Pro-life advocate shares the startling truth about her origins
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Peggy Jenkins flipped through a copy of her newly published autobiography, “Always Good Enough,” stopping to admire one of her favorite family photos, which includes her children and grandchildren. “If my mother had chosen abortion, 75 percent of those people wouldn’t have been in the photo.”
The former director of The Pregnancy Center in Clinton always considered herself to be pro-life but was privately “on the fence” about cases of rape or incest. That is, until she discovered the truth about herself.
A startling discovery
Jenkins was adopted as an infant by a couple in Morrison, Ill., in 1961 and experienced a happy and loving childhood. Still, she was curious about her origins. About five years ago, she became aware of an amendment to Illinois’ Adoption Act which would allow her to request a non-certified copy of her birth certificate. This document revealed the name of Jenkins’ birth mother — Janet Mae Poff Ewing. Later, Jenkins looked up her birth mother’s obituary, which listed five additional children — four boys and one girl.
Jenkins was interested in meeting her siblings but wondered, “Would they want to meet me? Do they know about me?”
She knew that one of her siblings, Wayne, lived in Wyoming, Ill. Nervously, she attempted to make contact. To her delight, he was receptive once the shock wore off. For the most part, the siblings were unaware of Peggy’s existence. Their father left the family shortly after the fifth child was born and the siblings had been sent to live with other relatives because Poff Ewing didn’t have the resources to care for the children on her own.
Peggy’s sister, Yvonne, however, recalled overhearing a conversation in childhood about her mother giving up a baby girl for adoption. Yvonne had been warned never to speak of it. Upon meeting Peggy, Yvonne blurted out, “I knew I had a sister!” Since Peggy is younger than her biological siblings, they assumed that their parents had reconciled for a short time after the split.
Over the course of a year, more details emerged from older cousins and family members, leading to one startling conclusion: Peggy was conceived while Poff Ewing receiving electroconvulsive therapy for postpartum depression at a now-closed asylum in Illinois. Family members believed that Poff Ewing was coerced into sexual relations with an orderly. The possible rape was never fully investigated, as family members at the time assumed she had probably been “talked into it” due to her kind and gullible nature.
“She was a patient in a mental hospital!” Jenkins said with frustration. She considers the act to be rape since her mother was not in a position to offer consent, especially while undergoing a treatment that is known to cause confusion and memory loss.
Coming to terms
Knowing the truth of her conception made Jenkins feel alone and inferior. “I had already been given up for adoption, and you have those feelings of not being good enough. … When I first found out (about my conception), I cried and cried. I didn’t tell my husband. I didn’t tell anyone. I was just trying to process.” Through prayer, Jenkins, a Protestant, began to see the situation in a new way. She realized that, as a child of God, she is as valuable as anyone else — and so are all people born from less-than-ideal circumstances. She also gained a newfound love and respect for her mother for choosing life and for choosing adoption so that Peggy could have a better life. “I’m not embarrassed anymore.”
Recently, Jenkins stepped down from her leadership role at The Pregnancy Center to focus sharing her experiences and being a voice for those conceived under difficult circumstances, specifically rape and incest. These two circumstances are often brought up in abortion debates, even among people who consider themselves to be pro-life, she said.
Earlier this year, she released “Always Good Enough,” and has been traveling to promote its message. “I want people to know that in God’s eyes we’re always good enough,” she said.
She found the story writing process to be therapeutic, and hopes that through telling her story, she’ll give others the courage to share their stories. “But mostly, I want to change people’s hearts.”