‘In hospice for weeks, she never woke up. ‘Maybe she’s waiting for something.’ I read the email again, out of breath.’: Adoptee reunites with birth mom, finds siblings right before her passing

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“I grew up knowing I was adopted. It wasn’t a big deal as a child. I moved schools quite a bit and mentioned it as my ‘interesting fact’ when I introduced myself to other students. I’m not sure if proud is the right word, but I didn’t hide it. It made me unique and I had a happy childhood. Adoption wasn’t looked at as a negative but as a positive.

childhood photo of adopted woman
Courtesy of Mary

My 18th birthday rolled around and this is where my true journey began. My parents gave me a folder that was put together by the adoption agency with limited non-identifying information. For me, this was gold. I didn’t have many facts or stories about my birth mother and nothing about my birth father, so any and all information was precious and welcomed by me at this point.

The folder contained facts about my biological parents’ physical appearance as well as the number of siblings they grew up with and that my mother was also adopted. The folder was kept by my adoptive parents, up until they thought I could handle the information. My 18th year on Earth seemed to be a good time.

After receiving this folder, the wheels in my brain began to spin. ‘What was she like?’ I wondered as I looked at the limited information I now held in my hand. Might I be like her? Might I look like my biological mother? Maybe we liked the same things. It was then I decided to take the next steps to find her. My parents helped me call my adoption agency and set up an appointment to talk about the next steps.

Closed adoptions aren’t easy. They had been closed for a reason, so to ‘open’ them or make contact with the biological mother or father wasn’t as easy as calling and making an appointment to meet at a coffee shop. A third party was needed in order to moderate. This was annoying, but my parents and I went in for a meeting to take the next steps and abide by their rules of search and reunion.

Sadly, the meeting was not helpful. The agency explained my birth mother had called once and asked for information about me, but the agency wasn’t able to provide anything to her. It didn’t cross my mind then, that this may have been the only time she was looking for me or curious about how I had turned out. I thought since she had called once, when I reached out through the agency, she would respond willingly and our reunion would be simple.

This was not how the journey went. The reach outs from the agency were unsuccessful. Once it became clear, I began the search on my own. Before I cut ties with the agency, they gave me my mother’s first name. It’s a very common name and maybe this isn’t important to others, but that day I received her name seemed miraculous. It was as if this imaginary person who had always been a spirit somehow had become a real person. She had a name.

comparison of biological mother and her adopted daughter
Courtesy of Mary

I started scrolling through any and all internet sites that were advertised as reuniting adoptees with their original families. It was really sad. Most of the pages I looked through were original families looking for babies they felt had been taken, or lost, or placed without their knowledge. I must have searched through thousands of inquiries. It was heartbreaking.

Had all these people been looking for their children because they had made a mistake in placing their children? Some, yes but not all. One day I ran across one of these hopeful parent’s searches that said just a few words. ‘ISO baby born June $%, 198@ in Washington DC.’  It went on to include a few facts; caucasian, female, and the name of the hospital where the birth had taken place.

I put my hands around my computer monitor in shock. Was this me? Had I really found the person looking for me? I had my doubts, as this search seemed endless. I had looked through hundreds of pages and had really given up hope.

But then I scrolled down and saw the name of the birth mother. It matched the name I had been given by my agency, and right next to her first name was a last name. Also a very common name, but this sealed the deal in my mind. This was my mother. She was looking for me.

old image of adopted woman's biological mother when she was younger
Courtesy of Mary

I looked closely at the entry and it had been posted in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m. This must have been a moment of weakness, or maybe this was a moment she was feeling brave. Actually… I have no idea what this moment must have felt like. The entry was over a year old, so I went ahead and clicked on the email address, copied it, and sent it to a friend. I was too afraid to write it myself from my own email address, so I asked a friend to step in and send an email for me. ‘I think I might be who you’re looking for.’ 

My husband and I had a weekend wedding to go to, and on our way up, my friend called shrieking into the phone. ‘SHE ANSWERED. IT’S HER!’

I took the weekend, called my friend a few times to talk it through, and when I got home, I called the number my birth mother had left in the return email. She answered. I sat on my bathroom floor with a college ruled notebook laying on the floor and a pencil clenched in my hands.

When she answered, we had a lovely conversation. We spoke for an hour, maybe closer to an hour and a half, and the entire experience was what I had hoped for. I asked questions and she welcomed them with plenty of answers for me. We talked about the three days she had me before she handed me over to the adoption agency.

Closed adoptions in the 80s weren’t like adoptions today. Open adoptions and adoptions that involved the adopted family at the birth were not popular back then. She had me, held me for three days, then handed me over to an agency and hoped they had a forever family for me. She then signed the papers and left the hospital without a baby. It was a hard story to hear her tell me, as ‘the baby’ she spoke of was me. It made my heart hurt to know she had been sent away to a home for pregnant teenagers and was looked at as someone who had made a horrible mistake.

We went on to discuss who my father was and a little about him, then her interests, and what her life looked like now. It was lovely. She was happy I had found her. She asked about me, which I appreciated, but I didn’t write that down. I wish I had.

When it was time to get off the phone, she instigated the motion. She had to go pick up her son. I had a brother! ‘I am so happy you found me and I can’t wait to chat again really soon. How about we talk tonight? I’m so sorry, I must go now.’

‘Yes!’ I answered. ‘I would love that!’ Then we hung up. The evening came and went and I didn’t hear from her. I sent her a text asking if I had misunderstood. No answer.

The following day I sent an email asking if maybe she had time today, as last night didn’t work. No answer. 

I finally called the next day and left a message apologizing for missing her call, even though I knew she didn’t call me, and then made up a reason to be calling her. My heart broke a little each day, and by the end of the week, I knew what had happened. She had filled her cup enough and there was no intention to continue a relationship with me. She had disappeared.

I knew where she was and there were many days I wanted to get in the car and drive up there to her small town, just to see her at a coffee shop or go knock on her door. It’s me! Hello! But I never did. I wish I had. My life continued.

I went on to have four children in six years. Every two years, I had a child. Every child I had was a trigger. A trigger to my adoption story. I cried when I left the hospital, asking the nurses to let me stay a few more days. Not because I was afraid to go home with the babies, but because I felt close to my birth mother when I was at the hospital. It was the last and only time we had been together. Throughout the next six years, I sent text messages to her. Never asking or prying into her life. They went something like this.

Woman crying during the birth of her fourth child, she is in shock while undergoing a c-section
Courtesy of Mary
woman in the hospital after giving birth to her third child
Courtesy of Mary

‘Hello there, I hope you’re well. Merry Christmas. Would love to connect with you one day soon if that’s alright.’ Or sometimes they sounded like this; ‘I hope you’re doing alright, sending good wishes your way. Hope you’re having a wonderful summer.’ I would send two texts a year, usually they surrounded Mother’s Day or Christmas season, both reminded me of her.

She never answered those texts and years went by. I wanted to tell her when I had a baby, tell her things about how I parented. I craved her acceptance and approval. I wanted her to see me, see who I had become. But she never responded to me reaching out. One afternoon, after my youngest had turned one, I picked up the phone and called her. It was a bold move.

I had never called her and it had been years since our one conversation. She wouldn’t answer, but honestly, what did I have to lose? The phone rang a few times and as my eyes rolled and I went to hang up, she answered! I could tell it was an accident as she gasped when I identified myself.

She was kind and cordial, but it was a different feeling than before. I explained the reason for my call to be my upcoming visit near her place of residence. There was some silence on the other end which I filled with the idea to meet up, since I was already going to be in town. She perked up and sounded excited at the idea. ‘YES! I would love that. When and where? I will be there!’ 

We went over some logistics and picked a time and place. I got off the phone feeling wonderful again. After all these years had passed, she just needed time and now THIS was our time to meet.

Weeks went by and the trip approached. I looked at my calendar one last time before the big day and made a mental note of the red circle I had drawn around the day to signify the special event. I was so nervous but it felt right. Natural even.

I had a friend come with me as I had a small child who was still nursing. She also had a child the same age, so if I needed help with the baby she would be there. I didn’t tell my adoptive parents I was taking this trip. I was still unsure of how it may turn out. What if my birth mother doesn’t like me? If that happens, I decided I would have kept that information to myself. I didn’t want to be clouded by others’ opinions about what I was about to do, but I also didn’t want to hurt those who were closest to me if the trip went south.

woman traveling to reunite with her birth mother with two young children and a friend
Courtesy of Mary

I had so many ‘what ifs,’ but never did I think she may not show up. She was showing up. I was certain. The train pulled into the station and my friend and I got off with our babies and strollers in tow. We went straight to the hotel where the introduction would happen. I quickly scurried into the dressing room to change and freshen up. The meeting was set to take place at 11 a.m. I had plenty of time to calm my nerves and find a good spot to meet in the hotel lobby. I checked my hair, freshened up my makeup, and took a selfie in the hotel dressing room mirror. I was ready.

My friend took our babies to the children’s museum close by to avoid extra distraction. As I waved goodbye, I made my way back to the lobby and sat in a chair to begin envisioning what she would look like. What her expression may be when she walks through the door. What she might be wearing when she gets here.

Eleven o’clock came and went. I texted my birth mother and asked if she needed a ride or if she may be caught in traffic. There was a bike race through town earlier that morning, so I thought maybe she had gotten caught in a spot they had forgotten to open up again. 

No response.

I called around 11:30 and left a message, ‘I hope everything is alright. If you need to reschedule, I’m here for two days. Maybe you just got tied up. I can’t wait to see you. See you soon!’

No response.

It was now noon. And then 12:30. Still nothing. I started walking around the lobby thinking maybe she was nervous and watching me from afar. It’s something I thought of doing so maybe we are similar like that. Maybe she’s watching me from another room or entered through another door. None of these thoughts were true.

She wasn’t coming.

I texted my friend and let her know what had happened, and left my hopes of a reunion in the lobby as I got into my uber to leave. I looked back as the car pulled away and wondered if this was it. I was upset for about 10 seconds, but then the thought entered my mind that the timing must not have been right.

I still held onto hope as my birth mother was young. We still have our whole lives to meet. This would happen. As I took that uber ride and talked myself into acceptance of what today held, I couldn’t help but continue to check my phone in hopes she would call or send a message with an explanation. She didn’t and I moved on. I went home the next day and buried the feelings of confusion. They weren’t addressed or dealt with, I just fell back into the pattern of empathy for her as well as innocent hope she would one day come around.

Again, the twice a year texts started, and still no response. One evening in February, I sent a text late at night after watching a movie about adoption. The text went unanswered, of course, and I didn’t expect anything else. A few weeks later, my husband and I went out to dinner. The world had just started slowly shutting down as COVID creeped into the states. No one really knew what was going on, but restaurants started to be empty and my husband and I took advantage of a sitter that night to bolt one last time before the restaurants closed for good.

As our salads arrived, I received a text from my birth mother’s number. I joked as I looked at it and made some sly comment to my husband sitting across from me, ‘What on earth could she have to say?’ It had been two years since I had gone up to meet her and hadn’t heard anything about what happened on that day. The message wasn’t from her, it was from her significant other. He let me know she was very ill and had been for a while now. He had been going through her phone and saw I contacted her a few weeks back.

I answered quickly, ‘What does she need?’ He explained they were putting her on a helicopter in a few hours to move her to another hospital in hopes to save her life. My heart sank, but it didn’t deter me from shifting into high gear mom mode. Positivity and faith walked me through the next few weeks as I learned more about her condition. How could she be leaving the earth now? I hadn’t gotten to know her yet. 

comparison of adopted woman to her birth mother, who was age 16
Courtesy of Mary

For the next few weeks, I got to know her through phone conversations with her partner. He explained more and more about her condition, and I sprinkled in questions about her personality. She wasn’t getting better, and each day he updated me there was something new happening to her body.

One evening, he was called to the hospital to say his goodbyes. He was on his way to pick her son up. A son! Wait, that’s my brother! Through these unfortunate circumstances, I was able to speak to him that evening, as he didn’t know of my existence. I had become very involved in ways to help her get better, so her partner felt I was a safe person to introduce to her son.

They were allowed in the hospital for the first time in weeks, as COVID had now become very dangerous, especially in healthcare facilities. Her partner explained he had put me on the list of family members that could come see her to say goodbye. He felt I deserved this opportunity. That was a very hard evening, as I had to make the decision to get in the car and drive a few hours to meet someone I had never met, who may or may not want me to see them like this. This was my only chance, as we had been told she would not make it through the night.

I decided not to go. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. They arrived and a few hours later were asked to leave, as the doctors had somehow gotten her back to a stable condition. False alarm. Gracious, that’s hard to go through at a distance.

He called me one day to give me her update, but this day was different. He had a different tone about his voice. ‘They are starting to wean her off of the tubes and monitors and medicine,’ he said. They are going to try and wake her up. Over the next few days, the doctors did just this. There was no rhyme or reason for her getting better, but that seemed to be the direction they were moving with her. The day came when she had been woken up, and then the day when she was speaking, and then the day came when her partner called and said, ‘She would like to talk to you.’

‘Yes! I would like to talk to her. Please! I’ve waited so long.’ I felt like I had shouted into the phone, but I knew I had remained calm. The next day I called her. She answered, after all she was trapped in the hospital for a while in recovery mode. No one was allowed in so I assumed she welcomed the company, even if it was through a phone call. She sounded so good. I never asked her why she didn’t show up a few years back. We chatted for about 10 minutes, but she was weak and needed to go. I took whatever time I could get with her.

I then made it my routine to talk to her twice a day. I was homeschooling my four kids at the time because of COVID, so I made calling her part of my daily activities. I would wake up and homeschool for a few hours, and then call her. Then the rest of the day would go by and I would run outside right before the hospital phones turned off to say some kind words to her as she went to bed. This lasted about two weeks and I got to know her more and more. Conversations were fairly surface level, but I really grew to love this woman and prayed she would get better.

selfie of adopted daughter with protective face mask on waiting to visit her mother in hospice
Courtesy of Mary

One day, her partner called and let me know he had her in the car and she was coming home. This was wonderful news, but my heart sank a little as this routine we had fallen into was great – she was in a hospital room next to the phone she would answer, versus the real world where she had more of a choice. Outside temptations were now a reality, and I feared they may keep her from continuing a relationship with me. I was thrilled though and expressed my excitement to them.

The next day, I called her and there was no answer. I called again that evening and still nothing. I waited until the next day to try again and still nothing. By this time, I’d had a few conversations with her son, so I reached out to him to figure out if I was again being brushed off, as she had done for so many years. I couldn’t imagine this being the truth as we had grown our relationship.

Turns out she had fallen very ill overnight and had been rushed back to the hospital. This time she was not able to speak as we had the past few weeks. I called her that evening in the hospital and her voice was completely different. I asked her how she was and she responded with the faintest breath, ‘Not well.’ My heart broke and I knew she would not be returning home, we would not be having lunch one day as she had planned, we would never go on walks and talk about life.

She was moved to hospice a few days later and I was asked again by her partner if I wanted to come up. The answer this time was yes, so the very next morning after she had been moved, I made my way up there. I stayed for the majority of the day, not even leaving to go to the restroom, as I didn’t want to miss a moment if she woke up. She never did. I spoke to her son in hopes she heard us get to know each other and felt the love in the room. I left that day after saying hello and goodbye to the one person I couldn’t reach. It was such a rush to get up there and such a let down when leaving, and all within a few hours of each other. The events were so conflicting and so were the emotions attached to both hello and goodbye.

hands of adopted daughter and biological mother the day they reunited
Courtesy of Mary
woman waits by her birth mothers bed side while she is in hospice care
Courtesy of Mary

My birth mother stayed in hospice for many days, even weeks, and never woke up. I called every day hoping she may have woken up, but the nurses, who I had become very friendly with, just explained a similar description of her daily. They knew who I was and why I was calling and reminded me she may be waiting for something, as many people do. The nurses figured it had been me she was waiting for, but I had come and gone and it seemed my birth mother was holding on for something else.

A few months prior to that text coming through from her partner about her condition, I had taken a DNA test. My results had sat there online for a while and nothing came of it. I had taken two to cover as many comparisons as I could. I had asked what they call a ‘search angel’ to help me sift through the DNA and explain who and how people may be connected to me. My sweet search angel messaged me as I waited for the hospice stay to end and let me know there was a match that came up. A match I needed to look at immediately.

As I opened up the site and looked at my matches, a sister seemed to be listed. A sister… well, that can’t be right. There’s no sister. But there was. And she was a full sister, my search angel explained. We looked closer and reached out to the potential ‘sister.’

I laughed at this misunderstanding and brought my focus back to my mother, who was on her last days here on earth, and really began to grow a relationship with her son. My search angel confirmed again, this was in fact a sister, and as I checked my email that evening, this sister had responded with a confirmation she was also placed for adoption just 17 months after I had been born.

My mother had another child. I called up my brother and explained our mother had placed another baby and there were in fact three children instead of just the two of us. As we spent time trying to understand why no one knew about this extra sibling, another email came in. It was from my sister, confirming again who she was but also introducing me to her brother. I thought, ‘That’s nice, she grew up with a brother.’ She went on to tell me this brother she grew up with was in fact my brother as well. My mother had a fourth child and placed him up for adoption too.

screenshot showing DNA test results uncovering new siblings for an adopted woman
Courtesy of Mary

I picked up the phone, out of breath as I read the email again, and called my brother who was sitting by our mother’s bedside. I explained there was another sibling and his reaction was just as shocked as mine. We spent the day chatting about who these people were, as the two of us were just freshly new friends as well. At the end of this email was a very short sentence that almost looked like an afterthought.

My sister explained there was another sibling. The two of them had contacted and confirmed a fifth child. I was the oldest and there were four who had come after me. The first four of us came in six years and we had all been placed for adoption, but the last child came 12 years later and our mother had parented him. He was so special to me now, and I had to call him during this last week of his mother’s life and tell him all about the rest of us.

My birth mother WAS waiting. She was waiting for us all to find each other. I called my brother who I had grown to love and explained to him on speaker, as he sat next to our mom, that there was yet another sibling, totaling five children. We had all found each other, and we hoped this would set her free.

She passed away a few hours later in the early morning of the next day. She had been waiting. She had waited for all her babies to find each other. Had I not made a choice, turned a corner, answered a text, sent a message, or made a call, etc… had timing not been a perfected factor in this story, she may have left this earth without any of us knowing the others existed. As she left us so early in her life, her legacy of leaving five children here on earth is larger than most people’s life long accomplishment.

I have always found peace, during this story, before it unfolded, and now after her passing, in nature and in the purity of our earth. I had to take breaks and walks and witness the beauty of our planet in its rawness to be able to live through the rejections and hardships of looking for someone who may not want to be found.

mother of four finds her peace while being in the nature of fall
Courtesy of Mary

I tried to fill the void of her presence by concentrating on many other aspects of my life, after all, I had four children to keep me busy. But the void could not be filled with anything or anyone besides her. I’m so thankful to have finally gotten to her and now my healing begins.

The ending of this story, her passing away, us all finding each other, is just the start of my new journey. Nature calms me, nature takes away all the hustle and bustle of life. It helps me focus on the true meaning of why we are all here and to appreciate how short life truly is.”

woman sits on a dock by the water with her laptop open writing a book
Courtesy of Mary

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mary. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories like this:

‘Your parents gave you away because they didn’t want you.’ I was taken in at 19 days old. My life became a mental game of ‘Who Could Be My Birth Mother?’: Adoptee reunites with biological mom, ‘I found my long-lost soulmate’

‘I can’t keep her. She’s not mine.’ The nurse replied, ‘Adoption! How wonderful!’: Woman reunites with birthparents after 18 years

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