This weekend, Amy Ford and Joanna Brown talk about the struggles they experienced as a result of being pregnant and unmarried during their teen years, and offer hope to young women facing similar challenges today.
Young Woman: Mom, dad, I-I-I need to tell you, tell you something. I’m pregnant.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: As a parent, you are not prepared for that kind of news if your child is not married. And uh, she might still be a teenager in fact. That one statement is going to rock your world, the coming days, weeks, and months and years. And we’re gonna talk about this sensitive topic of unplanned pregnancies on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, this is a really difficult issue, particularly one in the Christian community.
Jim Daly: It is John, as Christian parents we often have this formula in our subconscious that if we take our kids to church, pray for them, give them attention, and teach them about purity, everything will work out just fine. But as I’m sure you know, a lot of times that’s not how it goes. Life happens. Sometimes things go sideways, and when they do, you’re the parent hearing that shaky voice saying that your daughter is pregnant. Or you’re the young woman feeling very alone and often very ashamed.
John: Yeah, there’s so many complicated aspects to unplanned pregnancies, emotional, practical, financial. I mean these are lifelong decisions and impacts. And so many young women don’t really have a good support group and they don’t have any place they feel they can turn to.
Jim: John, that’s why I’m always encouraged when I hear a story about a loving church that wraps their arms around that young girl and her family and um, can provide some of the help and answers that they’re gonna need. And here at Focus, we’re passionate about recognizing sanctity of human life week when as Christians, we’re reminded that every single life is precious. That’s what compels us to do this, the young single mom with the unplanned pregnancy. The baby and the young man involved in the situation as well.
John: Yeah, we have two special ladies joining us in the studio to tell their stories about unplanned pregnancies and help us think through the practical ways to help a young unwed mom. Amy Ford is the president and co-founder of Embrace Grace, it’s a church-based ministry that provides training and resources to young, single, pregnant women. Amy has written a book called A Bump in Life: True Stories of Hope and Courage During an Unplanned Pregnancy. And she and her husband, Ryan have four children. We also spoke with Joanna Brown. She’s a friend and former colleague here at Focus, and Joanna is married to Doug and they have three daughters. Here’s how we started our conversation with Amy and Joanna on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Welcome to both of you.
Joanna Brown: Thank you, guys.
Amy Ford: Thank you for having me.
Jim: Well, and in some ways this is a heavy topic, but you’re both smiling. You have made it through these bumps and I think that’s a good place to start. I think so often in that moment, especially as parents, ‘cause you’re talking to both groups today—the parents that have the teen daughter and the teen daughter herself who may be listening. So, you do get through it. At the moment it probably feels like the end of the world and both of you have gone through it. So, Amy, let me start with you. You were like that girl in the clip there at the beginning. Describe that moment and tell us a bit about where you were at as a teenager and how you got into trouble.
Amy: Well, I was the church kid. I went to church every week and I found out I was pregnant when I was 19. I went to church, but I didn’t necessarily have a close relationship with God at all. And I loved my boyfriend and I don’t care how perfect you are and it is almost impossible to try to stay pure sometimes whenever … unless you create boundaries.
Amy: You have to create boundaries before you even go into a relationship and say okay, we will not go past this point. You know, if we’re romantic with each other. So, we had to create boundaries. But when I found out I was pregnant, it was … I felt like my whole world fell apart. And really the biggest thing for me was that I felt like my parents were going to hate me.
And my parents were great. Looking back, I don’t even know why I felt that way, but that was… that was the biggest thing. I thought they were gonna disown me. I thought I would be homeless. I thought that my whole life was over and the father of the baby felt the same way. He was in college and he said, “My dad is gonna disown me. We can’t do this.” And even though I was raised in church and even though I knew abortion was not the right thing to do, I even when I was little would march outside abortion clinics with my family and pray for life. And so, I knew. I grew up knowing it was wrong, but in that moment, because Satan was whispering lies to me and telling me that my life was over, in that moment I believed that, that might be the best way for me.
Jim: Let me interject, because you said something I want to kinda tease out and that is the parental response, because it’s probably uh … there’s a variety of response. In your case, you said your parents handled it better than you expected and in a good way. There will be some parents that don’t handle it. In your ministry, Embrace Grace, describe some of those stories where parents don’t handle it well.
Jim: What does that look like?
Amy: Well, there’s a lot of parents that actually tell their girls to get abortions, which I’m always …
Jim: From Christian homes?
Amy: From Christian homes, which I’m completely shocked by, even pastors sometimes.
Jim: What’s motivating that?
Amy: The shame and …
Jim: Just purely the shame.
Amy: Pure shame. There was one woman that um … this girl was very young, like 15 or so in our Embrace Grace group. And she came in and she was very terrified of actually giving birth and that was her prayer request every week. I’m so scared. I mean, she’s just a little girl, you know. She’s so scared of giving birth and she kept praying … saying that was her prayer request. So, one of our leaders was talking to her and she’s like, “You know, there’s an epidural you can get it there. It does hurt, but life goes on, you know. It’s gonna be okay. You can get an epidural.” And she’s like, “No, I’m … I’m not … I can’t get an epidural.” And she said, “Well, you know, usually insurance pays for it and you probably can get that.” And she said, “No, you don’t understand. My mom said it’s my punishment for getting pregnant. I’m not allowed to get an epidural.”
And so, these parents are shaming them. So, when they come to church, you know, we take on the um … the perspective of that they’re brave for choosing life, you know. It’s easy to get an abortion and sometimes it just seems like the easier thing to do, like you’ll deal with the consequences of a broken heart later, even though it’s not. But in that moment, you know, you just kind of stuff down your feelings and think, I’m gonna get through this. I just have to get an abortion and pretend like this never happened. And so, when girls choose life, well, they should be honored for at least choosing life, you know.
Jim: Uh … you know—
Amy: That’s … that’s—
Jim: --that’s a good point.
Amy: --a brave decision.
Jim: It is a good point and be supported by their parents and their su … their friends, that would be ideal. I do want to tap another thing that you said that’s important. You were movin’ along in a Christian home, goin’ to a private Christian school. You were doing all the right things. I’m sure that shocked your parents. They probably had an image of what you understood and how you behaved, because you read Scripture together. You did family devotions, I’m sure.
Jim: Talk about that for a minute, where … help educate us as parents to understand what our 16-, 17-, maybe 14-year-old daughters, what they’re really thinking, even though they’re going to church with us every Sunday and maybe doing more in terms of good Christian activity, but what’s missing?
Amy: I think with me, what was missing is, our parents didn’t really talk about it very much. I knew I wasn’t allowed …
Jim: Talk about what?
Amy: About sex in general. I knew I wasn’t allowed to kiss and I wasn’t allowed to … to do all … they were very, very, very strict. But we didn’t ever really sit down and say, “You know what? This is really hard.” And so, let’s … you know, when you’re in love and you have a boyfriend, let’s make some boundaries. And you have to make a co … the conversation with your boyfriend, as well. I really think that that’s one of the only ways to really try to protect your purity, is to have an open conversation with your kids about boundaries and just being open about it and not some, you know, sex within marriage is all God. So …for whatever reason in my house, it kind of was a shameful thing to even talk about. I don’t know, we just didn’t talk about it. We never talked about it.
Jim: Well, and that’s very common for a lot of Christian homes and I mean, even …
Amy: And just pretend like it’s not going on or it won’t happen.
Jim: Right or even, you know, to be bold, even talking about it on the radio. We often get people that will write us letters saying, we think it’s inappropriate for you to talk about this. The difficulty I have with that is, I understand it. It’s the most intimate matter that a human being can experience. Yet at the same time, the world’s taking it over and distorting it and gnarling what God intended for good. Like you said, a marriage the marriage context, sex is beautiful. It’s His gift to us.
Jim: But the fact that we don’t talk about it with our teenagers in a more, well, perhaps bold way—
Jim: it allows the enemy of our soul to get in there and wreak havoc.
Amy: Right and it’s in their faces all the time, whether … I … you know, even if you protect your kids, I mean, from the grocery store tabloids, we … it’s everywhere. So, you … it’s already out there, so you gotta talk about it.
Jim: Let me ask one more question before I turn to you, Joanna and Amy, I just um … so much is made about that father-daughter relationship and the fact that so often daughters who go through sexual trauma, pregnancy, perhaps abortion, if my dad would’ve just fill in the blank, whatever it might be. In looking back without harming your relationship with your father, do … was there something lacking there that you didn’t have in your relationship with your dad that could’ve been better?
Amy: You know, I’m one of those weird circumstances where I had an amazing dad. I really did. I don’t think that was it at all. I just wasn’t pursuing God. I … my … all my focus was on a … my boyfriend and not necessarily God. But I will say that probably 90 percent of the Embrace Grace girls that we have, the girls that come into our program, have no dads. And they don’t even …
Jim: That’s more common.
Amy: Oh, yes, definitely. I was a little bit of a different situation, but I would say it’s most definitely, they’re almost like … they may have physical parents, but they’re not there emotionally at all or as … or to parent. You know, they’re not parenting. So, and then the generations just happen over and over and over again. So, that’s why the church has to step in and be a spiritual family to these young women that need to know what a family even looks like. They don’t even know.
Jim: What do they express to you at Embrace Grace? What are the things that those girls will say when they do point toward the father? I applaud you for your owning your responsibility in that way. What do those girls that feel that broken relationship with their dad, cause them to do?
Amy: Oh, they look for that love that they never had at home and they look forward in every way that they can through a physical affection and at word … word of affirmation. I mean, even on Facebook of social media, you just see these girls. They just put themselves out there and just looking for someone to say, “You’re beautiful,” you know. Or “You’re loved.” And … and they just crave that, but they just don’t know how to work with those feelings, because no one’s ever pointed them to Jesus.
Jim: Well, like you said and a good place to end this round of questions, it’s putting those boundaries in place so you don’t fall prey—
Jim: --to a boy who is looking for one thing.
Jim: And we know that. Joanna, let me pull you into the discussion here. Your story’s a little different from Amy, so why don’t you tell us what happened when you were a teenager.
Joanna: Well, like Amy, I grew up in a Christian home, had great parents. And it was … my purity was very, very … that was a big deal to me. It was … I was very grounded in my family. My mom always talked about sex with us and how it was, you know, you’re saving yourself for marriage. And it was … that was a big deal. And it was a big deal to me all through high school. Oh, Amy, you were probably in my Bible … in our Bible class. I remember in Bible class, I was preaching abstinence and why this was, you know, such a big deal.
Jim: And you actually went to high school together--
Amy: We did; we did.
Joanna: We did.
Jim: --which is amazing. (laughter) But go ahead.
Joanna: But right before my junior year of hi … or my senior year of high school, I my parents got divorced and when they got divorced, my whole world just fell apart. My parents never had … you know, all growing up, they never had a great marriage, but I always felt secure, you know, just … even though they didn’t have a good marriage, it was … that was my security. And I felt strong in my convictions and in my faith all growing up. But when they got divorced it was like everything they taught me, everything that I believed was like, well, nothing matters, because if they can’t stay together, then everything they taught me doesn’t mean anything.
Jim: Can I … let me stop there for a minute, because so often … and we do counseling sessions, we also have telephone counselors here at Focus. They’ll hear things like, “You know, our kids are old enough. They’re 15, 16. They can weather this, but I can’t stand living with this man another day.” They underestimate the devastation—
Jim: --that they’re potentially wreaking on their children at that time.
Joanna: Oh, I was—
Jim: And you’re evidence of that.
Joanna: --yes, absolutely, I was uh … I was 17 and that … my whole world fell apart, because you don’t have that security. So, then my mother le … you know, she moved to a different state and it was just me and my dad.
Joanna: And my dad and I were very close, but you know, when you’ve got the family unit, God designs that, you know, as such a security for the kids. That’s all they’ve got. And when that’s taken from them, I … for me, it was like, I had nothing else left.
Jim: So, you did basically, a 180.
Joanna: I did.
Jim: And you—
Joanna: I did.
Jim: --put purity aside and …
Joanna: Uh-huh and at the time, you know, my husband now, Doug and I were dating, but at the time when we first started dating, he knew. He knew my boundaries. He knew what I believed. He knew what I stood for and he respected that. And then he was with me through the entire divorce, so he was with me through that hurt. And then I … you know, it was like, all right, well obviously, nothing matters. It doesn’t … you know, I … I didn’t care. So …
Jim: And what does that mean? Fill in the blanks for us. What happened—?
Joanna: I was …
Jim: --to you?
Joanna: The hurt … well, then I just decided you know, if it’s okay for, you know, my parents, you know, there was affairs, so it was like, okay, well, if everything they taught about purity and everything is just, you know, for marriage and that doesn’t mean anything, ‘cause they don’t care, so then I’m not either. And so, then Doug and I then started sleeping together. And right before … I found out right after we graduated in May, I found out in June of my senior year that I was pregnant. And my whole life, you know, I was the good girl. I never … you know, I wasn’t … I loved life. I [was a] happy, go-lucky girl. I … you know, I just … I hated getting in trouble. I was never in trouble. I think I got detention one time in school. I was never … I didn’t like being in trouble, but …
Jim: So, you’re a good girl.
Joanna: I was a good kid and this would never, you know, me getting pregnant? No, that would never happen to me. That happens to everybody else. That wouldn’t happen to me. So, when it did, like okay. Well, what happens now? And I know what … that’s what all these, you know, girls are thinkin’ and they’re all by themselves.
But then he also wants to put you, you know, in a corner by yourself and he wants to make sure you don’t want to talk about it. And you don’t want to say anything to anybody else.
If I had known there were some other girls that we went to high school with and quite a few of us were pregnant at the same time. None of us knew that about each other. If I had known that I wasn’t alone, then I probably would’ve kept my baby. But I decided not to. We both decided to get a … you know, Doug and I decided to go get an abortion. And he went with me and biggest mistake of my life. But if I had known … if … that I wasn’t alone, what I love about Amy’s group now, I wish that there would’ve been a group like that when I was 18, because then there’s … you’ve got that support group.
But instead I was … I felt the shame and the guilt and you know, here I had … I’d just been accepted to the college that I wanted to go to ever since I was 5-years-old. My parents both went there and you know, the same week that I found I was pregnant was the same week that I found out I had gotten my acceptance letter to Texas Tech. And I also thought, my parents … we told our parents, both of us, we told his parents; we told my parents. And nobody ever said, “Get an abortion.” That never came out of their mouth, but I always … I felt they would be happier. I would make them … you know …
John: So, there wasn’t condemnation; there was kind of a—
Joanna: Not from them.
John: --quiet acceptance of that fact.
Joanna: It was hurt. I mean, of course, you know, listening to that piece beforehand just brings back memories because that was me. I um …
Jim: That moment of having to tell.
Joanna: (Weeping) To tell your parents that, you know, their daughter that they thought was gonna go there, was … had never got into drugs or alcohol or you know, I never … I wasn’t involved in any of that, has … is now just … her whole life is just about … you know, was gonna do a 180 and is about to fall apart. And I … yeah, I … my mom cried and cried and cried. My dad cried. My dad wanted me to put the baby up for adoption. But I just for me, I just couldn’t do that and I thought it would just be easier if we just go ahead and have the abortion.
And um … (Weeping) after that, Doug was living in Louisiana at the time and we have the abortion in Dallas. He cried the whole way home and it was somethin’ that you never … you know, I’m 36-years-old now and I never forget. I don’t ever … I always think my … you know, my child would be now a senior in high school. She’d probably be about to graduate and you know, planning that life. And I took that. I took that away from them and I know, you know, now, you know, I’ve been forgiven and I’ve gone through that, but that’s
Jim: The pain doesn’t necessarily—
Joanna: The pain doesn’t go away.
Jim: --go away.
Joanna: And girls don’t know that. Girls will … they don’t. When they’re in that situation, they think eventually, you know, time will heal. Not when it’s your baby. It doesn’t.
Jim: Boy, that’s powerful. There’s not many words that can come behind that, that make sense. I mean, just seeing and hearing your emotion makes the statement that needs to be made. And the fact that you found forgiveness. I mean, that is the Christian life and that’s what Christ gives us.
Jim: He soothes over those deep errors that we make—
Jim: --even in life and taking life like that. But your heart is so tender. I appreciate that. Amy, for girls that are coming to you at Embrace Grace. I mean, you’re in tears; I’m in tears. We’re all in tears here. (Laughter) How do you speak to that teenage “Joanna?” What do you say to her?
Amy: Well, I think it’s important for us to say congratulations, No. 1, because every baby is a blessing. No matter how it was conceived, a life should be celebrated. And so, a lot of times when you say, “I’m sorry” or things like that, it just adds on to, maybe I need to get an abortion. You know, oh, this is really, really bad. But you know, God is so good. Sometimes when He wants to woo a daughter back to His heart, He might just use a baby to do it.
And I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again, where He uses a baby to almost like straighten up their life. I’ve heard so many girls that say, “If I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, I would be dead.” Or “I would be in jail.” Or “I would be …” wherever. So a baby is … God knows what He’s doing and every baby is an amazing miracle. So, we just want to celebrate them and say, “You’re brave and you can do this.” Just saying, “You can do this” is huge, ‘cause they just don’t think that they can and they don’t see physically how it’s’ possible.
Jim: Let me read an entry in this pastor’s daughter’s journal which you included again in your book. She wrote, “I’m so bitter that I let myself believe the lies. I let myself be this person that I never wanted to be.” And Joanna, I’m sure you’re identifying with this. “When you’re a child, you never dream that you would make mistakes. You never would … ever think your bad choices will come back to haunt you, but they do. I never wanted this for my life. I always said I would never be that person. And now look at me. I’m living my own personal nightmare.”
Jim: How do you move a young girl from that kind of haunting depression almost to a place where she can feel like later in life I’ll look back and hopefully, be able to say I made the right decisions?
Amy: Uh-hm, yeah, they … when girls come to Embrace Grace for the first time, they are completely broken. And they feel completely hopeless, like their life is over. And so, for her now it’s so great to see. She’s got a 2-year-old and she’s doing amazing and her whole family. She is a pastor’s daughter, but her whole family, they can’t imagine not having this little girl in their family. But in that moment I think really just saying that you can do it. And that there is power in that. We had one girl that she was 19, single and pregnant and was completely scared for her future and did not know what to do. She had only had a dad. Her mom left when she was 2-weeks-old. So, she told her dad she was pregnant. And he said, “You can do abortion or you can do adoption, but you’re not keeping.”
And so, she didn’t have anyone at all. And so, she worked at a UPS store and while she pulled up into the parking lot and she said, “God, if You’re real, I just really need You to show up right now. And I don’t know who else to talk to, so if there could be a package that would come across my counter that would have the word “church” on it, then I would know that they’re a safe person to talk to, ‘cause I literally have no one to talk to and I’m so, so, so scared.”
So, she worked all day and then five minutes before closing, a man came in with a box that had the word “church” on it. And she said, “Do you work at a church?” And he said, “No, I just have a company that works with churches.” And she said, “Oh.” And he could see the disappointment in her face. And he said, “Well, I go to church.” And she said, “You do?” And then that was her cue. She just let it all out. She started bawling and was just, “I’m so scared and I’m pregnant. And my dad says I’ll be a horrible mom. And I just don’t know what to do.” And he’s the dad of four boys, so I’m sure he was like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m just here to ship my package.”
Amy: But … so, she pours every … all … it all out to him and he said some encouraging words and he said, “You know what? My wife is gonna call you. We’ll get … we think our church has something.” So, he left. So, she got into our program. She’s sitting next to me in her first class and she’s telling all the girls how she heard about Embrace Grace. And she said something under her breath that forever changed my life, I mean powerful and she didn’t even know it. She said, “My dad said he thinks I’ll be a horrible mom, but that guy at the UPS store said, he thought I would be a good mom.”
Amy: And it just blows me away, that someone … a perfect stranger that she would most likely never see again, said something so simple that he probably just didn’t even realize that, that meant everything to her. That was all she had to hold onto, to say, that man thinks he might be … that I might be a good mom, so maybe I can do this. And there’s people like this everywhere. They are at … you know, all the people that are checking us out at the grocery store or … they’re not robots. They are real people with real issues and they’re looking for a sign for someone to say, “You can do this,” whatever they are going through. So, just saying you’ll be a great mom, that’s a powerful statement, so simple, but powerful.
Jim: Amy, it … it just … it’s so obvious. It reminds me of the Scripture, that your tongue is—
Jim: --full of life or death. And I mean, her father spoke death to her—
Jim: --to her spirit.
Jim: And a stranger spoke life to her.
Jim: I mean, and it should be the opposite, you know, and that’s so hard. So often when we’re in these difficult situations we don’t know how to react. And I think it would be good for us to go tomorrow, as well. Let’s come back and continue to talk about your stories, because there’s so much hope in what you do and talk more about those situations with Embrace Grace, where these girls are letting us know what’s going on in their heart. I think we can all learn from that and prepare ourselves as parents for that moment when it might come. And would you be willing to stay with us?
Amy: I would love to.
Joanna: Yes, thank you.
Jim: Let’s do it.
John: Well we so appreciate Amy and Joanna’s willingness to discuss this tough and shameful topic, and they did so with such grace. I’m really looking forward to hearing more from them next time.
Jim: Yes John, and if you’re listening and this discussion has hit you deep in your heart, maybe brought you face to face with a regret from your past, or current struggle. I want to encourage you not to push away that pain, but to bring it closer to Christ and allow him to deal with it. He’s not gonna guilt you or shame you. In Isiah God tells us, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Jesus wants to embrace you, He wants to forgive you and give you hope. Maybe you don’t resonate personally with Amy and Joanna’s stories, but your heart is aching for women in their situations who feel alone and shamed. Maybe you’re asking, “How can I help?” One thing you can do is join the team here at Focus on the Family. We have a program called Option Ultrasound. This program provides assistance to ministries who help girls and women in unplanned pregnancies. It’s amazing how Option Ultrasound is transforming lives. I wish you could see the faces of moms when they first meet their pre-born babies on that ultrasound screen. Many times, tears of joy start streaming down the moms’ faces, seeing their precious baby on the screen makes them decide to choose life rather than to terminate the life of their child, and that is the goal. It only takes $60. I think this is one of the best investments in all of ministry. $60 to save a baby’s life through Option Ultrasound. I want to encourage you as we celebrate the sanctity of human life this week. I hope you will donate to do exactly that, to save a baby’s life.
John: And I’ll encourage you to join our team and help save babies by becoming a monthly supporter of Focus on the Family. Even a onetime gift will make a difference. Either way, when you donate today, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Amy’s book, A Bump in Life to further inspire you. Find out more at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks to listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we continue with the second part of this conversation and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Amy FordView Bio
Amy Ford is the co-founder and president of Embrace Grace, a non-profit organization which has the goal of inspiring the church to minister to women facing an unplanned pregnancy and to single moms. Amy is also a public speaker and author of the book A Bump in Life: True Stories of Hope & Courage During an Unplanned Pregnancy. She and her husband, Ryan, have four children and reside in Arlington, TX. Learn more about Amy by visiting her website: www.amyford.com.
Joanna BrownView Bio
Joanna Brown is the Senior Communications Coordinator for the Media & Public Relations team at Focus on the Family. She has worked for Focus since 2006 and has previously served in the broadcasting and administration areas of the ministry. Joanna and her husband, Doug, reside in Colorado Springs, Colo., and have three daughters.