A long journey to peace: one woman’s 43-year road to redemption after an abortion
By Jourdyn Kaarre, for NewsNetNebraska
INT. HOSPITAL, EMPORIA, KAN. – EARLY MORNING, OCTOBER 1970
Gray, sterile walls. A cold tile floor. The brunette teenager slips on a moss-green hospital gown.
“What’s your address?”
Just get me out of here. Please…please…get me out of here.
“What’s your address?” [More firmly.]
Jeannie gives her cousin’s Wichita address.
The doctor gently prods her swollen abdomen.
The psychiatrist asks questions.
“Why do you want to do this?”
“I’m too young. I don’t have any support. I’m scared…I don’t know where to turn.”
The nurse places a mask on her face.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4…
She awakes, hands on abdomen. Slowly rubs her belly. Stares at ceiling.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
Slowly, she slips on polyester sweats, buttons her shirt. Still cramping, still bleeding. Jeannie and her mother hop a Greyhound back to Nebraska.
This will never be known by another human being.
* * *
Jeannie Crawford was 19, enchanted with a newfound liberation she coveted at home. Gloria Steinem encouraged it, Janis Joplin inspired it, six-packs of Bud made her feel it.
One summer night, riding the freedom high in Norfolk, Va., far from Nebraska’s endless dirt roads and all those suffocating rules, she slept with the friend of a friend. Not long after, she knew the high had crashed.
Over time, the abortion gave birth to a monster—a monster that would numb, crush, curse and break her. A monster that shackled her for more than two decades—locked her in a prison of self-loathing, neurosis, guilt and rage. A monster that prevented her from embracing an unyielding, unbreakable love she knew she didn’t deserve.
Then one autumn day, 43 years later, Jeannie’s secret liberated her.
INT. LIVING ROOM, FIRTH, NEB. – EVENING, AUGUST 1970
The father sprawls in his brown recliner perched in a living room corner. Light from the tube dances on his expressionless face. Mother and daughter enter, flicking off the TV.
The two ease onto a gold-flowered couch, facing him.
She shivers. She sweats. She tugs at her hair, bites her nails.
“Dad, my worst fears have come true. I’m pregnant.”
Irresponsible, reckless, disgusted.
Your life ruined. By a stranger.
“Find somewhere else to stay—a bastard won’t live under my roof.”
Jeannie leaves. Mom sits. Dad is silent.
* * *
Jeannie had graduated from Adams High School in May 1969, worked a year in Lincoln, then headed off to Virginia to stay with her sister-in-law while her brother did a Navy stint. She couldn’t take the tight leash at home or living with a foul-mouthed construction-worker father, a father whose affection she desperately craved.
But her Virginia freedom was cut short when the sister-in-law discovered Jeannie threw a party while she was away. By August 1970, she was out of options. She moved back home and told her mother her worst fears. A urine sample confirmed them.
“That’s when all the wheels went into motion. I didn’t want to be a daily reminder to my dad.”
So in October, Jeannie took her $500 bank loan and the long Greyhound ride to Emporia. By November, she resumed her reckless behavior, drinking and sleeping around, continuing her quest for the validation and affection her dad could never provide.
Around that time, a 24-year-old teacher headed back home to Adams for a wedding. Rod Pittam, a country boy founded on faith, family and football had known her family for years. In fact, he once dated Jeannie and was like a son to her father.
He asked her out the first night he was back in town, and by December, she was sporting an engagement ring. She saw her fiancé as the ticket to Dad’s approval. Rod saw her as the perfect woman.
Jeannie and Rod married in June 1971, and it wasn’t long before she begged him for a child. Two months later, a urine sample confirmed her joy.
INT. MASTER BEDROOM, BRADSHAW, NEB. – MIDDLE OF NIGHT, FEBRUARY 1972
Jeannie and Rod lie asleep in their bed. The room is dark, past midnight. Her belly is swollen from a 7-month-old fetus growing inside.
“God, please don’t hurt my baby for what I’ve done!”
Rod shakes his wife. He shakes her again. Harder.
She wakes. She starts sobbing. She can’t stop.
“What is wrong?”
“What did I say?”
“You said: ‘God, please don’t hurt my baby for what I’ve done.’ What does that mean?”
So she tells him. Tells him everything. About her father’s disgust, the trip to the doctor, the abortion—and the punishment she knows is sure to come.
Jeannie begins sobbing. She can’t stop.
“I know what you must think of me.”
He gently wraps his arms around her.
* * *
“I felt when I delivered a healthy baby boy, and God was not going to punish me in that regard and my husband was not going to leave me, I knew that I had to be punished. In my subconscious, not even realizing I was missing it at the time, I set myself up for self-destruction. Whatever it was going to take, if it meant creating situations that would escalate into fights, arguing, bickering, finding fault, everything I could do to get my husband to finally think, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Nothing I do can make her happy.’
“But he would not divorce me. He would not walk out on me. So I took every effort to push him to the limit, to destroy anything that he had left in him, feelings for me—I wanted to destroy that. And I continued to do that for 25 years.”
Their baby was constantly in and out of the doctor’s office for a runny nose, fever, upset stomach, allergies. And Jeannie had an endless string of her own ailments—anxiety, hypochondria, depression, hives, rashes, headaches.
She couldn’t, wouldn’t, let the baby out of sight. She stayed home while Rod coached high school football, basketball, track and taught physical education in Bradshaw.
In 1973, Rod decided to join the Army. She and their young son followed him to Fort Knox, Ky.
The family moved to Fort Belvoir, Va., in 1976, where she joined the Mormon Church and gave birth to a daughter. For a while, the ground below felt solid. After Rod was discharged from the Army, the family moved back to Nebraska, where a second daughter was born in 1981 and she left the Mormon Church in 1987.
Through it all, Jeannie maintained her helicopter parenting, yelling, anger and obsessive need for control. Her eldest daughter was stubborn and independent like her mother, and Jeannie couldn’t bond.
Eventually the decades of Jeannie’s manipulation of family and friends, the extramarital affairs she pursued to appease her longing for affection and her need for control deteriorated the marriage to the point where she refused to hold her husband’s arm in public, despite his attempts.
He moved to Kansas with their youngest to continue teaching and coaching, while Jeannie stayed in Nebraska with her mother.
Eventually, their separation headed toward a fourth year.
INT. RANCH-STYLE HOME, SOUTH LINCOLN, NEB. – MORNING, JANUARY 1995
Jeannie stares out the front window of her mother’s house. She’s panicked, pacing. Rod should have arrived by 9 a.m., and it’s a couple hours later. He’s never late. She heads out on the bitterly cold morning, navigating icy roads she assumes killed her teenage daughters and estranged husband.
When she returns, Rod’s car is there. She heads to the back door where he’s waiting with open arms.
“Don’t touch me.”
She pushes him backwards. He follows her to the bedroom.
“I’m sick and tired of this charade of a marriage,” she screams. “I’ve never loved you. I have always wanted my dad’s approval and marrying you was my way of getting that.”
She reaches for the door, turns the knob.
Rod springs from the chair, slams the door, stands six inches from her face.
“I love you and I’m going to fight for this marriage. But if you want to walk, go. You will tell the kids everything you’ve done. I will not be the bad guy in my children’s eyes.”
She stares, speechless, stunned.
“Grab your coats, girls. We’re going to the movies.”
* * *
Jeannie returns to her mother’s house.
“It’s over Mom, it’s done. He needs to change.”
She retreats to her room, crawls in bed, tosses and turns.
I love you and I’m going to fight for this marriage.
I love you and I’m going to fight for this marriage.
You will tell the kids everything you’ve done.
She sobs. She crawls out of bed, slumps.
Knees to the carpet, face to the covers.
“God, please, give me peace.”
* * *
Rod had given Jeannie an ultimatum: Tell the kids and risk the emotional fallout or walk away, with the monster.
“My heart was absolutely screaming for help. I didn’t know the depth of it until that night.” That night she had finally confronted the monster.
The husband and wife, eclipsed in darkness for 25 years, began writing letters, calling, dining together. Jeannie reacquainted herself with the stranger she shared a bed with for two decades, the man who believed in marriage vows.
While her marriage healed, her spiritual life deepened. She forgave her father. Near the end of his life, he opened up, exposing his motherless childhood, his trust issues. She visited jail cells, a step to help her face the monster, exchanging painful stories with other women about abortion.
Ten years after the monster left, in 2005, her three children still knew nothing of her dark secret. As she readied herself for work one morning, a radio commercial stopped her cold. The ad for a women’s center asked if she was ready to really heal.
And she was. She finally confessed to her grown children, grieving the loss of her first. She joined a Bible study and counseled others.
“The woman she was doesn’t exist anymore,” Rod said.
In October 1970, Jeannie had the abortion. In 1995, she kicked the monster out. In 2005, she gave her unborn baby a name: Grace Renae. In 2013, she took a final step.
EXT. HOSPITAL, EMPORIA, KAN. – AFTERNOON, NOVEMBER 2013
Against a bright blue sky, yellow and orange leaves rustle in the slight breeze. The former hospital, now a retirement home, rises four stories, its white trim and faded brown brick towering over the aging lawn.
Jeannie stands silently on the asphalt, unraveling the string from a yellow teddy bear.
Rod wraps his arms around her. Together, they whisper a prayer.
By God’s grace I’m able to stand here today and remember. Thank you God for your grace, forgiveness and for this day.
She steps forward, gripping the string of a white balloon.
She shields her eyes from the blinding sun.
She let’s go—the white balloon floating peacefully into the crisp autumn air.