Someday, I will make it down to DC to attend the March for Life. This year is not that year, however, so I asked myself what else I could do. How could I help? I don’t have anything to say in a blog post that hasn’t already been said, no new data to unveil to the public to change their mind about abortion. What I do have is an incredible friend named Kathleen O’Brien. I knew that she had, 28 years ago, found herself a pregnant teenager not ready to be a mother. I knew that she had tuned that experience into a blessing of adoption.
I am honored that she agreed to let me share her story. When she told it to me in an e-mail, I realized that her words are more powerful than mine could ever be, so here is her story, in her own words.
It’s hard to tell my story without sounding like I am blaming people. I think it is important to know the difference between explanations, blaming, and excuses. I just think it’s important for others to be able to identify. Like so many experience, what seemed to me a happy home when I was small, turned into dysfunction, heartache, and disaster over the course of my double-digit years and throughout high school.
My Dad was a fun-loving and good-humored man with a tortured soul who eventually battled his demons with alcohol alone. I watched my childhood knight slowly, then suddenly slide off his horse. I lost my trust in knights.
And yet. I ached for one.
Strike one in my sense of self.
My Mom was a high-energy, loving, positive, never-give-up type. She was always there for us. Always. Eventually, she was faced with the heartrending decision of ending her marriage. Financial survival forced her to take up work outside our home. No matter how adventurous and free it may seem to a kid to have no supervision after school and during summer days, it is accompanied by an unsettling emptiness. I remember the days of walking up our street, our front lawn, to a door that opened into an empty home.
My mom worked herself to the bone to keep us fed, clothed, and in parochial schools. She had a tremendous faith, as did her mother, my grandmother. Between the two of them, I was given an ability to place my hand in God’s. Some of my earliest memories are times I spent alone, talking to God. I walked and talked with Him between the boundaries of neighbors’ driveways set by my parents. I sang songs to Him from the highest branches of the apple tree in our backyard. I believed in Him and loved Him from the beginning, but it was the examples of my mother and grandmother that taught me to exercise the tool of faith.
On a human level, all of my eggs of trust and respect were placed in my mom’s basket. She really could do no wrong in my eyes. I admired her. When I was 14, she met a man. They fell in love, literally overnight. I think he was the answer to her prayers, but for me, the earth violently shook and split in two. His world became our world. The right choices she believed she was making, felt like abandonment to me. I felt I’d lost her. I resented the control he assumed over us. I resented that she gave it to him. They married 2 months after meeting.
Strike two in sense of self.
In a period of less than 3 years, my parents divorced, my mother remarried, we moved across the country, in with step-siblings we had never met, and my Dad, heavily intoxicated, was hit by a car while walking across a street. He was killed instantly. The last two survival skills I had left, that were fully functioning, were athletics and my faith in a God who loved me. I had ceased excelling in school, a slide that began before the move, and my stepfather removed me from sports as punishment.
Strike three in sense of self. I was out. I sat alone on the bench…I wasn’t mixed up about right and wrong. I knew wrong and I chose it.
But not really. I knew God was there, but I scooted away, down to the other end of the bench. I knew He wouldn’t get up, but for the first time, I started choosing my way instead of His. I knew He loved me and wouldn’t leave me, but I was beginning not to trust Him with outcomes. I turned inward. I became self-absorbed, self-pitying. I cried out for Him to save me, but to do it my way. Every night I begged Him to take me in my sleep. I did this for over two years straight.
Subconsciously and consciously, I started to develop new survival skills. I drank. I did drugs. I cheated. I lied. I manipulated…and I had sex. I wasn’t mixed up about right and wrong. I knew wrong and I chose it.
My life was not a single track, but like a pair of railroad tracks running side by side. On one track, I loved God. I believed in His ways. I knew He would never abandon me. I wanted to be who He wanted me to be. I shared that faith with two very close friends I had met on a Catholic retreat when I was 16. They were one of many lifelines thrown to me from the other end of the bench. But on the second track, I was living life my way. I had a foot in both worlds. I was living a double life…sex, booze, drugs.
when I was eighteen
I got pregnant.
Here is who I was: A young Catholic girl who believed in her Catholic Faith (even if not living it), from a conservative Catholic family, pregnant out of wedlock. The worst I could ever imagine.
My entire life, I believed abortion was wrong. I knew it grieved the God I loved and my heart felt sad for His grief. But I was terrified…and when you’re in that spot, you think of every way out. I thought of it. I really did. I even got in my car one day and started driving, thinking maybe I will end up at one of…those places. Where I ended up was in a parking lot of a church. I sat in my car. I sobbed. I thought of the people in my life whom I respected–the people who were “God in my life.” How could I ever look them in the eye again if I went through with an abortion? They wouldn’t know, but I would know. How could I face God? I cried and cried. I was broken. I glanced down to the other end of the bench. In a prayerful way, I heard Him say, “Here I am.”
And so began a pregnancy that was just God and me. I still made a lot of bad and even selfish choices. I didn’t tell the guy I was pregnant. He wasn’t my boyfriend. He was a very good guy. He pursued me a bit, but I had felt shame over the initial act of baby-making and distanced myself from him. According to the law of the state in which I was living at the time, the birth father had to be notified of the birth and my decision to put our child up for adoption. He had a say in both the decision and the process–as he should have. He was very sweet and also conflicted, but in no position to raise a child and agreed with my decision.
He was also forgiving.
It is interesting and sad to note that the law provided him a say in the adoption, but none whatsoever had I chosen to have an abortion.
I didn’t tell my mom or anyone in my family. I never went to the doctor for prenatal care. I did stop drinking, smoking, etc. and I ate right, but I kept the pregnancy to myself. Of course, I still felt fear. I was in constant conversation with God. Many times. I would say to Him, “I know who You are. I know what You can do. I know with one thought You can take this from me. I’ve learned my lesson. Please.” In the same way I used to pray not to wake up in the morning, I was now praying to wake up “un-pregnant.” But always, always, I’d “hear” Him say, “I’m right here. I’ve got you. You’re not alone.” You know what? I actually never did feel completely alone. I knew He was there.
I remember the night I felt my son move. It was a collision of fear and awe. The miraculousness of life exploded in my mind and left me in a haze of reality. This was the night I knew, without a doubt, this little boy (I just knew he was a boy) was not mine to keep. I was not in a position to raise a child. I was living at home, but I didn’t want him brought up in that home. It was still a mess in many ways. I desperately wanted to get out from under that roof, not put another child under it. I had a job, but nothing that could support us. I didn’t want to purposely put an infant in childcare and poverty. I also had to reconcile with the fact that I, too, was a mess. I was emotionally and psychologically unhealthy. The choice to place him up for adoption was not made out of fear. In fact, it was the first purely unselfish choice I had made in years. I knew it. The peace that accompanied that choice is indescribable. That peace was a “yes” from the One, right next to me, on the bench.
Labor began late one night. A circus was going on in my head. I convinced myself it was one hundred other things besides labor. The next morning my mom went to the grocery store and my stepfather went off to a meeting. Yes, I let them leave the house, realizing at this point that the pain was coming in intervals that were creeping ever so closer together. But I was still scared to tell them. I know you are in shock right about now. How did they not know I was pregnant? Well, I carried him long vertically. I wore baggy clothes and carried myself strategically. I really just looked like I had packed on a lot of weight.
By the time my stepfather returned, I could not even sit down. I told him I needed to go to the hospital. We got into the car and he was driving me to an urgent care center. I knew we needed to go to a hospital. I tried to tell him, but I couldn’t speak. The words would not come out. Finally, he looked over at me and asked, “Are you trying to tell me you’re having a baby?” The word “yes” poured out in a wail. It’s like he became someone else–someone other than the man I had known. A light came over him. The gentle smile he gave me was nothing I had ever seen from this man. It was like an angel invaded his body. He became my instant ally, told me it would be okay, and punched the car into gear. I was in shock and at ease.
At the hospital, he got ahold of my mom. She was relieved to know I wasn’t dead–which is what she thought when he told her to get alone and sit down. Before I knew it, she was at my side, holding my hand, smiling with tears in her eyes and coaching me how to breathe. She became my advocate. After the epidural kicked in, I told them I wanted to place the baby up for adoption. They expressed relief and pride that I had come to that decision. My mom is a big feeler, though, and did suggest that we could bring him home. God gave me the words to lead her away from that. I mean it. Not unlike my stepfathers possession earlier in the car, something had also come over me. I know, without a doubt, it was the Holy Spirit. I was not alone. He was keeping His promise.I heard him cry. I felt every part of me sink.
It was time for delivery and I told the nurses and doctors not to place him in my arms. I told them I didn’t want my emotions to get in the way of what I knew was the right thing to do. They all just nodded their heads in astonishment. One nurse smiled at me and squeezed my hand. In delivery, I followed instructions. I kept my head turned from any reflection that would give me a glimpse of him. Finally, I heard the doctor say, “He’s out.” The two nurses were so good and they rushed to get him out of the room, for my sake, but that’s when I heard him. I heard him cry. I felt every part of me sink. I felt like I had opened my hand and my heart flew away.
And then I thought of these words, the words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”
Of course, it wasn’t really finished. The task of the adoption was about to begin and it turned out to be the solution to that momentary pain in the delivery room.
Kathleen then worked with a woman named Patricia Mudd of Catholic Charities. Mudd worked to ensure that Kathleen was secure in her choice to have her baby adopted. She left the hospital without her son, who was placed with a foster family in the diocese while she moved forward with the adoption process. “That was painful,” Kathleen said, “I felt like I was abandoning him. It was a moment of intellectual and emotional conflict. It eventually passed, but it was real.”
With her mother and stepfather, Kathleen created a list of qualities for which they were looking in an adoptive family. They were matched with seven different potential families, and they each viewed the profiles and ranked them 1-7 in order of preference.
I read the first set of letters and I KNEW it was them. I knew it. I then told myself that I needed to read all the letters and give them all a chance. In the end, I came right back to the first couple. I felt a connection with the wife. I felt like I was reading a description of myself. A healthy self. An adult self. She was the woman I wanted to become. The husband was the kind of man I respected and trusted. Trusted. A man. I was, without fear, giving my trust to a man. My parents and I reconvened to compare our rankings. They were identical. Each of us had written down the exact same order, 1 through 7. What are the chances of that?
He went to couple number one. If I remember correctly, they had tried to have children for seven years and were waiting in the adoption line for nearly as long. I was told that they wept when he was placed in their arms. They wept for love of him.The fact of the matter is I was playing with life.
When all is said and done, the decision to have him and go through the adoptive process is the best thing I ever did in my life. It is the one hard thing I have gone through of which I have absolutely no regrets attached. None. I know that this would not be the case had I chosen to have an abortion. I have always described the entire thing as God helping me to turn an initial wrong into an eternal right. I had no business having sex outside of marriage. No matter how harmless it seems, no matter what protection one uses, there is ALWAYS the possibility of a resulting life. The fact of the matter is I was playing with life.
I learned many lessons through it all. I learned to depend solely on Him. I don’t mean to say that I should have gone it alone or that He wanted me to, I only mean that God is enough. He is sufficient. I also learned compassion for other women who find themselves pregnant, scared, and alone–who make the tragic choice to have an abortion. I used to be harsh in my judgment of them. I still believe it is wrong. It’s just that I’ve walked that mile. I also know there is forgiveness and recovery. I encourage any woman who has had an abortion to allow themselves to travel the path of forgiveness, rather than doubling down on the line that they have no regrets, no pain. I find it impossible to believe that could be so. I know too many women who have had abortions and agree. It has affected them their entire lives.… he has always belonged to them. I was just the vessel through which he came into this world. I see that as an honor.
Some may think I could have kept him. The experience did not cure me of all my problems. I still had a messy life and years of overcoming many obstacles unrelated to my pregnancy. I had to be honest with myself about that. For one, I inherited the addiction to alcohol. I did not overcome this addiction until I was 36 years old. He was spared of that and all it involves. I never could have given him what they have. That’s just a fact. I know because I stumbled upon his identity. That’s another story, but it really was by accident. It was also a gift–to be able to see the good life he was given. Some say I should reach out to him, but that choice does not belong to me. It’s selfish–and besides, as I said, I have no holes to fill. God is generous and kind in that regard. Do I love him? Of course I love him. Of course it would be amazing to meet him–but that is for him to decide. That choice belongs to him, not me. He may never feel the need/desire. And besides, he has always belonged to them. I was just the vessel through which he came into this world. I see that as an honor.
He knows he is adopted. His parents wrote in their letters that it would not be a secret. They also graciously gave me the option of exchanging letters with them. I chose not to do so because I wanted them to feel like he belonged completely to them. I was asked by Catholic Charities about if and when he ever searched for me, would I be open to it? I said yes. This means that they will give him what he wants if he gets curious. A letter from me is included in his file. All of my information is current.
Contrary to what most girls think, as did I at the time, going through with the pregnancy did not ruin my life. It improved my self-worth and set me on my way to accomplishing a great many things. I served in the military, traveled to many places both in and outside of the United States as soldier and civilian. I am a successful business owner and free as a bird. Best of all, when I think of my pregnancy, I feel joy–not sorrow. Life is pretty darn good.
In the end, I want to encourage woman to remember that in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, you have more than just two options. It seems the third option got lost along the way. Adoption is a beautiful option. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. I have no regrets. No holes to fill. His grace is sufficient. If you feel scared and alone. If you feel like you’ve struck out swinging. I promise you, God’s on the bench with you…and He’s saying, “Here I am.”
Remember that the issue isn’t about a choice between raising a child or aborting that child. Remember the women and children who have been victims of abortion, and stay ready to fight. Remember Kathleen’s story of strength and courage, and remember that there are those out here ready to help. Today, I march in spirit with those around the country, and hope that Kathleen’s story will demonstrate that adoption is a truly beautiful choice.