Trusting God with a Secret

07/09/2017 .
Diane Calcaterra  .  Volunteer Storyteller

Jeanne Davis’ life seemed ordinary from the outside;  a happy and content mother of three. But in reality, Jeanne carried the burden of a 30-year-old secret of shame, sadness, and regret that weighed heavy on her heart.

During her junior year in high school, Jeanne’s life took an unexpected turn.

“I was 17 years old and a bit of a rebel. I didn’t feel understood or accepted at home, so I began looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places,” admits Jeanne. “Then I met this boy and things began to move pretty quickly. He stepped in and seemed to fill the void.”

At the same time, Jeanne’s father took a new position and relocated the family from Riverside to Orange County. Unhappy about the upcoming move, Jeanne’s boyfriend devised a plan: “I’m going to get you pregnant so you don’t have to go.” But after Jeanne became pregnant, the high school romance wasn’t all she thought it was. With emotion filling her voice, Jeanne still remembers the pain, “When I called to tell him I was pregnant, he said, ‘Oh, well don’t tell my mom. I have a date tonight.’” Jeanne was confused and heartbroken.

Jeanne broke the news to her parents and immediately her life spun out of control. In the 1960’s, teen pregnancy carried a social stigma. Pregnant girls were ostracized by their peers and often sent away to give birth. “Although I wanted to keep the baby, I was a minor so my parents arranged for a private adoption,” said Jeanne. Embarrassed and ashamed of their daughter’s pregnancy, Jeanne was cut off from her friends and forbidden to tell anyone. “While he was going out, dating girls, and having fun his senior year, I was hidden away in a new city to deal with my parents and the pregnancy.” The adoptive parents left the hospital with a baby girl. Jeanne left with only their names and an address.

Jeanne made new friends, graduated from high school, and secured a job. Although she sometimes drove by the home where her daughter was growing up, Jeanne hid her secret and started building a new life for herself. She began dating a man she met through work and welcomed the stability of a serious relationship. News he was having an affair hit Jeanne around the same time she found out she was pregnant. “I was devastated, totally devastated, that this was happening again,” recalls Jeanne.

Jeanne gave birth to another baby girl. “I wanted her; I wanted both of them in my life, but he left me and was already married by the time I gave birth.  It drove a stake in my heart.” The pregnancy also reopened the tension in the relationship with her father. She still remembers his words: “No one’s ever going to want you now.” Without the support and encouragement from her family, Jeanne felt she only had one option: give her baby girl up for adoption.  

Jeanne set out to rebuild her life. She married a man — a neighborhood friend returning home from the service — and together they had three children; a son and twin daughters. Jeanne always thought, “God gave me twin girls for the other two I gave up.” Still self-conscious and ashamed of her past, Jeanne eventually told her husband and children about her other two daughters. Although this marriage and a second one both ended in divorce, discussing her adoption decisions openly lifted some of the sadness and became a therapeutic, first step toward self-forgiveness.  

Jeanne’s life changed after receiving a letter in the mail. “When I got this letter, I tore it open and read it,” said Jeanne. “I just started crying uncontrollably.” It was from a woman named Mendy – the second baby girl she gave up for adoption. Now an adult in her 30’s, Mendy had searched nine years to locate her birth mother. “The relief of finally having contact, knowing that she had searched to find me and wanted to know me was overwhelming,” Jeanne said.

At their first meeting, Mendy arrived carrying a yellow rose and two boxes of photographs. Jeanne and Mendy sat down together for the first time as mother and daughter. They relived those moments captured on film and talked late into the night, taking the first steps to intertwine their lives. Shortly after, Mendy arranged for Jeanne to meet her adoptive mother. “Mendy’s adoptive mother wanted to meet me, too,” said Jeanne. “When we met, she presented me with a photo album.” The album was filled with pictures of Mendy, photos that captured the milestones of her life - as a baby, as a toddler, and a teen. “It was wonderful and pretty surreal. I was so thankful to them for being there for her, for raising her, for giving her a good life. And she was so thankful to me for giving her Mendy.”

It was Mendy who urged Jeanne to contact Laura, her first daughter. Laura was a bit more cautious, so it took a year before they finally met. Once again, mother and daughter – Jeanne and Laura – poured over old photos and shared stories about their lives. “I waited a year to meet Laura,” said Jeanne, “but we slowly reconnected and began including everyone in family gatherings.” As it turned out, Laura’s life was actually intertwined with Jeanne’s. “Growing up in Riverside, she already knew several family members, but didn’t know she was related to them.” Now, 50 years later, Jeanne has a relationship with all five of her children. “Ultimately, I believe God wanted us all to be reunited.”

God used the joy of renewed relationships to grow her faith. She was finally sharing her life with daughters she thought she’d never know, but Jeanne still felt vulnerable about opening up to others. “I was afraid of what people would think,” confided Jeanne. “Yet by hiding this secret, I felt I was living a lie.” Jeanne is convinced God intervened. One Sunday morning, Pastor Rick encouraged the congregation to release past hurts and hang-ups. Jeanne was ready to release her fear, she was ready to share her story. The resistance from the shame she felt in her past weighed heavily on her, but as she began to share it felt she was being released from that hurt. “It was like confessing. I was finally letting go and giving it to God,” said Jeanne. “I’m still emotional about it, but I’ve finally forgiven myself.  I’m so blessed to have a relationship with all of my children now, so thankful this was part of God’s plan for my life.”

To learn more about the Orphan Care Initiative at Saddleback Church, click HERE.