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BOSTON, February 15, 2013, (Catholic Herald) – The year was 1932. While walking the five miles home from her job as a housemaid in the suburbs of Boston, a 21-year-old woman accepted a ride from a familiar face.

Hours later, when the woman had not come home, her father enlisted the help of a local homeless man to find her. The woman was found lying by the railroad tracks, raped and badly beaten, with her face nearly unrecognizable.

A few months later, the woman was placed in a home for unwed mothers, where she was diagnosed with kidney damage and a severe case of toxemia. When her doctors and nurses told her to have an abortion, she refused, saying, “No, I am carrying life.”

That traumatic story is one local 79-year-old Catholic Elizabeth Fox — whose name has been changed — knows well. That woman was her mother.

A childhood of love

As a child, Fox never knew all the details of her birth. What she did know was she had a mother that loved her, close-knit grandparents and relatives, and no father.

“It was a court order that I would never know the name of the man that raped her,” Fox said. “I’ve never had the desire to find out.”

From the time she was a young girl, Fox lived with her mother and her grandparents in a house they had built in the suburbs. Later, when the family lost the house in the Great Depression, they moved into an apartment together. Fox’s aunt, who had tuberculosis, also lived with them.

Fox’s mother got a job working as a cloth inspector, inspecting the silk used in parachutes. She remained single for years.

“Let’s face it,” Fox said. “She suffered a stigma back then being a woman that wasn’t wed.”

When Fox was 12, an older man offered to marry her mother so he could buy the family a new place to live.

“He had just lost his wife and he was an elderly man,” Fox said. “My mother married him and he sold his house and bought a two-family house for my grandmother and grandfather and my aunt and we lived in the downstairs apartment.”

Though times were tough throughout her childhood, there always was love.

“I was cherished, believe me,” she said. “(My mother) would make doll clothes for me. And of course, I grew up with my aunts and uncles and they were all very protective of me.”

A new family

Fox lived with her family until she left for nursing school. When she was 23, she married and became very close to her in-laws.

“I was welcomed to that family right away,” Fox said. “The father was dying of cancer, but he asked me to call him Dad. We just had a special relationship. And then my mother-in-law was like a mother. She really was.”

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One day, Fox’s mother-in-law took her aside and confessed that she had had an abortion before getting married.

“She embraced me for a long time and said, ‘You are the daughter I would have had. I love you,’” Fox said.

The mother-in-law explained how her own mother had pressured her into the abortion as a way to save the family’s reputation. As a nurse, Fox was familiar with the reasoning, but was struck by how guilty her mother-in-law felt, even years later.

“I felt overwhelmed,” she said. “Today I think of how this must have lingered in her mind. Imagine 23 years later, it was still in her, the guilt. But it wasn’t her fault; it was her mother that insisted it be done.”

A lesson for others

Fox went on to have a varied career — working at various times as a nurse, a real estate broker and a consultant for the embassy to the United Arab Emirates in Georgetown. Those weren’t her only achievements.

“I’ve been in student council, on the board of directors for associations, president of the Ladies Guild,” she said.

Fox’s children also have gone on to become successful.

“One became a lieutenant colonel in the Marines, another is a successful businessman,” she said. “I have five great-grandchildren.”

It wasn’t until Fox’s mother was dying that she ever shared the complete story of what happened to her, Fox said. Later, when looking through some old papers, Fox found the words to a song written in her mother’s handwriting:

“A tiny turn-up nose, two cheeks just like a rose, so sweet from head to toes, that little girl of mine. Two eyes that shine so bright, two lips that kiss good night, that little girl of mine. No one shall ever know, just what her coming is meant, for it’s a gift that heaven has sent. She climbs upon my knees, she’s all the world to me, to me she’ll always be, that little girl of mine.”

“When I read that, tears came to my eyes,” Fox said.

By sharing her story, Fox hopes she will help others realize that a woman’s choice about abortion can have lasting consequences either way.

“Because after all is said, only God makes the decision,” she said. “He has not given us that right to take a life.”

Fox knows she is lucky her mother chose not to have an abortion. She hopes her story will help other women make the same choice.

“This is a life that would have been destroyed, that would never have been,” she said. “I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m going on 80 and I am really very thankful.”

This story originally appeared on the Catholic Herald website and is reprinted with permission.

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