From Chapter Four of Confessions of a Recovering Mormon:
"Walk Tall, You are a Daughter of God"
Daughters of Perdition Beware: Disgrace and Humiliation Await You and Your Family
The Mormon Church has homes where it sends young women who have transgressed against its teachings and brought shame and humiliation upon their families. I have heard about the establishments for the girls of ill-repute that existed back when my mother was young. Girls who had gotten themselves “in trouble” or “in the family way” were banished to these homes, hidden away while they did their nine months of time. They had their babies in secret and most were never even given an opportunity to see their children or hold them or say goodbye. After birth, these new mothers then returned home as if nothing had happened. They pretended as if they had been on an extended vacation or visiting a sick aunt.
These homes served two purposes: to save the family from the disgrace and embarrassment of having a pregnant daughter living under their roof and to isolate these girls so their babies could be taken away from them easier.
These homes still exist. I know this because my mother tried to send me to one.
Our move [from Montana] to Oregon had been more difficult than I had anticipated. My mom had a hard time finding a job. The two of us took seasonal work at the local Smucker’s cannery, where we inspected berries on the night shift. We didn’t go home until all of the berries that had been shipped in that day had been inspected for the canning process. Many nights, I worked twelve to fourteen hours straight.
About a month after the big move, my mother had an accident. She fell in a parking lot, and suffered a severe head injury and had to be hospitalized. I thought she was going to die. She was out of work for several weeks and, during that time, we had no money coming in at all. The refrigerator was empty. I had to use the phone at the neighbor’s house because ours was shut off. I felt isolated and alone.
Sometime, when I was bored out of my mind on the cannery line, willing the clock to move faster, or sitting in our quiet apartment alone, I would think back to my life in Montana. My life had been crumbling, trying to manage the tremendous pressure of being the good Mormon girl and trying to fit in at school as a normal teenager.
In Choteau, I had been completely falling apart.
But my problems had not disappeared at the state line. Was my life any different now? There have been times in my life when I have allowed myself to feel the regret of some of my choices. The move from Choteau to Oregon is very high on the list.
It had been my fault. I had begged my mother to move to Oregon. She had family there and I had spent a summer before high school living with my aunt just outside Portland. I insisted we move and was relentless until I got my way.
If I could go back and change one thing in my life, I would make the choice to stay in Montana and complete my last two years in high school. At the time, however, I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. I didn’t believe things could get worse or that I could sink any deeper. I had no idea how awful it could actually get.
July 27, 1988 will be a day that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t a particularly extraordinary day in the grand scheme of the world. For me, however, this day was life altering. It was the day my son was born.
In our family, he is referred to as Baby #1. I could never bear to give him a name. I can tell you that he was small. He weighed just less than five pounds at birth. He had black hair and brown eyes. He was blessed with his father’s nose and beautiful smile. He was precious. He was perfect.
That is as much as I can tell you about him. On July 28, I signed the adoption papers through LDS Social Services, the adoption agency run by the Mormon Church, and I have never seen him or heard anything about him since that day.
I can vividly remember the day I found out I was pregnant. I was sitting in the doctor’s office. I can still recall all of the typical doctor-office smells that were making my stomach turn. I found myself looking frantically for something I could throw up into if it became necessary.
My nausea wasn’t the reason I was at the doctor. In fact, I had thought little of the fact that I blew chunks every time I smelled food or thought of eating, except that if I did barf I was going to be so embarrassed. I was there because I had a bad cold and my mom had insisted I see him so that he could prescribe antibiotics. As he went down the list of typical questions, I panicked when he reached the date of my last period. I hadn’t had my period in three months. Hoping he didn’t notice my hesitation, I just shrugged my shoulders and told him I couldn’t remember. He didn’t seem very concerned and went on with his examination.
I had a sinus infection and I needed medicine—medicine that could hurt my baby if I was pregnant. When he handed me the prescription, I knew it was now or never.
I looked up at him with terror in my eyes and asked, “Doctor if somebody took this medicine and they were pregnant, would it hurt the baby?”
“Well, yes it could,” was his response. “Why are you asking? Are you pregnant?”
All I could muster was a shrug as tears filled my eyes and my bottom lip quivered. I can’t remember a time ever being more scared in my sixteen years.
The doctor took a blood test and told me to call him in the morning to get the results. I remember he patted me on the back as the tears rolled down my face. I didn’t need a blood test to tell me what I already knew. I knew there was a baby growing inside of me.
The doctor looked down sympathetically at the frightened child in front of him, and did the only thing he knew how to do. He gave me the name of an abortion clinic that didn’t require parental consent to perform the procedure.
When I left the office, I didn’t go home right away. I drove around as teenagers will do when they are avoiding something. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going, I was just driving. Without thinking about it, I went to “our” spot – mine and the baby’s father. It was next to a pond on the outskirts of town.
We spent hours on this small piece of ground. We had been happy here. We had laughed and played and had dozens of picnics. But today I found no happiness in those memories as the wind whipped through me and turned my bones to ice. I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth, but it was useless. The cold was coming from deep inside of me and I felt as if I was drowning in confusion and fear. I was unable to move or fight or save myself, the terror gripped at me and was threatening to destroy me. Once again, at a crossroads in my life, I was completely alone.
Raul, the baby’s father, was the only person I had allowed myself to get close to in Oregon. We met at the Smucker’s cannery. He had been on the inspection line two belts over from me the first time I saw him. We wore hair nets and were covered in berry juice and had a sticky, sweet aroma that made our clothes stink. Still, he had a smile that lit up the room and made my heart jump. It would have been impossible for me not to notice him and be drawn to him.
Within just a few weeks of meeting, we went on our first date. We had seen a movie and then wound up in a park where, under the stars, we had our first picnic. Picnics were our thing.
Raul wasn’t like any of the boys I had grown up with. He and his family were immigrants from Mexico and he had been raised in Portland since he was eight. I felt connected to him instantly because his family struggled financially and his mom was raising him alone. Even though I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I remember she was one of the most open and warm people I had ever met.
After our first date, Raul and I started seeing each other nearly every day. My mother did not approve of my new romance. He was two years older than me and on top of that, not only was he Catholic, but he was also the wrong race. He was a Lamanite.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care what my mother wanted or what she thought of me; instead, I wanted to be with Raul more than anything. I was in love. I started sneaking out of our second-story apartment to be with Raul and having him stay over on nights when my mom had to work.
Looking back on it now with an adult’s perspective and maturity, I’m sure my new behavior had very little to do with Raul. I believe it had everything to do with what happened [in Montana]. It is impossible to survive that kind of a violation of trust and come away unchanged or unscathed. I needed Raul to make me forget that night. I had to make it disappear.
By the end of the summer, only two months since we had met, I had sex with Raul for the first time. I can’t say I really wanted to do it, I was afraid Raul would leave me if I didn’t have sex with him. I couldn’t lose him; he was all I had. I had no friends in this new town, my sister was gone and my mother was too exhausted from working all night. I had no one, except Raul.
Our first time, he had threatened to break up with me if we didn’t do it soon. I remember thinking that I just wanted to get it over with. As I left his house after that first time together, I expected to be struck by lightning and killed. I believed that by committing the sin of premarital sex, I destroyed any chance I had of getting into heaven. The truly sad reality was that I didn’t care. I was so filled with hurt and anger and devastation that I really had no regard for my mortal or my eternal life.
I didn’t have sex because I wanted to feel pleasure. In fact, most of the time, I didn’t really enjoy having sex at all. Instead, I found myself distracted when I was in Raul’s arms. If I gave him sex, he gave me the love and affection I needed. What I wanted was something, anything that would make me feel normal. It was perhaps the first time in my entire life that I felt like a regular teenager. Back in Choteau, my biggest wish was just to be normal. Well, in my mind, having sex with your boyfriend was the final step to fitting in and being accepted. The trouble was, there was no one in my new life to accept me or for me to fit in with.
The fact that Raul and I were having sex didn’t make us any different from all of our friends. We did what most teenagers do. But what made Raul and I stand out from everyone else is that we made a baby. We weren’t able to hide what we were doing or pretend it never happened.
In my Sunday school class, most of the kids were having sex. I once sat outside church on a beautiful Sunday morning in the family car of one of my friends. We had skipped out of class and I sat in the front while two of my friends had sex in the back seat of the car. Everyone was doing it, but I was the only one who got pregnant.
In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter who was having sex and who was not; all that mattered was I was too young and naïve to have sex. I can see that now. I never slept with Raul because I thought I was going to marry him. It was just simply every time he wasn’t around, I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. And the way to keep him around was to have sex with him.
To Raul, I was nothing special. I was simply his girlfriend and in his “big city” life, having sex was ordinary and relationships were temporary. He broke up with me just after Halloween. For him, it had just been casual. For me, it might have cost me forever.
After we broke up, my mom found out I was having sex. She found a letter I was going to send to my sister at college. I came home from school and I saw the letter, unfolded and lying on the kitchen counter. At that moment, I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach because I knew that my mom knew.
The argument we had was quick and it was loud.
“Deborah Anne,” she began her attack, “what on earth were you thinking? How long have you been having sex?”
“Just once,” I lied. “We only did it one time, I swear.”
“We are moving back to Montana,” she yelled at me. “Go and pack your things right this minute! We are leaving tomorrow. Moving here was the biggest mistake I ever made. At least in Choteau, I could keep an eye on you.”
I sat there in silence, choking on everything I wanted to say. I wanted to scream at her and tell her everything I had been feeling and thinking. I wanted to say in her precious, little community no one had ever told her I was getting drunk every weekend. I was offered more drugs in Choteau than I ever had been in Oregon, I had been to parties where people had sex right next to me, and if I had wanted to have sex, she couldn’t stop it no matter where we lived.
Yet instead of speaking, the walls of the room started to close in on me. The panic attack always came when I thought of Choteau and what had happened to me there. I don’t remember much after that; all I know is the room started spinning, my heart was racing and I felt like I was suffocating.
I couldn’t go back to Montana. I no longer had the survival skills to endure living there. If I had a difficult time fitting in before, now it would be impossible. I couldn’t go back to being the simple, small-town girl. I couldn’t go back to the politics and popularity competitions; not after what I had been through. All these thoughts started turning in my head and I had to escape; I had to get out of there.
My mom was still yelling at me although I hadn’t heard anything she was saying. I stood up and made my way towards the front door. She got in my way and cornered me just as Jimmy had. I reacted. I threw her up against the wall and I heard a loud crack as her arm slammed into the wall and broke. I was terrified. I heard her cry out as I ran out the front door. I never meant to hurt her, but nevertheless, I can never forgive myself for doing that.
I ran away that night. I was a statistic. I was a teenage runaway. My life had gone from good little “Molly Mormon,” to sexually active teenager who had gone off the reservation.
I believe I was gone for a day or two; it’s all a blur. I ran to the home of my former bishop in a neighboring town and he took me in. I don’t know what was going through his head as he opened the door to his home in the middle of the night and found me standing on his doorstep. He knew me as a good little girl. He only knew the sweet, religious façade that was for “show” at church meetings. I knew the bishop would help me and he did. He showed me a great deal of compassion. He called my mother and acted as the mediator between us. He helped negotiate my return home. I only had one demand: that we never move back to Montana. My mom agreed.
I went home with very little drama. While I was gone, my mom had ransacked my room and thrown away every single item that had anything to do with Raul. After I came home, my mom didn’t speak to me for weeks unless it was necessary. Our home was very quiet and cold. I knew our relationship would never be the same.
She took me to see my current bishop and told him everything that had happened. He asked me every dirty detail of what I had done with Raul. He asked me to explain specifically what we had done together. I lied to him just like I had lied to my mother.
“I only did it once,” I reiterated. “But I knew it was wrong so I never did it again.”
“Debbie, the power of Satan is strong,” he began his holy lecture. “You have transgressed against the teachings of the church and you need to repent. It will not be easy. Your Heavenly Father loves you and wants to you to find your way back. For now, you are disfellowshipped from the church, which means you can’t take the sacrament, you can’t pray in public, and you can’t participate in any church meetings. Also, you are not to be alone with anyone from the opposite sex. Do you understand?”
I simply nodded.
He gave me a copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness by the prophet Spencer W. Kimball. Each week, he gave me a reading assignment that we talked about when we met. The book explained to me that on my current path, I was doomed to an eternity of loneliness and unhappiness. But there was still hope for my salvation if I repented and realigned myself with the principles of the church; I could still achieve exaltation.
After leaving the bishop’s office that night with my mom, I wondered how much worse it could get. And then I got pregnant. I wondered if I had finally solidified my eternal damnation.
I stood there at the pond, the afternoon of my doctor’s appointment for what must have been well over two hours. The sun began to set and I was freezing and could no longer avoid going home.
Before I turned to leave, I looked up into the sky. At that moment, I doubted everything I had ever been told about God and religion and faith. I really had no idea if there was a God or if He listened to prayers.
So I didn’t pray; instead, I spoke.
I defiantly looked up and stated, “If I’m pregnant, I promise you this – I will have an abortion.”
With that, I turned and walked back to my car and drove home.
Outside the door of our apartment, I was greeted by the smell of dinner. My stomach lurched in protest and I leaned my head against the door. I was exhausted by the events of the day and was dreading what was on the other side of the door. I had no idea how I was going to tell my mother that she was going to be a grandmother.
When I stepped inside, I watched my mother for a moment and pondered the best way to bring up the topic of my pregnancy. I decided the best thing to do was to just blurt it out – kind of like tearing off a bandage. I opened my mouth, but before I could get the words out, she turned and noticed me standing in the doorway.
She had a paranoid, suspicious look on her face.
“The bishop wants to see you,” she spit out at me. “I can’t imagine what you did this time.”
She turned her back on me and went back to cooking our dinner. I couldn’t blame her for wondering when the next shoe was going to drop, considering the events of the past year.
Nonetheless, the moment to confess my pregnancy to my mom was gone in the blink of an eye.
Puzzled and curious, I ate as much as my stomach would allow and hurried over to the bishop’s office. I knew he could not know I was pregnant. The doctor had no idea I was Mormon and wouldn’t have known who to call. My stomach was still relatively flat and, as far as I knew, my mom was still clueless.
The bishop’s office was almost as familiar to me as my own home. I had spent many hours in his office talking about repentance and the sin of pre-marital sex. Most bishops’ offices all over the Mormon Church look exactly the same way. They all have big desks with candy dishes at the corner, comfortable chairs, and pictures of Jesus Christ all over the walls.
There is one picture of Jesus that has always stood out in my mind. I found it was strange that the bishop would have this painting hanging in his office, because it is a complete contradiction of the Mormon teachings. The picture shows Jesus standing in a crowd of faithful saints. They are cast in sunshine, surrounded by beauty and Jesus’ love. They looked warm and at peace. Jesus is standing in the middle of these saints, smiling at them with His arms outstretched, welcoming them into His presence.
The painting showed a peace and happiness I never imagined could be possible. I have always wondered if Jesus would ever look at me like that. I didn’t know if he could ever love someone like me.
In the same painting, behind Jesus is a crowd of sinners cast in darkness. They are crawling on the ground; they are crying, begging, and reaching up to Jesus, who has His back to them. They are covered in dirt and look very sad.
The reason this picture has always confused me is because it goes against everything I have ever been taught. I had read the Bible and the Book of Mormon several times and, even if I didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ, I felt I understood what kind of man He was. And if the picture was really a portrait of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t He have been turned towards the sinners, trying to save them? As far as I have read and understood, Jesus never turned His back on people who needed Him.
And what about the saints who were standing with Him? If they were truly Christians, wouldn’t they have been down with the sinners trying to help them as well? I have always been taught that true saints are humble and would have been right next to Christ, reaching down in fellowship to the sinners.
The bishop always asked me to open our meetings with a prayer. I never felt comfortable praying in front of other people. I never really knew if I was praying to someone or if I was just talking to the air. We started the meeting heads bowed, in prayer. After that, the bishop got straight to the point. I will never forget what he said to me that night.
“Debbie, I was meeting with a counselor from LDS Social Services today and we were going over a video that is going to be shown to the young men and young women this Sunday. The video is about teenage pregnancy and the sin of abortion. As she was going over the video, your name kept popping into my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Debbie, are you pregnant? And, if you are, are you thinking of having an abortion?”
The expression on my face must have given away my horror, because I never even spoke one word. By the look on my face, he had his answers.
“Have you told your mom?” the bishop asked.
I lowered my head and answered simply, “No.”
I had never felt more alone. Raul had left me. My sister was away at college. My relationship with my mom was not great and we were barely speaking. I was in a new town and had barely had the chance to make any friends and none of them would understand what I was going through.
So, I sat there alone in the bishop’s office, hung my head and cried.
I didn’t cry because I was ashamed or because I felt guilty; I cried because I was still a child and I was scared. I was terrified of what lay ahead.
Growing up, I heard a joke that sums up what happened after the fateful meeting with the bishop.
It is the story of a man who travels to Egypt and wants to rent a car in order to see the sights. He quickly finds all of the cars in the small town have been rented. But he refuses to give up and travels to a nearby village and asks the owner of the sole car rental business for a vehicle. He is told there are no cars left, but the owner would be willing to allow the man to rent his camel.
Left with no other option, the man decides to rent the camel. The instructions for the camel are a bit unorthodox, as the owner acquired the animal from a preacher who was passing through town some years back. To get the camel to go, the man was told to say, “Thank God!” And to get the camel to stop, the man was told to say “Amen!”
The man takes off on his camel at a healthy trot. He wants the camel to go faster so he yells, “Thank God!” The camel takes off running. Not too long into his ride, the man sees a cliff up ahead and they are headed right for it. In his panic, he can’t recall what he needs to say in order to get the animal to stop. He tries, “Whoa!” The camel continues. He tries, “Stop!” Again, nothing happens.
Finally, just as the camel is about to take them both over the cliff and to certain death, he remembers what he needs to say and emphatically shouts, “Amen!”
The camel skids to a halt just at the edge of the cliff. The man leans back on the camel, out of breath, heart hammering in his chest, and gratefully exclaims, “Thank God!”
I have heard that joke told several times during church services and it always receives a hearty laugh from the congregation.
Once the bishop found out I was pregnant, I was up on the camel and we were headed towards the cliff. The bishop told my mom. She was not surprised. She was a smart woman and had noticed that she hadn’t bought any tampons for three months and had figured out I was pregnant. But when they both were aware of my condition, I had no control over what was happening and didn’t know what the magic word was to make it all stop.
Having an abortion was no longer an option. Mormons consider abortion equivalent to murder and I was forbidden from terminating my pregnancy. Looking back on the situation now, I don’t believe I would have gone through with an abortion. That day at the pond I was scared and overwhelmed and I was looking for an escape route. Deep down, I knew abortion was something that would not have been the right choice for me.
I believe if it had just been my mother and I struggling through my pregnancy together, my son would still be a part of my life today. My mom told me that decisions about my baby were my own to make. She told me she would support me no matter what I decided and she would never leave my side.
Unfortunately, however, my mom and I were not alone. We were part of a church that didn’t allow its members to make choices for themselves. We were on the camel and there was no magic word we could say so we could get off.
The bishop immediately set up an appointment with a counselor at LDS Social Services. It was my understanding the appointment was for the purpose of rebuilding the relationship with my mom. The bishop felt my mom and I needed family therapy to help rebuild our relationship.
When we got to the agency, it was nearly empty. A receptionist greeted us with a fake, insincere smile I had seen countless times at church meetings. The counselor, Bishop Egbert, was very tall and skinny and he had a kind face. He ushered my mom and I to the back of the agency. I was surprised when he showed me into the conference room alone and told me to wait. He took my mother away and the two of them disappeared down the hallway.
I sat down at one end of a very long table. The silence was almost overwhelming. I didn’t like silence; it gave me too much time to think. Finally, Bishop Egbert came back rolling a television and VCR on a cart. He fiddled with the cords for a moment, put in a tape and started the video. He placed his hand on my shoulder, told me to watch the program and said he would be back for me later.
The film was about teenage pregnancy and adoption. It talked about how I had choices and I had options and how LDS Social Services would be there with me every step of the way, no matter what I decided. However, the only choice offered to me in the movie was adoption. The movie outlined what I could expect from the agency and how placing my baby for adoption was the right thing to do.
I have no idea what happened to my mother while I was watching the movie. It didn’t take me long to figure out we had not come to the agency to talk about our relationship. We were here to talk about my pregnancy and what we were going to do about it.
When we came back together in Bishop Egbert’s office, everything was different. My mom wouldn’t even look at me.
When we were all settled in, Bishop Egbert turned to me and said, “Debbie, your mom has some things she would like to say to you.” He looked over at my mom and prodded, “Bobbie, tell your daughter what you told me.”
My mom still wouldn’t look at me. As I turned toward her, I could see tears rolling down her face and she was clutching a well-used tissue. It took her a long time before she began speaking.
“Debs, you can’t have the responsibility of being a mother and still have the benefits of being a child. If you choose to be a mom and keep the baby, you can’t live in my home. Once the baby is born I want you to have your own home and pay your own bills. You can no longer live with me.”
I was stunned. I could not respond. I turned away from her and stared straight ahead. If I looked over at her again, I was afraid I would break down in tears. I believe that my mother had spent the hour we had been apart being manipulated and coerced by Bishop Egbert. It had only taken that short time to turn her against me.
“Debbie, your mother loves you very much,” Bishop Egbert began his mediation of our situation. “What she is trying to say is you are still a child yourself and in no place to take on the responsibility of raising a baby. We believe that giving your baby up for adoption is the selfless thing to do. If you really love your baby, it is really the best choice for both of you.”
Once again, I had no words.
“Why don’t you take a few days and think about it, okay?” he asked.
I looked up at him and nodded.
What happened after that is mostly a blur. Bishop Egbert and my mom discussed payment for medical bills and other compensation if I placed the baby with their agency. I just sat there in stunned silence as the world went on around me.
After the meeting at LDS Social Services, my terror kicked up a notch. I was terrified of being pregnant. When I was facing this situation, I knew it would be tough, but I also always knew my mom would be right next to me. Our relationship growing up had never been perfect, but she was my mother and my only source of support. And now she was turning her back on me.
To make matters worse, unbeknownst to me, Bishop Egbert talked my mom into sending me to one of the LDS Social Services foster homes.
The Mormon foster homes were created so families with pregnant teenage daughters didn’t have to go through the shame and disgrace of sitting in church with them every Sunday as their bellies grew and the church members gossiped behind their backs. These homes also served as a means of isolating the girls from their families, their friends and the fathers of the babies so all the decisions they made regarding their unborn children could be influenced by the church.
I knew something was wrong when, on a Saturday morning in January, my mother surprised me with a trip to the Oregon coast. It seemed as if she just decided at the spur of the moment to drive over one hundred miles to look at the ocean. We spent the day walking along the streets and looking in all of the shops and then we went out to the beach. It was very cold that day with a wind that felt like it was cutting through me. The town and the beach were all but deserted.
We found a very long pier that went out over the ocean; it was a very beautiful scene. My mom leaned on the railing and stared out over the ocean lost in thought. I just stood next to her, waiting for the shoe to drop.
My mom reached over, grasped my hand and quietly said, “Deb, I brought you out here because I wanted to spend one last day together. I’ve made arrangements for you to go and live in one of the foster homes during your pregnancy. You are leaving tonight.”
“What?” I choked. “I won’t go. Please mom, don’t send me away!”
“You give me no other choice. You won’t make a decision about the baby and I can’t deal with all of this anymore.”
“Fine, mom,” I said as I turned away from her. “But if you send me away, I’ll just run away again and this time, I promise that I will never come home. You will never see me again.”
“That is your choice, but if you run away you have to remember that you can’t ever come home. Even if you change your mind at some point, it won’t be an option.”
The silence in the car was deafening. We had a two-hour drive ahead of us and neither one of us spoke. As I got closer to home, I got more and more frightened at being sent away. It was somewhere on the highway to Portland where fear took over and began dictating my decisions; it was a familiar scenario in my young life.
“Mom,” I began, “If I agree to put my baby up for adoption, can I stay?”
“You also have to promise you will never see Raul again,” she responded.
I hesitated. “Okay,” I finally answered.
My mom let out a huge sigh, “Okay.”
Our agreement was that I would give the baby up if she would let me stay with her during the pregnancy. I never wanted to place my baby for adoption, but I was terrified that if I didn’t agree to it, she would have kicked me out onto the streets. The camel was running and every day got closer and closer to the cliff.
I had two bishops in my life. I saw my ward bishop every week to see if I was making progress in my repentance. Bishop Egbert met with me every week to talk about the adoption process. Both of them told me the same things. I was told single mothers cannot be sealed to their children in the temple. They must have a father in order to go to the temple and eventually the celestial kingdom. They both told me if a baby is born into the world that wasn’t protected by this sealing ordinance, his or her eternal life was in danger. Without an eternal family, my baby would never be allowed into the celestial kingdom where God and Jesus live and it would be my fault.
I was also told because of my sin and pregnancy I had already shown I was unworthy of raising children. I could never give my child the proper direction and religious guidance. Both of my bishops told me they felt any child born out of wedlock needed to be saved from his or her single mother and should be given to good, upstanding members to be raised in righteousness. If I really loved my child, I would know this was the right choice.
In my adulthood, when I was going through my divorce, one of my Mormon “friends” (I use that term loosely) once told me she was happy I had placed my baby for adoption because that was one less child I could corrupt and lead down the path to moral destruction. That is exactly how the bishops and the members of the church viewed me because I had gotten pregnant.
If Raul had been a Mormon or had been wiling to convert to the religion and marry me, things would have been much different. The goal is to create an eternal family for the baby. If Raul had married me, he would have been held up as an example of a mature young man who took care of his responsibilities and saved me from my mistake.
Regardless of how anyone at the time viewed the situation, the idea of converting Raul to the Mormon Church and marrying him was out of the question. Most importantly he wanted nothing to do with me. He didn’t care that I was pregnant except to say he was completely against the idea of adoption. He once asked me to give my baby to his sister to raise. Other than that, he didn’t want to be a part of my life.
With marriage out of the question, the only solution for me in the eyes of the Mormon Church was adoption. No one ever asked me what I wanted. My two bishops never asked. My mother never asked. I was never asked my opinion or my feelings about the idea of adoption. From the moment the bishop and my mother found out about my pregnancy, I didn’t make one decision that impacted the future of my baby.
I was in an impossible situation. I desperately wanted to keep my baby but my mother and the church were telling me if I wanted their help and support, I had to do as I was told and give my baby away.
In my naïve and immature imagination, I went along with my mom and the church, believing at the last minute, Raul would step in and save me from this nightmare. I did some research at the library and found out if he stepped in exercised his rights as the father, then LDS Social Services couldn’t take away the baby. I even got the name and number of an attorney who would help him. Raul took the piece of paper I wrote the information down on and he simply threw it away.
I attended weekly classes at LDS Social Services after my meetings with Bishop Egbert. The classes were with a local registered nurse who was Mormon and consisted of proper prenatal care, visits to the local labor and delivery wing at the hospital, Lamaze training and explanation of changes in my body and what to expect during childbirth.
My weekly meetings with Bishop Egbert were almost always the same. He wanted to find out how I was doing at home and at school. He also explained the adoption process to me. He told me the church leaders in the area would get together to review the files of prospective parents and pray for revelation as to who should receive the baby.
I remember being told about the adoptive family that had been chosen for my baby. They already had one son from a previous adoption two years earlier. Because Raul was a Hispanic-American, my son would most likely have distinctive characteristics that could possibly make him stand out from his adoptive family. I was told the family that had been chosen for my son had a darker complexion, so the ethnic differences would not be so obvious. I was told nothing else about the family who was chosen to adopt my son.
Aside from the weekly trips to LDS Social Services, I had almost no social life. At school, I really didn’t have any friends. I had made friends when I first started school in Oregon but once word got out I was pregnant, most of those people didn’t talk to me anymore.
Most of the kids in my classes at school had known Raul his whole life and were understandably loyal to him. Other friends had parents who wouldn’t allow their children to be friends with me. But I did have one friend. Much to the disappointment of the young women’s president in our ward, her daughter Tricia became my best friend and agreed to be my Lamaze coach.
Tricia never treated me any differently. She would go with me to Lamaze class and afterwards we would go for ice cream or shopping at the mall. She was never embarrassed to be seen with me, unlike many of the other people in my life. And other than the Lamaze classes, we never talked about my pregnancy.
Tricia lived her life as Jesus did. In me, she saw a young woman who was broken and in one of the worst situations of her life. I had made some horrible and immature choices. Every day was a battle just to hold my head up and make it through the day. But instead of judgment, Tricia showed me kindness and love and friendship. She never criticized me or condemned my decisions.
It is difficult to describe what it is like to go to a brand new high school as a pregnant teenager. Being the new kid in school is challenging enough. Tricia was the most popular girl in our class and I know she risked a lot being my friend and being seen with me in public.
One particularly nasty day, Raul and I got kicked out of the library for getting into a yelling match during our lunch break. Raul had been denying he was the father of the baby and I had confronted him about it. As I walked out into the commons area that was overflowing with students, someone yelled a very derogatory comment about me and everyone began to laugh.
I ran (as best a pregnant woman can) to the bathroom and collapsed in tears at the back of one of the stalls. Over my sobs, I heard the bathroom door quietly open, then steps on the tile coming toward me. As the door swung open, there stood Tricia with the most sympathetic and caring look on her face. She stepped through the stall door and helped me up off the floor. She gave me hug that lasted several minutes. When I stopped crying and my breathing had returned to normal, she stepped back.
“Boys can be so stupid sometimes,” was all she said. We broke into laughter that could probably be heard all the way out into the hallway. Tricia helped me laugh when I felt even a simple smile was impossible.
Sometimes, Tricia would come over after a hard day and simply sit next to me. We wouldn’t speak. She just sat with me on my couch or on my bed. I would cry and she would hold my hand. I feel if Christ had been there with me, He would have done the exact same thing as Tricia did. I believe He was there with me. He sent Tricia to me. She carried me through one of the most heartbreaking and impossible times in my life.
Months went by, school let out for the summer and the day of my son’s birth finally came. For most people, it was just an ordinary summer day but for me, it changed my whole life. It was the day I became a mother. Childbirth was very hard and very painful—more than I was prepared for. Epidurals were still new so they wouldn’t give it to me until I was almost eight centimeters dilated. Tricia was by my side the entire, grueling day. My son was delivered after twelve hours of labor. He was underweight and suffered from jaundice, which I am told is one of the side effects of having a baby before your body is mature enough to handle it.
The drama of childbirth was nothing compared to the hours and days that followed. My mother tried to have Raul barred from the hospital. Security had turned him away several times and was almost to the point of calling the authorities. I had no idea any of this was happening, but once I found out, I insisted they let him in.
When I found out the Raul was at the hospital, I had a renewed hope he had come to his senses and had decided to be a father. Still, it didn’t happen. Raul came in and sat with me and our baby. We each took turns holding him. We both cried. Raul brought me a rose. In the end, he left me there all alone to deal with what was about to happen.
I was awake most of the night. The nurses kept coming in to take my vital signs and help me use the restroom. At dawn the next morning, before I was even served breakfast, before the anesthesia from the night before had even completely worn off, my room was closed off to visitors and Bishop Egbert came in with his stack of legal papers.
I felt strangled. I felt betrayed by everyone who knew me and knew I didn’t want to do this. Yet, there I sat in a hospital bed, body bruised and bleeding from recent childbirth, too weak to fight back. I was faced with the fact if I didn’t go through with the adoption, my baby and I would be discharged from the hospital as homeless street urchins. All hope drained out of the room and out of my life, as the harsh reality hit me; I had no choice but to move forward.
In the end I signed all of the papers. It was done.
I was devastated. I felt like my baby had died. I mourned the loss of my child. I was discharged from the hospital later that day and once I was in the privacy of my room at home, I could no longer hold in the tears and I completely broke down. My mom went to work and left me all alone.
I called Bishop Egbert later that same day and told him I had changed my mind. I told him I wanted my baby back and I had made a mistake. He listened very intently and then reassured me I had made the right choice. He also said I couldn’t change my mind and my son was already gone.
After that time in my life, my mom and I picked up and moved on with our lives as if nothing had ever happened. We never spoke of the baby. I went back to school the next year, pretending everything was fine and I had not spent the summer becoming a mother and then losing that miracle all in the same breath.
The first Mother’s Day after my son’s birth, my mom forced me to go to church, even though I begged her to let me stay home. It is a tradition at the end of Sacrament meeting the young men give each mother in the ward a small token of appreciation. This particular year it was a flower; a yellow rose.
The bishop asked that all the mothers stand and be acknowledged for their hard work and dedication to their families. I just sat there with my head hanging, holding back the tears, hoping no one noticed. I was a mother; but yet I wasn’t.
As all of the activity went on around me, I began to cry. Then, unexpectedly, a small yellow rose was placed into my lap. I looked up to see one of the young men in the ward looking down on me with understanding and love in his eyes. He smiled at me. It was a moment I will never forget for as long as I live.
I found out just over a year later that the conversation I had with Bishop Egbert the day after my son was born was a complete lie. He slipped up in one of the follow-up counseling sessions and told me that my son had been in the hospital for a week before he was transported to a foster home. He wasn’t placed with his adoptive family until he was well over two weeks old. I also found out through researching Oregon law that legally, I had plenty of time to change my mind and get my son back; I had one year. Bishop Egbert was a liar.
I had been lied to and manipulated during one of the most painful and vulnerable times in my life, and this hurt almost as badly as losing my baby. The Mormon Church stole my baby from me. The church permanently severed my parental rights because they saw me as an inferior mother who could not be trusted to raise a child.
Some may say that regardless of the circumstances, I did the right thing. It may be true. My son may be much better off than he would have been being raised by me. His adoptive mother and father could give him one thing I never could: a family where his parents lived together. Honestly, they could probably afford to give him much more than I ever could have.
But no matter how the situation turned out, the reality of the fact is that I never made the decision. The choice was never placed in my hands. I was never allowed to be a mother to my son and make the decision about his future. All of my choices were influenced and manipulated by the Mormon Church.
What disturbs me about the entire adoption ordeal is that I wasn’t strong enough to fight back. I was controlled by fear and I didn’t fight for my son; for my family.
I believe my son was never told he was adopted and may never know about me. I received a letter from his adoptive mom sent through the agency a year after his birth. In the letter she told me how grateful she was for my sacrifice and then went on about how uncanny it was that my son resembled so many members of her family. I believe it was her way of telling me, because of the way it turned out, there would never be a reason to tell my son he was adopted. She told me my son is with his eternal family and he is where he belongs.
Perhaps if my son never knows about me, it may be what is best for him. He was raised in a devout Mormon home and therefore may come to view me as critically and harshly as those people who took him from me. He may see himself as inferior because of the way he came into the world. If he truly believes in Mormon doctrine, he was created out of sin; he is an imperfection. I hope someday if he does learn the truth, he realizes how desperately he is loved and how perfect I believe he is. If not, he might be better off never knowing.
Every one of his birthdays since that summer has been filled with regret and wondering where my son was and what he was doing. I may never know. Each Mother’s Day has been spent with a bit of sadness because my family is incomplete. Baby #1 is always missing.
They say time heals all wounds. I don’t really believe that. Time just puts distance between you and the painful memory, allowing the pain to hurt less. It never truly goes away. At least that is how it has been for me and Baby #1. I will never stop crying for him, missing him and hoping for the day when he can come home to me.
Deborah Lucas currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with her husband and six children. She has earned two Master's degrees from Northern Arizona University: a Master of Education and a Master of Arts in English. She is an English professor at several colleges and universities in the Phoenix area.