How a woman conceived from rape embarked on a journey to find her biological relatives
At 19, Rebecca Kiessling was told by her birth mother that her biological father was a 'serial rapist'
This story was originally published on May 31, 2019.
Growing up in Detroit, Mich., Rebecca Kiessling didn't feel an easy sense of belonging. She stuck out within her adoptive family ー a tall blond amid distinctly shorter, brunette parents.
"My mom would make us matching clothes just so people would know I belonged to her," Kiessling told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.
Kiessling yearned for a sense of place that she felt would come from knowing her birth parents. So upon turning 18, she accessed her adoption record.
In it, she found her birth mother's name and other details. But the field marked "Father" only read, "Caucasian of large build."
Catapulted into chaos
Kiessling reached out to her birth mother and arranged an in-person meeting. It was then she discovered the disturbing story behind those mysterious four words.
"I learned that [my birth mother] had been abducted at knifepoint by a serial rapist," she said.
Kiessling was conceived as a result of that rape.
Her birth mother also disclosed that she had twice tried to terminate the pregnancy, but wasn't able to access a safe abortion, which was illegal in her state at that time.
Kiessling was stunned. Instead of the roots she'd yearned for, she found her life catapulted into chaos.
"Now, all of a sudden, I had these genes, " Kiessling said. "I had to sort out: What does that mean about who I am? If I give birth to a son someday would he become a rapist?"
There was more to cope with.
Police had never located a suspect. No one had been charged for the crime. And with no chance of conviction and the statute of limitations up, police records had been destroyed.
So Kiessling believed there was no chance she'd ever know her biological father's identity. She'd never be able to look him in the eye, or allow a chance for him to explain himself.
Despite it all, she yearned to meet him
Kiessling, who's now 49, says that over the years, people often asked if she would still want to meet her biological father, if possible.
Her answer was always: "Well, yeah. I would want to know family history. I would want to know, is there anything I need to know genetics-wise?"
She wondered whether she had genetic half-siblings on her paternal side. But those curiosities remained hypothetical.
Kiessling struggled to make sense of it all. She forged connections with others who had been conceived as a result of rape. She became a lawyer and a committed Christian, leaning on her faith to help find her way.
She married, and had children. She also became an anti-abortion activist, arguing against laws that allow abortions in the case of rape.
- Alabama senate approves a near total ban on abortion
- UN 'very concerned' about abortion access after recent Alabama, Missouri laws
The prospect of finding answers in DNA testing
Then, along came a game-changer ー cheap and easily accessible at-home DNA testing.
"I spit in a tube and sent it in," she recalled.
Within hours of getting her results, she says she was able to identify several paternal relatives including three men: two of her biological uncles, and the man she'd been seeking.
Time passed. She followed the men on social media. Cousin matches kept popping up in her family tree as more genetic relatives mailed away their saliva.
Eventually, Kiessling knocked on the front door of one of the three brothers. He was "the one who was always smiling in his Facebook photos," Kiessling explained. "He seemed nice."
The man welcomed her. A DNA test confirmed he was Kiessling's biological uncle. From him, she learned more about the man who had raped her mother: he'd never been to jail, never been arrested; he had a wife and two children, one of whom had died a decade earlier.
Kiessling learned his wife had been newly pregnant at the time of her mother's rape.
After taking time to digest it all, she endeavoured to meet him. But the meeting never happened.
'I'll look in his casket someday'
In her pursuit of connection with paternal relatives, Kiessling has been welcomed by some and not by others. She and one cousin in particular have become close. And she says she's forging a new relationship with her genetic half-brother.
But Kiessling has decided she no longer wishes to meet her biological father, who's developed Alzheimer's disease and is still married to his wife.
"I don't want to be somebody who's going to cause anybody else who's innocent any kind of pain."
Kiessling counts her birth mother, with whom she's become close, among those she wishes to protect.
As Kiessling describes it, discovering the man who raped her after all these years has been unsettling for her birth mother.
She'd hoped at the outset of her search to find that the man was dead or in prison. While the latter is deeply unlikely, as for us all, the former is inevitable.
Kiessling awaits that day.
"I'll look in his casket someday.[...] That'll be my closure I guess."
This story appears in the Out in the Open episode, "Put to the Test".