After one of the surviving children testified in court that her mother, Diane Downs, shot her and her two siblings on a dark road in the spring of 1983, Diane Downs was found guilty and given a life sentence plus 50 years. (Small Sacrifices, by former cop and true crime writer Ann Rule, tells the story of the murder and trial--and more--in detail.) Ten days before sentencing in 1985, labor was induced and the child was taken from Downs almost immediately and adopted by a couple twenty-five miles away, Jackie and Chris Babock, who already had one adopted daughter.
When Rebecca was three, Downs escaped from prison, and the Babcocks were advised to tell her baby-sitter and nursery school teacher to be vigilant, in case Downs showed up and tried to take her. That did not happen--Downs was found ten days later--but the story was out there now, and could not be put back in the bottle. When she was an adolescent, Becky, as she is called, tricked her baby-sitter into telling her more details about her mother by pretending she already knew them.
In her teens, Becky got into hard drugs and hard partying. Her older sister, Jennie, had already gone that route, and Becky took to following Jennie to parties, where she began experimenting with pot and meth and dating older men. When she was 16, she saw the movie--Small Sacrifices with Farah Fawcett at her best--about the spectacular case--and that led to more years of the same. As the story unfolds in the current issue of Glamour magazine:
She lurched from boyfriend to boyfriend, hoping one could prove to her that she was lovable. “In some ways my genetics are what I feel kept me from really caring about right from wrong,” says Becky. “I had plenty of ‘normal’ friends who did normal things. I chose to be destructive. Deep inside me was the blood of Diane. My addictions mimicked Diane’s in the way of men—like Diane, I lived for the attention.”When she was seventeen, she got pregnant; she had broken up with the father by the time her son was born on 2002. Three more years of partying, men and job changes followed. From Glamour again:
“A part of me wishes I had never known [that Diane is my mother],” says Becky. “But the other part of me knows that if I never knew, I would not understand why I did the things I did.” She took some comfort in the idea that she could never be capable of Diane’s violence: “She committed the ultimate crime—she killed her child,” says Becky. “I tried to understand one day how she could have done that; it made me physically sick.”As might be expected, that "reunion," which never took place face to face, did not turn out so well, as Downs is a delusional sociopath. Long, rambling letters ensued until Becky cut them off. More partying. She continued to have a series of dead-end jobs until the night after she and co-workers had gone out drinking after work and one of her bosses at an auto dealership lot forced her to have sex with him in the parking lot in order to keep her job. That was her low point of her life, she says, but it was also when Becky turned her life around. She filed a sexual harassment suit and with the money from that used it to pay off her debts--and went back to school:
When Christian was three, Becky got pregnant again. Laid off from her job and struggling to support herself and her son, she decided to put the new baby up for adoption. “I remember holding him in my arms seconds after he was born and realizing I had to hand him to a family I had only met twice,” says Becky. “I thought that since I was adopted it wouldn’t be so hard for me to put my son up for adoption, but afterward I was completely lost. It made me think about Diane. I knew the hurt I felt, and I wondered if she felt it too.” Years earlier one of Becky’s boyfriends, bizarrely fixated on the case, had gotten Diane’s prison address. Becky had refused to contact Diane then, but now found the address and wrote to her birth mother.
The first semester was awkward and scary, but when I didn’t want to go to school one day, I remembered how I felt when I handed my baby to strangers, and I remembered the life I had lived and how I would be devastated if my son followed in my footsteps. And I’ve kept going.”Now she has dreams of being a doctor. At the time the story was published, she had reached out to her two half-siblings, but had not met them yet. She may never know who her biological father is--20/20 has her mother, Downs, who was a postal worker, showing up at the house of a man she knew would be alone with whiskey and a willing body, but so far no one has come forward.
Her decision to tell her story publicly, Becky says in Glamour, has to do with helping other individuals dealing with realities of birth that are not particularly comforting or pleasant:
“Until I saw my adopted birth certificate last year, there was still a tiny bit of hope that I was wrong and she wasn’t my birth mother,” says Becky. “But I’m confident that nurture has overcome nature, and even though her blood is in my veins, I am not capable of doing such evil things. I hope this story will help people who have the same stigma. Whether they came from a monster or were even raised by a monster—a murderer, molester, someone who beat them, a thief—that does not define who they are as an individual. Their parent’s mistake does not have to become their story. Each person holds her own pen and paper and can write her own story. People should never let anyone tell them different.”I'm writing about this story here because it does present one of those cases of: Do you really want to know? The truth? It could be awful. Because in this case, it is quite terrible. But knowing it gives something for Becky to deal with realistically, with open eyes. On 20/20, she is forthright and articulate, a young mother and a dean's list student, a long way from a slatternly lifestyle.
However, none of the stories reveal how her older sister, Jennie, turned out. Did she ever stop her hard-partying life and straighten out? I wanted to know. Remember, she was also adopted. And as this story unfolds in Oregon, so she also would have the right to her unamended, original birth certificate, which would contain the real names of her actual, biological parents. (Sometimes writing this blog I feel as if we have to get twisted into pedagogical pretzels to not offend anyone--and still use words that people--birth parent, birth daughter, natural parents, etc.--searching for us on the web allow them to find us. Please bear with us.)
Several other points caught my attention. One, Becky also gave up a child for adoption, repeating the adoption cycle in what seems to me an endless chain of stories of adoptions that follow being adopted. Does that child need to know whence he came? Do his parents? That is left unanswered. And how many adoptees repeat the cycle of adoption? Practically nothing makes me crazier than worrying about this: separation and pain passed on through generations.
When I testified in a court case once for a group of adoptees in New Jersey seeking their original birth certificates, I came across one of the adoptees in the ladies room bawling her eyes out. It's what you said, she said about always wanting to know what happened to your child...I'm adopted and I gave up a child for adoption too.... I was stunned--how much pain could one person handle?--but I have come to know this is all too common. Though this issue has been discussed in books about adoptees, one longs for some hard numbers, but there is no one collecting them; and we have seen how loaded it is to even ask parents on the census form if their children are adopted or biologically related to them.
Of course, asking adoptees about this would be different; if they could be surveyed in any scientific manner. Jean Strauss, author of Birthright and Beneath a Tall Tree, discovered that she was a third-generation adoptee. My daughter also gave up a daughter for adoption, and despite my urging, would not agree seek out an open adoption. Her adoptive parents who were plenty involved in this birth were not interested in guiding our daughter that way. They have no interest in the "granddaughter" who is not related to them. I did and do, and we have reunited, and I look forward to meeting her this summer.
Another point I want to make is that this is a case where surely the daughter, Becky, needed to be adopted. All the accounts indicate her parents are good people who raised a daughter that ultimately was able to get her life on track. We are often accused of being anti-adoption; we are anti-adoption only as it is practiced in most parts of the country--where the original birth records are sealed and love is supposed to make up for everything that is missing, such as an identity that preceded being adopted. We are not against parents giving loving homes to children; we are against, however, creating children merely to fill a void in someone's life. Children should not be commodities that can be ordered up because someone has enough money to do to.
In some ways, both Becky and her sister, as well as the other siblings, who were also adopted are fortunate, in one way, as they were adopted in Oregon, where this all transpired, because there anyone over the age of eighteen is able to get a copy of their original birth certificate. Oregon is one of the six states where it is possible to get one's original birth certificate without caveats of any sort.
I do not speak from the place of someone who was adopted; I know the fear of being rejected--as a relinquishing birth mother, I was afraid when I reached out to my daughter--but I can not know the feelings of someone who has, deep within them, a sense of abandonment that comes from being given up, by someone, at some place, for some reason. I can not know the fear of searching that sense of being abandoned, acknowledged or not, must give rise to. But no matter what one finds, or who, the urge to know the truth of one's origins--no matter what they are--comes from an innate longing to know, fully and completely, who one was at birth. On the side of the blog is a comment from the Find My Family website, no gone but I've kept it there because it is poignant, so true: Everybody wants to know where they come from, even if it doesn't turn out like you wanted it.
It is my conviction that those who do not search have their natural inclination to know the truth of their origins subverted by societal pressure to be a "good" adoptee who is not curious. This lack of curiosity about one's roots then sends a potent message that a stable, good family is plenty enough, that one's actual, biological, first, real parents matter little, that one's true heritage is not important.
At the same time, society everywhere sends the message the quite the opposite is true. Genology sites and TV shows refuting that notion proliferate. Yet just as we birth mothers were brain-washed into believing our child's only good future lie in giving them up, so too have many adoptees been lured into believing that wanting to know the truth of their origins diminishes the proof of their love for their adoptive parents. Hence, many adopted people do not begin to search until their adoptive parents are dead; by then, however, it may be too late to find their birth parents.
Yet only when enough adoptees--by the hundreds of thousands storming state legislatures--turn this falsehood of disinterest in one's roots on its head and demand to know the answer to the question the rest of us have never had to wrestle with will we have true reform. Adoption agencies and lobby groups such as the National Council for Adoption actively resist these reforms that would benefit adult adoptees. But NCFA and its band of mischief-making adoption agencies will lose in the end because they are wrong. They will lose because right will eventually succeed. Reform is decades overdue. It can not come soon enough. --lorraine
Jane here: A couple of other twists to the Diane Downs story. Another young woman carries Diane's DNA although she may not realize it. According to Ann Rule's book, Small Sacrifices: A True Story of Passion and Murder (Signet),Diane was a surrogate mother for an infertile woman, artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm. Diane and the couple were strangers, connecting through a fertility lawyer. Diane passed a psyche exam.
Diane's two children who survived the shooting were seriously disabled and adopted by the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.