Julie Makimaa grew up in Southern California with a loving family that adopted her out of a foster home when she was eight months old. She is now married with two children, ages 14 and 12, and lives in Indiana. With the support of her husband and parents, Makimaa undertook a search for the woman who had placed her in an adoptive family. On her 21st birthday, she was reunited with her birth mother, Lee Ezell, and learned for the first time the circumstances of her conception.
Ezell was the daughter of an alcoholic father who was so abusive that her mother had to flee with their children to another state. She was 18 years old and holding down a job when she was raped by a man who worked for the same company. "When the assault happened," Makimaa said, "she felt that this was her lot in life, that violence was something that followed her." A friend offered to take Ezell to Mexico for an illegal abortion (Choosing Life: Journeys of Hope Born from Tragedy). Though she considered it, the prospect was too daunting. Instead, after her mother told her to leave home, she moved to Southern California, where she was taken in by a couple she met at a church. She decided to place her baby for adoption. After the birth of her daughter - whom Lee was not allowed to see or hold - she went on to college and eventually married a widower with two daughters.
Makimaa says, "I asked her, 'Why would you want to even see me, then? How could you want to even be a part of my life?' And she said, 'You know, you don't remind me of the assault at all. You remind me of the good thing that happened out of that tragedy that I went through. And you are my daughter, and I want to have a relationship with you.' And this was the message: It was a terrible thing that happened to her, but I and my children are here today because she sacrificed those months of her life to give us a lifetime."
The news that her birth father had raped her birth mother was, of course, a shock to Makimaa. "I had a lot of questions to ask myself about who I was and what did the assault mean to me. I had to ask myself if I somehow had an evil gene from my father. I had to really look at my own life and say, 'What does this mean to me? And does this change the person that I am?'
"I know that my conception and the circumstances surrounding it are not what's important to me. I would never wish an assault like that on anyone but I realize that that has no bearing on the person that I am, and the value of my life. The people who love me still love me the same, it doesn't matter to them. But it has given me a greater appreciation for things. I don't take my life for granted."
Although Makimaa had long been active in the pro-life movement - she currently works for Life Athletes, an organization that arranges for pro-life professional and Olympic athletes to speak to students - she says that the news of her own history caused her to examine her ideas about cases of rape. "Most people do not think, 'Well, I could have been aborted,' but I do think how easily my life could have been ended and the lives of my children. Sometimes when my mother and I are together we just sort of look at each other and know that our story could have been so different, and what a tragedy that would have been. I wasn't planned, but I was loved.
"I think most people believe that a woman pregnant in this situation will never love her child and cannot bear to carry the child to term and that somehow the abortion will help them, that it will be beneficial for them to abort the child. But I believe that from what we know about post- abortion aftermath, women who suffer depression and guilt and anger over the rape only have those feelings compounded by guilt and depression and self-directed anger after an abortion.
"And for me, when I found out my own circumstances, I finally had to ask myself whether I thought an abortion would have been beneficial for my birth mother. I realized that if she had aborted, our reunion and life together now would have all been lost, and the happiness my mother enjoys with me, she would have missed.
"My mother was a victim of an assault, but she did not choose to victimize me. I was not given the death penalty for the crime of my father. I was given the greatest gift that any of us could give - life."
As a result of her experiences, Makimaa founded Fortress International, a support organization for women pregnant through assault and children conceived in assaults. She is now working on a book. The primary lesson she has learned, she says, is that "none of us gets to choose our parents and how we're conceived, but even in the worst of circumstances, good things can happen."