The Secret Son
In her search, a mother finds more than her adopted child.
by Anna Katherine Doscher Sullens as told to Priscilla Tate Gilmore
Society’s rule about having a child when you are still a child, unmarried, and a high school student was clear: “Don’t do it. If you do, don’t let anyone find out.”
In 1963, when I was sixteen and a sophomore at South Eugene High, I met seventeen-year-old Dennis. He worked across the street from the dime store in Eugene, Oregon, where I served customers. We took breaks together, ate lunch at the same time, and dated for six months.
Then our relationship turned intimate. After missing two periods, I drove to our doctor’s office, terrified. What will my family think?
Devastated after the doctor’s diagnosis, I feared Mom’s reaction when I picked her up from work. I decided to state the facts: “Mom, I’m pregnant.” Horror covered her face. I suspected Mom had no idea this pregnancy was coming. I was her “good girl.”
I earned that nickname because I respected Mom. I was an A student and feared disappointing her. While I was growing up, she was fun to be with, turning chores into playtime and teaching me how to sew. Mom and I talked, but never about intimate things.
Mom and Dad taught me to make my own decisions. But because of my situation, they determined that the pregnancy would be kept a secret. I would travel by bus to Sacramento, California, enroll in San Juan High, and live with Auntie Jane until the baby was born. I would then give the baby up for adoption.
Although the verdict was difficult and barbaric, I learned to live with it. I felt shame and wanted to know the child I would never meet. What can my future hold but unhappiness? I wondered. Not ready to accept any responsibility for my actions, I blamed God for the pregnancy and cried myself to sleep.
Twenty-eight weeks into my pregnancy, Dennis arrived for a visit during Christmas break and brought his grandmother’s wedding ring. Since she suffered from dementia, his parents decided to have her wedding ring sized to fit my finger.
Auntie Jane told friends that I married a serviceman stationed overseas. Feeling like a puppet in a show, I cried and whispered to my baby in utero, “Your father and I love you. I won’t be able to raise you, but promise to love you every day of my life.”
I didn’t realize then that this baby would lead me to a relationship with Jesus Christ much later in life.
On Friday, March 13, 1964, I found myself sitting in a puddle of water. I shook, nervous about what would follow: labor, birth, and separation from my baby.
When I had had prenatal checkups during my pregnancy, the doctor examined me. Then he and Auntie Jane talked in another room. Questions stormed my mind: Am I really pregnant? If so, is everything normal? What will happen after the water breaks? Does the doctor plan to put me out so I won’t know the sex of my baby?
In delivery the next morning, I screamed in pain. The nurses knocked me out as soon as they got me on the table.
Afterward, I knew I had given birth to a son only because a nurse asked, “Have you seen your baby boy?” When she left the room, I cried, knowing I would never see him.
Marriage and family
A week later, Mom and I boarded a bus on route to Eugene.
On Monday morning, I returned to South Eugene High as if nothing had ever happened. Our family doctor wrote a note excusing me from physical education class so friends and peers wouldn’t see the stretch marks and ask questions.
After graduating, I married Dennis in June 1967. We began our marriage overseas with the Army during the Vietnam War. Our daughter, Aleece, was born then and brought us much joy.
Though grateful to be in Germany and not on the front lines, I faced another battle: Dennis’ drinking.
Dennis started during my pregnancy and was now a full-fledged alcoholic. After three years, my struggle to live with him became unbearable. I returned home with Aleece, filed for divorce, found a job, and lived with my parents.
When Dennis was discharged from the Army, he returned to the States and we reconciled. Things improved for a while. We did all the things that looked right, like buying a house and having a son, Craig.
But Dennis continued to drink. Feeling more alone than ever, I couldn’t stop thinking about the son I had adopted out. With no solutions to our problems, Dennis and I divorced.
Searching for a son
After the divorce, I wrote many letters to the Children’s Home Society in Sacramento. California law allowed me to make inquiries but could give me no information unless my son was searching for me.
I cried till I had no tears left. How can I go on without finding him?
Getting over Dennis took a long time. I didn’t think anyone would want me until I met Rodney, a good man who proved to be a great stepfather to Aleece and Craig. We decided to attend church as a family.
Sitting next to my teenagers in the service on Mother’s Day, I listened to the minister speak about how wonderful mothers are. I was not a good mother, I said to myself. With the lies and pain of many years boiling up inside me, I walked out.
Sharing the pain
At home, expecting condemnation, I tearfully decided to face Aleece and Craig. “When I was young,” I told them, “your dad and I had another child. We thought the best thing was to give the child up for adoption. A few years later, we married and made our family with you. The baby we had was a boy. I don’t know where he is today. Your brother is three-and-a half-years older than you, Aleece.”
My kids said in unison, “We will always love you and will help find our brother when you are ready.”
I didn’t do anything about locating my son immediately. For reasons all my own, Rodney and I divorced, and I assumed my maiden name.
Then I envisioned terrible things that could have happened to my adopted son, like he grew up as a criminal or was murdered because I gave him up in Sacramento. Good mothers don’t throw their children away.
Connection and fear
Through the Internet, I contacted OmniTrace, hoping to finally unite with my son. Once I paid $1,300, they gave me the name of William. His phone number and address followed.
I called, and a young male voice answered. Nervous, I hung up.
Later, casting all anxiety aside, I wrote a letter to the man I believed was my son.
My name is Kitty Doscher. I believe you are my son. This is a difficult letter to write. I had a son at 16 and placed him up for adoption on March 14, 1964, in Sacramento, California. I struggled to know how or if I should try to find you. Let me know if you would like further contact. You can reach me at the following address, phone number, and email.
Bill wrote back. He knew I was his mother because, even though things were confidential at the time, his adoptive mother had seen my maiden name. She told him, “Go find out about the other part of your life” and sent him off with her blessing.
When my son flew in from Fresno, he, Aleece, Craig, and I cried tears of joy. We group hugged and laughed. Other than when I gave birth to my two other children, it was the most wonderful day of my life. The connection was immediate.
Forgiveness and faith
That’s not the only healing that came. When my eighty-year-old mother came to live with me, she admitted her pain with my early pregnancy. She said that my dad, now deceased, went to church and prayed for me soon after learning about my situation.
With tears in my eyes, I took responsibility for my part and forgave my mother for sending me away. After our conversation, I confessed and repented of all my sins, including blaming God for the pregnancy. Then I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus Christ.
Now that I’m married to a Christian man and I found my son Bill, the loneliness and shame I lived with for forty years is gone. I gobble up the Bible. John 3:16 is beautiful to me: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV).
Though I didn’t know where my son was all those years, God did. He’s shown me that my early pregnancy and going to church that Mother’s Day were not accidents. They were part of God’s perfect plan to bring me to Christ. That’s the best news of all.