Seeing as yesterday was my mom’s birthday and today is the 50th anniversary of the notorious Roe v. Wade decision, I thought I would share a few stories that both affirm the sanctity of human life and honor my late mother, Phyllis Moore Spiegel.
When my mom became pregnant with me, she was already the busy mother of three boys and thirty-six years of age. Although my parents were not planning to have a fourth child, they didn’t exactly take a rigorous approach in trying to prevent this, as they later informed me that at the time they were using a rather unreliable spermicide contraceptive. When my mom discovered she was pregnant, she was somewhat apprehensive because, being in her late thirties, she thought of herself as too old to have another child. At some point she shared her concern with her dad who responded by offering to pay for an abortion. My mom obviously declined the offer, essentially telling my grandfather that just because she felt anxious about being an older new mother (at least relative to those days), she had no thoughts of terminating the pregnancy. In fact, she was disturbed by the very suggestion.
Still, my mom continued to struggle with anxiety about having another kid at her age. This continued even after I was born and wasn’t put to rest until she heard some wise words from our pediatrician, Dr. Stopman. One day when she took me in for a check-up, Dr. Stopman asked her how she was doing and my mom shared her concerns with him, saying “I was sitting there in the waiting room, looking around at all those young mothers, and I just feel like I’m too old to be doing this again.” Dr. Stopman looked at my mom and, pointing at me, he said, “he doesn’t think you’re too old.” My mom would later say that after this she never thought about it again. And Dr. Stopman was right. Never once did I think of my mother as “old,” even when she was in her 90s. She was always just my mom—my insightful, kind, good-humored, sometimes curiously enigmatic mom. She remains one of the two most interesting women I’ve ever known. (I’m married to the other one.)
One day when my grandfather was visiting our house a few years later, my mother noticed him pensively staring out the window at me as I was romping around in the backyard. My mom asked him what was on his mind, and he replied, “I look at Jimmy playing and I just feel horrible about the offer I made you to get an abortion.” With the frank honesty that was so typical of Phyllis Spiegel, my mom replied, “Well, Dad, you should feel horrible about it. And you know what? I should have taken your money and used it to pay for a good trip somewhere.” My grandfather smiled and said, “You’re right, honey. That would have served me right.”
As I have reflected on these stories over the years, I have been struck by the profound impact that a simple conversation can have, deciding the direction—or even the existence of—an entire life. I also contemplate the fact that although, from a human perspective, the fate of any one of us might seem uncertain at times, we are all securely in the hands of God—from the moment of our conception until the day we depart this world. As the Psalmist says, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:15-16).