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Gianna Jessen's Story
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April 6, 1977



It was early morning when 17-year-old Tina entered the abortion clinic. After signing a few papers, she received a saline injection and was told to lie down in a large barrack-like room lined with beds. During the day, about 30 pregnant teenage girls went into labor-and delivered dead babies.

Meanwhile, Tina was still waiting for the contractions to start. The doctor called it a day, leaving a solitary nurse on duty. Close to midnight, Tina's water broke. She awoke the sleeping nurse and told her what had happened. "Okay," the nurse responded. "Go back and lie down." But something uncomfortable was happening. Tina felt the need to push, to expel this unknown substance. Tissue, the professionals called it. Fetal tissue.

By the time she got back to bed, the muscles in her abdomen were contracting incessantly. She had to push--and the nurse still had not responded to her second call.

Reaching down, she felt the wet solid curve of a skull. It's a head! She thought. Haw can tissue have a head?

At that instant, a thin, penetrating wail pierced the quiet room, where earlier a roomful of women had delivered limp, lifeless fetuses. A baby girl was making a triumphant, indignant way into the world.

December 25, 1989

Diana DePaul was in her Southern California home preparing a Christmas dinner when 12-year-old daughter, Gianna, walked in. Diana had adopted Gianna when she was 4 years old.

"Need any help?" Gianna asked.

"No, it won't be long," replied her mom, as she wrestled with the turkey. She took a step back, bumping into Gianna, who was trying to peer over her shoulder.

"Oops!" Gianna said as she stumbled back out of the way. She was quiet for a moment.

"Mom, why do I have cerebral palsy? There must be a reason for it."

It wasn't the first time Gianna asked about her disability, and Diana's standard answer was: "You had a traumatic birth. You were born premature."

This time Diana sensed that Gianna wasn't satisfied with that pat answer anymore. As many times as Diana had thought about this moment, she never expected it would come on Christmas Day.

I guess she's ready, Diana thought. As she started to break 12 years of silence, she felt a great peace settle on her. God knows best, she thought.

"Your biological mother was only 17 when you were born. She probably didn't have very much hope or money. Maybe she had pressure from a boyfriend, or someone else, so she decided-"

"I was aborted, right?" Gianna said, beating her mother to the punch.

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I just knew."

Gianna didn't say anything more right away. She remained thoughtful. But when she spoke, it was with her usual perkiness. "Well, at least I have cerebral palsy for an interesting reason."

So many Questions

Before that Christmas of 1989, Gianna cried a lot over her biological mother, wanting to know why she gave her up for adoption, wondering what she looked like. But once she found out her mom tried to abort her, she never cried over her again.

She still had questions, however: Why didn't she want me? When she found out I was still alive, was she sorry she had the abortion? Does she ever think of me? What's her name? Is she pretty? But there was no point swirling those questions in her mind because the only answers Diana had were from a typed sheet from MediCal on State of California stationery.

The official correspondence referred to Gianna as "an infant born 10 weeks premature, the product of an attempted saline abortion." The letter also said she had needed oxygen and that she was "Transferred to Harbor General upon birth, where she remained until dishcarge6/6/77."

At that point, Orange County Department of Social Services placed Gianna in a series of foster homes. Doctors said she would never sit up, much less walk. But when Gianna went to live with one particular foster mother, Penny, at 17 months of age, she connected with a women whose heart was dedicated to nurturing her.

Penny, in her 50's, loved children. She was also Diana DePaul's mother. Over the months as Diana DePaul's mother. Over the months as Diana visited her mother, she fell in love with Gianna and soon decided to adopt her.

I'll always remember the day I adopted you." Diana later told her daughter. "It was wonderful. You were 4 - this tiny thing with such bright eyes and a big smile, and those big plastic leg braces. You had worked so hard with Grammy."

Gianna had wanted to surprise her new mom by being able to walk without her walker before the adoption. On July 24, 1981, Gianna watched Diana's car pull up, and almost before Diana's was out of the car, Gianna ran stiffly down the driveway and into her new mother's arms-all by herself.

That was 13 years ago.

Over the years there have been tough times, including several surgeries to relieve the stiffness in Gianna's legs. Then there were lonely times in junior high school when friends shunned Gianna. Diana went in to talk to the school principal with her daughter. His solution of providing "volunteer friends" offended Gianna.

That evening, Gianna's anger gave way to tears. She sobbed into her mother's lap for a long time. At last she raised her flushed, wet face and asked, "When is God going to heal me, Mom?"

Diana stroked her hair.

"Gianna," she said, "it might not be God's will to ever heal you, but He is going to use you in a very special way."

'I Forgive Her'

Not long after Gianna learned she had been aborted, a friend of Diana's called and asked if Gianna could speak at a Mother's Day banquet at Penny's church about what it was like being aborted.

Gianna's answer was immediate"

"Sure-if I can sing!" Singing had been her passion since she was 3 years old.

On the night of the banquet, Gianna limped to the front of the room. With a grin on her face, she took the microphone in hand, greeted the group easily and then began to sing. her sweet, soprano voice was a young,. higher version of Amy Grant's, but there was a presence about her, a personality all her own.

Afterward, with he microphone cradled in her hands, Gianna began her little talk.

"I'm adopted," she began. "My biological mother was 17 when I was born. At seven months pregnant, she chose to have a saline abortion. But by the grace of God, I survived."

Gianna smiled.

"I forgive her totally for what she did. She was young, and she probably had no hope. She didn't know what she was doing. As a result of the abortion however, I have cerebral palsy-but that's okay, because I have God to keep me going every day. It's not always easy, but He is always there. He's there for you, too."

She finished by singing Michael W. Smith's "Friends," dedicating it to all the babies who die from abortion every day. "They are my friends," Gianna said, "and I'm going to see them in Heaven some day."

As Gianna finished and lowered her eyes, the room was silent. Several women wiped away tears. The the audience burst into sustained applause. People surged forward to hug her and shake her hand, saying, "I'm glad you survived!"

As the crowd thinned out, Gianna turned to leave. A woman who had been standing at the fringes of the crowd stepped up.

"I had an abortion," she admitted in a low voice, searching Gianna's face. "Nobody knows. I've confessed it to God, but I still feel guilty."

"You didn't know what you were doing," Gianna told her.

The woman reached out and stroked Gianna's cheek. "I have to touch you," she said, sighing deeply. "I have longed to hold my baby and tell her I am sorry. Somehow, touching you, hearing you say you forgive your mother, makes me feel"-she choked back a sob-"maybe she would forgive me!"

"She would." said Gianna earnestly. "I know she would."

The woman's tears were running freely now. "I've had this bottled up for so many years." She wrapped her arms tightly around Gianna. "Thank you!"

Then as the woman held Gianna at arm's length and gazed at her again, Janice said with conviction "you will see her in heaven".

The woman took a deep, ragged breath, letting go of years of pain. "You have helped me so much! God bless your ministry." She gave Gianna's hand one quick squeeze then walked away.

That was the first of many times that Gianna would share her unique and compelling story.

Autumn 1991

Half a continent away in Indiana, a 31 year old woman sat in front of a T.V. She and her husband had recently moved from California to be close to his dying mother.

On this beautiful fall day, she was bored. There wasn't much on. Soaps. Reruns. Talk shows. Tina paused at one talk show. It can't be . On the screen was a young teen ager, a perky looking little thing, with wavy, blonde hair cascading from a bow on top of her head. Tina caught only a few words before her brother switched to another channel.

"Turn it back!" Tina cried. " That's my daughter"

"Oh, I'm sure, " he said sarcastically.

" She is, I know she is"

Morey Povich, the host, had just said something to Gianna, and the teenager was giggling.

"She's got my face, my eyes! She's the same age, and I named her Gianna [spelled with one n and pronounced Guy-ana, though now its Gee-ANA], and she says she was aborted."

Her brother shrugged, still not convinced.

Tina couldn't absorb what they were saying. Memories were flooding back. The precious, squalling baby cupped in her hands. The guilt. And anger that people who knew better had told her that abortion wasn't wrong

Povich continured his questions.

"When did you find out the real story about the abortion attempt?"

"On Christmas Day, when I was 12," Gianna replied. In Indiana. Tina's heart was racing.

Gianna, she thought, I want to tell how it was, how sorry i am! If I contact the station, could I talk to you? Would you want to hear from me? Or would I just hurt you more than I already have?

Povich had turned to Diana Depaul and asked, "What is the connection between the abortion and cerebral palsy?"

"Gianna was deprived of oxygen in the womb when she gulped the saline solution," said Diana

"Why don't you stand up for a second!" Povich ordered Gianna. "This is somebody who couldn't walk or crawl." The crows cheered and applauded as Povich gave Gianna a hug.

the shock of seeing her daughter was intense, almost unbearable, but Tina couldn't take her eyes away.

After a commercial break, the audience asked several questions. One woman's inquiry made Tina suspend her breath. "Would you ever like to meet your real mom?"

Tina's eyes were riveted on Gianna.

"I don't feel I would at this point," replied Gianna, "because I have my family. My mom's sitting right here. It's not that I am mad at my biological mother at all. I forgive her totally for what she did."

Tina didn't want to hear anything more. She turned off the set and tried to turn off the disappointment flooding her. She said no, Tina thought. She said she doesn't want to meet me. I better stay away.

Epilogue

As Gianna and Diana traveled and spoke at pro-life gatherings around the country, their pro-choice opponents repeatedly suggested that they could not prove their story. Without the biological mother, Diana's only proof was a small, inconclusive document from the State of California.

Gianna's biological mother was the key to the truth-if she would tell the truth. Diana had to find her. With Gianna's permission and the help of a private investigator, Diana found Tina in March 1992-married and living again in Southern California.

Tina spoke to a reporter and told her that she had seen Gianna on "The Maury Povich Show," and that she had heard her say she wasn't sure she wanted to meet her mother. Tina said she loved Gianna and prayed for her, but she didn't want to enter her life if Gianna wasn't ready.

The reporter relayed this to Gianna, who said candidly, "I just can't sit down with her face to face. I think it would be too much."

When the reported called Tina to relay the message, Tina said that something had come up and they were moving again. The reporter asked her to call her when she got settled.

Whether Tina contacted them again or not, there was one thing they all agreed on: As far as meeting her birth mother, Gianna would call the shots. Nobody wanted to hurt this young woman who nearly lost her life in an abortion clinic.


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