A Baby on the Way–Surprise, Surprise!
About the Guest
Three million women in the United States will be surprised with an unplanned pregnancy this year. Author Leslie Leyland Fields, a mother of six, talks candidly with Dennis Rainey about her experience of coping with an unplanned pregnancy not once, but twice, many years after she thought her family was complete and the diapers had been put away for good.
Leslie Leyland FieldsLeslie Fields writes for Christianity Today as a feature writer and columnist and writes freelance for a number of other magazines and journals. She is also a speaker, and between speaking and writing, she also runs a professional writing business, The Northern Pen, performing manuscript critique. She earned a Bachelor’s degree from Cedarville University, a Master’s in English and Journalism from University of Oregon. Leslie lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in a house on a cliff over the...more
Author Leslie Leyland Fields, a mother of six, talks candidly about her experience of coping with an unplanned pregnancy not once, but twice, many years after she thought her family was complete.
A Baby on the Way–Surprise, Surprise!
Bob: Leslie Fields was a 43-year-old mother of four when she unexpectedly found herself pregnant. She was not thrilled with the news, but there came a day in the doctor's office when all that changed.
[Sound of a heart beating]
Leslie: The first thing I hear, of course, is my own heartbeat. My heart is beating faster than normal; and he’s scooting the thing all around my belly, looking for that other heartbeat. Suddenly, there is this sound; and it filled the room. Even though I had been through this so many times before, my eyes just went wide. I realize, now—this is not just a pregnancy / this is not just an interruption and a complication to my life—this is a human being.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
We’ll hear today about Leslie Fields’ unplanned late-in-life pregnancy and about how she responded to that news. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. I had a friend of mine, on staff here, the other day, who—we were in a conversation. He said, “You know what really annoys me?”—he said, “When people ask you about your children; and they say, ‘Were they planned?’” He says: “I always want to say, ‘Well, yes; Somebody had a plan for these kids,’—right?—‘even if we didn’t. There is a plan.’”
I got to thinking about that—and I thought, “I bet, 100 years ago, people didn't ask the question because we talk about planning your family today in a way that they didn’t talk about it 100 years ago.”
We live in a very different era, and people think differently today about having kids; don’t they?
Dennis: They do. In fact, it’s been interesting to watch five of our six children marry and watch them begin their own families and talk about planning a family. And, you know, as we talk about this subject, Bob, there are a lot of listeners—in fact, we know from research, about 10 percent plan to have a family and can’t get pregnant when they want to. Infertility is a very real deal. As we talk about this today, I want our listeners, who have struggled with infertility, to know we’re sensitive to them and we love them.
And as people have planned pregnancies, they also have unplanned pregnancies. In fact, our guest today, Leslie Fields, had an experience, at the age of 43, after already having four children.
You had an unplanned pregnancy; is that right?
Leslie: I sure did. That is true.
Dennis: And she has turned this into a book, Surprise Child: Finding Hope in an Unexpected Pregnancy. It's just a real honest/transparent look at what happens to a woman who finds out she's pregnant.
Leslie and her husband are from Alaska. In fact, they live on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and she happens to be the first commercial fisherwoman we have ever interviewed on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: [Laughter] And I’m a little concerned about this. I’m afraid the interview is going to go all to commercial fishing, and we’re going to miss the whole thing about—
Leslie: Well, I just want to know: “What took you guys so long?”
Bob: There are so many of them available; aren’t there?
Leslie: There are. There are.
Dennis: She's not just a commercial fisherwoman—she has authored a number of books. She is now the mother of six—not four—and there’s the story.
Bob: Yes, I want to hear about this story—43.
How old was your youngest child, at that time?
Leslie: You know, there wasn’t a huge gap—five years. My youngest was five.
Bob: So, you had four who were—the oldest was—
Bob: Twelve, and then—
Leslie: Okay, something like 12, 10, 8 and 5—something like that.
Bob: Okay; and boys and girls? What’s the mix?
Leslie: My eldest is a girl and had three boys; and, you know, they were boys. I mean, these are not just boys; okay?—these are Alaskan boys.
Bob: So, at 43, were you thinking, “We’re probably done”?
Leslie: Oh, no, I thought that at about 37, [Laughter] right after our last one was born. We had four children in seven years—so, our quiver was full.
Bob: And did you do anything to try to prevent any additional pregnancies?
Leslie: No—no, we didn’t. We thought about it; and we knew, “Okay, we’ll do that in the future, in a few years from now, but—
Dennis: But you felt like you were done.
Leslie: Oh, absolutely!
Dennis: So, take us to the day when you held that—
—well, that was a few years ago. So, what did you have—a little test strip?
Leslie: No, same thing—a little white wand—the pregnancy test stick that comes in those home pregnancy kits. Yes, I was 43. I was—I am teaching, full time, at the University of Alaska. I had four young children—life was crazy but wonderful—it was good. I was stressed at work, and I just wasn’t feeling well. One day, I thought, “Well, I know that I’m not, but I’m going to go get a home pregnancy test just to be sure.” So, you do what you’re supposed to do; and you have to wait a couple of minutes. And in the space of that waiting, I’m just in absolute turmoil, thinking: “This can’t be. Surely, it isn’t. Lord, please—don’t—please, please no.”
And I went back into the bathroom. I looked at that wand.
There, in that tiny little window, just the size of your little fingernail, there it was—this little faint line that kept getting darker and darker—and I was pregnant. Another child was on its way, and I cried!
Bob: Why “Lord, no—please, please no”? I mean, was there not anything in your maternal instinct background, going, “You know, in a way, maybe this could be a girl / maybe—
Bob: None of that?
Leslie: No, no; okay? I’m committed to telling the truth here! [Laughter]
Dennis: You had shut the door.
Leslie: I had shut the door—and that means, mentally, I had shut the door / spiritually—in every way, I had shut the door.
Leslie: Yes. Yes.
Dennis: And now, the door is thrown wide open.
Leslie: It’s broken open—it’s been kicked down.
Dennis: Your first response is—
Leslie: Is just sadness/despair. And, really, it’s not because I don’t love children. It’s because I love my children—because I know what it takes to be a good mother.
I know all that it takes. Pregnancy, and birth, and the coming of another human being—it is, in a way, like a death. You die to yourself, and I had done that four times already.
Dennis: And you felt like there wasn’t enough left to die.
Leslie: Yes. I didn’t know how I could do it again. It wasn’t that I doubted God. It wasn’t that I doubted His supremacy/His sovereignty—His ability. I doubted myself completely. I just felt like, “I don’t know how to do this again.”
Bob: Had you given your husband any indication that this was even a possibility before you took that pregnancy test?
Leslie: My husband had no idea either.
Bob: So, your reaction is to weep.
Bob: But then, you had a gap from there until the time when you had to go to your husband and say, “I have news.” Had your mood changed before you told him?
Leslie: No, no.
I was really in kind of a panic. I was disbelieving and just in a panic. By the time I told him, I was still in that panic.
Bob: Did you call him, or did he come home, or do you remember how—
Leslie: He came home, and I told him / I gave him the news. Then, we both just—we were just stunned. We both just kind of sat down on the couch. We both just kind of sat there for a while, just quiet, just trying to absorb this news. And it was very different—that response was very different from the response to the other four pregnancies. You know—you have to know that. The other times—when I got that test stick and looked at that line, it was just rejoicing, celebrating, praising God.
As I’m looking at that test stick and I’m crying—I’m despairing, and I’m mourning—part of me already felt guilty. Part of me said:
“This is wrong. You shouldn’t be feeling this. God is a maker of life. He has given you a child and look how you're feeling.” Part of me already felt guilty. I had just found out I was a new mother again and, already, I was a bad mother.
Dennis: I have to think of a husband in that situation—you’ve just told him you’re going to deliver a fifth child. As men, we struggle to identify with our wife’s emotions already. What did he do? You know, when you are elated, you can enter into the elation—
Dennis: —and the celebration.
Dennis: But here is something that’s a downer.
Dennis: What’d he do?
Bob: And he had his own set of emotions to be processing too.
Leslie: Oh, absolutely, he did. And it sounds really strange, but the fact that it hit him as hard as it hit me was actually really helpful. I know couples, where the wife is just sort of in despair, and the husband is thrilled—so, he has no—it’s very hard for him to enter into his wife’s emotions, at that point.
But Duncan and I, both, just really struggled with this. We had different sets of concerns, but we were both very concerned about whether—
Bob: What were you concerned about? What was he concerned about?
Leslie: I was concerned about my own energy and my own ability to love another child. I felt so depleted / I felt so consumed with my four. I thought, “How, on earth, is there room?—how is there room, in my heart, for another child?”
My husband’s concerns were different than that. He was concerned about the finances—
Bob: I’m thinking—men are providers: “So, how am I going to take care of the financial—this is another college education for somebody; right?”
Leslie: Exactly; that’s right. Yes, my husband was thinking: “How am I going to do this? How am I going to provide for another child?”
Dennis: Repeatedly, here on our broadcast, we call listeners to look at life’s circumstances through the Scriptures, and what God promises, and what God commands us to do.
As human beings, we’ve tried to be real, here, every day. I mean, we tell stories about how we struggle over issues.
And I’m just wanting to know how long it took you, Leslie, to move—from grief, despair, fear, worry, anxiety, self-doubt—to ultimately embrace, by faith, God’s call and God's goodness that He really was a good God and that He would enable you to be able to love that child that He was about to give you. How long did that process take you?
Leslie: There are really two answers to that. There was part of me—that same day that I looked at the stick, and saw that line, and knew a child was coming—part of me just absolutely dropped to my knees and said: “You are Lord. You have the right to do with me whatever you choose. I submit to that.” But then, you’re still pregnant. [Laughter] That didn’t take away the pregnancy; you know?
Leslie: You still have to walk through this pregnancy. So, there was this 10-month journey ahead—of making it through the pregnancy. That was a moment-by-moment, day-by-day / month-by-month journey—step-by-step. And that’s one reason that I wrote this book—is to help women. You go through these sorts of natural stages of pregnancy. At each stage, there are fears and anxieties that visit you, at each particular stage. God met me, of course, because I was seeking Him through each of those stages—and so, there were answers. There were—God did respond.
Dennis: I really appreciate the way you answered that question because a lot of life’s circumstances do demand both the instant “Yes, You are God—I will trust You,” but, then, the ongoing counting of the cost and responding to the outcome, every day, by faith.
Bob: And I have to think—not only were you chronicling your own story in this—
—but there was a catharsis that came for you in talking to lots of women.
Leslie: Oh my goodness, yes.
Bob: You wrote this book, in part, to counsel your own heart; didn’t you?
Leslie: Oh, I sure did. I started this book during my pregnancy. I was at women’s doors—knocking on women’s doors, interviewing for this book, when my belly was two feet out. [Laughter]
Bob: And some of that was to say, “Help me process this, for myself, as well as for many other women who are going through this.”
Leslie: Yes, and I think it was really helpful. Many women just opened their hearts and opened their lives to me because they could see, clearly, I am not some outsider here—who is trying to pry open and look inside—“I am with you in this.”
Dennis: Yes, and I am also thinking of—not merely those who are with you in this story—but I’m thinking of those who aren’t with you because they can’t get pregnant. They are peering, from the outside in, and they are followers of Christ, and they don’t understand.
Leslie: Oh, I know.
Dennis: They don’t understand why any pregnancy couldn’t be immediately embraced.
Dennis: Yet, there are a lot of unplanned pregnancies today where people do go through this; aren’t there?
Leslie: Oh, there are—there are. And I do know that, and I am so glad that you’ve included that—just recognition of how many women and men are heart-broken because they don’t have a child. I just know a little bit of what that feels like—just a little bit. My husband and I were married for ten years before we had children. In the last two years, we started trying to start our family, and “No.”
Bob: It wasn’t working.
Leslie: It wasn’t working, and we were in infertility testing. We’d been going through the whole test procedures for about a year—more than a year—before we did finally get pregnant. And I know how that felt—to long for a child that God does not give you.
Bob: I know that, many times, when a woman is pregnant, later in life / in her 40s—
—those pregnancies can end in miscarriage.
Bob: Did you ever wish that would happen?
Leslie: I did; I did. And this is one of the things that complicated everything. I had several books, and I looked up in the book: “Okay, what are the chances of my having a miscarriage?” At my age, there was a 50 percent chance. So, for the first six to eight weeks—ten weeks of the pregnancy—I know that there is a 50 percent chance that this is not going to be a child.
Dennis: At your age, half of those pregnancies are terminated, naturally.
Leslie: That’s right; that’s right. So, you don’t know whether to emotionally invest in this child or not. So, part of me is wishing and hoping for a miscarriage; but then, part of me says: “What? You’re hoping for death?
“You’re wishing for death?” So, it’s just this terrible mix.
You don’t find the answer until you’re about 12 weeks pregnant. Then, you go to the doctor. At that point, if they can hear a heartbeat, then, there is a 90 percent chance that the pregnancy is good and that the child will develop normally.
Bob: So, the day you heard the heartbeat, what happened then?
Leslie: The day I heard the heartbeat was really a momentous day for me. I want to add to this—that I was teaching, full time, at the university, as well—and dealing with this: “Is this a new child entering our life? Am I about to quit this job or…” I’m just completely in chaos, emotionally and spiritually.
I remember, very clearly, going to the doctor’s office and feeling like, “Okay, this is the day that I find out.” And I walked in, and the doctor brings out the Doppler—it goes onto your belly.
Then, it has an amplification thing at the end so everything that’s heard inside is just magnified into the room. The first thing I hear, of course, is my own heartbeat. He's scooting the thing, all around my belly, looking for that other heartbeat. Suddenly, there is this sound, and it’s another heartbeat—it’s not like my heartbeat. This heartbeat is going chachachahcha.
Bob: Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Leslie: It’s going fast—really fast. I realized, now—this is not just a pregnancy / this is not just an interruption and a complication to my life—this is a human being. And that was the turning point, for me.
Dennis: Leslie, this is a hard question to ask you because some of our listeners’ heads turned toward the radio when they heard you just say that, yes, you really did, at points, wish for a miscarriage.
With 60 percent of all pregnancies being unplanned—most, who choose not to have those children, don’t place those babies in other families for adoption—they choose abortion. Now, you’re a married woman—you have four children. You had some hard conversations with your husband. Did you ever think about that other alternative of abortion?
Leslie: You know, to be honest, I did not. Even in the moment of finding out I was pregnant with my fifth child, I did not. But I need to say that—in my sixth and the last pregnancy—after I had just been through this unplanned pregnancy—just thought I had learned all the lessons God had for me—and I’m pregnant again.
Dennis: Two years later.
Leslie: Two years later. This time I’m 45—almost 45. And looking at that stick, I did have that moment of saying:
“You know, I could just end this. I don’t have to go through this.” There was a voice that sort of whispered this to me. So, I thought of it—for a few minutes, I thought of it.
Bob: Because there’s that thought that: “I just don’t think I can do this again at my age.”
Bob: “With a baby already in the house / with the bills already what they are, how do I do this?”
Leslie: “How do I do this?”
Dennis: You know, this is tough stuff we’re talking about here; but we’re talking about something that the Psalmist declares—that: “The fruit of the womb is a reward. Blessed is he whose quiver is full of them.”
And I have to read this email that I received from my daughter, Rebecca, because, really, what we're celebrating here is that children are a reward. I responded to an email from her, where she was bragging on me, as a daddy. I told her that I loved hearing those words that she’d bragged on me to others and she had bragged on me to me.
She wrote me back; and she said: “Dad, you are so welcome. I mean every word of what I said. You’re a great dad and Papa. I can’t wait for you to hold our little one. We just had our first ultrasound today. We saw the little heart, beating at a hefty 172 beats per minute—wow! And we heard the heart, too, which was awesome. We are so excited.”
You know, that's what we’re celebrating here—the miracle of how two become one—and they have the privilege, as that great theologian, Erma Bombeck once said, “To join with God in creating a miracle.” What a privilege.
And, you know, if you know of someone who finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy, I don’t think there's a better book.
In fact, I’m going to be giving this book, I think, to a lot of friends because I think they struggle with this more than we realize.
Bob: Yes, and this is a book that’s written by a fellow traveler—by somebody who has been down the same path—who has had the feelings that you’ve had when you get news like this, and who has turned to the Scriptures to see “How does God speak to this?” to find the help and the hope you are looking for when you get unexpected news like this.
We’ve got copies of Leslie Fields’ book, Surprise Child: Finding Hope in an Unexpected Pregnancy. You can request a copy of the book when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Again, you can order from us, online. The website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you’d prefer, you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can request a copy of Leslie’s book. We’ll make arrangements to get it sent to you. So, again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com / the toll-free number 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, what we’ve talked about today is just one of those realities that happens in a family that causes us to say, “Okay, now, how do I respond to what’s going on in my marriage / in my family in a way that is going to honor and glorify God and in a way that is going to be consistent with how Christ would have me respond?” What we’re committed to, here at FamilyLife Today, is trying to provide practical biblical help for the kinds of issues that all of us face in our marriages and in our families. And we could not do what we do if it weren’t for listeners, like you, who come alongside and join us in this mission. We’re grateful for the fact that you partner with us to make FamilyLife Today possible.
I wanted to let you know that, during the month of May, there is a special opportunity for any donation you make to have more impact than normal.
We’ve had some friends of the ministry who have agreed that they will match every donation we receive, during the month of May, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $300,000. We’re excited about this opportunity—we want to take full advantage of it. So, we’re asking listeners: “If God’s used the ministry of FamilyLife in some way in your life to provide you with help, or encouragement, or hope for your marriage / for your family, would you consider making a donation, right now, knowing that that donation is going to be doubled in its impact because of this matching-gift opportunity?”
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” and make an online donation. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And keep in mind your donation will have double impact when you make it today, thanks to this matching-gift opportunity that’s available to us during the month of May.
And I hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk with Leslie Fields about when it dawned on her that when her last child graduated from high school, it would be about time for her to go on social security. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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