by Joan C. Benson
Natalie stood sideways studying the long bedroom mirror. The slender brunette gazed at her slightly rounded belly so out of sync with her athletic physique. A former tennis champion in college, she was agile and fit, even five years later. Her brown eyes welled with tears as dark lashes fluttered to contain them.
A young and vibrant woman, Natalie was known for her devotion to her Reggie, a dashing hunk in a uniform. With the looks of a movie star and the body of a trained athlete, Reggie was the one all the girls wanted to date back in college. Natalie was the prizewinner. After graduation they tied the knot in a traditional June wedding. Reggie joined the Air Force with dreams of someday becoming one of their pilots.
“Nat? Where’d you go?” Reggie hollered while reaching for the door to the garage.
“We’ll talk tonight, K?”
“Sure,” Natalie mumbled, indifferent to whether or not he heard her.
Slam. The door to the garage was his signoff. The car engine revved noisily, diminishing in seconds as he drove away. Alone at last, Natalie sighed, welcoming the lulling silence. . .
She plopped into a floral cloth chair tucked in the corner of their bedroom. Her grandmother’s chair. Remembering her grandma knitting there, Natalie smiled. She envisioned her own large and raucous family as the oldest of “stairstep” siblings, all girls.
Her parents had expanded the family every two years “whether they needed to or not,” her dad often joked. Times five. Her mom always countered with a quick add. “But each one is irreplaceable— uniquely created in God’s image!” That would always cause the kids to point at each other, giggling. “No way!” they would accuse.
“Hello. I need an appointment to see Dr. Martin, please.”
“We don’t have anything for a few weeks, but I can call you if we have a cancellation.”
“Not so good,” Natalie mumbled, shaking her head. “Yes, please call me if you have anything earlier. You have my number: Natalie Johnson. Thanks.”
After running the vacuum, Natalie decided to call her best friend.
“Hey, Jess. I’m running over to the Exchange in a bit. Do you want to come? Great. See you about one?”
Jess saw Natalie’s blue Subaru pull in. “Hi, Nat!” she said as she slid into the front seat.
“You all right?” she said, looking into Natalie’s soulful eyes and tightly drawn expression.
“Hmmm … ok… I guess. Reggie and I just have some stuff to figure out.” She stared straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.
“Got it,” Jess answered. We have those times too. With four kids, it’s hard to find a minute to sort things out,” she said with a toss of her head. The curious subject hung in mid-air.
Natalie flipped on the radio, tuning in a Christian station. “Oh, I love this song.”
“What is it?” Jess asked.
“Listen ...” she added, turning up the volume.
“I surrender, I surrender …” filled the car with a melodic, faith-filled confession.
“I love the part where it says, ‘Lord, have your way in me,’” Jess said, finally smiling.
As they entered the military Exchange, Natalie said, “I want to look at some everyday tops. Summer’s just around the corner.”
Flipping through the racks of women’s T-shirts, Natalie pulled out large sizes for the first time in her life. She held up a bright red one.
“What do you think? Bright, yes. Cheery? Yes!”
“Wow, Nat, it looks huge for little ol’ you.”
“Comfy for chores. I’ll think I’m wearing pj’s,” she laughed with her usual carefree air.
Suddenly, Jess stopped. “You aren’t … are you? ARE YOU?”
Natalie turned towards the checkout. “I’m all done here, Jess. Ready?”
Realizing Natalie had walked away from her, Jessica didn’t pursue an answer.
“Wait a second, Nat. Do you mind if I grab little James some new jeans? It won’t take long. I know just what he needs ….”
Natalie, smiled and turned back to her friend. “Sure. Your boys are growing so fast, Jess.”
“Yes, and James is my baby. I think he’s going to be tall like his daddy,” she said with a proud smile.
Natalie returned the smile while resisting the urge to finger the cute clothing in the children’s department.
“Here. Just what he needs,” Jess said holding up the little boy blue jeans. “Well, we’d better pay up. I need to beat the school bus to the house.”
After clearing the dishes that evening, Reggie announced a “family meeting.” That was Natalie’s term whenever they needed to talk. Growing up with five kids, she was well acquainted with ‘family meetings.’
“Come and get comfortable, Nat.” Reggie patted the sofa and smiled. “Back to our unfinished business,” he began slowly.
Neither Reggie nor Natalie spoke, silence permeating the small living room. Finally, Natalie cleared her throat and started with halting speech.
“Reggie, you were so, so—reactive. Almost accusatory. I didn’t plan this.” She stroked the tan leather sofa while choking on her own words.
“I know, but this is not the right time. My career is still getting started.” He swiped at his forehead, and crinkled his eyes as if trying to figure out what else he should say.
“We need to at least talk to the doctor.”
“Absolutely,” Reggie agreed. “But, here’s the thing. Major Jenkins has already told us tour duties in Turkey are a possibility. That’s not exactly a stable place, you know? Then what?”
The force of silence besieged Reggie’s logic. Reggie began tapping the sofa with his fingers to fill the void of conversation.
“Will you come with me? To the doctor?” she pleaded with wide, despairing eyes.
Reggie drew Natalie close next to him. She closed her eyes and leaned into the embrace of this man she adored. He kissed the top of her head tenderly. First, one tear escaped, followed by a cascade of others soon trickling down Natalie’s cheeks.
“There now, Nat. There, there.” He stroked her back as a good parent would for an inconsolable child. “We’re in this together.”
Two Weeks Later
“Well, Captain and Mrs. Johnson, good news. Your test is positive, like your home test. I’d like to do an ultrasound if you have time.”
“I have time,” Natalie said in a strong voice, even surprising herself.
Reggie sat quietly as the technician explained the blur of motion on what resembled a TV screen.
“This is the yoke sac containing the embryo,” she said pointing to the screen. Natalie looked up in surprise. Glancing over at Reggie, she smiled.
“See the pulsing right here? That’s your baby’s heart beating.”
“The heart? Already?” Natalie was clearly surprised.
“Wow …” Reggie muttered softly.
The ultrasound tech smiled, and confirmed. “It has a heart rate of 140 beats per minute. Normal for eight weeks gestational age.”
Dr. Martin came into the room when they finished. “Do you have any questions? It appears like this little one is right where it needs to be with a strong heartbeat.”
“Just one question,” Reggie began. “What are the legal requirements in our state for abortion?”
Dr. Martin’s head jerked up from his papers. “Do we have a problem?”
“I’m in the Air Force, Sir. Just made Captain. A baby was really not in our immediate plan.”
“I see,” Dr. Martin said, looking over at Natalie.
“And, how do you feel, Natalie?” Tears streamed down her blushing face. No words.
“What were your thoughts when you saw the ultrasound, Reggie?” Dr. Martin asked.
A tortured silence hung in the air.
Reggie finally spoke, barely audible. “For one moment. It was amazing.”
His gaze shifted. “I know I will look forward to having a baby when the time is right.”
After a few poignant seconds, Dr. Martin spoke.
“Well, let me know. Preferably, you should decide before you are at twelve weeks. Much easier. On everyone ….”
Only the sound of car horns broke the silence on the way home. Finally, Reg turned on the radio for distraction. Relieved to be home and alone in the kitchen, Natalie began her usual dinner prep.
“I have no energy for this,” she whispered. At that conclusion, Natalie set the table for Reggie, and decided it was a good night for leftovers.
“I’m not hungry, Reg. Going to bed to read awhile. G’night.”
“Night,” he said, head turning with a quick glance.
Natalie closed the door, and flopped onto the bed. She knew he would watch his favorite shows for solace, and was thankful to be alone. The dull chatter of the television in the living room made good white noise. Burying her head in her pillow, Natalie sobbed the tears she had been holding back.
Alone and tormented by the risk for this pregnancy, Natalie prayed. “Lord, Reggie said we were in this together. But, he’s not with me. Or this little one.” She rested both of her palms on her belly, acknowledging the life growing beneath her heart.
Two weeks passed. The looming truth lay untouched, unspoken, and unreconciled. Natalie attended her weekly Bible study, and talked to her parents and friends without a word shared about the great chasm. She and Reggie walked through the motions of everyday life without meaningful communication.
Would her marriage sink under the weight of an abortion of their first child, Natalie wondered. Could she forgive Reggie if he insisted? Would he forgive her if she refused? Natalie prayed often.
“HELP, Lord! I don’t believe you would choose death over life. I need your wisdom. I am listening ….”
That evening, Natalie decided. “Reggie, we must have a family meeting. Can we, please?”
“Agree,” he said, tapping his hand on the kitchen table, and taking a chair. “Shoot. I know we are running out of time. You’re already at ten weeks and counting.” Reggie’s dark eyes stared into Natalie’s face, again brimming with tears. His jaw was tight. Trained to make difficult technical decisions as a pilot, Reggie had braced himself for this more personal one.
“There is so much at stake here, even on top of the fact that I am carrying our child. Here is where I stand, Reg,” she offered, clearing her throat for what would come next.
“What are you getting at?” Reggie said lifting his eyebrows.
Natalie stood up, and started pacing back and forth. “I mean I don’t think I can live with you if you make me take the life we created together.”
Reggie stood up in amazement. “So, you mean it’s either this unknown, barely existent fetus … or me?”
“No. Well, not exactly.” Natalie stopped moving, and her eyes locked with Reggie’s. She wanted to affirm her love. But, he had to understand.
“We’ll have so much emotional baggage, Reg. I don’t know how we can forge ahead with even an approximation of our ‘happily ever after.’”
“I need some time to digest this …” he said, grabbing his jacket from the coat hook. “Even though we have NO TIME!” The door slammed pronouncing judgment on Natalie’s words.
Throwing herself on the couch, Natalie pounded the pillows as if they were the antagonist. “Well, that didn’t work out, did it?”
Taking her Bible from the end table, she opened it randomly. “Lord I need to hear from you.”
She glanced down where the pages fell open. Matthew 28. Natalie read the words telling the disciples to make disciples of all nations. “This little one needs to hear about you too.”
Through watery eyes, she glanced down again. “…I am with you always.”
“Is that for me too, Lord? Or is that only for the disciples 2,000 years ago? Are you with me? Now?” Quietly, but surely, these words took residence in Natalie’s heart. “I am with you.”
Two more tortuous days passed with Natalie and Reggie barely conversing. Their home was tense, ready to ignite with the smallest provocation. But, those words. “I am with you,” kept coming to Natalie’s mind. Over and over … and over again. “I want to be faithful, Lord. Show me clearly what I should do.”
At the end of the eleventh week, Reggie finally broke the dam of silence. “OK, Nat, we have to do this.”
He slammed his fist against the doorframe as Natalie wiped the kitchen counters. Her head jerked up. “What was that all about?”
“We can’t act like nothing is happening, Nat. Will you please go with me to end the pregnancy? While it’s still fairly simple? I don’t want you to face risky complications.”
“Reggie, have you thought about the fact that this baby is genetically mine too? Who knows? It could even look like me someday!” Natalie placed her hand on her abdomen.
“I’m sorry, Natalie. I really am.” Reggie shuffled his feet and looked out the window.
“It’s official now, Nat.”
“What’s official? That you’ve made a decision that changes the course of our lives—forever?”
“No. I have received orders for Incirlik Air Base—Turkey. I think we need to get through this assignment—just you and me. We can have a baby when this tour ends. Does that work for you?”
Natalie’s mouth gaped. Reggie clearly didn’t get it. Beginning with a soft tone, her voice grew stronger with each statement she uttered.
“This little boy or girl has a God-given purpose, Reggie. Separate from you. Separate from me.” Natalie’s voice broke as she stammered to finish her thought.
“This baby is a one-of-a-kind. It is not replaceable.” Each sentence rang out with conviction.
Reggie sat down at the small table, and buried his head in the palms of his large hands.
Natalie’s instinct wanted to yell, “Why don’t you get this?”
Instead, a settled peace overshadowed her impulse. She knew where her hope came from. It didn’t depend on the person of Reggie Johnson. She quietly exited toward the bedroom.
“Natalie, wait …” Reggie called out. As Natalie looked back, his face was now blush red and streaked with tears.
“Reggie,” she said as she wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders. Feeling his body quake in emotional turmoil, she went on. “You know I love you. Nothing can change that.”
“Can’t we leave all our doubts and fears in God’s hands, Reggie? Let Him unravel the unknowns?”
Reggie had no words. Natalie released her embrace and made her way to the bedroom. Alone.
In her grandmother’s chair, Reggie’s plan settled around her like a heavy blanket. But God—he could still soften Reggie’s heart. Maybe he already was. One thing Natalie knew. This baby should not be snuffed out because it was inconvenient.
Turning the light off, she fell on her knees. “Lord, we need your wisdom more than ever. I pray for a change in Reggie’s heart. I pray for a peace over my marriage. Yet, I will put my trust you, Lord. Let us be with you as you have promised to be with us. Amen.”