O.I. Member Shares Her Story at Retreat

     Operation Identity member Jenna Wiley gave a presentation in October at a retreat for church women in Glorietta, N.M., sharing her story of relinquishment and eventual reunion with her birth daughter. Jenna gave us a “preview” of her presentation at the September O.I. meeting, as well as a written copy of her presentation and permission to print it in this newsletter. She reports that the presentation, before well over 200 women, was very well received, and resulted in others privately sharing their own experiences with her. This is part of the power of “coming out of the closet” and telling one’s story. It frees the teller, and also frees others to begin to share and heal. Here is Jenna’s story.

     My name is Jenna Wiley. On April 12, 1970, I gave birth to a daughter as the result of a neighbor molesting me. The first time I saw her I sneaked out of my hospital bed and went to the nursery and peeked at her. The next time I saw her was 29 years later, on March 29, 1999.
     The years that followed after her birth were years of strained relationships. They were years of only a handful of people knowing about the birth of my child. Some who knew didn’t even know if I had a son or a daughter. During those years, it was important for me not to tell my story and to keep the illusion of perfection that I had been taught. The one time I tried to talk to Mother about it, she changed the subject. I was to find out years later that the aunt I went to live with during the pregnancy had told the family not to talk about the birth or anything related to it. I was also told to forget that it had ever happened at get on with my life. Yet it is not a happening that is possible to forget, because as a birth mother, you look at each child you see as if she could be yours, you look at clothes for each age, and on the child’s birthday, you remember and, most importantly, you say a prayer daily for God’s love and protection for your child.
     The secrecy was not only the thinking of the church, and my family, but also of society. Had the school officials known the real reason I was not in school, they would not have allowed me to return the following year. I was fifteen at the time.
     My earliest teaching and understanding about God was of him wanting perfection. I remember the expectations of God’s perfection, and my family’s expectation of perfection, making it difficult to tell anyone that things were not perfect in my life. I was also taught, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all,” and that adults had complete authority over children, and we were to do what they wanted. These teachings made it difficult to tell anyone what was happening in my life. I know now that that is not what they intended, but that was my understanding as a child.
     It is through my own reading and studying that I have come to know the God of forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and for give whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” I am now able to accept God’s forgiveness and work on forgiving my child’s birth father, and have realized I was not responsible for his actions nor his suicide. I have also forgiven my family and the church for their part. And no, I have not gained perfection in my forgiveness, but I work on it daily.
     When I first discovered I was pregnant, an abortion was considered, because of my age, but because it would have been a late-term abortion, it was not performed. When I sneaked out of my hospital bed and saw my baby, I was very thankful I had not had an abortion. Life is more important than death, even when the life comes about under difficult circumstances.
     By the time I was 20, my relationship with God had changed to the point that I knew he had forgiven me, and life is better than death. Romans 8:1-2 states, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” The same scripture would have applied to me had I gone ahead and had the abortion. God is able and willing to forgive us all of our transgressions.
     Now I have learned that it is important for me to tell my story, so others may realize that when things happen to us, we have God’s forgiveness and love with us at all times. In Romans 3:22-24; we are reminded, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that comes by Christ Jesus.”
     The only person who ever asked me about my child was my sister, Lynda. Whenever she came home, she would say, “Let’s go for a walk,” and I would know that she was going to ask me how 1 was doing. Even though I would groan, I looked forward to our walks. Eventually, her question was “Have you ever thought about finding your daughter?” My answer, to start with, was, “I am staying in Farmington so she can find me.” Through the years, if I heard about someone who looked like me and could possibly be the right age, I would call Lynda and plot with her how I could get a glimpse of the person.
     Lynda and her husband had adopted a baby daughter. When Brina started asking about her birth mother, it made me start thinking more seriously about starting the search for my daughter. Lynda had moved to Albuquerque and joined a group called Operation Identity for adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents.
     I feel that God puts people in our lives at essential times. I had been working as an aide in an elementary school for four years. In the fall of 1997,1 was put in a new classroom. Joycelyn, the teacher I was under that year, was herself adopted, as well as being an adoptive parent. Two other aides in my same department, Patty and Dolly, were also adoptive mothers. The first day at work, during lunch, Joycelyn handed me a stack of pictures and started telling me she had found her birth mother and how much it meant to her. Patty then told me that she had done the search for one of her sons’ birth mother. After several weeks of listening to their stories, I told them mine. By the summer of 1998,1 was ready to start the process of finding my daughter. Lynda and I got together to write a letter to my family and friends, telling them about what happened to me as a child and letting them know I was planning to search for my daughter.
     The next step was to write a letter to the court, requesting that they open the adoption file to Sally File, a court-appointed searcher in New Mexico. I also wrote a letter to be delivered to my daughter. The first information I learned from Sally was that my daughter’s name was Jennifer Lynn. Both Lynda and I were excited that her name combined our two names. It is interesting to know that Jennifer’s adoptive mother had named her before she learned my name was Jenna.
     I had returned home to Farmington after college so I could he there in case my daughter searched for me. Also, that way I could look after my parents. On February 2, 1999, I took my dad to Cuba, NM, to meet Lynda and our brother, Mark, who were taking our dad on a trip. When I arrived back home, the phone was ringing. It was Lynda saying that Sally File had a letter and a picture from Jennifer, and for me to call Sally File. Lynda took my dad across town to see the picture. After Sally read me the letter over the phone and gave me the phone number, I made the first call to my daughter. It was nearing midnight in Texas, but I called anyway.
     Jennifer’s husband answered the phone by saying, “Who is calling at this time of night?” I said, “This is Jenna Wiley, Jennifer’s mother.” Her first question was, “When can you come down to see me?” In her letter, she had said she had been in a car accident on October 19th. October 19th is the day I officially began my search for her. From the accident, she “coded blue” but revived after ten long minutes with no oxygen to the brain. She spent the next three months in the hospital Because of the accident, she, is now totally blind.
     I went to La Marque, Texas, on March 29, 1999, to meet Jennifer, her husband Donnie, and her three stepchildren. Brittany, Tasha, and Trey. Jennifer and her family came to visit that summer and spent about 10 days in Farmington. She was wanting to just pack up and move to Farmington to get to know me. She hoped I would take care of her while her husband worked. I wrote her a letter explaining that I could not take care of both her and my parents and hold down a job at the same time. I didn’t hear from Jennifer for about two months. I was concerned that maybe she wouldn’t get back in touch and was sad. But she did, and we now talk on the phone a couple of times a month. In April of 2001, Jennifer and Bonnie’s daughter, Tabetha, was born, amazing after her serious injuries in the accident. This past Christmas, Jennifer, Bonnie, and Tabetha came for a short visit, as his other children had gone to live with their mother.
     It was a good visit. It is wonderful to see that Jennifer is doing well, as her health is good and she has learned to cope with her blindness, Bonnie takes very good care of both Jennifer and Tabetha. Tabetha is as special as (my grandchild can be.
     The years since finding Jennifer have been years of telling others about her. The secrecy is g(me: They have been years of peace, growth, and acceptance. I would strongly encourage anyone thinking of doing a search to do so. And to do so with “prayer and supplication.”

     Jenna is to commended for her candor and courage in sharing her story at such a large gathering. O.I. is fortunate to have her now as a member and regular attendee since she moved to Albuquerque. Her sister, Lynda Wadsworth, is also to be commended for steering her to O.I. and for being so supportive all those years.

Excerpted from the January 2004 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2004 Operation Identity