When adoptee Claire Culwell went to meet her birth mother, she had no idea what she was about to discover regarding the circumstances surrounding her birth.
“Nothing in my life could have ever prepared me for what she told me that day,” says Claire.
Claire and her sister were each adopted from separate birth mothers by Warren and Barbara Culwell, who were unable to have children naturally. The girls grew up knowing they were adopted and seeing adoption as normal, but at the age of 21, Claire decided to seek out her birth mother so she could thank her for giving her life.
It was a joyful meeting overall between Claire and her birth mother, Tonya. But when Tonya read the card Claire gave her, with the words, “Thank you for choosing life for me. That’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received,” her hands started shaking. Crying, she took Claire aside to tell her how she was born.
Tonya was 13 when she became pregnant. When she told her mother, Tonya’s mom said that abortion was her only option. They were going to hide what had happened and, afterward, Tonya would go back to school like normal. Tonya says of being pregnant at age 13, “It’s horrible. You feel humiliated. You feel like you have no rights. I mean, you’re trapped.”
Tonya’s mom took to her to a clinic where Tonya had an abortion five months into her pregnancy. However, four weeks after the abortion, she could tell that something was wrong. One day, she and her best friend were changing in a locker room, and her friend looked at her and said, “You’re still pregnant.” So Tonya and her mother returned to the abortion clinic, where they found out the abortion had been successful…but that Tonya was still pregnant.
It turns out Tonya had been pregnant with twins and that only one baby was aborted when she initially visited the clinic. If the doctor had attempted to abort Claire at that point, it could have been fatal for Tonya. So Tonya went on bedrest and carried her surviving baby to term.
Claire was born two and a half months early, weighing a little over three pounds. Because of the abortion, both of her hips were dislocated, she was club-footed in both feet, and she had to be in a body cast for the first two years of her life. It was unclear to doctors whether she would ever see, walk, or have a “normal” functioning life–something, it turns out, that Claire has actually been able to have.
Tonya told Claire, “I’m telling you this, and I give you permission to share this with other people, because I never want another little girl to experience what I have.”
Instead of being angry or bitter, Claire told Tonya she forgave her for what she did. Claire says that before meeting Tonya, she took life for granted, but not any more. Now, she see life as a gift, and she wants people to understand that abortion has an impact far beyond just one decision.
‘A Ripple Effect’
Claire says, “If that abortion had been successful on my life, my daughter wouldn’t be here. And if my daughter wasn’t here, one day when she grows up and she becomes a mom, her kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to be here, and then her grandkids, and so on and so forth. There’s a domino effect, there’s a ripple effect.”
Claire and Tonya’s story is a timely one, considering the renewed vigor of the abortion debate in the U.S. and the passing of laws like the one in New York permitting late-term abortions up to the moment of birth. Hitting even closer to home for people like Claire and Tonya is the recent failure of Congress to pass a law that would protect infants who survive failed abortions.
And yet for those who make the choice to abort, there is also grace and forgiveness. On her website, Claire says, “I know healing is possible and I have been given the gift of surviving an abortion so that I can tell these men and women that they are forgiven.”