“Sammie—Gift of God,” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 65–66
My doctor had been pacing back and forth across the room when he turned abruptly and sat on the edge of my bed. “I’m going to be absolutely honest with you,” he said, taking my hand, “The only possible way to save your life is to perform an abortion.”
For an instant, time stood still and my thoughts were suspended in the quiet room. I wanted to live! I had been married only seven years, and every day the relationship between my husband and me had grown richer. I had a bright, loving little daughter, two and a half years old, and I felt an obligation as well as a joy in rearing her. And my first adult novel had just been accepted for publication. I had everything to live for.
Since the doctor had been able to pick up a heartbeat and I had felt movement, I had stopped thinking of this living, growing entity as an embryo. This little thing whose heart was beating, who could already move, had the right to live. I thought of infanticide as it had been practiced by certain primitive peoples. Babies, girls especially, had been exposed and left to die so that people already making decisions could live.
What the doctor was advising was to me a kind of infanticide. I knew that abortion was sometimes considered necessary to save a mother’s life, but both he and I thought of it only as a last resort.
“It isn’t easy to tell you this,” he said, and I knew it wasn’t. He had been determined to help me bring this pregnancy to full term. “Sometimes I can pick up a heartbeat; sometimes I can’t. You might be sacrificing your life for an infant that isn’t even viable.”
I made no answer.
“I’ll schedule you for Wednesday morning,” he said. “Be at the Memorial Hospital Tuesday afternoon at four.”
If I hadn’t seen the sorrow in his eyes, I might have thought that this was just another medical decision made without consideration of human values. But I knew better. My doctor knew my life story.
Since we were late marrying, my husband and I had decided that if we wanted a family we would have to begin at once. We drew up a five-year plan which included advanced education for him, publication for me (I had been writing juvenile pieces and had won two poetry awards, but I had a serious novel in mind), and two or three children for both of us.
That was in 1938. In 1942 our first daughter was born—but not to us. My five previous pregnancies had terminated between the third and fifth month. The doctors had said I would never bear a child and we should be satisfied with adoption, so when the opportunity came, we seized it.
It was in September 1944 when I began to feel the familiar pregnancy malaise, and I immediately checked with my doctor. He insisted on a pregnancy test and said I had been expecting for at least six weeks.
This time the morning sickness was relentless—morning, noon, and night—and before long I had lost thirty-five pounds. It then became necessary for me to receive my nourishment by intravenous feeding at the hospital. Finally, my condition was so bad that this procedure didn’t work either, so the doctor had come to my room and given me his best advice.
Still I said, “Let me think about it until tomorrow.”
That night I had an unusual dream.
I dreamed I was walking down Washington Avenue in Ogden, Utah, with my father. He had died in January, but since I couldn’t go 750 miles to the funeral he had not seemed dead to me. My father was wearing his summer straw hat pushed far back on his forehead, the way Mama didn’t like. I even noticed the short, horizontal wrinkles in his trousers that once-a-week pressing couldn’t remove because his too-heavy abdomen rested on his lap when he sat at his desk. My arm was through his as we walked north along the familiar street in companionable silence. When we reached the bridge over the Ogden River, he said, “I must leave you now.” I clung more tightly to his arm, and he said, “You can come with me now if you want to. But if you go back and endure this thing to the end, you will have a beautiful daughter and you will live to rear her to maturity.”
Was it a dream? Was it really a visit from my father? Was it my own subconscious desire to maintain this pregnancy until my baby was viable? Whatever the explanation, the next morning when the doctor called, I said, “I have decided against an abortion.”
He hung up without a word.
On June 13 the baby was born by cesarean section. “She’s perfect,” the doctor said. “All the right number of fingers and toes. A beautiful baby girl.”
“I knew she would be,” I answered, filled with that indescribable joy that comes with the birth of a child.
I saw her only once during the next ten days. She was in an incubator, growing large enough and strong enough to live under normal conditions.
At the end of ten days I stepped on the scales before I left the hospital—just a smidgen under one hundred pounds. I was going home, but the baby had to stay until she weighed five pounds.
It was a good thing she stayed. The next day I checked in at another hospital with thrombophlebitis; then shortly a pulmonary embolism developed. How I clung to that promise, “You’ll live to rear her to maturity.” A blood clot had gone through my heart and lodged in my lung, which made me one of those people who were living on borrowed time.
By the last of August I was home and so was the baby. We took her to church to receive her name and blessing. Of course, she should have been Samuel—gift of God—but that wasn’t suitable for a girl. We named her Samellyn and called her Sammie.
This all happened quite some time ago. Sammie graduated from high school and college with honors. She went on with her education and touched the lives of many young people as a teacher in the Los Angeles schools. Married and living in Portland, she has been able to share her expertise in parenting with hundreds of mothers and fathers. And best of all, she has a fine husband and three children.
What we would have missed if we had kept that Wednesday morning appointment! What she would have missed if she had never lived at all! What all those lives she has touched with her love and compassion would have missed! I’m grateful that forty-six years ago I made the decision to let her live.