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Woman Learns Sexual Assault Led to Her Birth. Here’s What She Wishes She Could Tell Her Biological Mom (Exclusive)

When Lisa Bouler Daniels found her biological siblings, she learned a family secret that has taken her years to process

<p>Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers</p> Left, Lisa Bouler Daniels; Right, Deborah Chambers

Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers

Left, Lisa Bouler Daniels; Right, Deborah Chambers

This post is a collaboration between PEOPLE and StoryCorps, the largest collection of human voices ever archived.

Adopted as an infant, Lisa Bouler Daniels always dreamed of meeting her birth parents. When she became an adult, her adoptive mother supported her desire to find her biological parents, but urged her to be cautious.

"She told me that everyone needs to know where they come from," Daniels, 57, tells PEOPLE. "I remember her saying, ‘Just be careful as you begin to search. You have to be prepared for what you might find.' "

Those words proved to be prophetic. After a law in Illinois was passed in 2010 allowing greater access to adoption records, Daniels was able to eventually track down a biological brother, Benjamin Chambers, who worked at a church just a 15-minute drive from her own home in Chicago’s southern suburbs.

"I just showed up at his church," says Daniels, now an assistant high school principal. "I sat through the service and after it was over, I approached him and said, 'Hey, do you have a minute to talk?' "

Related: Woman Reunites with 9 Long-Lost Sisters After 43 Years of Being Separated: 'I’m Home' (Exclusive)

Armed with old yearbook photos of a high school student Daniels believed was her biological mother, DNA test results and her original birth certificate, Daniels sat beside Chambers in the Sunday school classroom in January 2018 and shared her findings.

"I have reason to believe that we are related," she recalls telling him.

“[I had] no inkling. No hint. No nothing. It was shocking,” Chambers said when she first shared her experience with StoryCorps in 2019. “It felt like I was staring at my mother — cheekbones, eyes.”

Stunned by the news, he called two of his three older siblings and eventually his father, Ronald, 74.

"I had no clue that Lisa existed," says Chambers, a community impact pastor at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Listen to Chambers share her journey with StoryCorps in the player below.

Piecing Together Her Biological Mom's History

Chambers' father revealed that his late wife, Deborah Chambers, had given birth to Daniels when she was 15, and had placed the baby girl for adoption. Though she disappeared for a few months before giving birth, Deborah went on to complete high school and married Ronald Chambers, her high school sweetheart, and had four more children. She also worked as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for decades before she died in 2004 of multiple myeloma.

Even more shocking was discovering that Daniels’ biological father was her mother’s former stepfather.

“I had hoped that it would be [Ronald Chambers] because they were high school sweethearts. But my mom had been a victim of sexual assaults from age 8 on,” recalls Daniels. “When I first learned this, I just remember saying, 'I need to take a break.' "

"I thought back to what my [adoptive] mom said all those years ago, 'Be careful to make sure you're ready for what you might find,' " she says.

<p>Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers</p> From Left: Benjamin Chambers, Eric Chambers, Lisa Bouler Daniels and Camille Chambers

Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers

From Left: Benjamin Chambers, Eric Chambers, Lisa Bouler Daniels and Camille Chambers

Connecting with Her Biological Family

Over the years, the Chambers siblings — Benjamin, 42, Camille, 46, Sara, 48, Eric, 51 — have welcomed Daniels and her two grown children, Cameron, 25, and Colin, 22, and her adoptive father, Willie Bouler, 88, to join them for birthday celebrations and family gatherings for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

“We place a very high value on family,” says Ben Chambers, 43. “It’s been a blessing... A lot of times in our conversations with Lisa, it feels like we were raised together and we have similar styles, similar affinities. Lisa and my older brother are the biggest Prince fans in the family. They’re always exchanging records and books and stuff like that.”

However, some extended family members were less enthused about Daniels’ appearance in their lives and questioned her motive. She discovered that many relatives had known about the sexual abuse and her mother’s pregnancy, but kept the secret from Chambers and his three older siblings. (After Deborah gave birth to Daniels, her mother and stepfather divorced.)

<p>Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers</p> Deborah Chambers

Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers

Deborah Chambers

Processing Her Biological Mother's Heartbreaking Truth

At times Daniels questioned whether it was a good thing to unearth such a tragic family secret.

“I just felt bad about them knowing this thing, this horrible thing that had happened,” says Daniels. “But then I would rather frame it as what strength my biological mother must have had to then marry my stepfather, and then get pregnant four more times.”

“There has to be some trauma that was related to that,” she says. “You give birth to a child that you gave up. And then to have enough faith and then love and connection with this man. I don’t know how many people could have done that."

Related: Woman Switched at Birth Celebrates Birthday with Biological Mom After Decades-Long Search (Exclusive)

Chambers thinks back on his own childhood with a deeper sense of appreciation of both parents who always had a loving relationship. He now understands why his mother was so concerned for his safety during his childhood and why she insisted on meeting his friends’ parents.

“She made sure that we had a level of protection growing up that she did not benefit from,” he says. “Even to this day, with my friends, we still make jokes about how she was everybody’s mother. She was the neighborhood mom.”

“She believed in education very much and really poured those values into us growing up,” he adds. “We were raised in the church, very active in church settings. It was a great upbringing.”

<p>Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers</p> Lisa Bouler Daniels, left, with her adoptive mother Ethel M. Boiler

Courtesy of Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers

Lisa Bouler Daniels, left, with her adoptive mother Ethel M. Boiler

Feeling a 'Profound Sense of Loss'

After meeting her four siblings and discovering what a powerful and educated woman her biological mother became, Daniels felt disappointed that they never got to meet. Just a year earlier, Daniels had also lost her adoptive mother, Ethel Bouler, to cancer.

"That first year, I felt just a profound sense of loss,” she recalls.

Now, more than six years later, Daniels feels tremendous gratitude.

“When I first found out that I was the oldest of five, there was a sense of peace, that, how do I say it? That I won’t be alone,” she says. “Maybe it was the right time for me to find my siblings, because, at 57, now I have nieces and nephews that I would have never known about if I hadn’t found them.”

“I think for my siblings, and I know Ben always says this, he thinks that this is what she would have wanted — for all of the children to know each other,” says Daniels, who pursued a career in education like her biological mother.

<p>Courtesy Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers</p> From left: Kamryn Daniels, Willie Bouler, Lisa Bouler Daniels and Colin Daniels

Courtesy Deborah Elaine Edwards Chambers

From left: Kamryn Daniels, Willie Bouler, Lisa Bouler Daniels and Colin Daniels

What She Wants to Tell Her Biological Mom

Reflecting on her journey, Daniels has a powerful message that she wishes she could share with the woman who endured so much at a young age.

“I want my biological mom to know that she made the right decision,” she says. “There should be no guilt or shame. I did not stay in foster care. I was adopted at four months. I want her to know that I am thriving with two children of my own. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to work out.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.

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