by Joe Bollig
May is the month for mothers — not only because of the secular holiday of Mother’s Day, but because it’s also the month of our Blessed Mother.
Not only is the Virgin Mary the mother of Christ, she is the mother of the church and our mother as well. Her fiat — or answer of “yes” to the angel Gabriel at the annunciation — is a model for all Christians who seek to surrender to the will of God.
The Blessed Virgin’s “yes” also means a lot to mothers who have given their babies up for adoption.
These are the stories of two women, both pregnant at difficult times in their lives, who leaned on their faith, mustered their courage, and chose life for their babies. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
It was 1968 — an exciting time in Jillian’s life. She was a young woman in her 20s, finally on her own, in an exciting town — Washington, D.C.
She had a little apartment and, although her job as a typist at an insurance company didn’t pay much, it was a start. She was looking forward to the future.
Then one night, as she was coming home late, a man raped her. Jillian was in the hospital for two days.
“They wanted to do a D and C, just in case I was pregnant, and I said, ‘No, I didn’t want to do that,” said Jillian. “I didn’t think I’d be pregnant.”
But eight weeks later, she discovered she was. She was very frightened — and her options were limited. Abortion wasn’t legal in 1968, but there were doctors who would do it for “mental health” reasons.
Jillian, who was raised in a strong Catholic family, couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“Back then, if you weren’t married, you didn’t have children,” she said. “[If you did], people looked at you as if you were an evil person.”
People who lived in the same apartment building urged her to have an abortion.
“You shouldn’t have it, because you were raped,” they said. “You don’t know what the baby’s mental state will be. You don’t know if it will be normal.”
“I talked to someone eventually about abortion, and finally I said, ‘No doctor, I can’t do it,’” said Jillian. “I think that was my Catholic upbringing.”
Fortunately, Jillian’s sister and brother-in-law lived nearby. They had adopted two children from Catholic Charities and they said they’d take care of her all through her pregnancy. They urged her to consider the adoption option.
“At first, I thought maybe I could keep it, but my sister told me the baby would be better with two parents,” said Jillian.
“I knew that, emotionally, I was not capable of supporting and taking care of a child,” she continued. “I didn’t make enough money. I made minimum wage — just enough to pay for food, rent, utilities, and that was about it.”
So, the decision was made and, from the time she was about three months pregnant, Jillian began to prepare herself to give up the baby.
“I told myself every day that this baby was a gift to somebody,” she said.
On Feb. 25, 1969, Jillian gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She named her “Mary.”
“I held her,” said Jillian. “I counted all her fingers and toes. She had lots of dark hair and blue eyes. She was the prettiest little thing I ever saw.”
Almost immediately, however, representatives of Catholic Charities came and took Mary away. She was adopted within days.
“It was hard,” said Jillian, “but it wasn’t that hard, because I’d prepared myself mentally that this was what I was going to do.”
Jillian never saw Mary again and doesn’t have any idea where she lives. Mary would be 41 now — possibly with a family of her own.
“I wonder about her once in a while,” said Jillian. “I think about her. I have children and grandchildren, and I hope she’s given her parents the same joy.”
“Someone told me I could trace her, but why?” asked Jillian. “Her parents who adopted her love her and cared for her. I don’t see why I should put them through it.”
“I think of Mary as a wonderful gift,” she concluded. “I hope [her adoptive parents] think of her the same way.”
Rhonda had her suspicions, but she didn’t really know she was pregnant until she went for her yearly checkup at a family planning clinic.
Rhonda was 35 years old, divorced, and struggling to make ends meet as a single mother raising two of her four children. She went to the family planning clinic because she didn’t have much money.
“[The counselor at the clinic] talked about two minutes about adoption and a half-hour about abortion,” said Rhonda.
Rhonda was in shock.
She kept saying, “I’m pregnant?” and the clinic counselor would say, “Yes, you are,” and then would rattle on, not paying any attention to Rhonda, not asking her one question about anything, certain the next step was an abortion clinic in Wichita. Abortion didn’t even enter Rhonda’s mind. She never considered it to be an option. Rhonda told the father the next day and he wanted nothing to do with her “problem.” Worse, the next day, she was fired from her job for reasons unrelated to her pregnancy.
“I was already frazzled,” said Rhonda. “Thank goodness for unemployment [benefits]. I wouldn’t have been good at any job. I said, “This baby is my priority.””
Rhonda used to argue with herself out loud when she was alone in her house. “I can’t give this baby up,” she would tell herself, and she’d even shout, “NO!”
But the thought of adoption kept coming back to her.
“I know it was my guardian angel,” said Rhonda. “I was being spoken to.” When Rhonda told her children about her pregnancy, her oldest daughter told her she could get used to the idea of another little brother or sister. But Rhonda told her not to. She’d decided to put the baby up for adoption.
Rhonda found a lawyer in Joplin, Mo., who would help her find an adoptive couple, but she wanted some control over the process. She wanted to interview and choose the adoptive couple. She didn’t want the baby to be put through the state’s system.
“We’ve never done that before,” he told her when she met with him.
“Thank you for your time,” said Rhonda and got up to leave.
“Wait,” said the lawyer. “I said we’ve never done it that way before. I didn’t say we wouldn’t.”
Rhonda interviewed five couples, and eventually chose one that had adopted a baby and kept it for seven days, until the biological mother changed her mind and took the baby back. They were devastated.
“I told the couple that this baby is a gift through me, not to me,” said Rhonda.
Rhonda gave birth to a baby girl on Good Friday 1991, just after she turned 36.
“I had some advantages over the teen moms,” said Rhonda. “I knew what was going on. I held and fed her, and soaked up as much time as possible. I couldn’t get enough of her. I named her Gabriel Ann.”
Rhonda gave Gabriel Ann to the couple, but that wasn’t the end of the story, thanks to a mistake in the hospital pharmacy.
Rhonda’s name was included on a prescription bottle, which the adoptive father kept. That bottle came in handy years later when Gabriel Ann — now with a different name — asked to meet her birth mother as a high school graduation present. That bottle provided the crucial link.
Rhonda and her husband met her. This summer, the young woman — who had been raised in a very loving home as an only child — will meet her brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces.
The principal, teachers, and others came up to Rhonda at the graduation and thanked her for giving life to such a wonderful young woman.
“I feel that I made a very negative situation into something positive,” said Rhonda. “It was painful. It was the most difficult thing. I can’t imagine going through anything more difficult.
“But what’s positive about abortion? I made a couple happy — this is their only child. I have people who loved me and cared for me, and prayed for me every day, and I didn’t even know them!
“Don’t tell me that didn’t affect me.”
Mother’s Day is Rhonda’s favorite day of the year. There’s nothing more beautiful to her than seeing her family gathered in her living room for that special occasion. They’re her legacy.
“I told my children at one time something big and wonderful is going to happen to us,” said Rhonda. “We don’t know what it is, but it will happen, because no good deed goes unrewarded with God.”