In the end, Susan Wood went to the party because she couldn't bear to be home alone, not tonight. She needed to get out of the house and away from her own thoughts, if only for a few hours. Anything to take her mind off the worry, the panic, the indecision and the morning sickness.
So she walked to a friend's house — to escape, to watch the Saints take on the Colts and to view one of the most talked-about Super Bowl commercials in history.
There were maybe 15 people at the party, but they were too busy talking and snacking and laughing to notice that Susan wasn't drinking, that she wore a distracted look and a manufactured smile.
Earlier that morning, Susan told her boyfriend she was pregnant. Let's just say he did not react well. He saw the first pregnancy test; he insisted on a second. Abortion was the only option. Susan consented, if only to end the conflict. Then he left, and she walked to the Super Bowl party alone.
Demeaning. Divisive. Offensive. Political. Wasn't that what the ad would be, according to those who'd never actually seen it?
On the night of Feb. 7, 2010, during the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, Focus on the Family's "Celebrate family, celebrate life" commercial aired for the first and only time. Pam Tebow appeared onscreen, reminiscing about her "miracle baby" — son Tim, the 2007-Heisman-Trophy-winning college quarterback.
Susan, however, had never watched college football. Couldn't identify a single player. Except one.
"A few weeks earlier, I was folding laundry alone and the TV was on ESPN," she says. "I was too lazy to change the channel and watched an entire special on Tim Tebow. Literally the only college player in the entire country I could have named or recognized."
The room fell silent while the commercial played. Instead of the strident anti-abortion ad that Susan, her friends and most of America were expecting, they watched a mother's heartfelt story about the survival of her infant son.
"I wanted to be critical," Susan says. "I wanted to bash this horrible 'anti-choice' commercial. But as we watched, everyone agreed that it was a positive commercial with an encouraging message — not one of judgment or condemnation."
As other ads aired, Susan kept thinking about the Focus commercial, and she felt a pit in her stomach. She remained at the party, talking and watching the game, but she couldn't get that ad out of her head.
The Tebows were speaking to me. They were talking about my situation. What am I going to do?
Back at home, Susan searched the Web for the ad and for Focus on the Family. She found the commercial, plus an interview with Bob and Pam Tebow, Tim's parents. She learned that Pam had rejected a doctor's advice to abort her unborn son in the face of medical complications. She watched the commercial again. She felt like it was made just to reach her.
Susan emailed Focus on the Family. In return, she says, a Focus staffer responded with encouragement, information and hope.
"It was so nonjudgmental," Susan says. "She offered advice but didn't tell me I was wrong. I kept thinking about what she wrote, and the commercial, and what Tim's mom said in the interview, and it all just spoke to my heart.
"I made the decision to keep the baby."
The baby's father never came around. He raged, and threatened, then simply checked out. Sure, Susan had friends and relatives, but she would essentially raise her child alone.
Alone, but not forgotten. Focus employees continued to check in on her. They sent cards and a gift for the baby.
"I was shocked that they cared so much," Susan says. "They kept in contact with me the whole time. I knew — no matter what — there were people who truly cared about me and the baby. That meant everything to me."
Avita Grace was born that September. It was love at first sight.
Avita is 4 now, and she has brought joy, fun and faith to her mother's life. The little girl loves frilly dresses and bows in her hair, coloring books and talking about Jesus. As a working single mom, Susan now has less money, less sleep, less time, more laundry, more dishes and lots more cleaning. But it's all drowned out by the limitless love she's been given.
"I think about the commercial, Tim Tebow and the people from Focus daily," Susan says. "I am so grateful. If there hadn't been a Super Bowl commercial, if I hadn't been at the party, if someone had responded to my email in a different way . . .
"I will never be able to express the gratitude and love that I feel."