By Frank Ritter
Reprinted from The Tennessean [8 June 1987], pp. 1-2 A
Whether waking or sleeping, Deborah Garton cannot forget the nightmare that plays over and over in her mind.
Lying on the surgical table, she had turned her eyes to the counter top where her doctor was piecing together tiny, torn bits of flesh.
“Oh Jesus!” she screamed. “You told me it was still a fetus! It’s a baby! It’s a baby! “
Today, she says, “I freaked out. I watched the doctor go to the sink with it, wash it off and then count every little finger, every little toe, I watched her reassemble my baby. I could see it was a little girl – all torn, mangled, bruised.
“And then I just laid there with hate going through my mind. Hate for the doctor, for myself – mostly hate for myself because I could have stopped and didn’t.”
Nearly six years have passed since the day when Garton, now 28, underwent what was supposed to be a routine abortion in her Nashville doctor’s office. But she did not know then that instead of being only three months pregnant – a time length considered safe for abortion – her pregnancy had actually progressed to about five months. And to day it is that unplanned, unforeseen set of circumstances, along with her vivid recollections, that Garton cannot escape.
As a mother of two, she knows she should be content and thankful for her healthy children, her husband and her life. She has a 21-acre farm in Cheatham County, a nice house, Arabian horses and pedigreed dogs.
But her ability to live a happy, normal life has been hampered by tangled emotions that keep escaping from the past. There is shame, hate, sadness, anger and sorrow. There is guilt that she didn’t somehow keep it from happening. There is fear that the laws of fate one day will retaliate by hurting people she loves.
And, most of all, there is a hunger to warn other women – not as a stand for or against abortion, but as an encouragement that they search out all options beforehand so they do not follow the path she took.
“I always wanted a family. I wanted a house with a white picket fence and a place where I could raise horses and dogs.”
But no picket fence came with her wedding at age 15 after she became pregnant, dropped out of high school and married her classmate sweetheart. The Gartons soon had their first child, Stonie, now 12; and then a daughter, Felisa, now 8.
In 1980, Garton underwent a gallbladder operation and an appendectomy. Her physician warned that future pregnancies were unadvisable for medical reasons. But the following year Garton became pregnant.
“My husband didn’t want the baby. He was afraid because of surgeries I had. And I didn’t want to be big and fat and unattractive. I called up this doctor and told her I needed an abortion. She said, ‘We call it a termination,’ and asked when I wanted it. I said ‘as soon as possible.”‘
“It was Dec. 3, 1981,” she recalls, mechanically reciting details of the nightmare. “J walked to the front desk, paid $350 and got a receipt. My husband sat down in a chair and said, ‘It’ll be all right; it’s nothing.’. No hug. I looked back and he had his head buried in a book.”
When Garton stepped into the examination room, she explained that both she and her husband had felt the baby move inside her, but the doctor replied, “You’re not that far along” and instructed Garton to undress.
“The doctor never asked me anything. She never said, ‘Deborah, do you want to go though with this?’ There was no counseling. The right counselor could have found out in five minutes that this was a mistake for me. And a caring doctor could have determined I was too far along in my pregnancy.”
The doctor performed a pelvic exam, gave Garton sedatives and then began the procedure by using a suction device that is effective in pregnancies of three months or less.
“The suction wouldn’t work. The doctor finally quit and threw the device in the sink. Then she got out a long sharp instrument. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, ‘The only thing I can do.’
“I didn’t realize what she was doing until I saw an arm and a hand. And that’s when I felt my baby move up inside me as far as she could, away from the sharp instrument. It was like she was trying to grab my heart, saying, ‘Stop this! Stop it now!'”
That is when Garton began to scream – and hate.
“I knew my baby was dying – dying very slowly. The doctor was cutting little by little, pulling her out, and all I could say was ‘Oh, Jesus! It was a baby! And then the doctor stood there and counted every little finger, every little toe.”
Each May, Garton leaves her husband and children and goes either to her mother’s home in Nashville or to a motel. May is difficult because she has given her baby a birthday.
“My birthday and anniversary are in April. I couldn’t give her a birthday in April, even though that’s probably when she would have been born. If she had lived, she would be five years old.”
For the rest of the year Garton tends to her family. She is a good mother. She takes her children horseback riding, boating, roller skating and to movies. She loves them very much. But on Dec. 3 – “the date of my second daughter’s death” – she again retreats from husband and children.
She sits and thinks, “I have nightmares. In my mind, I see my little girl in the woods, cut up, whacked up, or my little boy bashed in the head.”
She gave her aborted baby a name, Misty Angel “Angel” because she believes the child is with God.
“I know I sound crazy,” she says, telling of how she had an angel tattooed on her right thigh. And how, when she gives blood at the Red Cross, she has them mark it with Angel’s name.
She had a good business in Ashland City – Fashions for Less – but she gave it up. She couldn’t bear to tell her partner the truth about why she didn’t want to continue.
She sought professional counseling but withheld her last name from the counselor until only a short while ago.
She went to her longtime family doctor for treatment of ulcerative colitis. When he asked if she had any clue as to why she had this ailment caused by nerves and anxiety, she replied that she didn’t.
She was ashamed to tell her children why she cried the day she encountered an anti-abortion display at a carnival and stood, stunned, looking at the photos of aborted fetuses.
And she was afraid to tell her priest, “I was Catholic. But you don’t have an abortion and be a Catholic. To me, there’s no forgiveness for what I did. Not when the pregnancy is that far along. Not when it had moved inside me. And not when, after the doctor pinched it the first time, the baby tried to get up in me as far as she could, as if to hold onto my heart.”
The people to whom she told the truth urged her to put the pain behind her. “It’s over and done with and there is nothing you can do about it now. ” She tried, but she couldn’t.
Then one day recently she called the doctor who performed the abortion. “I need to come in now. This is an emergency.” What was the emergency? “Because of a termination.”
She went to the doctor’s office and confronted her with angry questions. The doctor said, “You wanted an abortion. I gave you one. It was your doing, not mine.”
A few days ago she went back to the Catholic church she used to attend. She walked around it and came at last to a statue of Mary holding the Christ child. She stood there for the longest time, praying. When she had worked up her courage, she knocked on the priest’s door.
As soon as he saw her, he knew something was terribly wrong. In tears, she told him the truth. She told him she didn’t think she could ever be forgiven.
“You should have come sooner,” he replied. “God has forgiven you – don’t you know that? But you need to forgive yourself. You’ve got two great children and the third one is now with God. She is growing and she knows you. She knows your pain.
“Some day, you will see her again and hold her and love her.”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, pp. 592-593
October 1, 1987