“Choose Life!” urge the pro-life bumper stickers, license plates, t-shirts, and hashtags, but we don’t spend as much time talking about what that actually looks like when a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy actually decides to choose life for her child. So, today, on Mother’s Day, I thought I would share the story of my family, and how two teenage girls choosing life decades ago not only saved the lives of my brother and me, but turned a young married couple into a mother and father.
First, let’s review some background information on abortion and adoption in the United States. While the stigma surrounding single motherhood is greatly diminished in recent years, the issues that might lead a woman to consider abortion still remain. The number of abortions in the U.S. has been on a slow and steady decline for the past two decades, but there are still hundreds of thousands of abortions every year.
In 2004, the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization launched by Planned Parenthood, anonymously surveyed 1,209 women after they had abortions. The vast majority of the reasons given were elective reasons where the woman’s concerns could have been addressed by adoption: 25% said they were not ready for a child, 23% said they couldn’t afford a baby, 19% already had children but did not want any more, 8% did not want to be a single mother, 7% said they were not mature enough to raise a child, and 4% thought a child would interfere with their education or career.
Only 4% cited their own health problems, 3% problems with the baby’s health, and less than 0.5% said they had been raped. But that is still at least 86% choosing abortion for elective reasons.
These women could be giving their babies up for adoption, but fewer of them are doing so every year. The statistics on adoption in America show a depressing decrease since Roe vs. Wade passed in 1973: the percentage of babies given up for adoption has fallen from 9 percent before 1973 to just 1 percent for those infants born between 1996 and 2002.
Americans adopt more children than all other countries combined, but the number of international adoptions has also fallen in recent years, in no small part from countries like Russia placing additional restrictions and even outright prohibitions against foreigners adopting their children.
So it should be no surprise that every adoption agency around the country has long waiting lists of people who desperately want to adopt a baby. Many potential adoptive parents are happy to adopt a child of any racial background, even if different from their own, or to open their homes and their hearts to children with disabilities or other challenges. There are even waiting lists of people willing to adopt babies with Down Syndrome.
Now, let’s tell my family’s story.
My parents, Bill and Karen Rumpf, met when they were both new teachers at the same Robert E. Lee Junior High (now College Park Middle School) in Orlando, Florida. Bill was a shop teacher and Karen taught Latin and math. The young couple fell in love, married, and made plans for the future.
They bought a modest but comfortable house in the College Park neighborhood and set to making it a home. We have a lot of photos of them working on the garden, and Dad can build or fix just about anything. There’s a verse in the Miranda Lambert song, “The House That Built Me,” that always makes me think of them:
Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From ‘Better Homes and Garden’ magazines.
Plans were drawn, and concrete poured,
And nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream.
After several years of trying to get pregnant, the doctors told them it was not likely to ever happen, and they began the adoption process with Catholic Social Services of Orlando. With two beginning teachers’ salaries, they weren’t rich, but they did have stable jobs, a nice home, and a lot of love to give.
They just needed a child with whom they could share that love. And so they waited.
A 19-year-old young woman who had gotten pregnant while away at college was the answer to my parents’ dreams. She gave them the most precious and priceless gift imaginable, saving my life and altering theirs forever.
That courageous girl’s gift made Bill a father, and Karen a mother. That’s what choosing life does — creates moments like this:
A few years later, my brother came along, in much the same way: another teenage girl making a brave choice, facilitated by Catholic Social Services, and our family was complete.
Mom stayed home with the two of us when we were little, and then went back to teaching after we were both in school. Again, we weren’t rich, but we never lacked for anything, and there’s a lot to be said for having parents with the same schedule as you — certainly makes it easier to take family vacations.
My parents still have that home in College Park. Instead of moving, Dad just added to it: another bedroom and bathroom, and then a back porch, the location of so many birthday parties and family dinners over the years.
Like most adult children, I frown whenever they discuss the idea of selling it (“maybe something smaller, with less yard upkeep…”) but the truth is the foundation my parents gave us is far more than any physical building.
Mom was my first “editor,” constantly correcting my grammar (“…better than I, not better than me!”) until proper English became second nature. She instilled in me a love for reading and learning, especially history and languages. When it came time for me to pick a college, she drove all over the southeast with me to visit campus after campus — looking for the perfect fit for me but being very happy when I decided on the University of Florida, a less-than-two-hour drive away.
Over the years, I’ve switched careers from law to politics to media, moved back and forth across the country a few times, and been through the same kind of ups and downs that many people face, and Mom has been there with unwavering love and support throughout all of it. She worries and frets like all moms do, especially with the political climate the past few years (She called me once to ask, “Did you insult the President of Russia on Twitter?” and then made me promise not to visit Russia. OK, Mom) but she gets a kick out of my TV and radio appearances and enjoys reading my articles.
Mom has been one of my best examples of how to accomplish goals in life. If she wanted something but couldn’t afford it, she and Dad would figure out how to make it or repair it — our house is filled with furniture they either made or someone discarded and they sanded, finished, painted, or reupholstered — or they would make a plan to save until they could buy what they wanted. She decided she wanted to learn to play the dulcimer a few years ago, so Dad built her one and she started taking lessons. It’s lovely, although you do have to coax her to play for people.
She makes the best darn carrot cake (with cream cheese frosting!) on the planet, and her casseroles are the very definition of the perfect comfort food (I’ve fondly referred to them as a “hug on a plate” more than once). Mom even knows how to fold fitted sheets, which is one of those adulting skills I have yet to master.
Mom sends a lot of cards, and often edits them to emphasize certain points or to make the message fit what she wants to say, like with this Mother’s Day card she sent me this week:
My Mom is just plain awesome, and I love her so much it’s getting so dusty in here it’s becoming difficult to type.
If she and my Dad had never been able to adopt me and my brother, Mom would still be a wonderful, intelligent, sweet, awesome woman, and she’d probably still make the best carrot cake ever. But I am so very grateful that she has been able to be my Mom and bring all that love into my life.
That’s what choosing life does. It creates a mother, and a father, and creates love.
Love you, Mom.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.