“I thought I was a broken person.” That’s what I explained to my husband just after I told him my story.
My mom married my stepfather while she was still pregnant with me, so it wasn’t until years later that I found out he was not my biological father. I never knew my biological father — it was a family secret, and to this day, I still don’t know him. This family secret was not the only one, but secrets can become normal for someone unless they are revealed.
Growing up was “normal” for me, I thought. I have three younger brothers — all who were born to my mother and stepfather. We did the things families normally do: camping, fishing, and celebrating birthdays and holidays. We went to movies, laughed together and enjoyed playing outside. We occasionally we went to church. One thing which wasn’t truly normal however, was the secret between me and my stepfather. From as young as I can remember, he sexually molested me. I knew nothing different. As I said, I thought it was normal. This was a secret no one knew – a secret he told me I must keep, and I was too terrified to tell anyone anyway. I’m guessing someone around us may have suspected something, but we moved a lot — five times by the time I was in 7th grade.
This horrible secret went on for years and probably would have never been completely revealed until one day when I started having abdominal pain which got worse as the day went on. I told my mom and she brought me to the doctor. At the age of thirteen, I was in labor, and I was absolutely scared to death! I was worried about mom and how devastating this would be for her to find out, and fear of what would happen next. But while in the hospital, no one asked me who the father was. Today, as a heath care professional, this would have been the first thing I would have asked, and I would not have wanted a 13-year-old mother to be sent home without knowing she was safe.
Now, as you all know, you must first be pregnant before you can go into labor, right? Yes, I had been pregnant for several months. I remember feeling the baby move, but I was scared, and perhaps in denial. I was 13, and although my body was feeling different, I really never showed. Without showing, nobody asked any questions, and without questions, the secret could continue, and I just lived it. This was my “normal.” But going into labor was the inconvenient truth nobody could keep covered.
My mom is an incredibly strong woman. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind at that time, but she never left my side. What pain must she have endured wondering who had done this to her daughter? She later told me that her immediate thought was that one of the fathers of the children I babysat did this to me. My brother revealed to me years later that he suspected what was going on because he saw his father going into my room regularly, but he was young and scared as well.
I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The first thing I remember is that I cried, and I felt happy. There was this little person laying on my belly, she was crying, I was looking at her, and I was in awe that she was just so beautiful! When I looked at her I didn’t see him, I didn’t see the crappy stuff that was going on in my life – I didn’t see any of that. I just saw her.
After being cleaned up, a nurse brought my daughter back into the room again. It was late at night and I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about her. I felt relief to see her again and to hold her, knowing she was healthy. All I could think of was about the better life I knew she was going to have. I didn’t want to bring her into my horrible situation since I had no hope it would end. Being only thirteen and in light of everything which I knew was to come, I chose adoption for her. The heaviness in my heart was gone as I thought of the good life she would have.
I thought life as “normal” would go on, and we quickly just forgot everything. We did not speak about who did this to me. My baby went to a foster home while awaiting placement with an adoptive family, and I returned to live with my brothers, mother, and yes, even stepfather. The lie continued, though my stepfather avoided me. Life was going back to “normal.” However, the truth was about to come out.
About a week after I went home, the social worker I was assigned to at the hospital had my mom and me come to her office. At the social worker’s insistence, I told my secret. I felt like I had crushed my mom’s heart! In my mind, I had deceived her. In my mind, I was destroying her marriage. In my mind, it was all my fault this was happening.
Amazingly, my mom believed me without doubt and she supported me. I felt like a thousand-pound brick was lifted off my shoulders! The healing could begin. However, because of everything that had occurred, I requested to go to a foster home. My request was granted.
I was placed in foster care with wonderful people. My stepfather was arrested. At trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail with work release, and 15 years of probation. That’s not much of a sentence. He got off easy in my mind. But he denied ever having intercourse with me – never penetrating, claiming he masturbated and that I was somehow inseminated that way. Preposterous, right? And yet, he apparently got away with that story.
While I was in the foster home, my stepfather returned home with my mom and brothers. My mom was raised in a strong Catholic family, and was too ashamed to let her parents know the dark secret. She’s also struggled from a low self-esteem. I was just glad to be out of there at the time. We all started family counseling, and I personally went to counseling. That was a real blessing for me. I learned I could heal and maybe become a whole person for the first time in my life.
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After a year in foster care, I returned home. I had hopes that this would be a positive turning point. I still had no idea that he was not my biological father. Looking back, I think the system was entirely screwed up that they would send me back and is still in need of reform. All of us lived together, including my stepfather, under one roof. “Normal” unfortunately had returned. It was difficult for me, but I was young and I thought we could just move on. That lasted about six months before my stepfather attempted molesting me again. I told a high school friend, who told her mom who was a nurse, who then contacted the authorities. He was ordered to leave the home, but was not arrested. My mom was angry and she finally began standing up for herself, and for me. They divorced, but no more jail time.
I was almost 16 at that time. My remaining teenage years were a struggle. My mom was raising four children alone. She worked multiple jobs and received no child support. In public, I felt like I was “that girl that was molested by her father” and everyone in school and town knew it. It felt like it was “stamped” on my forehead. It was very hard for me. One thing I really enjoyed in high school that did make me feel like I belonged was cheerleading. My advisor was incredible and I never felt like the outsider with her. I spent a lot of my teenage years trying to get away from my past. I drank. I did things I shouldn’t have. I just wanted to forget and move on. The truth was painful and I just wanted to find a new “normal.” But the truth of my past always found me.
After high school, I joined the National Guard so I could get away from those who knew, and hopefully get away from the memories as well. I did have positive people in my life who continually encouraged me and stood by me. But even with all the encouragement, as a young adult I was definitely going down the wrong road. I had unhealthy abusive relationships, including a failed marriage. I drank a lot of alcohol. I got to the point where I didn’t feel I was worth anything better. I had gotten pregnant once again. I now had a son and I was only 21. It was just him and me. I was determined to give him the best life that I could, but we struggled at times.
At about the age of 25, I decided I needed better for myself and I went to college. Looking back, that was my turning point. I finally was feeling I had found myself. The more I went, the better and more confident I felt. I had numerous uplifting positive people in my life. I eventually remarried and had two more beautiful children. I received my education as a nurse. Nursing was definitely something important and rewarding to me. My career eventually led me to a position as a health care educator. I got away from the unhealthy things in my life with the help of more counseling. My new normal was not perfect – unfortunately, I divorced once again, but things were slowly getting better. Soon, things were about to get much better.
In December 2010, my brother received a letter from the county stating they were looking for me. In my gut, I felt I knew it had something to do with my past. I was fearful, but also confident I could take anything on now. I called the agency and spoke with the county adoption advocate. She asked if I had a baby in 1983 and gave her up for adoption. My heart was in my throat. I was waiting for this day and hoped at some point she would try to find me. I thought about her all the time, wondered where she was, and what she looked like. I prayed she had a great family and was healthy and successful, without the struggles I had growing up. I said yes. She said the young woman was looking for me!
One of my first questions was if she knew she was conceived in rape. The county advocate thought she did in fact know. All sorts of emotions came over me. Would she hate me? Was this going to be good for her? Was it good for me? How would this affect all of us?
I received a letter from my newly found daughter. She is married with two children. After several letters and conversations on Facebook, we met in person in February, 2011. Her parents and her husbands’ parents were amazingly supportive, encouraging, and so incredibly open to including me in their lives. Words cannot express how thankful I am to them! Perhaps my greatest gift was a photo album Heidi gave to me when we met. It included pictures of Heidi growing up, her wedding, and pictures of my grandchildren. In the front cover was a poem I’d never seen before and I was sobbing as I read it:
“Legacy of an adopted child”
Once there were two women who never knew each other.
One you do not remember, one you call Mother.
Two different lives shaped to make you one.
One became your guiding star; the other became you sun.
The first one gave you life, and the second taught you to live it.
The first gave you a need for love. The second was there to give it.
One gave you nationality. The other gave you a name.
One gave you talent. The other gave you aim.
One gave you emotions. The other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile. The other dried your tears.
One sought for you a home that she could not provide.
The other prayed for a child and her hope was not denied.
And now you ask me, through your tears,
The age-old question unanswered through the years.
Heredity or environment, which are you a product of?
Neither, my darling, Neither. Just two different kinds of love.
Having Heidi back in my life, I could now say that my “normal” was full and complete. I felt like I was truly whole, and I still feel that way today. Though she lives a couple of hours away, I try to visit as often as I can. We see each other every couple of months on average and celebrate holidays and birthdays together. I’m so incredibly proud of Heidi! She’s been accepting of knowing how she was conceived and still wanting to have are relationship with me. Her parents are incredible!
Forgiveness was also something which had to happen. This was hard. He is no longer a part of my life, but I can say that I have forgiven him. Without forgiveness, I don’t think I could have gotten to where I am today. You have to choose in your life if you will be bitter or if you will forgive. I chose to forgive.
In June 2012, I remarried to the most amazing man I have ever met! Tim is the one I talked about in the beginning. My story never scared him. He has never judged me. Tim encourages me,
challenges me, and loves me completely. Here is a note my husband wrote for me after I told him my story:
“It is difficult for me to separate a person from their story. It is what has formed them. Our past and those who were an influence over us shape our values and our character. The good and bad in all of us are cultivated by our experiences. I would never wish on anyone what you had to endure over the years. But this is your story and I love you for it. You make me better. You are the strongest woman I have ever met and you are kind, compassionate, and very patient with others. I wouldn’t want you any different. Because of that, however difficult your life may have been, I can accept it and be blessed by you because of it. Looking at your life, I can see that many people were placed there by God to take care of you during difficult times. God bless you Cherie.”
I want my story to be one of hope and an understanding that despite how difficult life can be, there is always a future. I believe God puts people in our lives to bless us and to be blessed by us. We don’t always know who or when, or for how long. But my challenge to you is to never think you are alone and to never give up hope.
LifeNews Note: Cherie Miller is a wife and mother of four biological children, three step-children, and a birthmother to one. Her husband Tim Miller is a 100% pro-life Minnesota State House Representative, representing District 17A, having worked as a grant writer for Habitat for Humanity before becoming a state rep.. Cherie is a nurse, teaching health care at a local college, and a blogger for Save The 1. As a birthmother from rape, she’s hoping to mentor others through sharing her story.