What does she look like? Where does she live? How is she doing? These were recurring questions that Jan Everson and Jane Pugh thought often for many years about the daughter they each had given up for adoption. Though the two women, living just houses apart, have shared a similar story for so many years, it was their journey of reuniting with their own daughters that brought them together as close friends.

The four women gathered together with me for an interview, Jane and Jan in person and Kelly and Theresa on speakerphone.

Though Kelly and Theresa have heard about each other, this is the first time they met by phone. After a few minutes of warm chit chat, we dove into their stories with a box of Kleenex within reach. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with excited chatter and laughter. Soon we were wiping away tears while they began reminiscing and sharing the heart-warming journey of their reunions.

 

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Jane & Kelly

Jane & Kelly’s Story

Jane stepped into the world of motherhood at age seventeen, giving birth to a daughter that she named Shawn Marie, the only baby girl born that day in a group of boys. Knowing that this baby girl deserved a better life than what she could offer at the time, Jane made the unfathomable decision to give her up for adoption, deciding that a closed-end adoption was the best route for her. Her little dimple-chinned baby girl lived in a foster home for about four weeks while Jane made the decision. Jane received a treasured picture of her baby taken during this time that she kept with her throughout life. This baby’s adopted parents received an amazing Christmas present when they adopted her on December 23rd, naming her Kelly. 

Kelly always knew that she was adopted, her parents open about it and informing her of it at an early age. She always had a curiosity about traits she might have received from her biological family.

Whose nose did she have? Whose distinct voice did she have? Though her adopted family was a wonderful, loving family, she realized that there were people out there that she shared traits with, such as her love for animals and travel. Her adopted family was always very supportive and offered to help her look for her parents if she ever had the desire, though she never really did, until she found herself in her forties and started to think about her biological family from a mother’s point of view.

Wanting her biological family to know her life turned out great and concerned that her biological mother might be worried about her, Kelly decided to find and contact her. She originally considered sending a post-card but decided to contact her biological mother by phone. Her search began. 

 

The Search 

Kelly felt a blend of curiosity, excitement and fear as she began her search. Throughout her life, she imagined her biological parents to be world travelers, singers or possibly lawyers. During the search, reality set in and she realized that her biological parents could also be bad, sad or unsuccessful people. She often questioned herself in the search and considered not pursuing them, afraid that she may be making a mistake.

As soon as Kelly initiated the search it became a family affair and her mom, dad, aunt and brother jumped in and began helping. She connected with someone in an “adoption underground” who had birth records for California through 1990. She found her birth listing that gave her mother and father’s last names and her given birth name, Shawn M. Kelly contacted the adoption agency for non-identifying information, a process taking several phone calls and months, resulting in numerous pages of information about the families, though no names or addresses.

Six months later, Kelly’s mom made the breakthrough, stumbling upon Grandpa Bert’s obituary that mirrored information from the agency, leaving little doubt. They had a name – Jane Pugh, and Kelly’s brother found a phone number. Kelly waited a few more months, until her birthday, when she felt like it was the right time to reach out to Jane.            

 

Making the Call

Sitting in her car in the Pier One Imports parking lot on her 42nd birthday, the location chosen for its cell phone reception, Kelly gathered up the courage to call Jane. Several negative scenarios flooded her head: her birth mother had Kelly at a young age and had gone on with her life, she hadn’t told anyone about Kelly, Kelly was destructing her birth mother’s life or she didn’t want to have anything to do with Kelly. The thoughts terrified her. Kelly’s adopted mom had flown to New York to be with Kelly that day while she called Jane, for support whether the response was good or bad. She spent time shopping at Pier One giving Kelly privacy to make the call.

With her heart racing and feelings of hope, anxiety and fear rushing through her, Kelly called and hung up several times before the call went through, unable to complete the call. Taking a deep breath, she steadied her hands and dialed one more time and let it go through. Jane’s husband Merlyn answered the phone and said that Jane wasn’t home, asking if he could take a message. Kelly told Merlyn that Jane doesn’t know her, but she wanted to ask her about something she might know about.

“Well, Janie knows quite a bit about a few things,” Merlyn responded. “She’ll be back in about a half an hour. This isn’t one of those sales calls, is it?” Kelly told Merlyn that she would call back.

She had to go through the whole daunting process all over again! We all laughed as Kelly described the phone call and Merlyn’s response, able to imagine the situation.

 

Making Contact

Kelly anxiously waited in the Pier One parking lot before dialing Jane again with shaking hands and her heart pounding in her ears. Jane answered this time. Kelly clearly recalls the details of the call.

 “What I said was, ‘You don't know me, but I am pretty sure you where there when I was born 42 years ago today in Granada Hills, CA.’ I had practiced that line a million times and wanted her to have an out if this really was a bad connection for her to have. When she said, ‘Shawn Marie’ I knew and said, ‘Are you my biological mother?’ She said ‘Yes’ and we were both crying.” 

 

Getting the Call

Jane calls Kelly’s birthday a “wonder day.” She spent every one of her daughter’s birthdays wondering what she looked like, how she was doing and where she was. Over the years, she made peace with the fact that if she didn’t hear from her daughter, it meant that she was fine and had a good life. She left it to Kelly to make the call if she wanted to reconnect. Jane clearly recalls the details of the phone call she received that day.

“It is hard to put in to words how I felt. Elated, emotional, excited, blessed, etc. It was Kelly’s 42nd birthday and of course I had thought about her all day. But words cannot express how I felt when the person on the other end of the line said, ‘You don’t know me today, but I am 98% sure you gave birth to me 42 years ago today in Granada Hills, CA.’ I of course screamed and said, ‘Is this really Shawn Marie?’ and she said, ‘I know you are my biological mother because you know my birth name.’”

Jane couldn’t wait to share her news with those around her, including her co-workers. She called Denny Everson, a co-worker and friend, with her exciting news. Surprisingly, he explained to Jane that Jan had her own story of choosing adoption for her first-born daughter. Jane and Jan began sharing stories and support for each other and soon a close bond was formed.  

 

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Jan & Theresa

Jan’s & Theresa’s Story

Jan was a young adult working her first job in a small rural hospital laboratory. She was in love and was discussing marriage with a young man, but when Jan realized she was pregnant, those plans changed. She knew she would have the love and support of her family, but felt that she needed to make this difficult decision on her own. With a lot of praying for guidance and reflecting on her own childhood, she knew she wanted her child to have the love and experiences of both a mother and a father.

That’s why she chose adoption.

Jan chose not to see her baby girl, knowing she would never let her go if she did. “The only thing I saw was the back of her head, actually, the top left side.” She had dark, curly hair. This memory became engrained in her memory. When she explained how later, during the birth of each of her three daughters, the memory flooded back to her and she made the connection to her first born, her voice cracked.

Theresa’s feelings about being adopted were much like Kelly’s. She always knew she was adopted, her parents were very open about it. She doesn’t think she even understood it until the fourth grade, when she realized that her brother, of Mexican descent and also adopted, had different skin color that she did.  

She recalled having similar questions as Kelly about what her biological family looked like. She always wanted to look like someone because she never looked like anyone in her family. When she later had her own children, she was astonished to see that her children had some of her traits. The thought that someone in the world looked like her was extremely surreal. “Every time someone told me that I looked exactly like someone they knew, I wondered if I was related to that person,” she said.

 

Finding Theresa

Jan, like Jane, always thought about her first-born daughter, especially on her birthday. Though she wanted to look for Theresa many times, she felt she had given up those rights. Instead of looking, she prayed they would find each other someday.

Jan and Denny’s daughters, Kim, Shanda, and Angie have known about “her daughter in California” for many years and have encouraged Jan to find her. The last time was on Thanksgiving 2014 and as usual, Jan said the time just wasn’t right. The youngest daughter, Angie, apparently felt differently and on December 11, 2014 with a quick online search found Theresa.    

As Jan explained, Angie counseled with Denny, Kim and Shanda on how they would tell Jan that Theresa had been located.

Denny and Angie met with Jan the next day to tell her, but before any words were spoken she already knew and said, “You’ve found my daughter.”

“They shared her name (I didn’t name her. I felt that was a privilege her parents should have), her picture (I had never seen her), her address, where she worked, and pictures of her husband and two little girls! I had always prayed that she was alive, happy, and healthy. Those prayers of 41 years were answered in an instant!  I now knew more about Theresa than I had ever hoped to know!”

Jan took the numbers and went for the phone. “I knew if I was ever going to have an opportunity, this was going to be it,” she explained. Her family, shocked that she was calling right away, whispered behind Jan as she moved to another room to call.

Jan called Theresa’s office number, which was a main switchboard line. She confidently asked for Theresa, sure that she would get patched through immediately. The operator on the other end explained that they have over 4,000 people employed and asked if Jan knew which department. The operator worked with Jan to narrow it down to the right person and put her through.

When she got through to Theresa, she got her voicemail and said, “Theresa my name is Jan, I’m pretty sure that name will sound familiar to you. I know Dec. 7th is an important day in your life, it was an important day in mine as well, and I’m calling to wish you a belated happy birthday. So here are my phone numbers, I hope you will call me back, but if you chose not to, I want you to know I’ve always loved you and always will.” She hung up the phone and with so many emotions running through her, she fell apart. She didn’t notice her nervousness until after she hung up, several questions running through her head. What if she didn’t call back? What would Jan say if she did call back?

 

Waiting….and Waiting

It just so happened that Theresa didn’t get that message from Jan because she wasn’t at work that Friday. It made for an agonizing weekend for Jan and Denny, Jan pacing and circling the kitchen island, trying to focus on wrapping Christmas presents but not remembering what to write on the labels while Denny continually questioning her whether she heard back from Theresa. They waited….and waited….and waited.

After church that Sunday, Jan buckled and decided to call Theresa at home, and again had to leave a message. After another agonizing day without a response from Theresa, Jan got online around 9:00 that evening and registered herself on the “Find My Family” website before going to bed. As Jan slept, “Find My Family” went to work and had contacted Theresa and told her they had found her birth mother.

Jan’s phone rang at 5:15 P.M. Monday, and it was the call she had been waiting for! She looked at the caller ID when the phone rang and knew immediately that Theresa was calling her back. She had mixed feelings during their first phone call, ecstatic but worried that this might be the only chance she might have to talk with her daughter.

Jan told Theresa on the call, “I had always felt as if there was a burning hole in my heart, and I felt as if it had healed with finding you and speaking with you!” 

Theresa sobbed and said, “I think mine has healed too, and I didn’t even know it needed to!” Their first conversation was very open and the two of them agreed to continue their relationship.  

 

Theresa’s Search

Theresa started searching for her birth family beginning in 1999, the search difficult as she didn’t have any information about her birth family. Five year later she was able to obtain the non-identifying information from her adoption agency records. From there she learned that her birth mother was from South Dakota and used the information to update one of her adoption registry profiles on www.findmyfamily.org.

Before recent birth data was removed from the internet due to identity theft concerns, Theresa found an entry that listed the possible last names of her birth parents. Though she didn’t know it at the time, those really were their last names! After searching the internet for anyone with those last names in South Dakota, she became completely overwhelmed when the search returned hundreds of names.

Over fifteen years since she started searching, she went to law school, got married and had two children. She often became too busy to search, but every couple of years she would check the adoption registry websites for any new birth parent registrations or look for new ways to find information online. Though one of the easiest things anyone can do is to complete a Consent to Contact form with their adoption agency, hers didn’t make it to the mailbox. She obtained the form, had it notarized, filled out the envelope and put a stamp on it…but never mailed it in. Looking back, she feels that she might not have completed this step for fear of not being in control of her search or of being rejected.

 

Making Contact

One December evening, Theresa quickly checked Facebook before going to bed. She had a friend request from a person whom she recognized as being affiliated with Find My Family. Theresa asked if this person would provide help in finding her birth family; she was ready to commit to a search. The Find My Family contact immediately sent a message to Theresa that her birth mother had registered on their website and asked if they could share her contact information. Theresa immediately agreed.

She spent that night on the internet, looking up her birth mother’s registry and found a name. Finding a picture of her birth mother and pictures of women who may be her sisters, she started comparing chins, eyes and noses. She talked with friends and family and agonized over when her birth mother was going to contact her.

She called in to work to check her messages on her day off, December 12. There was a message from her birth mother, Jan Everson…the same woman she had found on the internet! When she picked up the house phone, there was another message from Jan. Theresa steeled her nerves and called her birth mom.

 

Seeing is Believing

Listening to them reminisce about the first time they all met was extremely heartwarming, like taking part in production of a Hallmark movie. Theresa explains it like this, “When my daughter was born and I looked into her eyes, it was like looking into eyes that I knew. When I opened the door, and my mom Jan was there, it was the same experience, I was looking into these eyes that I knew.”

Jan and Denny flew to Sacramento on March 20, 2015 for their first meeting with Theresa. Though Jan told Denny not to tape the private moment, he did anyway. Jan now treasures the ability to relive all the details of that memory. They met Theresa and her husband at their home and enjoyed a couple of happy, tearful hours together before her daughters came home from school. It was finally Jan’s opportunity to hug Theresa, 41 years later.

 Jan explained the moment, “It was to me as special as having your newborn baby laid in your arms for the very first time! Having the opportunity to meet a daughter, her husband and two granddaughters is such a gift!”  

 Theresa recalled, “When the doorbell rang, I ran to the door and immediately opened it. I took one look at Jan, this beautiful woman who gave birth to me, who gave me the opportunity to have the best possible life, and I hugged her and cried. Denny filmed our reunion with his super spy video camera glasses, and my husband filmed it with his iPhone.

We all spent hours talking, sharing stories, and sporadically crying and laughing. It was an amazing reunion.” Jan and Denny spent the weekend getting to know Theresa’s family.

Jane flew out to meet Kelly just over a month after their first phone call. Kelly was anxiously waiting at the airport for Jane’s delayed flight, so excited she couldn’t sit still. When Jane got off the plane, she couldn’t miss Kelly. Kelly was holding a sign that said, “Are you my Jane?” On the other side it said, “This one’s for you, Merlyn.”

“I held her and cried and we stepped back and I hugged her again. A 42-year-old dream and prayer had been answered,” explained Jane. The first night they turned in early but they spent the next few days together having a great time. “We haven't stopped talking since - I think that is genetic!”

“It was unbelievable, and a very peaceful feeling when we hugged for the first time,” Kelly explained. “It felt so comfortable, like I had been in your arms all the time,” she told Jane during our phone interview.

“I can’t put into words what it felt like to hold her,” Jane said.

 

Growing Closer

Each relationship has grown closer as they continue to talk regularly and have visited each other a few times and have met more family members.

“We’re all family,” explained Jane. “Kelly’s parents, Tom & Ginny, will always be Mom and Dad. That is a title the deserve for raising such a wonderful caring, loving, successful daughter for me.”

“I feel very fortunate that not only does Theresa’s and my relationship continued to deepen, but so has the relationship within all 17 of our immediate family,” stated Jan. “It’s also very important to acknowledge and respect each other’s differences. Like any relationship in life, it takes work and it is a commitment.”

“It has been so fulfilling to get to know Jan, to have all of my questions answered so honestly, and to continue to develop our relationship. It has been equally amazing to get to know her wonderful husband, Denny, my three beautiful sisters, and their spouses and children. I feel like they have adopted us into their family, and we have adopted them. This has been the journey of a lifetime, and I feel incredibly fortunate that the road shows no sign of ending,” added Theresa. 

Aside from some common physical features, each mother and daughter pair was surprised to notice the similar traits that they shared. Theresa shares a love of traveling with Jan and similar phrases are discovered when they visit. Kelly finally found where her distinct voice, love of animals, travel and Africa came from, all revealed the very first day that she talked to Jane.

 

In Your Search

They all had some advice if you are interested in the process of looking for a loved one. This is a process of time, energy and mixed emotions and it doesn’t always turn out with a happy ending like it did for these women. It really is a small miracle how these women connected and how their entire families have been so accepting because it doesn’t always end this way.

If you are going to try to find someone, be sure you are doing it because you want to, because there are times you may doubt yourself and prepared for anything. You cannot force a relationship, it will happen when the time is right. Surround yourself with a strong support structure. Search for websites assisting with this process and register on a few of them, but be extremely cautious as there are unfortunately people out there who just want to take your money. There are many others, though who really have a passion for helping lost family connect.

Every emotion during this process is justified, but as Theresa kept in mind during the search, “It was always helpful to remind myself that my birth mother valued my life and loved me enough to want to give me a better one.”

 

A Collection of Families

Jan spoke to Theresa’s adoptive parents.

“Theresa’s parents were there for her and for me at a time in our lives when we needed them the most! I will forever be grateful for the love, protection, security, and values they have given to Theresa. I can only hope every adoptive parent will understand we are not re-entering our biological child’s life to disrupt the relationship you have developed. We just want to celebrate alongside of you the wonderful person who is part of all of us!”

Jane feels the very same way, explaining, “I feel very blessed to have Kelly in my life and she will be with me forever. She has now met my entire family and they all love her too. I am also blessed that Kelly’s parents have been so giving in sharing Kelly’s life with me. Her Dad wrote me the most beautiful letter after we found each other and he said, ‘Thank you Jane, for November 22, 1972 and November 22, 2014 and for all the days and special moments between, since, and into the future.’ Her Mom came to visit for a day and brought all of Kelly’s school pictures, dance and sports pictures, holiday pictures. Which was proof in my heart that I did the right thing in sharing the love and beauty of ‘our daughter’ so many years ago.”

Kelly and Theresa are extremely grateful for their newfound relationships and look forward to the years ahead. Theresa explained, “It’s funny, because I don’t know who wants more parents, but I absolutely do love it. I’ve never been much of a collector of anything but now I collect families.”