally I reflect on what began with abortion – the denial of life and love’s potential to blossom (both human and divine). It started a pilgrimage to regain the meaning of life and love.
I started this session by posing the question: What is the true extent of abortion’s tragedy? Perhaps this is abortion’s greatest tragedy. The gift of life – with its limitless potential – is denied, returned to the giver of life unopened, unwanted, unexplored and unrevealed. Nobody has the right to rob another life of its potential. Abortion did not liberate us – it broke our hearts and made Mark and me poorer – much poorer. King David wrote: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise.”
It was on the foundation of a broken and contrite spirit, first with the abortion and later with a serious and crippling disease that the Saviour began to teach us the purpose of life and love. Out of the tear-soaked soil of regret and sorrow grew understanding
. We are loved and forgiven.
I am convinced that the Lord has allowed the MS to continue so that we grow spiritually and learn to depend upon God completely. And I have become convinced that divine love is the only thing that matters. To abide in Christ’s love, and reflect His love to a lost and hurting world, … that’s where the real meaning of life is to be found.
Christ told us to take up our cross daily. I found meaning in my cross because I found meaning in His cross. At the foot of that cross, LaRee and I found divine love. In our brokenness, we have found forgiveness and love and Christ is leading us home.