By Sherlene (Ramey) Eicher
“Once a mother, always a mother “
A little background
I was born and raised in the “truth” (referred to as 2x2s from here on), from 1962 until my exit in 2002. This is my journey of being coerced into child relinquishment through the adoption process of the 2×2’s by my parents and Wally Baldwin, MD (Springfield, Oregon).
I am the youngest child of five children born to Wayne and Sharon Ramey. Our home life seemed normal to me, but I often wished I could have been born into a family that didn’t go to meeting. Friends (2×2 members) often marveled that “those Ramey kids are so good” and perhaps we were, but it was the product of being spanked and chastened.
My parents steered all of us children into adherence to the 2×2 doctrine and tenets. Be obedient, wear appropriate dress in public, don’t cut your hair, wear jewelry or makeup, get good grades and don’t embarrass us. We were expected to profess, and I was privately pulled aside at nine years old and told it would be ok to profess when they tested the meeting at convention. So, I stood up because I thought this was what they wanted. Prior to this I had never given it any attention.
We were all constantly compared with each other in our parents’ eyes, and it was sort of a one size fits all type of upbringing. There was one sibling who excelled at pleasing our parents and, I was often asked “why can’t you be more like your sibling?“
I tried to please, but when I couldn’t, I decided “why keep trying?” So, in my teens, I became the “black sheep“. I snuck makeup and jewelry to school, hung out with the other misfits and tried out all sorts of forbidden fruits. It was a crowd that accepted me as I was.
Some history of my parents
My parents both grew up in 2×2 homes. My father was the third child of four and my mother was the youngest of three.
My father was in the work (ministry) for three years (something he did to please his mother). During his final year in Reno, he was with Dan Hilton, who would rather read the Bible than do anything else. Dad went a bit stir–crazy, and it was during this year he decided the work was not for him.
However, he had met my mother in his field, and before he was out of the work was paying attention to her in ways not appropriate for a brother worker. My mother was just 13 at the time and he was 21. When they eventually married, mom was 15 and dad was 23. This would be unacceptable in our culture, and it should’ve been then. But times were different back in the 1940s, and girls marrying young was fairly normal.
In my opinion, the effect this had on us was an utter lack of discretion on who we dated or how old we were when we dated. We pretty much could go out whoever we wanted as long as they were a “2×2”. Some of us girls had really bad experiences with “inside“ boys. But my parents never knew because they didn’t involve themselves in our dating life. Nor could we have told them because we would’ve been accused as being loose.
Neither parent educated us on sex or intimacy. We were not given any advice on how to tell if someone was taking advantage of you and how to stop it. All I really remember is a “knowing“ that sex before marriage was bad. I could’ve heard it from the platform or my parents, but I just don’t recall.
This led to being date-raped at 16 by a 23 year old 2×2 man I was allowed to date. I couldn’t tell them because I thought it was my fault. After this experience, it changed how I thought about myself. Giving into sex in exchange for acceptance became normal.
I graduated high school in 1980 and couldn’t wait to leave home. Late one fall afternoon I announced to my parents I would be moving out, and the next day I packed up my car and was gone. I moved in with a girlfriend I had grown up with. We had a great first year away from home.
A year later, we both pulled up roots and moved to Phoenix AZ with her sister who had just graduated and was looking for work. We thought—why not? Another adventure!
Arriving in Phoenix, I found work immediately, but the sisters struggled to find employment, so they moved to Southern California, and I chose to stay. I moved in with a gal I worked with and soon enough became involved in the party scene with several young people from work.
It was during this time that I stopped going to meeting. I was caught up in a new and exciting lifestyle and saw the opportunity to escape this confining way of life. I cut my hair, started wearing pants, makeup and jewelry and entered this world always denied me. In my mind, I knew I’d return at some point. However, this was my one chance! I had no family around to watch me!
This life was fun and heady, and I felt sort of normal for the first time. I say sort of because when you’re raised so differently from mainstream society it is really difficult to ever feel normal. At 60 years old, I still have difficulty feeling normal among people.
This went on for about six months and I was introduced to a guy who I dated for about a month. Two weeks after turning 20, I was pregnant.
Other than what I learned in 6th-grade sex education class, I had been taught nothing about actual sex or contraception. My parents had taught me nothing about how I might feel around boys, how to say no, or how to keep things from going too far. They didn’t teach me how precious and sacred sex is. They didn’t teach me how precious and sacred I am. In fact, most of the doctrine of the 2×2’s is what a terrible person you are.
But now, in this predicament, I was truly scared. And super sick. I was also afraid of telling my parents. My hand was tipped before I could tell them so when I finally worked up the courage to ring my parents with the news, my dad was ready! “You’re a whore just like your aunt!”
I was stunned into silence and felt shame and disgrace raining down on my head. I knew the aunt he was talking about. She had left the 2×2’s at 18 and had gotten pregnant, had an abortion, and was still “outside“. I silently hung up the phone and burst into tears. Then, falling off the couch and getting on my hands and knees, I begged God to let them call me back or let me die if they didn’t, I didn’t want to live.
Looking back, I recognize, I was still a very young, innocent girl, who was trying to find acceptance anywhere she could. I had no tools to think or respond in an adult fashion. That wouldn’t come for years.
The adoption phase
Although it seemed like an eternity, my parents called back almost immediately, and my mother took over the conversation. She told me I would need to come home, and they would help me through this. I don’t remember much of the conversation after that—just relief that it was finally out and perhaps someone could help me figure out what to do.
Soon after, I was contacted by Wally Baldwin, who sent me pills for my nausea and gave me advice on some of the things I was experiencing.
It had not occurred to me yet that all of this would culminate in an adoption. Dr. Baldwin was just a long trusted friend who took care of pregnant women. I did understand that he was also someone who facilitated adoptions, but that was a long way off my horizon.
Upon arriving home, I went into the care of Dr. Baldwin. It was at that point my parents told me that this baby would be adopted. I didn’t even question it. There were no other options presented. I had been taught not to question authority, and not to ask questions. I do remember the idea being entertained that my eldest sister and her husband would adopt the baby. I was really hopeful this might happen because I worried the child would be unwanted because it would be biracial.
Some might ask, “Where is the coercion?” My answer is: the lack of options presented to me. No one asked me, “Do you want to keep this child?”. There are many girls in the 2×2’s who would’ve likely been in the same situation. My parents could have said, “If you want to keep the child, we will help you.” But that was never an option for me. The only solution was to hide “their” shame.
Before I left Phoenix, I had gone back to gospel meeting and re-professed, trying to be “right“ again. I was fairly naïve and never thought to even question what had just happened, and why did I feel compelled to “sow wild-oats”? I wouldn’t figure this out for years.
When I got home and met with the workers in the field and Wally, I offered, without being asked, to stop taking part in meetings. I just knew that was the thing to do. Which actually was a relief because I didn’t have to have a testimony!
As time progressed, and the baby began to show a bit, even though it wasn’t very obvious, the decision was made that I would stop attending meetings. Eventually, in my last trimester, I was moved into an apartment and told which stores to shop at, and where I could and could not go. The message was clear, “do not let yourself be seen by anyone we know“.
And it was understandable. It was convention time and there were a lot of workers around and special events, which mom and dad were very much involved in. They worked hard for their polished reputation, and they did not want this daughter to sully it for them.
During my pregnancy, I met regularly with Dr. Baldwin in his upstairs home office. Reflecting on it now, there were a lot of machinations to keep my pregnancy a secret. Wally’s home was usually abuzz with a lot of worker traffic, and since this was all supposed to be a secret, my appointments were at some really inconvenient times.
It wasn’t until my last trimester that I discovered the process of how my baby would be placed. It was something I just didn’t want to think about. But it would come to light sooner than anyone expected.
One morning in my apartment, I woke very early and as I got out of bed, my water broke. I was just 7.5 months pregnant. No one was prepared—least of all me.
Dr. Baldwin had written to head workers in each state including Canada inquiring for prospective 2×2 couples looking to adopt. These were people “vetted” by the workers whose name would then be passed along to Wally (Dr Baldwin), and he would write the potential adoptive parents and tell them about the baby and birth mother and they would correspond until an adoptive family would be selected.
When I asked how many families he had heard from, there was just one. So that was that. They were the lucky winners because they had replied promptly.
The baby was premature, so there were tests to determine if the lungs were adequately developed for the baby to survive outside the womb. If not, there were drugs to aid this along. The tests were positive, so we proceeded to the next step.
I was admitted on a Wednesday evening and the process of delivery started. Labor, which had to be induced with Pitocin, lasted 27 hours, and after long arduous hours, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was shown to me briefly before being evaluated and whisked off to the NICU. But before this was done, the question of what her name was came up. Immediately I said, “Brianna”.
No one had told the nursing staff about the adoption so at 7 a.m. the following morning, they brought Brianna to me, asking if I was going to be nursing or bottle feeding her. They handed me this bundle of goodness, and I just stared at her—unbelieving this amazing creature was my own flesh and blood.
I was in this mesmerized teary state when the head worker of the field came to see me. His eyes were wide when he saw me there bottle feeding my daughter. When his mouth started working again, he asked, “What are you doing?” All I could say is, “They brought her to me”.
He wheeled out of the room, and it wasn’t long before my baby and bottle were whisked away. I don’t remember much about his visit except being so sad and tired. The realization was dawning. There was a possibility I’d never see her again. After the nursing staff was made aware of my status, I was left alone there in the OB ward, with babies and happy parents all around. I felt lost.
Sunday morning before my release was my last chance to hold my baby one more time. I walked to the NICU and asked to hold my baby. She was hooked up to tubes and wires, but they settled me in a rocking chair and kindly brought her to me. The next time I would see her would be in 2004. She would become someone else’s baby in the meantime.
The following is an excerpt from a memoir that goes much more in depth than this short version. I chose to open the book at my lowest point, when up was the only option. Our culture tends to romanticize adoption stories, but rarely do you see the raw pain involved.
A Wounded Heart
I sat on the edge of my bed, head pushed hard against my hands to stop the crushing pain behind my eyes. Heaving sobs wracked my body and my heart felt heavy as lead. Never had I known such deep anguish.
Mom stood in front of me, arms crossed, peering down in the dark room. She had done this so many times in my life and mostly it felt like judgment. But this time she seemed bewildered. She had lost a child to death but not to relinquishment, and she didn’t know what to do.
It was a gloomy fall day a few months after my daughter’s birth, and I was still deep in grief. Bent over in agony and crying, I asked my mom the thing that was uppermost in my thoughts, “How am I ever going to love another baby as much as this one?” My mind reeled with confusion and guilt. How had I managed to give away one I loved so, so much? How will I ever survive this?
Her answer stabbed an icy knife into my heart. “You need to move on… forget her and get on with life.” How does one “get on with life” when your heart has been ripped out and you’re left bleeding all over?
I really just wanted to die.
There is very little recollection of events following my leaving the hospital until a few months later. I was living at my parents’ home, and during that time we moved, but I don’t remember moving. Trauma is an odd thing. I remember being required to meet with a social worker and being coached by Wally ahead of time on how to answer her questions. After all, this was an interloper to our closed system.
Rebuilding my life
The following spring, depressed and needing to get away from home again, I boarded a bus headed to San Jose, California. That is where I spent the next seven years learning to live life again in a world without my daughter. I never forgot her and hoped one day we’d be reunited.
I filled journals of fantasies imagining what she was like. I followed her ages and tried to picture her life. I bought birthday cards and privately celebrated her birthday. After about 3-4 years of keeping my secret, the thought came to me, “I don’t care what my parents think, I’m going to share my story.”
It was with care that I first tested the water and talked with those I felt were trustworthy and wouldn’t use it against me. The reception was positive among the young 2×2 kids who I considered friends. I finally began to feel less shameful about my past.
Often, I would see Wally at conventions and would ask him about her. He would never divulge any information that he might have. However, one year he did share with me he thought she had a brother. It was agonizing not knowing anything about her.
Around the time she would have been 16, I began telling my aunts, uncles and cousins. I told myself, if she ever becomes a part of my life, I don’t want them to be surprised. They all seemed pleased to know there was another family member. By this time my parents had accepted my need to tell my story and any shame they may have felt was hidden.
In 2004, my daughter contacted me for the first time through an email, and a few months later, we met in person. She, with her parents, and I with my husband, got to know each other at a hotel in southern Washington. I knew all would be well when her mother presented me with a book full of pictures and memories from the time she was a baby until that moment. What a priceless gift!
Our beginnings were tentative and sweet with many years of very little communication, but over time has blossomed into an amazing relationship that I would not trade for the world. My daughter is a beautiful woman with an absolutely captivating personality. The saying about pinching yourself to know you’re not dreaming has been my experience. But this is my daughter, my sweet Brianna, with whom I fell in love so many years ago.
To wrap up, what this system tried to tear apart, could not succeed in the long run. Mother and daughter were brought back together and made whole again in spite of it.
I have forgiven my parents and anyone else who had a hand in this process. I don’t attribute what happened to me as evil intent. Rather, it was manipulation from a very misguided belief system.
This is a very brief synopsis of my adoption story. There are so many other details that I left out, but I chose to focus on what was absolutely necessary, just the bare bones. My memoir will include not only more details of my adoption experience, but my life in the 2×2’s for 40 years and our exit from the church in 2002.
This account paints my parents in a rather poor light. In truth, my upbringing was OK for a 2×2 family. Yes, there was oppression, but we also had a lot of good times as well, likely similar to other 2×2 families. I have close relationships with my siblings and father and love them deeply. I have tried to talk to my father about what happened, but he doesn’t remember much of the past and its pain. My mother died in 2013.
If you’d like to contact me, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading and joining my journey.
Sherlene (Ramey) Eicher
Revised September 17, 2023