A Victory of Faith

updated 03/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

AT AN OCTOBER TAPING OF HER DAILY NBC talk show, scheduled to air March 4, Faith Daniels was moderating a discussion of a disturbing topic: women who become pregnant as the result of rape. She seemed every inch the dispassionate observer, moving smoothly between one woman, who had opted for an abortion, and another, who had chosen to carry her pregnancy to term. But just before cutting to a commercial, Daniels, 35, made a startling disclosure to her guests. "There are many adoptees—including this one—who were conceived in the exact same way," she said, a slight tremor in her voice. "It really doesn't matter how you were conceived. Only what you've become."

Though Daniels has spoken openly of her adoption in the past, she had never before divulged publicly what she learned only in 1985 about its circumstances: that her own birth mother, then an unwed 17-year-old, had become pregnant with Faith after being beaten and raped by a young man she had been dating.

If Daniels's viewers were stunned by the revelation, the reporter herself has remained a model of equanimity. "[The circumstance of conception] isn't something that's a cross to carry or that I dwell on," she says now. "Date rape is truly an awful thing. But if a child is the result, and is placed in a loving home, there should be no stigma."

And that, according to Daniels, is exactly what happened in her case. As the adopted daughter of Steven Skironsky, a factory worker, and his wife, Mary, a hairstylist and homemaker, Faith grew up outside Pittsburgh in a loving home she shared with her brother, now 45, who—was adopted from an Italian orphanage at age 9. Her adoption from a Catholic orphanage at age 8 months was neither a secret nor cause for shame or embarrassment.

In fact, it was not until 1985, when she had been married for four years to television reporter Dean Daniels, that she decided to speak to her birth mother, whose identity she had known since she was 21. "I was thinking about starling a family," she says, "and I didn't know anything about my genes. I fell, 'If I'm ever going to do anything, I may as well do it now.' " Several months after an emotional phone call, the two women arranged to meet in a restaurant.

During the course of their conversation, says Daniels, "she told me that she got me and a black eye in the same night. I knew what that meant. She got pregnant in the course of dale rape." Her birth mother, who had later married twice but never had another child ("It just wasn't am thing that she wanted to repeat. It was too traumatic for her"), explained that though she had wanted to keep her baby, her parents had "pressured her to put me up for adoption. They got her out of town, and she went to live with relatives out of the state."

At the end of the dinner, her mother began to cry, says Daniels, when "I explained that I already had a mother, and she was very important to me. I think it was sad for her to hear that. She had wondered through the years how I had turned out. But my life was so full, I wasn't missing anything."

Daniels has remained in casual contact with the woman, whose identity she declines to divulge, but she never attempted to contact her biological father, who has since died. And, while she is grateful to her birth mother, it is the parents who raised her who have her first allegiance. Preparing a eulogy for her adoptive mother, who died in 1985, "I remembered how she always told my brother and me how special we were," she says, tearing up at the memory. "It occurred to me that in brother and I were just orphans. They were the ones who were special for taking care of us."

Beyond that, Daniels, who has never had psychotherapy ("We Catholics get it all out in the confessional"), says she is untroubled by the circumstances of her conception. "She's never really thought it was a big deal," says her husband, now a CBS TV news director, who supports her stance. "She's very lucky she grew up with wonderful parents who gave her a lot of love."

Nor has it affected her plans to have a large family of her own. Now the mother of Andrew, 6, and Alyx Rae, 3, Daniels, who will begin hosting her own prime-time newsmagazine by early summer, hopes to take a reporting trip this spring to Bosnia, where she intends to look into the possibility of adopting an orphaned child. "I'm certainly capable of having more children," she says, "but it would be awfully nice if I could give an abandoned child a home first."

Though she insists she has not suffered from learning the story of her birth, Daniels does say that it has left her a legacy. Before meeting her birth mother, "I had always thought the nuns in the orphanage had named me Faith," she says quietly. "But that was actually the name given to me by my biological mother. She fell I would need it."

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
SUE CARSWELL and MARIA EFTIMIADES in New York City

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