“It has been such a surreal, amazing experience that I still think sometimes that I will wake up and it will just be a beautiful dream”

So says 82-year old Ruth Lee of meeting her 100-year old birth mother, Minka Disbrow, who was raped as a teenager in 1928 and subsequently forced to give up her newborn daughter for adoption.

Ruth Lee is the mother of an astronaut and five other children.

What heartbreaking and awesome proof that all life–including unexpected, unplanned, and yes, even the product of rape–is something special.

From the AP:

For most of her 100 years, Minka Disbrow tried to find out what became of the precious baby girl she gave up for adoption after being raped as a teen.

She hoped, but never imagined, she’d see her Betty Jane again.

The cruel act of violence bore in Disbrow an enduring love for the child. She kept a black and white photograph of the baby bundled in blankets and tucked inside a basket.

It was the last she saw of the girl — until the phone rang in her California apartment in 2006 with the voice of an Alabama man and a story she could have only dreamed.

Disbrow, the daughter of Dutch immigrants, weathered a harsh childhood milking cows on South Dakota dairy farms. Her stepfather thought high school was for city kids who had nothing else to do. She finished eighth grade in a country schoolhouse with just one teacher and worked long hours at the dairy.

On a summer day in 1928 while picnicking with girls from a sewing class, Disbrow and her friend Elizabeth were jumped by three men as they went for a walk in their long dresses.

Both were raped.

“We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what to say. So when we went back, nothing was said,” Disbrow recalled.

Months passed. Her body began to change.

Disbrow, who had been told babies were brought by storks, didn’t know what was happening.

Her mother and stepfather sent her to a Lutheran home for pregnant girls. At 17, she gave birth to a blond-haired baby with a deep dimple in her chin and named her Betty Jane.

In her heart, Disbrow longed to keep her. But her head and her mother told her she couldn’t bring an infant back to the farm.

A pastor and his wife were looking to adopt a child. She hoped they could give Betty Jane the home she couldn’t.

“I loved that baby so much. I wanted what was best,” Disbrow said.

A young mother who thought babies were brought by storks loved that baby and wanted what was best. Any “woman’s advocate” of this day and age would tell us differently, that no woman could ever love the product of a violent rape. But Minka did. And she gave her up at 17 because she couldn’t provide for Betty Jane.

Betty Jane–now Ruth–grew up a happy child and always knew she was adopted. She didn’t pursue her birth mother until she was diagnosed with heart problems in her 70s. One of her sons did the legwork and was stunned to find Minka alive.

Every year, she thought about Betty Jane on her May 22 birthday.

Five years ago, Disbrow prayed she might get the chance to see her.

“Lord, if you would just let me see her,” Disbrow remembers praying. “I promise you I will never bother her.”

On July 2, the phone rang.

It was a man from Alabama. He started asking Disbrow, then 94, about her background.

Worried about identity theft, Disbrow cut him off, and peppered him with questions.

Then, the man asked if she’d like to speak with Betty Jane.

Her name was now Ruth Lee. She had been raised by a Norwegian pastor and his wife and had gone on to marry and have six children including the Alabama man, a teacher and astronaut Mark Lee, a veteran of four space flights who has circled the world 517 times. She worked for nearly 20 years at Wal-Mart — and especially enjoyed tending to the garden area.

What a testament to love–regardless of its origin.



5 Responses

  1. What a touching story, PJ. thx for sharing it.

  2. Oh I saw this a week or two ago. It brought tears to my eyes.

  3. It doesn’t always end in a happy reunion, though. A few years ago the local Jewish paper ran a story about a man who was adopted from Israel around 1946. He was searching for his mother, and finally found her. He went to Israel hopping to meet her, but she refused.
    I can imagine that things happened to this woman, and that it wasn’t rape alone. The story stuck in my memory. I can’t imagine what it meant for her to carry the baby.

    • @Edge, you are absolutely right. I guess my broader point is that had Minka been able to have an abortion and actually had one, that the loss of her astronaut grandson would have been a loss. What of the Einsteins or potential cancer-curers or … soulmates, I guess, who are meant to be here but aren’t? Life is precious, regardless of how begotten. Yes, sometimes it’s a traumatic enough experience that you wipe your personal slate clean, but you don’t wipe out the life.

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