If things had gone according to plan, Culwell’s life would have ended, along with her twin’s, in her mother’s womb. But clinicians did not detect Culwell’s presence when they aborted her twin in 1988. It was not until 2009 that Culwell learned of her near pre-birth demise.
It was that year that Culwell — the adopted daughter of Warren and Barbara Culwell — decided to search for her birth mother. That Claire Culwell would meet her mother was no guarantee.
Hers was a closed adoption, meaning that when her mother put her up for adoption, she forfeited the right to any kind of contact with her daughter. The form of adoption also meant the child would not be told her mother’s identity.
After the adoption agency brokered a meeting between Culwell and her mother — whose identity the daughter has chosen not to disclose publically — the two stood face-to-face for the first time in 20 years. Culwell said the March 2009 meeting was joyous and eye-opening.
“It was a great reunion,” Culwell said, speaking before an audience at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. “In some ways, it was like meeting myself. We’re both short — I haven’t grown since middle school. And, she is a nurse and I was a nursing major at the time,” said Culwell, who was a student at Blinn College in College Station, Texas, at the time of the meeting.
Culwell said that during a second visit two months later, she brought her biological mother a thank-you card and a ring as a token of her gratitude to the woman who gave her life. The gesture that was intended to bring comfort instead brought condemnation, Culwell said.
“Initially, she seemed to be touched by my gifts. Then I noticed that her happy tears had turned to tears of sorrow,” Culwell said.
The woman felt guilt at having tried to terminate the pregnancy that produced her daughter. That burden prompted the woman to admit that Claire’s birth was not intended.
Claire was told that her mother had become pregnant when she was 13 years old. She had a surgical abortion at five months pregnant at her mother’s urging, then attempted to return to typical teenage life. But, weeks later she realized she was still showing signs of pregnancy and returned to the abortion provider, which informed her she had been pregnant with twins. They sent her to a late-term abortion clinic but clinicians there refused to perform the procedure because it would jeopardize her life.
Only weeks later, Claire was born 2 1/2 months premature. She was on life support for months and suffered physically after being born. Her hips were dislocated. Her feet were clubbed. But, Claire had survived and there was a family waiting to adopt her as soon as she was strong enough to leave the hospital.
Culwell attributes her birth to divine intervention.
“Jesus had his arms wrapped around me when my twin was being aborted,” said Culwell, who now lives in Austin, Texas. “He said, ‘No, you’re not taking this one.’”
Culwell also said she now tries to live her life in her twin’s honor.
“If I hadn’t been a twin, I wouldn’t be here,” Culwell said. “God gave me a voice because of my twin.”
Culwell said her mother’s revelation gave her a profound new sense of purpose in life. Now on sabbatical from college, Culwell is touring the country and sharing her life story, advocating that women with unwanted pregnancies put their children up for adoption. The message Culwell preaches is one that emphasizes forgiveness and love.
“I didn’t have an ounce of anger at my mother for trying to abort me,” Culwell said. “If I was 13 years old and pregnant and my mothers was pushing me to have an abortion, I would have made the same choice she made. I would have trusted in my parents.”
While Culwell describes herself as “pro life” politically and encourages like-minded people to stand against abortion, she said their efforts should be fueled by love for all of those involved in the procedure.
“God created the abortion providers and the people picketing outside their clinics,” Culwell said. “We need to be loving those who have performed abortions. That love has the power to change people’s minds.”