As I sat there listening to the proceedings, I wanted to jump and scream. I did not attend the church. I was there because Miss Algae is my friend - One of my closest friends. I had come to lend her support. God knows she wasn’t getting any from her parents! In fact, outraged as I was by what she was going through in the name of discipline, it was actually milder than what had happened to her when I had gone home with her to break the news to her family. Her father had slapped her, called her names, and threatened to disown her. Her mother had rolled on the floor screaming, “You have disgraced me and brought all my toils to naught. Araba, you have killed me oo!” You can imagine what that must have done to the scared and pregnant seventeen year-old.
The Araba standing before the church was a shell of the Araba I knew and twenty pounds lighter than when she took the pregnancy test just a month ago. This was better results than most diet programs will guarantee you and she had done this effortlessly. Her ordeals had accomplished it for her. Between her parents’ verbal and emotional abuse, finger-pointing from her peers and insults from the nurses at the ante-natal clinic, Araba had indeed been through quite a lot. And now, from the church, she was receiving a healthy dose of righteous condemnation. I wondered how she did it all… and suddenly, she didn’t. Araba collapsed right there on the podium. I rushed to her side. My friend needed me.
After hours of nail-biting and fervent prayers at the hospital, she finally pulled through the worst of it and at the doctor’s assurance; I was able to dash home to catch forty winks. When I got to her bedside in the morning, Sammy and her parents were with her, trying very hard to tolerate each other. She was still sleeping peacefully. I greeted them all and proceeded to ask how she was faring from Sammy who was compelled to stand next to the door to avoid any confrontation and so was closest to me. “I was so scared…” He began. These seems to be the wrong words because the parents immediately shouted in unison “Were you scared when you were putting the baby inside her?” and proceeded to give him a good dressing-down. The ruckus woke Araba up and after listening to them quietly for a minute, she started crying – which was what drew our attention to the fact that she was up. One would think her parents would have been grateful and turned their attentions to her. No such luck! They had worked themselves up so much that they rather turned they rather turned their anger on her “Were you crying when u guys were…? Shut up! Look at how you scared us! Now we both had to miss work because of you…”
“NO, YOU SHUT UP!!!” I screamed. “If you don’t, I will have you thrown out of this room. After all, you were so busy being pleased by the punishment being meted out to your daughter that you didn’t even notice when she collapsed. I brought her here and I signed the admission forms. You are disturbing the patient and I will have you thrown out if you don’t shut up” “But we are her parents!” “Is that so? Then act as such!” I threw back at them. By now, Araba had been shocked into silence; Sammy too. I am not prone to such temperamental outbursts and so had everyone quite shocked. After a few moments of sober reflection, the mom offered by way of apologetic explanation; “Sorry, but we are having a hard time coming to terms with this” I laughed – a mirthless laugh that had everyone looking in my direction. “Hard time, you say? Have you given any thought at all to how Araba might be feeling?” At least they had the decency to vow down their heads in shame. “We are sorry, truly. We just wish she was more like you. Look how you’ve taken charge here, so responsible…” “Stop right there!” I interjected. You have a beautiful, intelligent daughter. Sure, she has made a mistake. Who doesn’t? Even though, in this case, I hesitate to use the word mistake. A child is never a mistake. Go to the prayer camps and see how many are praying for what Araba has got ‘by mistake’. In any case, I guess in your eyes, the only mistake she made was disgracing you” I laugh. “And you wish she was more like me? Be careful what you wish for. The devil you know is most times better than the angel you do not know. (Sorry, Araba, you know I don’t think you are a devil) I who did not have the courage to keep my baby when I got pregnant a year ago? I who had an abortion? I did not only indulge in pre-marital sex and get pregnant, I killed the baby! How on earth does that in anyway make me better than Araba?” I turned to Araba and said; “Because I do not carry the evidence of my sins, the church holds me in higher esteem than you. I am proud of you, my friend. You are a far better person than me” I looked at the shocked faces all around me. Even Araba didn’t know about my abortion. “And now, Mr. and Mrs. Algae, I believe you have some things to say to your daughter. Sammy and I will step outside for a while. If we hear raised voices, we are kicking you out.” I looked at them for accord. But the tears streaming down their faces told me my threat had been completely unnecessary.
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“Judge not that ye not be judged” and yet, everyday, we judge. And in our judgments, we err. We look at every pregnant unmarried girl and think thoughts in our heads. It’s as if by getting pregnant, they cease to be human beings with feelings. We judge them and find them guilty. With our furtive glances at their bare fingers, our stares, etc., we judge them. Let us even put those who were raped and decided to keep the baby aside. We consider that too small a possibility and we may be right. But let us consider this. For every unmarried pregnant girl we see, there are countless others who have aborted the evidence. Why should the ones who decide to keep their babies, be found guilty and the others praised? Or is this one of those areas of life where two wrongs equal a right? By our judgment, we send a clear message to all young girls who get pregnant – that it is better to abort than to keep the baby. That way, no one will even guess you have had sex before. We seem to be living by the eleventh commandment “Thou shall not get caught” SO long as we don’t know, we don’t care.
When I see a pregnant unmarried girl, my first thought is this – If the man had HIV/AIDS or any other STD, she has probably caught it now. And I pray to God he didn’t and she hasn’t. But immediately following that thought is admiration. Not admiration for getting pregnant, but admiration for keeping the baby.
Now, I am not saying that we should all go out and get pregnant. I believe in prudent reproductive choices. I also believe abstinence is the best option. Scientific research says it and most religions in Ghana and beyond support it. But in the spirit of no use crying over spilt milk, I believe in constructive rebuke. And I can’t help but think that what we do in our homes and churches now is not constructive at all; neither to the pregnant girl, nor to the other girls. It screams – Thou shall not get caught (pregnant), but if thou does get pregnant, destroy the evidence (abort!). If you don’t, we will treat you like rubbish (and rubbish is a euphemism for a certain four-lettered word starting with an ’S’)
To the churches, by all means, rebuke publicly all those who commit sin so that the rest may be afraid. However, do this in love and with all purity of heart and mind. Remember how Jesus showed compassion on the adulterous woman. Sometimes, the erring young ones are victims of deficiencies in our socialization process and therefore a call to check our own systems. When we are so severe in our rebuke and condemnation, it may be that for every child scared into abstinence, another, maybe more, is scared into having an abortion. God’s rod and staff comfort us even as they keep us on the right path. Why should we do differently?
All this said; I doff my hat to all unmarried girls who decide to keep their unplanned pregnancies. I doff my hat to their courage at facing society’s condemnation. I think in this regard, I will probably be a coward and have an abortion. Perhaps I have already had one or two… How would you know? It doesn’t show. How does that affect your image of me? See what I mean? Rethink your judgment…