Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From suffering to joy: Rape victim discovers courage and love in the midst of pain

The following is from the December 2010 issue of MCCL News.

By Bill Poehler

Drugged and raped. The words elicit disbelief, anger, compassion and a cry for justice. Rape victims rarely share their experience publicly. This is one teenager's story of courage and hope.

Amanda had completed her U.S. Army Reserve training and was ready for her deployment to Afghanistan in September 2009. At age 18, she was excited to fulfill a dream of serving her country. At a St. Paul party in August, she felt dizzy and sick after drinking a wine cooler, so she lay down in a friend's bedroom.

A half-hour later a guy entered the room and came after her. Amanda pleaded with him to leave, crying, "Stop! Stop!" But she was frozen.

"I was trained to kill, but I couldn't move," she recalls.

In the days that followed, Amanda told no one about the rape. But she felt something had changed. She took one drug store pregnancy test after another. Most were positive. Desperate, she went to urgent care, where her pregnancy was confirmed.

Amanda held strong pro-life convictions. She had written high school papers defending the pro-life position. But she had always viewed rape and incest as special situations.

So Amanda decided to get an abortion. She needed to fulfill her duty to her Army Reserve unit. She needed to get on with plans for her life. She made an appointment, but never got there.

Eight days before her scheduled abortion, Amanda was rushed to the emergency room with symptoms of a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. She was given a sonogram and reassured that her pregnancy was normal. It was then that Amanda saw her little unborn child on the ultrasound monitor for the first time.

"I fell in love at that moment," she says.

One image changed everything. What Amanda had thought of as a product of rape that she could not handle suddenly became her child growing inside her. She saw beyond the circumstances of the conception to the reality of her own motherhood.

A heavy weight was lifted as Amanda made a firm decision to give life to her unborn baby. But the challenges were not over.

She contracted the H1N1 virus in November. Amanda was told that one or both of them would likely die.

"The doctor said there was still time to do an abortion to save my life," she says. "But I had already decided not to abort my child, so I left it in God's hands."

The weeks and months ahead were difficult. Amanda was hospitalized 13 times. She suffered pre-term labor seven times. Her boyfriend—the "love of her life"—left her. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the rape and became suicidal.

But Amanda persevered through all of these because she loved her little boy.

"If I could take a bad experience and find good out of all of it—that's what I did," she explains.

The day finally came in March 2010 when Kaiden, Amanda's baby boy, was born. "I can't believe something so beautiful could come from such an ugly, horrible situation," she said tearfully to her family and friends who were with her.

The rapist had taken her deployment, her boyfriend and her self-worth, but not Amanda's belief in the sanctity of human life. That conviction carried her through suffering to joy. Kaiden has been a powerful source of healing for her.

"Now I know what a mother's love is. I can't describe it, and I never understood it before," she says.

Mother and child are living with Amanda's loving family, who help care for Kaiden while Amanda works full time. She will begin attending college in January.

Amanda shares two profound lessons from her experience. First, she finally has realized that being raped was not her fault. She could have made different choices that night, but nothing she did would have ever justified what was done to her. Second, life is precious, regardless of circumstances.

"The gift of life is bigger than me—than anything," Amanda says.

What would she say to someone who questions her decision?

"I would show them my child," she says. "I can't imagine my life without him. He is the greatest joy and the greatest love I have ever known. It's hard being young and not knowing if I will ever find someone … but I would not change anything that has happened to me.

"Now I know what real love is."