When Joanne Dieleman answered the phone at Aid to Women one hot summer day two years ago, a woman asked to speak to “the lady with the Dutch accent.” A weary Joanne replied, “That’s me.” Then, intuitively, the woman said, “Well, maybe you’re having a bad day. I want to show you something to make you feel better.” In town from Regina for a few days, she wanted to visit Joanne that day. As it turned out, her visit was just the lift that Joanne needed to get through that stifling hot day in downtown Toronto.
As the woman came up the office stairs carrying her red headed, eight-month-old baby, Joanne recognized her immediately. A year earlier, Amanda, age 35, had called Aid to Women thinking that it was the abortuary next door. Joanne explained that it was not and quickly added, “We can help you with your pregnancy problems without killing your baby.” A distressed Amanda agreed to an office visit.
On a disability pension for several medical problems, Amanda never thought she could get pregnant. She had accepted a casual date with a man she had just met and then naively allowed him to come to her apartment – an event that resulted in a “date rape.” Joanne helped her get medical confirmation of her pregnancy. Amanda was shocked and ashamed to learn of this, because she was not a sexually promiscuous person. When she told the man, he refused to believe her. Joanne, at Amanda’s request, confirmed the facts with him and he callously replied, “Who cares? She can get rid of it.”
Desperate and alone in Toronto, she told Joanne that her “detached” mother lived in Regina but cared little for her or for any of her own grandchildren. Picking up on this information Joanne challenged Amanda. “Why don’t you call your mother? Try to understand her. You’re an adult now. Sit down and try to find out what her problems are, because mothers often have problems too and carry heavy burdens.”
Startled by this comment, and giving it some thought, Amanda did indeed call her mother, telling her about her problem pregnancy and that she planned an abortion. Reacting strongly, her mother pleaded, “Don’t ever have an abortion. That’s the problem I ended up with.” Following this puzzling remark and after a long pause, she urged Amanda, “Come home and have the baby here and we can take care of him. You can have the basement apartment.”
Amanda gratefully accepted her mother’s offer. However, before she could go home, there were problems such as the cost of the airfare to Regina, which she could not afford. To enable her to carry out her plan, Joanne charged it to her own credit card (later repaid by Aid to Women) and connected her to a Regina crisis pregnancy centre for practical, medical and emotional help. Several months later when the baby was born, Amanda phoned Joanne to say that her mother was present at the delivery and that she had bonded immediately with her grandson, who was born with “a copper mane.” Her mother had always wanted a child with red hair, and in keeping with her Irish heritage, they named the baby Tagh.
Reflecting on Amanda, Joanne says, “Often when we let a woman from out of town go, we don’t hear from her again, but Amanda was different.” On her recent office visit, Amanda hugged her son and whispered to him, “This is Joanne. She saved your life.” Quick to dismiss credit, Joanne replied, “Not really. You just needed guidance in the right direction and that’s what we gave you.”
Giving guidance to distressed mothers in the direction of life is what Joanne, a volunteer for 25 years at Toronto’s Aid to Women until she retired this summer, did expertly and naturally – with her Dutch accent.