In the spring of 1962 “Jean” was eighteen years old, pregnant, unmarried, and scared. Her boyfriend wasn’t interested in marriage or raising a child. Her whole world was changing before her eyes, but she never considered abortion. On December 5, 1962 she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. On September 7, 2017—almost 55 years later— I discovered I am that child. From this discovery I have reflected on three essential truths in new and deeper ways.
1. I Didn’t Deserve to Die, But My Life Required Her Courage
I always knew I was adopted and this made me very thankful for the gift of life, knowing my mother must have been tempted to abort me. Now that I know more of her situation when she found out she was pregnant with me, I am even more thankful that I received the gift of life.
My mother was just finishing her senior year of high school. For her and her classmates the future was bright. They had their entire lives before them and many opportunities. But then she discovered she was pregnant. Oh no—this wasn’t in the plan! It was not what she had dreamed about. It was not the future she had envisioned.
At that point she faced a monumental choice—both for her future and for mine. Abortion was not legal but was obtainable. If she aborted me she could get her life back on track. She could stay in high school and finish her senior year without the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock (a severe stigma in 1962). She could graduate and pursue any of many opportunities that would open back up to her. She could put this “mistake” behind her and move on with her life.
But she knew I wasn’t a “mistake.” I was a person. I was a tiny, not fully formed, incommunicative, innocent, needy person who happened to be living inside her for the time being. I was not a part of her body. I had my own DNA, my own bodily functions, and my own ability to grow and develop as a separate person. (See my blog post here for more on this.)
And so she knew that I didn’t deserve to die. I was guilty of no crime worthy of the death penalty. Her and her boyfriend’s choice to have sex that spring night didn’t mean that I should be killed off. She intuitively knew that wasn’t right—she knew I deserved to live, no matter how hard that would be for her. And so, as she told me, “I never considered abortion, even for a second.”
Instead, she made the courageous decision to go through with her unwanted pregnancy. I can’t imagine the courage it took to make this decision. But Jean was a woman who understood well what she must do, no matter how hard and no matter the consequences. It was just the right thing to do.
That is what courage is: doing what is right and necessary, even when—and especially when—it is hard. I will be eternally grateful to Jean for her courage during those decisive months in the spring and summer of 1962. She and I have visited by phone and in person now, and it was an honor and a joy to be able to express my deep gratitude to her in person. She is a model and encouragement for me to likewise stand up for others who are in need and use my power in courageous and redemptive ways.
2. The “Messiness” of Unconditional Love
The details of Jean’s time with me growing inside her womb paint an excellent picture of what unconditional love truly looks like. It is easy for us to talk about loving “unconditionally.” However, we often fail to follow-through when we realize just what this will mean and what it will cost us. My and Jean’s short time together in 1962 illustrate this for me in new and nuanced ways.
As we have now talked together I’ve learned much about what her pregnancy meant. Her mother made her leave her hometown and live in a home for unwed mothers about an hour away until she gave birth. Moving to that facility meant leaving all she knew during this emotionally heart-wrenching time. Her parents were not there to help her process what she was going through. She could not be with her friends to talk about what she was experiencing. She no longer had familiar surroundings and routines to provide comfort and a sense of well-being and stability. Was it still worth it? Jean believed so. She knew this was what unconditional love required. No matter what, she was committed to showing me love by putting my need to grow in her womb above any need she felt for safety, comfort or well being.
During those long days and nights she thought often that after my birth she could not continue to provide the nurturing environment I needed to flourish. She had not finished high school, had no job and was living with her parents. In the early 1960s there were very few services and support systems for an unwed mother with a young child. She knew the most loving thing to do, after giving me life, was giving me away.
But her heart was aching to keep me. If she gave me up for adoption, she would probably never see me again. She would never know if I looked like her, shared her personality or had the same interests. She would never experience me telling her “I love you, Mom.” She would not see me grow up and always wonder if things were going well for me. She would not be there to comfort me when down and cheer me on when doing well.
Deciding whether or not to give me up for adoption was a dilemma that only unconditional love could solve well. How painful it must have been day after day and night after night during those long months in 1962. But Jean knew what unconditional love required. It required letting me go. For the next 54 years she would live with these questions as a result of her decision to go through with giving me away. Having to live with so many unanswered questions each day of her life was the price of unconditional love, again doing what was best for me at her expense—with nothing in return and nothing to show for it except unanswered questions.
Throughout the years I have wondered why my mother would give me away. Did she not love me? Now I know that she not only loved me but loved me in such a complete, unselfish and unconditional way that she was willing to sacrifice so much, in so many ways, to protect and provide for me. I have now been able to thank her for this several times, and will again the next time we talk. Her example helps me better understand the depth and breadth of true love, as expressed in I Corinthians 13:4-8 -
- Love is patient – During the long months of Jean’s pregnancy, when each day was a blur of emotional trauma and uncertainty.
- Love is kind – Jean’s desire for my best, knowing the heartache it would cause her not to know me and always wonder about me.
- It does not envy –Jean’s commitment to do what would lead to my flourishing, choosing not to be envious of the one who would raise me.
- It does not boast: it is not proud – Jean humbling herself by continuing the pregnancy for my sake, even though it meant being shunned by her family and not graduating from high school with her friends.
- It does not dishonor others: it is not self-seeking – Jean not dishonoring me by seeking her comfort and well-being over mine (by ending my life).
- It is not easily angered: it keeps no record of wrongs – Jean enduring all she went through without resorting to an abortion out of anger or because “this isn’t fair!”
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – Jean not choosing evil, but embracing the truth that I was a little person taking up temporary residence inside her.
- It always protects: always trusts: always hopes: always perseveres – Jean protecting and preserving my life, trusting there was a future and a hope for me before I was even born.
- Love never fails – Jean enduring the physical and emotional trauma day after day until my birth and then following through on her desire to give me a way in order for me to flourish.
To Be Continued
But this is not the end of the story. Another one must be told of an equally exceptional woman who adopted this baby boy in his hour of greatest need . . .
Until next week, grace and peace.
For further reading on the wise use of power for the good of others I suggest Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch