Dr. Bethaney Tessitore
Thank you very much for reading my story here today. For the past two years I have gone to Zambia, Africa. Due to the high rate of AIDS in sub—Saharan Africa, there are more orphans in Zambia than in any other country of the world. Last year when I was there, I felt compelled to share my testimony of foster care and adoption. I knew that the Zambians would be able to relate to the feeling of being unwanted, unloved, and orphaned. They needed to know that there is more to them as individuals than the circumstances surrounding their conception or who they have in their family unit. There is purpose in their life above and beyond anything that they could ever imagine and unconditional love that can only come from God.
Six days after returning to the states, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a Right To Life Rally. Imagine that…only six days later and God showed Himself to be faithful. He showed me that not only can I impact Zambians on the other side of the world, but I can also have an impact on Americans in my own community as well.
So, today I want to share with you some of my experiences and how those issues have impacted my life.
I was an only child until I was ten years old. One day my mom said to me that I was going to have a baby brother or sister. I asked her if she was pregnant. She said no, that we were going to adopt a child because she couldn’t have babies anymore. The way she said it led me to believe that she had me and then could not have any more children after me. Finally in December, my brother, Josh came to us.
When Josh was a few months old my family was driving through a mall parking lot. I asked my parents when we were going to tell my brother he was adopted. My dad slammed the car into park, took off his seatbelt, and leaned over me, telling me sternly never to bring the subject up again. He is our child now so he never needs to know that he is adopted. It was that night that I learned from my parents that adoption was taboo and never to be brought up again. My brother’s adoption, and unknown to me at the time my adoption as well, was our family secret.
During these times, it never occurred to me that I might also be adopted. That was until I found an obituary for a stillborn baby girl that my mother had. The date was April 7th 1974. My birthday is March 30th 1974. As a result of this discovery as well as others, thus began the process of acceptance into the reality that I was adopted. I didn’t tell my parents any of this because I was afraid of what their reaction would be. My family made it clear that there was a shame and stigma attached to adoption. As a result, I withdrew and never told any of my friends either.
When I was in college, I finally told my best friend that I was adopted. When she still accepted me for who I was and was not ashamed of me, I began to realize that adoption is not necessarily a bad thing. With her support, I called my mom during my senior year at Penn State to tell her everything that I had discovered. When I finally told my mother, she denied it, got upset, and told me I was lying. She woke up my father and put him on the phone. My dad was very supportive and told me that if I ever wanted to search for my birthmother, he would help me.
At that point in time, I had no desire to look for my birthparents. I knew that eventually that time would come when I would want more answers but this was not yet the time.
A few years later my mother died. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to deal with. She was 44, I was 23, and my brother was only 12. Even though she had concealed my adoption and even lied about it, I still loved her more than anyone. I moved out shortly thereafter to attend graduate school. In 2000 following graduation, it was then that I was finally ready to start searching for my birthparents. I definitely did not want to replace my own parents; however, I just needed answers.
In December of 2000, I received a letter of non-identifying information. Reading that letter for the first time was incredible. In a period of five minutes I found out so many things about me; my given name at birth was Stephanie, I found out my birth weight and length, the time of my birth, and my maternal family history. Finding out so many things about yourself at one time really is indescribable. I could not take my eyes off that paper. I just sat there for the rest of the evening, holding that paper in my hands and staring at it.
Two weeks later, I contacted Catholic Charities and started the search for my birthmother. Now all I could do was sit back, be patient, and wait. And wait I did. For over four years I did not hear anything from them.
By May of 2005, I was now residing in Florida. It was then that I received a phone call by Catholic Charities. The case worker who was working on my search said “Bethaney, we found your birthmother. I will give you her phone number and you can call her.” She started by saying “813.” “813, I interrupted! That is Tampa!” “Yes,” my caseworker said. “She lives in FL near you.” What are the chances of that? I lived in Florida for less than one year and within those few months, I find my birthmother living only 20 miles from me! I called her and we met on Memorial Day.
It was amazing to meet her and see what she looked like. She brought pictures of her family and I showed her pictures of me growing up. Finding out some things were incredible. She was in the medical field just like me. She told me that she thought about me every day, especially on my birthday and mother’s day. She had always wanted to look for me but decided not to interfere with my life. She respected me enough to wait until I was ready to contact her. So many of the things she told me were positive. However, others were not quite so uplifting.
My birthmother remained single and had a tough life. She grew up without her mother around and still has no communication with her. She got pregnant with me at age 19, placed me up for adoption, and one year later had a hysterectomy. This was difficult on her because she had always wanted many children. She just was not ready to be a single mother to a child while she was still a teenager. The following year, her older brother and sister, whom she was very close with, died in a car accident. Later on she almost killed herself and another person in a terrible car accident where she was at fault.
In addition to finding out about her difficult life, I also found out many things that no one would really want to hear about their genetic heritage. She told me that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as was her father. Almost all of her family dealt with severe depression and took anti-depressants, and my first cousin, who was seven days older than me, committed suicide a few years before.
In the midst of finding out all of these things about her and her family, I still had a burning desire to find out who the father was. Catholic Charities reported that the birthfather was unknown. My hope was that my birthmother knew who the birthfather was but just didn’t divulge that information to Catholic Charities. When I asked her who the father was, she responded, “I knew you were going to ask me this. I don’t know.” She told me she was dating a black man at the time so it may have been him. Unbeknownst to her, I had already found out that I had genetic testing completed at birth at Children’s Hospital to see if her boyfriend may have been my birthfather. Testing revealed that there was no black parentage present. I shared this information with her and said “So, if it wasn’t him, then who else could it have been?” She was slow to answer. Then she told me that she left Pittsburgh and moved to Tampa for six months in 1973. It was during that time that she started using drugs and drinking heavily. She would go clubbing in downtown Tampa and after those late evening she got involved with many men. As a result, she had no idea who the father could be and could not even begin to guess on names. Although this is the answer I had been expecting, I was still disappointed that I would never be able to find out where half of my DNA came from. I am never going to be able to look my father in his eyes. I am never going to be able to see what traits we share. What made it even stranger for me is that I was conceived in Tampa. My birthfather and his family might be living right next door to me and I would never know it!
After realizing that more conversation on this topic would do nothing to gain more information, we moved on. However, later on in the evening when I was telling a story, my birthmother abruptly interrupted me and said “By the way, I was raped by gunpoint.” For a second I just sat there. I was prepared for her to tell me that I was conceived through a one night stand. And I was prepared for her to tell me she was a prostitute. However, I never thought about the fact that rape could have resulted in my conception. All I could think to ask her was “So, that could be my father.” She responded by saying “Yes, It could be. But that doesn’t matter.”
I was so shocked to hear that I might be alive because of someone else’s anger, lack of self-control, and need for dominance, that I had no idea what to say back to her. I had always assumed that my conception was my birthmother’s fault for not being responsible. But, finding out that I might have been conceived by rape; that is a whole new ball game. Now the birthfather’s selfish behavior led to my birthmother having to endure nine months of horror and a more or less a lifetime of pain and regret.
Months after I moved to Alabama, the idea of me being a product of rape still haunted me. I emailed my birthmother to obtain more details. Two months later she responded to my email saying “Yes, I was raped, but that was not how you were conceived. I was already pregnant with you during the time of the rape. I remember telling the man not to hurt me because I was pregnant.”
After talking to some other people well-versed in the area of rape and incest with experience in counseling birthmothers, I am told that I am likely a product of rape. Birthmothers do not necessarily want their child to find out that they were conceived in rape but the internal desire to express that causes the birthmother to quickly state that they were raped and get that out into the open. Then if the birthmother sees a backing away by the child, the birthmother may perceive that the child is backing away due to the rape and then the she rescinds her first statement and changes her story to promote a better relationship. So, even today, I still do not know the real answer regarding my conception. All I know is that in any case, I was unplanned and unwanted.
Knowing that I was a possible product of rape, I asked the big question that many adoptees want to know. “Did you want to abort me?” The answer was one that I expected, but one that stung never-the-less. “Yes” she responded. “I did.” In 1974, although abortion was legal at the time, it still it wasn’t as accepted as it is today. So, as a result of that and her Roman Catholic upbringing, she chose to give me life.
In the midst of finding out all of this new information from my birthmother, I also spoke with my adoptive grandmother to figure out some of the other missing pieces of my adoption story. One day I found a calendar from 1974. Under June 19th, it read “Bethaney came to us.” I always wondered where I was from March 30th until June 19th, almost two and a half months. Being a healthy, white baby girl, I should have been adopted out by Catholic Charities as soon as I left the hospital. Since there is a long waiting list for white adoptions, I could not figure out how my family got through the entire process so quickly considering that they planned on having their own child up until April 7th. After years of wondering, I finally asked my grandma about that situation. She told me that my mom was devastated by the news of her stillborn baby and no hope of having any more. My grandfather knew someone who worked for Catholic Charities. When my grandpa met with that person, the man said that in fact there was a baby girl in foster care waiting to be adopted. That baby girl was me.
All of the prospective parents on the list to adopt were told about me…a healthy, white baby girl. However, due to the negative maternal history and lack of paternal history, no one wanted to take a chance on raising me. Everyone thought that I would turn out like my birthparents, a promiscuous drug addict and alcoholic, with very little education and no hope for the future. My parents on the other hand had a different opinion. My mom didn’t care anything about my birthparents and they were willing to give me an opportunity to have a productive life. My parents chose me despite the rejection I faced from the rest of the world.
So the process of meeting my birthmother enlightened me to many things about my negative genetic history, possible traumatic conception by rape, and the unimaginable pain and loss felt by my adoptive mother as she gave birth to a stillborn baby. The awareness that not only was I unwanted by my birthmother, but that I was also unwanted by the entire Catholic Charities adoption list, hit me hard. I had no strong connections while in Florida that year – no family, no network of friends, and no church home. I began to question why I even existed. I was taken to the lowest point that I have ever been in my life.
Then in September of 2005, without any prospective jobs available and not enough money to get me through two months, I quit my current job in Florida and I moved to Decatur, Alabama. I needed to get connected into a good church home and decided on one that I had visited several times where my best friend’s husband was one of the pastors. It was during that first year in Alabama that I began to take a step back to the basic foundation of my life and rediscover who I really was.
I got saved in August of 2003 and baptized shortly thereafter. For the next eleven months I was planted in a strong Bible believing church where my spiritual life grew tremendously. I learned more about the Bible in those eleven months than I have the entire 29 years prior. Having learned so many new and troubling details about my life, I realized that in order to experience healing, I would have to go back and apply those Biblical principles that I learned to the overall picture of my life.
I already acknowledged the basic foundation that God created the heaven and the earth. As I began to search the Bible for answers, I slowly realized the magnitude of God’s love and plan for each one of us. In Acts Chapter 17, it states that God made the world and all things therein. It continues on to say that not only did he create us, but he created each of us to live in a specific time period and a specific locale. God has a reason for me living here in the south in 2007. If God plans for us to live in specific regions in certain decades, then that shows me that I am definitely not a mistake. God wants me here for a purpose and planned out my birth, life, and death to accomplish that purpose long before I was ever born.
Earlier on in Matthew, it states that God knows the number of hairs on my head. I have heard and read that verse many times before. However, this time that verse meant something different to me. For God to know the number of hairs on my head, a number that is constantly changing, that must mean that He cares about me. That He thinks I am important. That I matter. That I have value and purpose.
While I was now understanding that God created everyone no matter what the circumstance of their conception, I still needed to process why being adopted had to be part of my life. Essentially adoptees are not wanted by their birthmother and in most situations adoption is not the first choice that couples use to have children. It is a “plan B” scenario when “plan A” does not work.
By opening my eyes and allowing God to show me His divine plan for each of us, I found many verses describing how adoption is the method that God chooses to bring us into His family. I learned that adoption is God’s way of picturing His love for us.
After reading the prevalence of adoption in the Bible and internalizing that, I have realized many things. Since God used the spirit of adoption to call us to be children of God through Jesus Christ, I definitely know there is no stigma in being adopted. Look at the life God chose for Moses, one of the most famous adoptees in all of history. Through being raised in the midst of his enemies, Moses learned the tools and skills that were needed to make him a leader in order to take his own people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.
By acknowledging the power of God in my life and the truth that He has a purpose for me and loves me for who I am, I have accepted the fact that I am an adoptee. I no longer feel the need to keep that fact a secret. I am just as important and can make as much impact here on earth as any planned human being.
Through acquiring knowledge and regaining a close relationship with God, I began to see my life in a whole new way. A life with purpose. A life made through love; the opposite of what most people would say, but it’s true! A life made through His love, which is so much more powerful than any human parents love could ever be!
I began to internalize that the rapist is not my creator. Neither is a promiscuous mother my creator. I am not a child of either one but rather I am a child of God. That is all that matters. Genetics and environment both play a role in who a person grows up to be. But ultimately, a person who allows Jesus Christ to be their savior and turns over the control of their life to Him can become anything that God intends for them to be.
America, however, lost that sense of purpose and love of human life when on January 22, 1973, a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court put all unwanted children’s lives in jeopardy. On that date, Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion. Since that ruling, over 47 million abortions have been performed. That equals approximately 1.5 million abortions every year or one abortion every 20 seconds.
Norma McCorvey who is “Jane Roe” from Roe vs. Wade, announced to the world that she has since changed her mind about abortion. Ms. McCorvey, the woman who is the foundation behind legalization of abortion, is now an active pro-life advocate.
Right now with abortion being legal, approximately 75% of women who conceive a child as a result of rape choose to give life to their baby. Those who choose to abort are four times more likely to die within the next year due to murder, suicide and drug overdose. These women have a much higher rate of divorce, alcoholism, abusive relationships, lowered self-esteem, guilt, and depression.
And as far as incest goes, the story is no different. Giving birth to the baby will help the woman heal. Choosing life also serves to keep more incest from occurring. However, most victims of incest are not given a choice and are coerced into having abortions by their families. Abortion protects the perpetrator by keeping consequences of their immoral behavior hidden. This scenario also makes the woman be not only a victim during the act of incest but also makes her victimized for a second time as she kills the baby within her.
In cases of conception resulting from sexual assault, abortion not only kills an unborn human being, but it also has long-term negative ramifications for the mother as well. Banning abortions with no exceptions to that rule, in reality, protects the physical health and the mental well-being of women who are too emotionally traumatized to make rational decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. On the superficial level, abortion appears to be a good way out of a bad situation. However, only the physical severing of mother/child bond takes place. Abortion never erases the memory and emotional bond between the mother and child. According to many testimonies of victims of sexual assault and incest, giving birth to their baby enabled healing to take place by helping the woman regain a sense of self-worth. Those women who were sexually assaulted and had abortions report that the pain and anguish experienced as a result of abortion was much worse than that associated with the rape. So if you really care about what is best for the well-being of the women, if you really care about victims of sexual assault, you should be 100% pro-life…totally against abortion no matter what the scenario.
My life can be summarized by some lyrics written by Avalon.
There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God
I was unwanted. I was unloved. I was orphaned. But God has no orphans. He gives us that promise when he says in Hebrews 13:5 when God tells us that he will NEVER leave us! He will NEVER forsake us! Listen to the magnitude of those versus. God will NEVER abandon us. He will NEVER deny that we are His children. Once we are children of God, we are Children of God forever!
I want to live. I am thankful that my birthmother gave me that right to live. Please, give other children like me, children who may be a product of rape, children who may be a product of incest, children who just weren’t planned or wanted, give them the right to live just like what I had. GIVE THEM A RIGHT TO LIFE.
Dr. Bethaney Tessitore, Au.D. email@example.com www.myspace.com/bethaneytessitore Congratulations to Bethaney on her recent adoption of two foster girls!