A Christmas Adoption Miracle

A Christmas Adoption Miracle

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Christmas Adoption Miracle

The Christmas tree lights twinkled as Terri Roy affixed a stamp to the very last envelope. On the table before her lay two thick piles of holiday mail. The first was a collection of Christmas cards going out to all her friends and relatives. The second contained forty-one letters—all of them addressed to perfect strangers who lived in Mississippi and who happened to be named Shearer. Terri didn’t hold out much hope, but maybe, just maybe, one of these strangers could tell her something about Bernice Shearer, the woman who had given Terri up for adoption thirty-four years ago.

Terri was only three when she learned that her brother Neal, her sister Mindy and she were adopted. “I used to tell anyone who would listen about how my mom and dad had picked me out because they wanted me so much. I felt so special, so loved.”

When she turned thirteen, Terri’s parents gave her some papers from the adoption agency. From them she learned that her birth mom’s last name was Shearer, that she was forty-one years old when she gave birth to Terri, that she weighed 135 pounds and had brown eyes and dark auburn hair.

Terri loved her adoptive parents deeply, but she was also curious about her birth mom. Lying in bed at night, she would wonder, “Why did she give me up? Was she pretty? Do I look like her? Act like her?”

In 1987 Terri and her husband, Doug, gave birth to their first son, Doug Jr. “He must take after your side of the family,” people told her, but all Terri could do was shrug and say, “I guess so.”

A few years later Terri’s mom and her mother-in-law both died from cancer. “I felt cast adrift,” says Terri. “Now more than ever, I wanted to learn about my roots, about who I was and where I came from. And so I contacted the adoption agency to see what I could find out.”

Much of the information on the papers the agency sent Terri was blacked out, but they left in her mom’s first name, which was Bernice. Terri also learned that her mom was single when she got pregnant, and that her father was a married man. Bernice had kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone, including her conservative Baptist family in Mississippi. She’d worn girdles to hide her growing belly, and took two months off from her job in a Denver department store so she could have her baby in secret.

And then last fall Terri joined America Online. “I’ve always enjoyed working on our home computer, and I was curious about the information superhighway everyone was talking about.”

One evening when Terri was exploring the various services offered by AOL, she idly typed in “adoption” as a search word. She was startled to discover an entire forum devoted to adoptees and their families. Excited, Terri logged onto this forum immediately. There, she discovered hundreds of e-mail messages being passed back and forth between people who were searching for their own birth parents, or for the children they’d put up for adoption many years ago. “At last, people who understand why I feel I have to do this,” Terri realized, and eagerly began to type in her own story.

Almost immediately Terri received an e-mail message from one of the forum’s hosts. “Since you know your mom’s name, and where her family is from, you should also post the information on the genealogy forum.” Terri did this right away.

Other forum members offered Terri helpful advice and support. One member who lived in Denver even offered to visit the hospital where she was born to search any records that might still be there.

Terri also received several replies to the message she’d posted in the genealogy forum. One user sent her a list of everyone named Shearer who lived in Mississippi. “Can one of these people possibly be related to me?” Terri wondered, addressing a letter to each of the forty-one names on the list.

Another genealogy forum member with a computerized telephone directory e-mailed Terri the numbers for four different Bernice Shearers who lived scattered across the United States. “I was too nervous to pick up the phone. What if one of them was my birth mom? She was old. Hearing from me might give her a heart attack. Or what if she hated me so much, when I told her who I was, she hung up on me?” Doug finally had to make the calls for his wife, but sadly, none of the women he reached turned out to be the right Bernice Shearer.

It was Christmas Eve morning, and sixty-eight-year-old Ben Shearer was showing his daughter-in-law, Kim, how to use America Online to help research her family tree. He was teaching her how to use the genealogy forum, when suddenly they spotted a message from someone looking for a Bernice Shearer who was born in Mississippi back in 1919.

“My sister Bernice was born in 1919,” Ben said to Kim. He pressed the reply key, and posted a brief message back to Terri.

Later that same evening, after tucking their two boys, D. J. and Nathan Alan, into bed, Terri and Doug finished putting out presents. “Merry Christmas,” they wished one another, and then while Doug relaxed with a book, Terri slipped upstairs to their bedroom to check her e-mail.

A few minutes later Doug heard an excited scream. Then Terri came hurrying down the stairs, a piece of paper clutched in her hand. “I found her!” she exclaimed, handing Doug a printout of the e-mail message from Ben.

Doug scanned the brief message, and when he read that Bernice had died of lung cancer in 1983, he said, “I’m sorry, Terri. All this searching, only to discover she’s gone.”

“For a long time I’ve had a feeling she was dead,” Terri told him. “But that’s okay. At least now I can find out who she was, what she was like.”

Early Christmas morning something told Ben he needed to go online. Waiting for him was an e-mail message from Terri. “Ben, I really don’t know how to start this,” it read. “But thirty-four years ago your sister Bernice got herself into a little bit of trouble, and I was the result of that.”

Ben was thunderstruck. “Imagine that,” he said to his wife, Jimmie. “None of us ever knew. Bernice never told anyone.” Terri’s phone number was at the bottom of the message. Ben picked up the phone and dialed. “Hi, this is your Uncle Ben,” he greeted his brand-new niece, and hearing Terri’s voice was like turning back the years and speaking to his beloved sister once again.

D. J. and Nathan Alan were playing with their Christmas toys when Terri logged on to AOL a few hours after her conversation with Ben. A brief message from her uncle was waiting for her online, along with a special Christmas surprise.

“I have my mother’s nose!” Terri laughed and sobbed as a digitized photograph of her birth mother appeared on her computer screen.

“You have her eyes, too,” said Doug, giving her shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

Ben sent four photos of Bernice that day. “Who’s that?” D. J. asked as the last of them was transmitted to her PC.

“That’s my mother,” Terri told him. “You look exactly like her.”

“You have two moms?” D. J. asked.

Terri nodded her head, no longer able to speak through the thickening lump that filled her throat.

Last April Terri and her two boys flew to Mississippi to help celebrate Ben’s sixty-ninth birthday. Bernice never had any more children, so Terri had no brothers or sisters. But she did get to meet her Aunt Kitty, and three of her four cousins and their many children. “My cousin Steve has a son a year older than my youngest who’s also named Nathan Alan. Both of them have blond hair and blue eyes.”

“It’s like we have a piece of Bernice back with us,” Terri’s Uncle Ben said as the gathered family sat reminiscing over a thick stack of old photo albums. “It’s a gift from God, via America on Line.”

Recently, Terri received a package in the mail, along with a letter from her Aunt Jimmie. “When your mom was nine, she cut little Dutch girls out of old sacking cloth and stitched them to quilting squares. The squares lay packed away in your grandmother’s attic for decades, and when she died, they were passed along to me. I assembled the quilt, thinking I’d give it to one of our grandkids. There was one square missing, though, and now I know why.”

Enclosed in the package was a beautiful, hand-sewn quilt. Stitched into the new bottom square was:

Pieced by Bernice Margaret Shearer at age nine years 1928
Assembled by Aunt Jimmie Shearer
Quilted by Aunt Kitty Shearer Booth
With love for Terri Mondschein Roy 1995

Today the quilt hangs on Terri’s dining-room wall, “Where I can look at it and touch it every day. It helps me to feel closer to my birth mom, but also to my adoptive mom, too. I used to feel so guilty about looking for my birth parents. I felt like I was betraying the mom and dad I grew up with. But now that I’ve found my birth family, I can’t help but love my adoptive family even more, and appreciate how very much they love me—not because they had to, but because it was what they wanted to do.”

Bill Holton
Excerpted from Woman’s World

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