Although the program was able to help Ms. White reconnect and forge a relationship with her birth mother, Catholic Charities ended it in 2008, shortly after Ms. White began the search for her birth father. The termination, Ms. White said, was devastating. Since the program was reinstated in January, 2012, Ms. White has again begun the search for her father. She hopes the rest of the puzzle pieces can come together to form one complete picture of her family background.
For the past 20 years, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo has intermittently run its Search and Reunion program to bring together adult adoptees and their birth parents.
The program was stopped when Catholic Charities found that requests for such reunions were decreasing, said Peg Gehring, a licensed social worker and program coordinator who has been with Search and Reunion for 34 years.
In January, Catholic Charities asked Ms. Gehring to restart it when the frequency of requests increased.
Adult adoptees, rather than birth parents, are typically the individuals who initiate the searches, Ms. Gehring said, because birth mothers don't feel that they have the right to do so. Adoptees -- typically in their late 20s to mid-30s -- will look into finding their birth parent when they have reached a point of stability in their own lives, perhaps after a marriage or the birth of a child.
The process of locating and reconnecting families is not speedy. "It's not a matter of finding people and putting them together right away," Ms. Gehring said. "We want to make sure that it's a relationship that will be conducive."
Before the search for a birth parent can even begin, Ms. Gehring or another social worker meets with the adult adoptee to assess readiness to begin such a search.
"It really is like a roller-coaster ride. A lot of emotions are involved, be it joy, happiness, oppression, anger, elation. It can be any number of reactions throughout the journey of the search itself," Ms. Gehring said.
Many times, Ms. Gehring said, adoptees such as Ms. White are looking to find missing pieces of their backgrounds, pieces that those who are not adopted take for granted, such as access to medical records and information about skill sets.
Once an adoptee is deemed emotionally prepared to embark on the search for a parent, Catholic Charities can begin the process, which Ms. Gehring said can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several months. For Ms. White, finding her birth mother it took six months.
Once her birth mother was located, Ms. White did not immediately meet with her in person. Instead, she began corresponding with her through a series of handwritten letters, all of which Ms. Gehring checked to make sure that they were devoid of any identifying information. The distance that is maintained through writing such letters is a necessary protective measure that gives the adoptee some level of control in the process.
"It's important to let the adoptee be in the driver's seat and decide when they're ready to meet their birth parent," Ms. Gehring said. "Oftentimes their lives have been controlled by other people. I feel that it's imperative to bring some of the control back to them."
After a year of writing letters, Ms. White met her birth mother in Ms. Gehring's office at Catholic Charities, a place that she said was familiar and safe for both individuals.
"You don't know how you're going to feel," Ms. White said, "You say, 'I'm not going to cry,' but when you meet someone the emotions are so different than what you planned for. I'm glad we didn't do it in public."
Since reuniting with her birth mother, Ms. White has stayed in consistent contact with her, sending and receiving birthday cards and e-mails. Ms. White's birth mother could not be reached for comment.
Now that the Search and Reunion program has been restarted, Ms. White said, Catholic Charities is closer than ever to locating her father. If he is found, the reunion has the potential to bring some measure of closure.
Yet the intent of her search has changed since she first began the Search and Reunion program, as evidenced by her experience of reconnecting with her birth mother.
"I really went in there just trying to find out my medical history and find out what happened at my birth … I just wanted answers," Ms. White said. "It grew to be beyond that -- my birth mom and I have a really good relationship. … It's a friendship."
Contact Madeline Buxton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6368.