I’m 18, and in the fall I will have a baby boy as a result of my deliberate failure to adhere to a pledge of chastity I signed at my school.
Until this year, I was an ordinary high school student at Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was president of the student council and vice president of the Key Club. I played soccer, had a 4.0 GPA, and ate ice cream and watched movies with my best friends on the weekends. My Christian faith is extremely important to me, so I involved myself at my church working in the nursery, helping with Vacation Bible School and helping my mom with meals for church bus drivers Sunday mornings.
But in January, all that changed. What I thought was the flu was actually the very beginning of my pregnancy. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I was going to graduate in a few months, and in the fall I was going to Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
I am a born-again Christian, one who made a mistake with a very visible consequence. Even though I grew up knowing abortion was wrong, I also knew it could make things easier for me — no one would know what I had done, and I could get on with my life. I had seen women who admitted to having abortions being forgiven, while women who kept their babies seemed harder to forgive. But the more I thought about abortion, the more I knew I couldn’t go through with it. In my view, abortion is taking a life. And I couldn’t do that.
I told the baby’s father first. I didn’t know how to tell my parents, because even though they were very involved in mine and my brother’s lives, telling them I was pregnant at 18 wasn’t at the top of my list of things I thought I would ever do.
Finally, I broke down in a grocery store parking lot with my mom. I cried as I told her the truth. She looked at me and said: “I’m not mad at you, I’m not upset with you. You’re gonna be fine, and we’re gonna make it through this.” I still had to work up the courage to tell my dad, but when I finally did — the day I received my acceptance letter to Bob Jones — he reacted as my mom had: “It’s going to be OK, sweetie,” he said, “God is in this somewhere, we just need to find where He is in all of this.”
Unfortunately, my school didn’t feel the same way.
My dad was then president of the board at Heritage Academy. He called an emergency board meeting to explain my situation. I was not allowed to attend school as my principal and the board decided if I would be allowed to return at all, and I would be stripped of all leadership positions. I wasn’t allowed to attend sports games to watch my brother play basketball or baseball, and I wouldn’t be allowed on campus until after the baby was born. I would receive my diploma but would have to take all my classes at home, and couldn’t walk at graduation.
This felt overly harsh to me and my parents, so my dad asked the principal and the board to reconsider. He argued that the only difference between me and other seniors who had broken the school’s moral code in various ways was that I was pregnant, and that they were trying to hide me because they were embarrassed by my visible sin. My principal and the board finally changed their decision: I would be allowed to finish the year with my classmates, but I couldn’t be in any leadership positions in school clubs, and I still couldn’t walk at graduation.
On top of all of this, my principal called an assembly of the entire high school, and invited school families, to tell everyone what had happened. He told me I didn’t need to be there, but I volunteered. I was a senior and a campus leader, so I felt as if I should tell them myself.
In front of the whole school, I got up and started to read a statement I wrote explaining that I had broken the rules, that I was repentant and that I asked for forgiveness. But I couldn’t get through it. My dad had to read some of it while I composed myself. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, and I’m so sorry, not for myself but for any girl in that audience who will get pregnant in the future and may consider abortion because of what I had to go through.
After that I got involved with Students for Life of America, to use my story to help other girls like me. Part of its mission is to help pregnant girls and teenage mothers on campuses who are treated unfairly. The group had seen similar situations and, after trying and failing to persuade Heritage Academy privately, we decided to take my story to the media in hopes of creating a national conversation about how such cases should be handled.
When girls like me who go to pro-life schools make a brave pro-life decision, we shouldn’t be hidden away in shame. The sin that got us into this situation is not worth celebrating, but after confession and forgiveness take place, we should be supported and treated like any other student. What we are going through is tough enough. Having to deal with the added shame of being treated like an outcast is nothing any girl should have to go through.
Many people in my town and at my school who had supported me and my family have turned on us since I went public, feeling that the scrutiny was hurting Heritage Academy’s reputation. We started getting nasty emails, angry posts on social media and rude remarks in person. People who had been supportive before are now telling me to shut up, suck it up and grow up. Because of the volume of anger, my parents have decided to keep my brother and me at home for the rest of the school year.
I’m still not allowed to walk at graduation this month, but I still wouldn’t change my decision to keep my baby — a boy, who I want to name Greyson. Even though it’s been hard losing support in my town and having my school draw out my punishment over months, I want other girls in my position to know you don’t have to give in to pressure or fear of judgment.
My school could have made an example of how to treat a student who made a mistake, owned up to it, accepted the consequences, and is now being supported in her decision to choose life. But it didn’t. It is my hope that the next Christian school will make the right decision when the time comes.
Madeline Runkles is a high school student in Maryland.