At 94, My Grandma Finally Met The Baby Taken From Her And Placed For Adoption

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In 2006, my family changed dramatically – not just once, but twice.

That April, at the age of 35, I gave birth to my first baby, a beautiful boy who stole my heart and completely upended my life. That whole first year was a blur of broken nights, and days spent sitting on the couch in a daze, nursing my son and trying desperately to piece together exactly what I was supposed to do during the next five minutes (and then the five after that, and the five after that).

I was still in a saggy state of confusion when, less than three months after my son’s birth, my brother told me some startling news he’d just learned. He laid out the details matter-of-factly as I sat, mouth agape.

We had a newly-discovered, 77-year-old aunt, he said. And a whole passel of new cousins, older than ourselves. The aunt, Ruth, was my Grandma Disbrow’s first daughter, born after my Grandma had been raped by a stranger when she was just 16. That baby had been taken from Grandma and placed for adoption. One of Ruth’s six children had just tracked down Grandma – after 77 years. They were going to have a reunion within a few weeks.

Each new detail made my jaw drop farther. Even if I had not been a dramatically weakened first-time mommy, you probably still could have knocked me over with a diaper.

‘Say what?’ is all I could think.

I’d grown up with a pretty small extended family. On my dad’s side, there were four cousins, two of whom had come along when I was already half-grown. On my mom’s side, I’d grown up with just one cousin. When I was very small we’d lived near all of them in Southern California. We were all church-going folks. Our lives felt very ordinary to me.

I’d always felt close to my Grandma Disbrow, an iron-strong but kind woman who crocheted blankets for me and clothes for my dolls. I’d inherited some of her traits: her large hands and feet, her bony physique.

Other traits, like her amazing stamina, had passed me by. Grandma could work anyone I knew into the ground, even when she was very old. Wherever she went, she left behind sparkling kitchens, vacuumed floors, swept driveways. She’d whip up baked goods on the spot, using whatever she found in your cupboard. She never napped – she was too busy for naps. She held down a cashier’s job until she was in her 80s. [tagbox tag=”adoption”]

I’d never once heard her complain about her life.

Who could have guessed that this woman had kept this – this monumental secret – inside, for all these years? She’d never mentioned her lost baby – not to her closest friends, not even to her own children. We knew she was resilient, having been through a World War, a difficult marriage, deaths in the family. But we’d never dreamed anything like this.

As my brother’s narrative continued, I learned that Grandma had written letters to her baby’s adoption agency for years, begging for word of her daughter – that she’d stopped writing only when she married and had other children.

When I heard this story in its entirety, I was a new mother myself, carrying around my baby at all times. I wept then, trying to imagine my son being wrested from me. It was unfathomable. Just thinking about it made my heart ache.

As I tried to picture my Grandma as a grieving teenaged mother, I also thought of all these new relatives – my number of cousins had just doubled in one fell swoop. Did they look and act like my brothers and me? They were all accomplished adults – one had even been an honest-to-God astronaut. Did they have any interest in meeting us?

A few weeks later, my brother flew down to California for the reunion between Grandma and her daughter. He stood off to the side, quietly running a video camera, as Ruth’s rental car pulled up and Grandma stepped forward and pulled her long-lost daughter out of the car. Her first words were, “You’re as wonderful as I thought you’d be.”

In the five years since that reunion, Grandma – who still flies all over the country despite having just celebrated her 100th birthday – has enjoyed meeting and spending time with every member of Ruth’s family. The rest of us have moved a bit slower – but for the last several years, my young boys have regularly received presents from one of my new cousins, the one who’d started the process to find Grandma. We now talk on the phone often.

And we have plans to meet up this year, finally.

The heart, it turns out, always has room for more love. And the web that holds families together is endlessly expandable.

Cathy LaGrow, pictured above with her grandma Minka Disbrow, blogs about life, books and science geekery at Windows and Paper Walls.