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My Christian life: God reunites a mother and her daughter

A story of how God brought together a mother and the baby she gave up for adoption.

“I’ve been mulling this story for 52 years, so I know it pretty well.”

Karen Smith’s story is one of love—a love for a baby she didn’t keep.

But it’s not only Karen’s story. It’s also the story of Becca Backhaus, the baby Karen gave up for adoption.

And it’s their story together, a story of the unusual circumstances that allowed them eventually to find each other and become part of each other’s lives. “We think we’re in charge, but we’re not,” says Becca. “Who could have come up with all of this? God works things out in his time, in his way, for your good, and in ways you never would think.”

An unexpected pregnancy

The year was 1970 when Karen (then Stewart) and her parents learned the news. “I was 19 and pregnant,” says Karen. “Marriage was not an option, and abortion was not an option.” They decided together that Karen would have the baby and give the baby up for adoption.

While Karen’s parents were supportive of her, they wanted to keep the pregnancy  quiet. So Karen spent her first trimester at home, then lived with her brother and sister-in-law out of state for three months before settling into a home for unwed mothers in Phoenix, Ariz., for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Karen says she lived with at least 20 other soon-to-be mothers at this home, many coming so they could continue their education. “This was two years before Roe v. Wade. People were still looking for a place to have their babies,” says Karen. “Some girls were there because they could not be out in public in their community at all. Back in 1970, getting pregnant and not being married was a big deal. Socially, you’ve brought shame to your family.”

Toward the end of her pregnancy, Karen met with an adoption agency. Having grown up WELS, Karen insisted that she wanted to find a WELS family to adopt her baby. “I was at their mercy to find a home for my baby; I didn’t want to make it an impossible task, but I knew that if they weren’t WELS, that was not the family for my baby,” she says.

The agency did find a WELS couple in the area looking to adopt a baby: Walter and Janet Klann from Phoenix, Ariz. They had tried to have a baby for many years but were unsuccessful. Becca was an answer to their prayers.

Karen went into labor two days before she was due and gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Aug. 24, 1970. “They asked right before delivery if I wanted to see the baby or if I wanted to be asleep and the baby taken away,” says Karen. “I wanted to see the baby. I wanted to see what was inside of me all this time.”

She continues, “Before I left the hospital, I had ten minutes with her. I wanted to unwrap her and make sure she had ten toes, but she sneezed so I thought I better wrap her back up. So I never saw her toes.”

Karen stayed at the home for unwed mothers for one more week and then went back home to Tucson. She did not meet with a counselor; the only people she talked to about her experience were the other unwed mothers she met in Phoenix. She started back at college two weeks later. “[Giving up my baby for adoption] was the hardest thing I’ve done in my whole life, harder than burying my parents,” says Karen. “It was like Becca had died because I didn’t have a baby. I remember being very depressed, and the only thing that kept me going was getting back to school. I just took one step at a time.”

A loving adoption

Becca Klann (now Backhaus) says there was never a time when she didn’t know she was adopted.

“My parents never treated me differently. I was always their child,” says Becca. “At two years old, they would call me their only adopted baby.” She called herself “’dopted” by the age of three.

“They always told me that my birth mother loved me so much that she wanted to give me two parents,” says Becca. “That [knowledge] was a really special gift that they gave me.”

It wasn’t until Becca was in college that they learned more about Karen. Becca was having some health issues, so she and her parents decided to open up the closed adoption records to look at the medical histories. They didn’t learn too much personal information—just Karen’s first name, a little about her siblings, and her occupation as a nurse. The caseworker also shared that there was a note saying how adamant Karen was that Becca be raised in the faith.

Looking back, Becca says that note showed the depth of her birth mother’s love for her: She wanted her child to know Jesus. Becca’s loving, open upbringing by her adoptive parents just deepened that understanding. “Because of how I was raised, I didn’t have to experience [my birth mother’s] love firsthand to know it,” she says. “If I didn’t ever know her this side of heaven, I’ll have a perfect relationship with her in heaven.”

It turns out she didn’t have to wait that long for that meeting. God had plans—and people—in place to connect them.

My christian life May 24
(Left) Janet Klann, Becca Backhaus, and Karen Smith at the wedding of Becca’s daughter Christa in 2018. (Right) Karen Smith, Paul Prange, and Becca Backhaus at Curt Backhaus’ installation at Risen Savior, Austin, Texas, in 2022. Featured image at top: Karen Smith and Becca Backhaus, Easter 2024.

A long-lost reunion

After graduating from school, Karen became a nurse for the Navy and was stationed in Cuba. It was there that she met Jeff Smith, who was in the Coast Guard. After corresponding for two years (they were never stationed in the same place), they married. Not long after, Jeff decided that he wanted to go into the ministry and become a WELS pastor. After his graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, one of his calls was to Emmanuel, Las Cruces, N.M. Jeff and Karen lived and served there with their three children from 1988–1996.

Becca Klann also married a pastor, Curt Backhaus. They served in Saginaw, Mich., until Curt accepted a call to Emmanuel, Las Cruces, in 1999. Becca says she sent a photo of their family to the congregation before they arrived to hang in the church. “People kept saying, ‘I can’t believe how much you look like our old pastor’s wife,’ ” says Becca. “They said it for months and even called my kids by Karen’s kids’ names.”

The resemblance confused Becca. A member at the church started helping her put the pieces together, making her think that Karen may be her birth mother. When her good friends Paul and Leanne Prange visited in July 1999, Becca asked Paul about it since he was in the same graduating class as Jeff. Paul didn’t think it was possible but said he would ask his mother, who used to babysit for Karen as a baby. Later that same evening, Paul called Becca and told her Karen was her biological mother. With Becca’s blessing, Paul tried to contact Karen, finally writing her a letter in January 2000 that said, “If the date Aug. 24, 1970, means anything to you and you want to talk about it, call me.”

“I always just wanted to know if [Becca] was okay,” says Karen. “I used to dream of meeting her and what it would be like and what I would say to her.”

She continues, “I dragged our phone into the depths of our closet and called him. He told me Becca was my daughter.”

Not long after, Karen made another phone call—this time to her now 29-year-old daughter. “It was a Saturday night,” she says. “We just cried for a long time, and she kept saying, ‘Thank you for giving me life. I always wanted to say thank you.’ ”

In July of that year, Karen, Becca, and Janet all met for the first time. “My mom and Karen had the first hug,” says Becca. Karen and Becca hugged right after, as Karen checked Becca’s feet for all ten toes.

Their relationship grew through the years. Becca met her siblings, and Karen met her grandchildren. In 2022, their relationship started a new phase when Curt accepted a call to Risen Savior, Austin, Texas, bringing Becca and Karen together in the same state, now living only 30 miles apart.

Looking back, both Becca and Karen still can hardly believe how God directed their lives through the years. “We lived in the same house [in Las Cruces]. We knew all the same people,” says Becca. They determined they could have met multiple times through the years, including when Becca graduated from high school—in the same class as her first cousin Amy.

Says Becca, “Only God could have brought us together! He planned for us to meet at Emmanuel, Las Cruces. His timeline was perfect!”

Author: Julie Wietzke
Volume 111, Number 05
Issue: May 2024

Room in her heart

In 1995, Janet Klann and her daughter Becca had an opportunity to write a chapter in a book called Adoption Love Stories*. This was five years before they met Becca’s biological mother, Karen. Here’s part of what Janet wrote:

picture of 3 women in a purple frame
Janet Klann, Becca Backhaus, and Karen Smith in July 2000, the first time they all met in person.

I think of Becca’s birth mother often, mostly on happy occasions and always with gratitude. I say a silent “thank you” for her unselfish love and a prayer that her long-ago decision has brought her peace and not pain. Sometimes I wish I could meet her. That way I could finally thank her in person and maybe put her fears to rest. I would like to say to her, “Look what a great person your daughter turned out to be! You have a right to be proud of her!” I have left a letter on file at the adoption agency in case she ever wishes some news about her baby.

At one time I felt threatened by Becca’s “other mother,” but that is no longer the case. Should the two of them wish to meet some day and establish a relationship, I would not feel hurt or rejected. Just as a parent can love two children fully and completely but not in the same way, so Becca has room in her heart for two mothers.

*Compiled by Marcia Rhone, Clear Pond Press
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This entry is part 1 of 51 in the series my christian life

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