Surprise Child: Finding
Hope in Unexpected Pregnancy
Part One of Three
By Leslie Leyland Fields
Waterbrook Press, 160 pages
Reviewed by Dave Andrusko
Good afternoon and thanks
for being part of the discussion. Parts
Three are celebrations of
grassroots pro-life activism. Over at National Right to Life
News Today (www.nationalrighttolifenews.org),
we closely review a federal judge's decision overturning a
Baltimore City Council ordinance attacking CPCs. Dr. David
Prentice updates us on using " A Child's Own Adult Stem Cells
for Heart Repair." And one of those active in the program tells
us about 12th Annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life. To do
the best job possible I need your feedback on both Today's News
& Views and National Right to Life News Today. Please send your
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Editor's note. I wrote
this review of what I consider to be an invaluable book several
years ago. Leslie graciously added an update at the end.
I noticed that I had dashed off eight or nine typewritten pages
worth of notes about a book that is only 160 pages long, I
smiled, realizing this only confirmed what I had known by the
time I finished the Introduction to Surprise Child. Leslie
Leyland Fields has written an immensely important book, one that
prods your mind, touches your heart, and speaks to your soul.
Surprise Child is a small masterpiece that all pro-lifers should
read and then read again and then share with others.
The rough outlines of her
story are as simple as the tangle of emotions an unexpected
pregnancy can bring in its wake is complex. Already the mother
of four (three boys and a girl), she had finally got the job she
wanted: a tenure-track position as an assistant professor
English at a state university.
Although she had written
two books and edited another largely about life as a commercial
salmon fishing family on a remote island, a college
professorship is not necessarily something you'd expect from
someone who lives nine miles north of nowhere-- a "house on a
cliff over the salty North Pacific waters of the Gulf of Alaska
on Kodiak Island."
And then, her life firmly
on track, wham, she's pregnant at 42. Seemingly a blink of an
eye later, she is pregnant again at 44.
Surprise Child is loving
in spirit and life-affirming in every way that matters. When you
finish the final chapter, you'll feel like cheering, as if you'd
just watched Rocky. The stories of the 25 or so women chronicled
in the book are a testimony to the power of the human spirit and
the strength that faith in a loving God provides.
But Surprise Child is also
brutally, unflinchingly honest.
Fields has interviewed
women who had no intention of being pregnant, or who had made
their peace with infertility or an inability to carry a baby to
term, or who had arraigned their lives around the sure knowledge
that changing diapers would never again be more a distant
There are no doubt women
who "knew" there would never be child-bearing days (or were
convinced they were history), only to discover otherwise and
meet this sharp U-turn with equanimity. This book is not about
Surprise Child tells the
story of women (of any age) who watch with dread to see whether
a line will appear in the pregnancy test stick. When the results
are positive, they could feel (as Fields did initially)
overwhelmed by "darkness of anxiety, resistance, and fear."
Surprise Child is written
for women like Fields. As she writes resources for women in her
circumstances were few and far between and none particularly
helpful. She writes to convince these women that they have what
it takes to carry their baby to term, regardless of
circumstances or the siren calls to abort.
As I told her in a phone
interview, as a man, a husband, and a father of four, reading
the book I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation
between women. But Fields told me that some of the most poignant
early responses to Surprise Child have come from men. "I never
knew" might be a good summary of their comments.
Thus the book is also for
the men in these women's lives, for crisis pregnancy center
volunteers, for church members who might be lulled into thinking
an unexpected pregnancy poses no challenges for a woman of
faith, and for extended family, all of whom might not have the
faintest clue of the existential dread that can wash over women.
Fields, for example, was
utterly devastated. A woman who loved being a mother, all she
could think was that "Just as I had emerged into relative light
and safety," her life is dramatically changed.
"What did I do in those
first minutes?" she writes. "I stood over the test stick frozen,
my breath gone for seconds, Then suddenly with a convulsive
shake I sucked in the air I had lost; my heart went mad with
drumming; my hands fisted, then went limp. And then I began to
run shouting, looking for someone to help me carry this."
Everything in Surprise
Child is priceless advice to women and girls facing an unplanned
pregnancy but nothing more than her shrewd insight into the rush
of emotions that threaten to steamroll a woman when she
discovers she is pregnant with a child she not anticipated.
"You are trying to live
out the next two or three years of your life in these thirty
minutes, in one day,' Fields writes. "Everything you fear visits
you in one crushing blow. You feel weak, vulnerable. You think
you cannot do it. You are right--it is impossible to live it
all, to answer all these deep needs and fears in a single hour
or a single day or week. As each day passes, some of your fears
will fade; some will disappear entirely; some may slowly become
reality. But in this moment, you do not need to answer all the
questions. There will be time in each day to find answers to
find reasons to hope."
In that same Introduction,
Fields will fast-forward to tell the reader, "Each one here had
her life interrupted, each one here has a child who came to her
unbidden, and each one now cannot imagine her life without the
child." Just because we know there is a happy ending does not
diminish in any way the power of Fields' riveting narrative.
She intertwines the
stories of a number of women who faced down their deep
apprehensions with an explanation of her own children's in utero
development and her concomitant feelings as the pregnancy
advances. These women are absolutely convinced they "can't be
They "can't" be because
the boyfriend doesn't want the baby, or because they already
have four children under five, or because they are about to be
the first one in their family to go to college, or because their
husband is about to be deployed to Iraq, or because they have an
eldest child with significant disabilities, or…... "So many bad
situations!" Fields writes.
But Surprise Child tells
us that for all this, women can and do persevere. Their stories
are miniature profiles in courage, the kind that humble the
Fields is not a Pollyanna.
She fully realizes that women do take the lives of their unborn
children, misled into thinking that the road to "freedom" and
"growth" passes through the abortionist's curettage. In fact,
the exact opposite is the truth.
More than one woman
whispered to Fields that the child had "saved my life." In some
cases, this was literally true.
Leading lives of
self-destruction, they suddenly realized that they could no
longer do drugs or go on alcoholic binges. Others became better,
richer human beings because they "did not give in to fear."
I could go on for pages.
Let me conclude with a lengthy quote from Fields, one that
captures the heart of her message of encouragement.
"You did not listen to
those who may have urged to end this pregnancy. You have changed
your life, sustained other losses to bring this baby to light
and air. And now you have something to show for these months and
sacrifices: beautiful bone and flesh and blood of your very
bone. But there is more. You are more than you once were. You
emerge from this birth more resilient and resourceful, wider and
deeper than the woman who stared unbelieving at a test stick
forty weeks ago. You've traveled so far and done so much. Rest
now in all you have created and become."
An update from Leslie:
My surprise kids are now 8
and 10 years old. Micah and Abraham both wrestle and play the
piano, but they are as different as hedgehogs and parrots. One
is intense in all he does, ready to compete at the drop of a
flag ; the other is perceptive and relational, ready for a
heart-to-heart at the drop of a shoe. I was 45 when Micah was
born. I felt old, too old to be a mother again and felt it a
kind of judgment. I still cannot gloss over the pregnancies and
those hard baby and toddler years, but they passed quickly.
I am certainly no younger,
but I have been energized by the very things I dreaded doing all
over again: science projects, homework, enforcing chores, piano
lessons. Our entire family (4 others ages 22 – 15) continues to
be enlivened by these two marvelous boys who still insist on
sharing a room and even the top bunk. My speaking and writing
career, put on hold for those years, has resumed with greater
force, a force that has much to do with love.
I've learned some things
since this journey began ten years ago. I've learned much from
the readers of "Surprise Child" who continue to write to me in
their need for support and prayer. I keep learning that being
pro-life is about being pro-people: about supporting babies,
their mothers and their fathers.
We can do better. I hope
Surprise Child is
available in book format and full audio format. The book can be
purchased on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Surprise-Child-Finding-Unexpected-Pregnancy/dp/1400070945/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_4)
or Leslie will send a signed copy for $10 (including shipping).
The audio format is also available directly from Leslie for $10
total. She can be contacted at