Helen Westover

Helen_Westover-148x204Helen Westover — an adoptee, conceived in rape, Helen is from New York and is available for speaking.

I was at one time a “pro-choice” feminist. A liberal as well, I boycotted grapes and lettuce, spoke out against the war in Vietnam, and voted Democratic. This because my friends and I saw ourselves as compassionate, humane defenders of the underdog, the persecuted minorities. We agitated for civil rights for all. Being “pro-choice” was a part of this, a sort of “seamless garment” of the liberal dogma. Women were also disadvantaged, and to me, legal abortion was the lynchpin of true liberation. But at the time, I was unaware that I was a member of the most persecuted minority of all.

I’ve always known I was adopted. Not only do I remember the couple who were to become my adoptive parents, I remember being in another place, with “another mother.” Research has demonstrated that children who had chaotic, disrupted lives tend to have remarkable memories, very early memories, of what has happened to them. This is particularly true of children who have been in a succession of foster homes. The impression made upon the mind of a young child, or even that of a baby, who has experienced loss and abandonment inherent in being torn from “home” is an impression difficult to forget. When I arrived at my adoptive home at two and a half years old, I wondered about my “other mother” and all the other children. And from time to time, especially if I heard sad music, a feeling of utter desolation and grief would wash over me; another mystery about me to ponder, for there were so many puzzles to decipher.

Not knowing my background, my biological roots, posed many problems for me as I grew. Going to the doctor, and being constantly asked “Does this run in your family?”, and being unable, over and over to answer; having the dreaded assignment of the Family Tree inflicted upon me at school . . .
Which family?! If I name my adoptive relatives, I’d think it’s not really true; then will I be lying?

But my “real” family . . . who are they, and who was I, really?

These preoccupations waxed and waned. But the questions became particularly acute after I married, and in 1970, much to my and everyone’s surprise, I gave birth to identical twin girls (My son had been born 2 years earlier.) Naturally, as I strolled down the street with my three darlings, passersby would marvel over the twins, and without exception I was asked, “Do twins run in your family?” Enough! I was determined to find out.

My first step was to look up the social worker who was in charge of my case twenty years earlier. Luckily, she was still in the area, though retired. She came to our home and gave me a great deal of information. She said that I had been in two foster homes. I lived in the first one from the age of two months, and this worker had me removed and placed in another when I was eighteen months old. The reason for the transfer was that I had been abused and severely neglected in the first home. At the age of 18 months, I was so developmentally delayed that I was unable to sit up unaided. I had been starved as well. It was generally thought that I was retarded. Though I made some gains in the second home (which I remember vividly), the
consensus was that I would never make it through high school, much less get through it. So this was why I was so “old” when I was finally placed in a permanent home – the prognosis scared all of the other prospective adoptive parents away.

The social worker told me just a bit about my birth mother, but without any identifying information. She had been in her early twenties when she had me. Farther than this, the worker wouldn’t go. She did say that she had been certain that the folks who did finally adopt me were wonderful people, since they didn’t let the pessimistic prognosis of the “experts” dissuade them from adopting me. Doctrinaire environmentalists, my adoptive parents believed more in nurture than nature, believing that love and intellectual stimulation would prove the experts wrong. So it was. I was reading books by the age of four.

But my need to know my heritage, my roots, my need to know the whole truth drove me to dig deeper. I had to confront all of it. So with the help of an organization called ALMA – Adoptees Liberation Movement Association), I searched for and found my birth mother. She agreed to see me, and the reunion was awesome, in the truest sense of that trivialized word. For the first time in my life, I looked at the face of the woman who gave me birth. I spent much of the time gazing at her abdomen, finally truly knowing that I was “real”, like the unadopted, since I dwelt within that body. Hers was that body. From my birth mother I learned that, yes, twins run in the family. My mother was herself a twin, though her sibling died at birth. I have identical twin half sisters. My musical ability (of which there was NONE in my adoptive family) comes from my maternal aunt — another mystery solved, since I am a musician. Then I received information I hadn’t thought to request.

Twenty-nine years before, my mother went on a date. At some point in the evening, she was raped by five men. One of them was my father, though I’ll never know which one.

Reflecting on all this, I saw that I am, incarnate, almost all the “hard cases” which my liberal, feminist sisters and I spoke of with such passion — unwanted, abused, neglected, owing my very existence to an act of brutal sexual assault. The “compassionate” of this age conclude that to head off such tragedy, the child in question is better off dead. Why can’t I agree, now that I have a voice to register my choice? “Humanists” now decide who among us possess “meaningful life” and who do not qualify. They would certainly turn thumbs down on me, since by every one of their standards, my life was hardly “meaningful”. My mother, in her panic and shame, had wanted an abortion, but at the time, the customary method of finding an abortionist was to go about turning over rocks — lucky for me. And how fortunate was I that groups like Planned Parenthood were not yet in the anti-poverty line, helping underclass women like my mother to fight poverty by killing their children?

My “conversion” to pro-life was begun by this discovery, and completed by my study of the evidence, particularly the then relatively new science of fetology. My personal discovery wasn’t enough to bring me into the pro-life movement, but what it did accomplish was to shock me into internal silence. It stilled the rhetoric we pro-choicers used as a substitute for thought. With the cessation of “choice-speak”, I was finally able to face the facts. I found that prenatal people are demonstrably human, and very much alive. At issue in this controversy is the value we assign to this human life, the completely arbitrary value one segment of the population — the born, the “wanted” — gives to another — the pre-born “unwanted”. It is but another chapter in the ancient struggle of the empowered over the powerless. I was forced to look at the faces of those we as feminists had considered the enemy, into the eyes of dismembered, poisoned, butchered human beings.

I found that this is not a “private” issue at all.
It is, instead, the most important human rights struggle of our time.