Rebecca Kiessling was 18 when she researched her adoption records and learned that her mother had been raped at knifepoint. She realized that had abortion been legal —Rebecca was conceived in October 1968 —her mother would have aborted her.
Today Kiessling, 32, a family-law attorney turned full-time mom, travels the country to speak in defense of life. She spoke from her home in Rochester Hills, Mich., with Register correspondent Dana Mildebrath.
How did you come to discover the truth about your conception?
I was born and raised in a Jewish home in the Detroit area. I was adopted at birth and I have an adopted brother who is a year and a half older than me. When I was 18, I requested my “non-identifying information.” It contains everything about your birth parents except their names.
The file contained tremendous detail about my mother —her eye color, hair color, age, height, weight, full medical history, religious background, nationality, educational level and occupation. However, all it said about my father was: “Caucasian and of large build.” It sounded like a police description. I waited a week and called my caseworker. I asked her, “Was my mom raped?”
She didn't want to tell me, but she said yes.
What effect did this information have on you?
You need to know some background to understand my reaction. My adoptive brother had been in and out of prison since he was 15. My parents couldn't understand how they could have a daughter who was going off to law school some day and a son who was in all this trouble. My dad picked up a book about the criminal mind, and it said that socially deviant behavior was genetic. When I found out how I was conceived, I thought, “I have these bad genes from my father. Who would ever love me? Who would want to marry me?” I felt ugly and unwanted. I ended up in some abusive relationships.
What was the turning point in your healing process?
When I was 23, one year before I graduated from law school, I was beaten up by a guy I went to law school with. He broke my jaw and stalked me. I had to have all kinds of surgery.
After that happened, a friend invited me to Mass. We sat down beforehand and he explained what everything at Mass would mean. I'd first heard the Gospel when I was 15, but this friend took the time to really share his faith with me. I realized that I am a child of God, and I became a Christian.
What made you decide to start telling people your story?
It wasn't me deciding. It was God deciding. I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was 11. All the years I was in law school, I said I'd never do divorce cases, and then God used my personal experience with domestic violence to give me a heart for families that were in crisis. So I became a family-law attorney, which means doing all the yucky stuff —divorce, custody, child support, paternity. Right from the beginning, women came in to see me who were pregnant and being coerced by their boyfriends, parents and husbands. These people told the women that they could force an abortion, force an adoption, block an adoption. I gladly represented these women for free. I have photos of babies God saved from abortion through my work in law. At the same time, I started speaking.
What are some of the other cases that you handled in your law practice?
Within a period of 14 months, I worked on four cases that made national and international news. It was totally God who made it happen. One was a frozen embryo case —the third such case in the United States involving a dispute between a husband and a wife.
I represented a woman who was sued for not aborting her baby. The judge dismissed that case and today the father is paying child support. I represented the family of a woman with the mentality of a 2-year-old who was raped in a group home and became pregnant. Today the woman is living safely elsewhere and her child is almost five years old, being raised by the child's grandparents. I also argued on behalf of an unborn child in a rape-incest case where the 12-year-old mother was raped by her brother. I was interviewed on Good Morning America and CNN Talk Back Live about that case.
How do you spend your time today?
My most important work is being a full-time mom. My husband Bob and I have an adopted son, Caleb, who turned two in February. Our adopted daughter, Cassandra Grace, died at 33 days in Bob's arms from genetic anomalies caused by DiGeorge Syndrome. I take Caleb with me wherever I go in the United States to speak and, when Bob can, he comes with us.
I speak at Right to Life and crisis-pregnancy center events, at churches, parishes, and public and private schools. I've averaged 50 talks a year since 2000. Also, I still do pro bono work if it means saving the life of an unborn child.
What is the heart of the message that you share with people?
One of the greatest things that I've learned is that the rapist is not my creator. I'm not a child of rape, but a child of God. Ultimately I know —and I'll be able to teach my children —that, if you want to know what your value is, all you have to do is look to the cross, because that's the value that God has placed on your life.
To contact Rebecca Kiessling, call (248) 650-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dana Mildebrath writes from Chico, California.