Ties that bind
Eagle resident Julie Thurston heard her birth mother’s voice for the first time on Nov. 18. The moment was 34 years in the making.
Thurston, who was adopted when she was seven days old by Virgil and Donna Mock of Wolcott, always had questions. She was one of eight children growing up in the Mock family. Two were the biological children of the Mocks and six were adopted. Thurston understood that finding her birth mother might not be the experience she envisioned.
Last year, with the support of her adoptive family and her husband Glenn, she overcame her hesitation and began searching for her birth mother.
She turned to Colorado Confidential Intermediary Services, a state program designed to help willing adoptees and birth mothers find each other. Thurston finally had the chance to find the answers to her questions. Did she look like her birth mother? Why was she given up for adoption? Did her birth mother ever think about her during all of the years that had passed?
‘Best case scenario’
Thurston’s previous attempts to find out about her adoption had not been successful.
She was born at Fort Carson Army Base. As with most adoptions, her adoption information was confidential. The courts would not release the information she requested. However, they would allow the intermediary program to access the files.
For a $600 fee, volunteer intermediaries research adoption records in an effort to locate birth mothers or adoptees. The intermediaries are allowed to approach the birth mother to ask if they want contact with the adoptee. If the birth mother, or in some cases, the adoptee, declines, the case is resealed.
Joanne Shideler of Colorado Springs was the intermediary assigned to Thurston – and she was luckier than most adoptees. Shideler located Thurston’s birth mother in a month. The birth mom, Patricia Arnette, now living in Georgia, was immediately open to contact. Like Thurston, she had been waiting 34 years.
“Julie was a best case scenario in terms of how quickly and open her birth mother and her adoptive parents have been,” said Shideler, who is herself a birth mother to an adoptee.
Armed with a large pillow, a box of tissues and Arnette’s phone number, Thurston prepared to call the woman who had given her up for adoption so many years ago. She dialed the phone twice, hanging up both times before she could complete the number. Thurston didn’t know how to begin the conversation.
“I’ve been to college and feel I am pretty well spoken… But this was totally new and I was completely unprepared,” recalled Thurston.
On the third try, Arnette answered and Thurston cried while Arnette began filling in the blanks.
Guilt and depression
Arnette was a 19-year-old college student when she became pregnant with Thurston. The birth father had moved on. Arnette dropped out of school. Shortly thereafter, she met her future husband, Horace, who had just returned from Vietnam.
Having survived the war, Horace was ready to proceed with his life. He asked her to marry him, then set Arnette up in an apartment and supported her financially and emotionally as they waited out the pregnancy.
Although she was married to Horace by the time her daughter was born, Arnette was ashamed of her situation. She decided to put the baby up for adoption. The only member of Arnette’s family who knew of the child was her sister, and years later, her own parents passed away never knowing the truth.
“She felt maybe she’d forget if she put me up for adoption, that it would help with the guilt,” Thurston said.
It didn’t. Arnette spent the next 34 years living with guilt and depression. Two years after the adoption, she put her name in a database designed to match adoptees with birth parents. Horace also tried to locate Thurston, hoping to ease his wife’s depression. The effort failed.
The first call between Thurston and Arnette lasted two hours.
“We went through two cell phone batteries. Mine went dead and then hers,” Thurston said.
Arnette asked to meet Thurston face to face. Thurston also learned she had another sister and brother.
Thurston was, initially, hesitant. She thought she needed more time to adjust to the situation. Her husband Glenn, while very supportive, was also concerned with protecting his wife in the event things did not work out. Her adoptive parents encouraged Thurston to meet her birth mother as soon as possible.
Another influence in her decision came from her experience with her own children, son Cody, 8, and daughter Alix, 5. As a mother, Thurston thought about how hard it must have been for her birth mother to watch years to go by without knowing what her child looked like or if she was happy.
Thurston agreed to meet Arnette in December.
Reuniting a family
The first sign that things had changed forever was the arrival of the greeting cards.
Arnette, who has a large extended family, organized a “card shower” for Thurston. Arnette’s relatives and close family friends inundated Thurston with cards and pictures. In all, she received about 70 cards, photographs and handwritten notes.
While waiting for the day of the reunion to arrive, Thurston prepared her children and herself. Thurston’s children purchased Christmas gifts for Arnette and were excited to meet their newly discovered grandmother, as was the rest of Thurston’s family.
“I didn’t think the kids would be able to grasp the concept (of Arnette’s relationship) as well as they did,” said Thurston.
The Mocks had diligently kept a scrapbook of Thurston’s milestones as a baby and a child, which Thurston planned to share with Arnette. Thurston also put together a scrapbook about her life as an adult including high school pictures, her wedding and the birth of her children. She hoped that Arnette’s heart would be healed by seeing the happy and loving home Thurston had grown up in.
On Dec. 11, Arnette and Horace flew to Eagle from Hiram, Ga. for a weekend visit. When the two women saw each other for the first time they were overwhelmed with emotion. Neither woman cried, having both shed many tears over the previous month. They had spoken often since their first conversation and had already shared many of their feelings about the adoption.
Even so, it was a difficult moment.
“I was really sensitive to the fact that she had suffered. I feel like I have a wonderful life with my adoptive parents,” said Thurston. “It was awkward for me. To her I’m not just another person. I thought it would be easier.”
Arnette was overjoyed to meet her grandchildren, and was touched by their efforts to include her in the family. She too had put together a scrapbook of her life and family. Both women took photographs, searching for similarities. They compared height, the size of their hands, their smiles.
The weekend reunion went quickly. Mother and daughter were left figuring out how to continue developing their relationship.
For the time being, Thurston and Arnette are taking their relationship slowly.
Thurston is figuring out how to assimilate the new relationship with Arnette into her life. The bonding process has been slower than she expected, but it has also been an interesting learning experience.
Since their first meeting, the women have spent a lot of time e-mailing and calling each other. Arnette’s willingness to give Thurston the time and space she needs to deal with her feelings has been one of the keys to their progress.
“We have been very honest with each other. She has been very respectful of my fears of moving too fast. We are working through this as we go along. I feel so lucky to have a birth mother so anxious to have a normal, loving relationship with me,” said Thurston
They have also made plans to meet again.
In August, Thurston is planning to attend Arnette’s family reunion in West Virginia with her adoptive mother Donna and a sister. She is looking forward to meeting more of Arnette’s relatives and to seeing Arnette again.
“It would be a waste not to have a relationship with her. It’s an important part of me and its important to my children,” said Thurston, “We have missed 34 years and now we have to make up for it.”