The love of a mother is something I know very well. In fact, God blessed me with two—my mom and my birth mom. Today, I can honestly say that I am the luckiest girl in the world, but there was a time when I felt unsure and confused.
Motherhood has been a complicated thing for our family. My adoptive mom had struggled with infertility, which left her crying out to God and praying for a baby to complete her family. Tonya, my birth mom, had been a young teenager, whose mother forced her to place me for adoption. And my own journey to motherhood had unexpected twists and turns.
I was 21 years old when I learned about my birth mom’s journey. I was sitting in a room with her shortly after meeting her for the first time. It was then I found out that the most devastating moments of her life had happened because of me. Her mother had forced her to have a late-term abortion. Unbeknownst to her, she had been pregnant with twins, but during the procedure, which successfully dismembered and ended the life of my twin, my small body had accidentally been missed, and I survived.
When Tonya related these events, I was devastated for her. As she shared her most painful secrets, I was forever changed by the pain in her eyes. I realized I would always be a reminder of the gift of motherhood that had been so abruptly taken from her when she was just 13 years old—first in an abortion clinic room, and again in a hospital room when she placed me for adoption.
It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that I had survived something that had been meant to take my life. Not only that, I had survived yet my twin hadn’t. What was I supposed to do with this unexpected and heartbreaking news?
After Tonya told me, she couldn’t stop crying. She repeated over and over, “I’m so sorry—your life is a miracle.” As I embraced her, my mind was spinning out of control. I was a twin. She was only 13. Do I forgive her? I want to. Why didn’t anyone stand up for her and tell her she was supported? What can I even say that will help her know that I forgive her and love her?
The words that would come out of my mouth would either help her heal or increase her hurt. I knew I had the opportunity to either take her motherhood away again—just like the adults in her life had before—or I could give it back. I could forgive her and love her. I could even tell the whole world how I felt. I could shout it from the rooftops: “I forgive her! I love her! And I’m going to fight for the motherhood she never had!” That would be the craziest thing anyone had ever done, right? But that’s exactly what I did.
Since that moment of revelation, I have had the blessing of traveling the world and telling women the words Tonya never heard: “You are loved. You are worthy. You are supported. And you are never alone.”
I have listened to story after story about how hearts have been changed and lives saved through my survival story, because the humanity of an unborn baby becomes undeniable when you encounter someone who has survived an abortion procedure. I have seen firsthand the power of forgiveness and the transformation of the Lord in the lives of those suffering from either present pain or past regret. I have seen it in the life of my birth mother.
When I chose to forgive Tonya, my hope was that one day she would come to know and accept the forgiveness that Christ has for her. I wanted her to have the same hope that I had when I found out I was rejected and unwanted, and that an abortion attempt had been made on my life. I wanted her to know that her identity isn’t found in her circumstances, but in who Christ says she is.
Her abortion didn’t define her. God did.
Over the past couple of years, Tonya has had the opportunity to share her story and hear me speak. The moment she finished telling our story for the first time, she looked at me and said, “Claire, I feel free.” A short time later, she placed her trust in Christ, and everything changed. I was no longer a reminder of what had happened to us but a reminder of what God had done in our lives. He brought beauty from the ashes and created something good from something so incredibly messy and painful. He redeemed and restored our lives and our relationship. He gave her the gift of motherhood back, and He saw the bigger picture when we didn’t. We know that from here on out, we can trust in Him even when it feels scary and uncertain.
Motherhood to me means so many things, but love stands out the most. It was the only thing my birth mother held onto for 21 years until we met again. It was what gave my adoptive mom a heart to adopt a baby with special circumstances when she couldn’t have children naturally. Because of my mothers’ selfless love, I knew exactly how to be a mother myself. If you’ve ever wondered why God created mothers, look no further than love. The love of a mother points people to the selfless, overflowing and never-ending love of Christ. I am so thankful that God deemed me worthy enough to give me both my mother and my birth mother. ©2021 Claire Culwell
Claire Culwell is a wife, mother, abortion survivor, speaker and host of the “Called To Be Bold” podcast. Her new book, “Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption,” is available online and through most bookstores.
Above: Claire, left, and her birth mom, Tonya, on the day they first met in March 2009.
Photo: Courtesy of Claire Culwell