Katie DeCosse is celebrating Mother’s Day twice-first with the mother who raised her, then with the woman who looks just like her, laughs just like her and gave birth to her.
DeCosse, 53, of Minneapolis, and her birth mother, Jackie Maher, 74, of Brooklyn Park, reunited three years ago after a lifetime apart. “When I gave my daughter up for adoption in 1957, so she could have a better life than I could provide at the time, Catholic Charities told me I’d never see her again,” Maher said. “I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘Oh yes I will!’ It just took 50 years.”
Back in the 1950s most adoptions were closed, making it close to impossible for mothers and daughters like Maher and DeCosse to find each other. “When I reached my 70s I felt there were some loose ends I needed to tie up, and one of them was finding my daughter,” Maher said, “so I decided to hire a private investigator.”
With just the name of the hospital she had given birth in and a few sketchy details about the adoptive family, the investigator found DeCosse in just two weeks. Maher sat down and wrote her daughter a letter on May 12, 2007, exactly 50 years to the day she had signed the adoption papers. The letter began:
I am sure this letter is coming as a surprise to you. I recently initiated a private search to locate a daughter I surrendered for adoption in 1957. The search culminated in finding you…
Within just four hours of opening Jackie’s letter, Katie responded to her via email. Her first message began:
Dear Jackie, Wow! And I thought it was all downhill now that my 50th birthday celebration is officially over… I have never seriously considered searching for you but have always been open to the prospect of a meeting should you initiate it. To what degree, I can’t say at this time…
Just 13 days after that first email exchange, Maher and DeCosse met face-to-face for the first time. “Reuniting with Jackie has probably been the most profound experience of my life,” DeCosse said. “Seeing myself reflected back in another person was truly life-changing!”
Go for it
The women have co-written a book about their reunion. “Fifty Years in 13 Days: A Mother/Daughter Reunion.” It includes the emails they exchanged during those 13 days before they met face-to-face, as well as insight into what it was like to reconnect after so long.
“We hope that sharing our story will encourage other birth parents and adoptees who have been thinking about attempting a reunion to go for it,” DeCosse said.
As a result of their book, birth mothers and adoptees have reached out to Maher and DeCosse with questions about how to launch their own searches. With their help, Mary Schutrop, 57, of St. Louis Park, was able to find and reunite with her birth mother. So was 55-year-old Mary Schwandt of Eagan.
DeCosse grew up knowing she had been adopted. Her parents delivered the news when she was very young. “I had always wondered if my birth mother looked like me, why she gave me up, if I had any siblings and a myriad of other things. Now I have the answers,” DeCosse said.
“When I finally revealed the fact that I was a birth mother, I was amazed and gratified by how liberating the truth felt and the support I received,” Maher said. “If only one lasting connection comes about because of our story it will have been a worthy endeavor.”
The private investigator who helped make Jackie Maher’s reunion with her daughter, Katie DeCosse, possible has been helping adoptees and birth mothers reconnect since the 1980s. She offered the following advice to those who want to reunite with a long-lost child or parent:
1. Gather as much information as you possibly can about the person you are searching for.
Adoptees: Ask your adoptive parents what hospital you were born in, your birth date, your birth mother’s hometown, her family name if they have it, etc.
Birth mothers: Gather all the information you can find about your child. Start with the hospital name and birth date. If it was a closed adoption, go back to the adoption agency and ask for non-identifying information about the adoptive family. Most agencies will charge a fee for the information.
When requesting information, start with the state where the adoption was finalized and not in the state where the adoptee was born, if different.
2. Take advantage of the resources available at www.ancestry.com. For a nominal monthly membership fee, the site offers access to U.S. Census data, birth, marriage and death records, military and immigration records. The site also features informational articles and a message board.
3. Register in state and national reunion registries, also known as mutual consent registries, which are maintained by government and private individuals.
4. Join an adoption support group or mailing list so you can keep up to date on the latest laws and regulations related to searches.
The investigator said that in many cases these steps are all it takes to find the information needed for a reunion; and when the time comes to reconnect, Maher suggested the person initiating contact send a letter instead of showing up in person or picking up the phone. “There’s a lot less emotional risk for both sides when you do it that way,” she said.
“Fifty Years in 13 Days: A Mother/Daughter Reunion” is available for purchase from the publisher, www.wowpublishinggroup.com