Ten Years Later, A Burnsville Woman Wrestles With The Consequences Of Choice

Ten Years Later, A Burnsville Woman Wrestles With The Consequences Of Choice

Post by: Rick Ellis 09 March, 2014

Evelyn Peters is standing in the living room of her Burnsville home, checking to make sure she has everything she needs for her trip. Car keys? Check. Map? Check. She works through her mental list, then pauses to look in the direction of the mantle over her gas fireplace. She moves closer, one thoughtful step at a time, until she's standing in front of a picture frame holding a faded photo of a young sleeping baby. With her back to me I can't tell what she's doing at first. But then I realize she's picked up the picture and is tenderly rubbing the glass front. "She looks so peaceful," she whispers. Then without looking back at me or the room, she slides the frame in her purse and walks out the front door.

I met Evelyn last fall through an ad on Craigslist. I needed some graphics work done and she offered up her services. We've kept in touch intermittently since then and at some point she told me more about her life. All of which brings me to this slightly cold Wednesday morning and a long drive down I-35 into Iowa.

We drove silently for a long time and finally began to relax in the way that you might on a first date. I knew what she was doing and why she was allowing me to share this moment. But I didn't want to infringe on her privacy or on the bittersweet reason for this visit.

As the sun began to brighten the sky and we crossed into Iowa, she slowly began talking. "I don't know why I do this," she sighed. "I keep thinking that it will bring me peace....somehow. I feel closer to Becky while I'm there. But the rest of the time..." Her voice drifts off and the silence overwhelms the car. Soon, all you can hear is the rhythmic clunking of the tires as we continue down the road.

Peters is headed to a small cemetery located in central Iowa. She asked me not to disclose the location and that seems a small price to pay for the amount of privacy she's giving up on this trip. We move from the interstate to progressively less impressive roads before pulling into a carefully maintained driveway leading up to a grass-covered hill sprinkled with small tombstones. Cemeteries are always lonely places but this one, set in the midst of endless fields, seems oppressively sad and desolate.

She parks the car, turns if off and just stares forward through the window. I'm not sure if she wants me to come with her and I wait silently next to her, looking for some indication or guideline. She dips her head for a moment, sighs and then whispers "Let me introduce you to Becky."

We slowly make our way though a small maze of plots and markers before she stops at a ground-level marker containing a name and the dates of the birth and death. While I knew the story of this young girl before we came, seeing the dates only four days apart was still jarring to see committed to stone. Peters crouches down and pulls her herself into a cross-legged position in front of the stone. She motions for me to join her and as I do she reaches out and brushes loose grass and dirt from the faceplate. She then places her whole hand on the name and as I watch I realize she pressing harder and harder on the name. It's as if she feels that if she presses hard enough she'll feel her daughter somehow pressing back.

"Becky," she says. "This is Rick. He wants to hear about your life." She loosens her connection to the faceplate, but continues to casually move her hand across it as she tells me the story of her daughter.

"I had always wanted a family," she began. "That was part of what attracted me to Ed (her ex-husband). We came from close families and I always felt that was one of the reasons God brought me to Ed and to Iowa." She looked at me and just for a second, a hint of a smile came to her face. "You know, like that Kevin Costner baseball movie? This was like our little piece of heaven."

Evelyn and Ed married within a year of meeting and within six months she was pregnant. "It was such a gift....I know it sounds stupid, but I felt like the luckiest person in the world." But that happiness was soon to be a distant memory.

"The problems started during my first ultrasound," she continued. "At the same time we found out we were having a girl, the nurse noticed something while we were listening to her heartbeat." Peters could tell from the nurse's reaction something was wrong, despite her best efforts to hide it. "There were a lot of tests and.....none of that is....important. But our baby's heart was bad and there wasn't anything doctors could do to save her."

It wasn't just the heart that was the problem. There were likely other genetic problems and in the end Evelyn and Ed were faced with two choices. Terminate the pregnancy early or allow the birth to take place as scheduled. "No one gave us any hope for a change in the prognosis," Peters explained. "It was kill your baby now or watch her die in your arms after a couple of days."

Ultimately the couple decided to bring their daughter into the world and it's that decision that brings us both to this lonely wind-swept field. Each year, Peters comes back to visit the grave of her daughter and wrestle with the consequences of that single choice that now threatens to define her life.

"The birth itself actually went fairly smoothly," Peters said. "I had a C-Section in order to lessen the trauma and when I first saw my daughter, she looked like a little angel." Her voice quivers and then she goes silent. She quietly stands up and walks away. Surprised, I jump up and hustle to follow her towards her car. We drive off and for the next 45 minutes neither one of us says a word. Finally, she continues her story.

"The nurses hustled us into an ICU unit and they started hooking Becky up to machines. She was having trouble breathing and she kept changing colors." She shakes her head slowly from side-to-side, as to emphasize her words. "We wanted to see our daughter, but not like this. She was hurting....our angel was dying and...." She swallows hard and regains her composure. "We didn't think it would be this way."

Evelyn and her husband spent the remainder of their daughter's life sitting by her side. At first, Evelyn couldn't hold her, but as the baby's health progressively deteriorated, she was removed from some of the technology so her parents could say their goodbyes and offer what comfort they could.

It took most of the trip back to Burnsville before Peters could finish her story. "Becky died in my arms and the weird thing is that I could feel it happen. Her eyes had been closed most of the time, but she finally began to slowly stop breathing. Ed and I kissed her forehead and we held her hands as she passed." By now, we were parked back in front of her house and she lowered her head to the steering wheel and slowly began crying.

That decision to allow her pregnancy to come to full term has haunted Peters in the decade since it happened. "My husband is a strong believer and he was convinced that it was God's plan to give her just enough time to say goodbye before he took her from us." It's now two days later and Peters and I are having coffee at a nearby Target store. "I came to believe that we shouldn't have brought her into the world. That me giving birth was more about our needs than what was good for Becky. She suffered so much....just so we could say goodbye."

That core conflict caused Evelyn and Ed's marriage to implode within a year and the aftermath has left her unable to move on and find someone new. "It's just too much," she explains. "I'm in my thirties, I could get married....but I don't know about children. I want a family....but....I just don't know."

As I prepared to leave I asked her why she wanted to share her story with strangers. "There is a lot of talk this year about 'family values' and whether abortion is the right option for anyone or any reason." She drank the last sip of her coffee and paused before continuing. "I don't believe in abortion....I always thought myself as pro-life, no matter what. But I know if it were up to me and I could go back and change the past I would have ended Becky's pain before she was born. Maybe I'm still being selfish. I just know that these questions of "choice" aren't as simple as politicians claim they are."

Peters finds herself haunted by a decision she can't change. Even worse, she continues to wrestle with the moral consequences of a choice that really only offers up two equally difficult outcomes.

Last modified on Friday, 15 October 2021 23:17