My last series for Love Inspired Historical was the “Gabriel Sisters,” a series of three Quaker sisters who were trying to bind up the wounds of the nation after the Civil War. Perhaps you read Her Captain’s Heart and Her Patchwork Family, featuring the first two sisters. The final story, Her Healing Ways, centered on Dr. Mercy Gabriel who set out to practice medicine in Idaho. One of her patients was Sunny, a young pregnant prostitute. Here’s their first conversation:
Back at her office, Mercy was cleaning her medical instruments after making rounds of a few patients with less dramatic ailments—a man with a case of gout in his foot, a little boy with a broken arm, a three-year old with an earache. Hearing a timid knock, Mercy turned to see Sunny at her door. “Come in!”
Dressed in the same faded blue dress Mercy had seen her in when nursing Lon, Sunny walked in and closed the door behind her.
“How may I help thee, Sunny?”
The girl looked at the floor. “I don’t need to tell you what’s bothering me, do I?”
“Is thee referring to the fact that thee is carrying a child?” Mercy finished putting the examining instruments into a basin of wood alcohol. She turned and walked to her desk. “Why doesn’t thee take a seat and we will talk?”
Sunny did so.
Mercy waited, letting the quiet build between them, waiting.
“I don’t want to raise a kid in a saloon.” Sunny continued to speak to the floor.
“Is that where thee was raised?”
“Yes.” The blunt word was said with a wealth of ill feeling.
“I see.” And Mercy did see. One of the worst things about how women were treated in this world was the fact that there were no good options for someone like Sunny. She had been born into a situation in which there was little hope of leaving. Society was very unforgiving of women who weren’t deemed “decent”–even though the same stigma didn’t attach itself to the men who used these women. “Does thee have any family?”
“No, my ma died years ago. A few of her friends came here and I came along.” Sunny was slowly shredding a white hankie in her lap.
“Sunny, I will be happy to deliver thy baby when thy time comes. Does thee want to give up thy child for adoption?”
This question finally brought tears. Mercy took one of Sunny’s hands in hers.
Sunny was finally able to speak again. “I don’t think anybody would want my baby. And it hurts me to think of giving it away. It hurts to think of it being raised like I was. So lonely. No decent mothers would let me play with their children…” Sunny couldn’t speak, her weeping was too strong.
Mercy’s heart was breaking for this young woman and for her child. “I have a sister who runs an orphanage near St. Louis. If there is no one else to take thy child, I will write her.” Mercy squeezed Sunny’s hand. “But Sunny, I would prefer to help thee leave the saloon and find a better life where thee can keep thy child.”
Sunny rose, looking suddenly anxious to go. “That sounds nice, but nobody will give me a chance. I’m a saloon girl. I seen how it was with my ma. Thank you, doc.” Sunny gave her a fleeting smile and then hurried out the door.
Mercy bowed her head and prayed for Sunny, her child, and for this world which wouldn’t welcome this new life. God, how can I help her?
Here’s the birth of Sunny’s baby:
Mercy woke to a knock on her door. She rose and went to the door. “Who is it?” she called.
“It’s me, Sunny. My time’s come.”
Mercy quickly opened the door. “Come in. Come in. How long has thee been having contractions?”
Groaning, Sunny entered and halted, clutching the back of a chair. “For most of the night. I finally decided—” Sunny paused, wincing. “–I didn’t want to have the baby in my room over the saloon so… I decided to come here.”
Mercy reached for her robe on the end of the bed. Indigo sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Indigo, Sunny will need the bed. Will thee prepare it for her?”
Indigo yawned and nodded, rising.
Mercy helped Sunny sit on the chair. Then she turned to hang the full iron kettle on the hook over the fire. And she added some more wood to the fire and stirred the coals. Soon Indigo had the bed ready. And then Mercy started walking Sunny. The contractions came closer and closer and stronger and stronger.
Dawn was just breaking at its fullest when Mercy helped Sunny’s little girl into the world. The three exhausted women wept and laughed, touching the little one gently.
Watching Sunny hold her newborn daughter brought tears to Mercy’s eyes. Every baby was a gift from God. She’d received a letter from Felicity saying that she would send someone and a wet nurse by train west to get the child. But Mercy hadn’t heard from her parents, who lived so much farther east.
She decided she would telegraph them today. She couldn’t leave Sunny to take her child—though unwillingly–into the life Sunny had been born into. Sunny obviously didn’t want this. And Mercy was absolutely certain God didn’t want it either.
So how did Sunny’s life change? Drop by tomorrow!–Lyn