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026 – I’ve Got A Second Mom And I Can Love Them Both

At 16 years old, Ron decided to satisfy his curiosity about his first family. But his search was challenging. He was born on a South Carolina Air Force Base that had closed, the internet didn’t have the reach that it has now, and AncestryDNA’s connections didn’t help. He recruited the help of a search angel who recognized important information in the search that Ron hadn’t seen before. In the end, his mother was glad to be found, and he got some answers about himself and his family. 


Ron (00:03): I pick up my phone, I start dialing the number and my hands are shaking. I’m bawling like a baby, you know, 42 year old bawling like a baby. I just, I, there was no way I could make it go and I’m not even sure what I was afraid of or why I couldn’t do it, but I just could not do it.

Voices (00:27): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon (00:38): This is Who Am I Really, a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Ron from South Carolina. He says his reunion journey started in his teens but didn’t yield any results until he was in his forties. During that time, he tried a variety of tactics to try to locate someone that he was related to who might have some helpful information about his birth family. In the end, the amazing work of his search angel led him to his birth mother and his relatives in Missouri and North Carolina. Ron was born in 1974 and placed for adoption immediately. His family expanded in 1980 when his parents adopted Ron’s sister, whom you’ll meet in a later episode. Ron shared that he grew up with the knowledge that he was adopted and had a good life with his family, but he always had that natural curiosity to search for his original family. It was about 16 years old when he began his search. I asked why that age was the time he began the journey.

Ron (01:51): Well, I was, uh, you know, of course, born in 1974, um, placed for adoption pretty much immediately. Was actually adopted by one family and for whatever reason it didn’t work out, so they had to send me back. Um, but I was only eight or nine months old when my adoptive parents and got me. So, you know, obviously I have no memory of the first one. Um, I’ve known since day one since before I could understand that I was adopted and that, uh, you know, the story I was always told and heard that is relatively true, that my birth mom was a young girl. Uh, 16 years old, couldn’t take care of me. So she wanted to place me for adoption. So that a family that could take better care of me could uh, raise me. So like I’ve always known I was adopted. My parents adopted another child, my sister and I about the same time I reconnected with my birth mom, she found her birth mom.

Damon (02:46): I asked Ron what kinds of thoughts or expectations he had about his search before it began. He says he knew it could unfold many different ways. So he steeled himself for what things might happen. Ron went his search with no real expectations. He really just wanted to satisfy his curiosities. He had no hard feelings about being placed in adoption and he was thankful for the life he had led. Still, Ron braced himself for the possibilities that his mother might not want anything to do with him. And there was a specific physical trait about himself that he wanted to know the origins of.

Ron (03:20): Well, I, you know, like I said, it had always been a curiosity of mine just to know, you know, who my, who, my birth family was. I think more my birth mother. That’s really the only, only one I was ever concerned about. And I guess that’s because department of social services in South Carolina would not release non identifying information to a child until they were 16 so my parents always told me that, you know, if, if you want to search for her, we’ll help you every step of the way, you know when you turn 16 you can order that information and you know, we’ll see where it leads. Of course at the time, and it’s been what, 27 years ago or so, there was no Ancestry DNA. Internet was in its infancy. I was already active on the internet, but it still wasn’t a, it didn’t have near the reach it does today. So, you know, it really wasn’t, it wasn’t a need to know, you know, just, just the curiosity that I had to satisfy.

Damon (04:10): So you, you reached out at 16 at the very age that you were legally able to do so. What kinds of thoughts did you have prior to 16 years old about your search and what you might find and what you hoped for?

Ron (04:21): You know, it’s funny because from day one, I don’t think I had any real expectations, but I knew that, you know, that was a very good possibility that my birth mother, you know, might want absolutely nothing to do with me. You know, I didn’t really set up high expectations. It was just, just that curiosity and I wanted to satisfy, you know, it, I had no hard feelings about being adopted, about being placed for adoption. You know, it was, I had a relatively normal life, you know, it just, uh, now I, I do have a, uh, what’s always been called a birthmark that kind of my left ear is a bit deformed and I always kinda wondered if that could run in the family.

Damon (05:02): You’re 16, you’ve reached out to social services and they’ve given you what I believe you said was non identifying information. So what did you do next?

Ron (05:10): Well, I had that information and I learned that, you know, my birth mother was 16, which I already knew. I learned that she lived on Myrtle Beach Air Force base so she could be from anywhere in the country. Uh, so that, that was a little bit disheartening in the search. But I went to Myrtle Beach and just poured through the, you know, microfiche um, newspapers and tried to contact several people that had been stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force base before it closed. Um, because I also find out from their information at my birth mom had worked for the, uh, officer’s club at Myrtle Beach Air Force base and it was just kind of my feeling that you know, perhaps there weren’t that many 16 year olds working in there at the time cause I didn’t have a clue. Um, but it was just a lot of dead ends. There was, you know, I had no direction. It was just basically, you know, looking for a needle in a haystack with your eyes closed.

Ron (06:07): Yeah. That sounds like a pretty laborious search for someone who was at an air force base that’s since closed in itself, said everybody at an air force base is transient. They’re not from that area most likely. So that does sound like really hard. This was a challenging search for Ron. People that live on a military base are often very transient. Being stationed one place, then another, his birth mother could be anywhere by now. He likened his search to looking for a needle in a haystack with his eyes closed. He stopped searching. Then in March, 2017, Ron’s wife started focusing on the advertisements for Ancestry DNA. She thought he might have a chance of finding his birth mother through scientific identification, but Ron wasn’t really interested. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, the search just wasn’t a driving priority at that moment in his life. Ron eventually relented to his wife’s suggestion and submitted his DNA sample.

Ron (07:04): So, you know, I, I, I did that and started seeing, you know, people pop up is blood related to me. Um, you know, I had two, that was a, that Ancestry listed as a first or second cousin match and uh, hundreds of fourth cousin matches. But it was really surreal to see these people’s names on the screen and oftentimes their pictures and say, this person is blood related to me. And that just kind of, you know, amped up the search a bit you know, made it real.

Damon (07:32): He knew any distant cousin matches, weren’t likely to open new doors for his own search. So he focused on his closest match online, a first cousin. That person’s relationship ended up being a fascinating mystery because Ron and the cousin couldn’t figure out how they were related. Ron suspects she may have an adoption in her own personal history that she was previously unaware of. Ancestry DNA didn’t help him either to help with his research. Ron joined a lot of search groups on Facebook and connected with a search angel. She encouraged Ron to reapply for his identifying information, which he could no longer find in his own files.

Ron (08:09): While I was working on Ancestry, I had joined a lot of um, search groups on Facebook and I met up with a search Angel out of Arkansas and she said, you know, sent her the Ancestry DNA. She did some searching and she was kinda hitting dead ends as well. And she pushed me to reapply for my non identifying information because of course after almost 30 years and I don’t know how many moves, papers and getting lost in the shuffle, destroyed whatever. Um, so I went to DSS department social services website and requested it and of course screen come up saying you know, it may take six to eight weeks. And yeah, it was just really disheartening because I was so close yet so far away. Well amazingly enough, the lady at social services actually sent me the PDF scan files of my non identifying information like a day or two later. Um, so I forwarded those to the search angel and I guess two days after that, this was in around May 1st or 2nd, she sends me a Facebook message actually saying, do you want to know who your mom is? And proceeded me to give me my birth mom’s name, phone number, address, Facebook profile, everything I could want.

Damon (09:27): Just pause for a second because I’m a little bit confused. You got the non identifying information previously and then you got it again. And somehow the search angel was able to figure out who she was. But you were not? How .did she do that?

Ron (09:41): Well, it’s probably the funniest story I’ve ever heard. And the scan that the lady sent me was an exact scan of their original papers cause I remember you know some of the markings on them and all that and there’s a couple one place in there where you can see what I didn’t realize at the time is typing that was reversed. Like perhaps at some point since since they were created they were left face to face and ink bled through from one to the other. So the search changer along with another lady actually found a place where my birth mom’s name and her mom’s name was in reverse on the page.

Damon (10:16): Are you serious? Like literally the ink bled over?

Ron (10:22): Yeah. Before, before it was redacted, the ink had bled across. And so her name was there. It was just in reverse. It looked like just smudging, you know, to the naked eye. But when she expanded it and reversed it, you can read the names just as clear as day.

Damon (10:36): Wow. Your search angel is a super sleuth man. That’s incredible.

Ron (10:41): Yes she is. She really is.

Damon (10:43): So Ron’s birth mother had been found on Facebook. It was great news, but he said it hit him in the chest like a ton of bricks. I asked him how he felt in those moments after he got that news.

Ron (10:56): Nervous, you know? Again, you know, I didn’t have any complaints growing up adopted with my adoptive family. It still wasn’t as life changing as it is for some people I guess you could say maybe.

Damon (11:08): I understand.

Ron (11:09): It was a big deal, but maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as it would have been to someone who was just dying to know.

Damon (11:15): Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You had reached a point where your search had not necessarily yielded too many good results and you didn’t have a dying need to search for somebody. So like if you found somebody great and if you didn’t, great. I still got a family, right? Yeah, I can see you. Yeah.

Ron (11:32): And I’ve always, I’ve always went at it with the attitude that, you know, they may welcome me to the family with open arms or they may tell me, Hey, I don’t want any contact with you, don’t want to know about you, whatever. And I was okay with either eventuality. I mean, I, yeah, sure. I’d have been disappointed if they rejected me, but it was still something that I knew it was a possibility for myself.

Damon (11:54): Ron had several conversations with his search angel about how to make first contact with his birth mother. He thought he should send her a certified letter. That way he knew she received his outreach. The angel said that was too impersonal, imploring Ron to make the call.

Ron (12:09): Kept pushing me and pushing me just to make the phone call. She said, just call her. You know what’s the worst that can happen. I’m like oh you know she could have a heart attack. I don’t know what the worst is.

Damon (12:19): Well, it’s true.

Ron (12:20): Okay. Yeah. You know what, you know, I finally agreed to make a phone call. This was, I got the information on the mud and it took me most of the week to get to where I thought I had to build up the courage. You know, sitting there Friday night, my wife’s there, I’m actually chatting back and forth with a search angel on Facebook. Helping and encouraging me. I pick up my phone, I start dialing the number and my hands are shaking. I’m bawling like a baby, you know, 42 year old bawling like a baby. I just, there was no way I could make a call and I’m not even sure what I was afraid over a why I couldn’t do it, but I just could not do it. So I finally convinced the a search angel to make the initial contact for me, which she did. And again, she’s an angel and she got a rather interesting reply from my birth mom when she called. She said, well, you know, tell me a little bit about him. So she said, well, he’s 42 years old, studying religion at Liberty University online, this, that and the other. Well, my birth mom was a little bit incredulous and it turns out that I have a half brother who’s 41 years old who is also studying religion at Liberty University online. This is one that she hadn’t given up for adoption. So her first thought was that it was a, uh, somebody trying to scam her, you know?

Damon (13:41): Yeah, yeah. They found some identifying information about somebody else she’s related to and tried to get an emotional in with her.

Ron (13:48): Exactly. So, you know, she, but she verified that it was legit. She asked the search angel what my name would have been at birth and thankfully I had given her that information so she was able to, you know, give it to my birth mom and said, okay, well, you know, she said, okay, well, you know, this is for real. Tell him to call me back in 45 minutes after I, uh, finish dinner and you know, her, her and her entire reaction was oh, I knew he’d find me one day and, and I mean, she, she’s not a very emotional person. Um, you know, I can tell she was definitely happy to be found, but it was just really funny how just kind of nonchalant, she took everything.

Damon (14:28): So when did you get to talk to her and how did it go?

Ron (14:31): Well, I called her, like I said, 45 minutes later I was watching the clock. 45 minutes I called. She said, Hey Ron, how are you? You know, and I’m good. And, and you know, I was sitting next to my wife, my wife holding my hand, listened to every word. And uh, it was just, it was really surreal, you know, but we had a great conversation, you know, and a lot of stuff we talked about. She gave me a little bit of family history. She told me about my half brother. He lives in North Carolina, very close to me. I’m in South Carolina. And just, I learned a lot about the family. She actually had the same conversation. She gave me my biological father’s name. I was able to locate him on Facebook. I reached out to him with a Facebook message, but I found out that he probably did not even know I existed.

Ron (15:12): My birth mom said she knows, she never told him and she doubts anybody else did either. So he hasn’t responded. I’m going to reach out to him again here in the near future and basically put the ball in his court, cause I know he got a message. I’ve heard through the grapevine. He did get the message, but you know, I’m going to put the ball back into the court and say, look, you know, I don’t necessarily want a relationship, but I would like to meet you one time and just, you know, if he answered good. If we don’t, that’s fine too. You know, I’ve had plenty of time to deal with either way.

Damon (15:40): Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So don’t let me jump the gun here, but I can’t help but wonder, did your mother tell you about the circumstances for your adoption?

Ron (15:48): Well, she gave me more back story, but it was very similar to what was in the non-identifying information. Basically, you know, she was 16. She’d left with her, uh, boyfriend, went to another state from, from their home in Missouri. She became pregnant and told him, you know, I need to go home to my mom. So he took her home and she began thinking about the implications of a young unmarried girl, pregnant small town. So she left there and went and stayed with her sister at Myrtle Beach Air Force base where she gave birth to me at about five months. She said she’s really straining to say she was pregnant for a full five months. Um, she told me that they kept her in the hospital for an extra couple of days because they weren’t sure if she’d be signing adoption papers or a death certificate. That was a blow.

Ron (16:32): That was something I always knew I was a little bit premature, but my birth certificate said I weighed like eight or nine pounds. I’m like, you know, couldn’t have been very premature. Well, she says, no. I was actually born at, I believe she said three pounds. So that was quite a shock to the system to find that out. But anyway, her, her sister was gonna adopt me. Uh, but her husband had just come back from Vietnam. They were having some marital issues. So that’s when they decided to go through DSS and placed me for adoption that way.

Ron (17:05): That’s pretty heavy man, to find out that that’s how you came into the world and as a preemie you felt, you thought you came in fairly healthy. What did that do for you in terms of you know, your, your mentality about how you had thought about yourself up until that moment?

Ron (17:19): I hesitate to say nothing because it was still a blow to my system to find that out. But at the same time I know that I’m a generally healthy 42, I’ll be 43 Sunday, year old man. What I did find out now, going back to the birthmark I mentioned earlier. It’s actually what’s called a veinous malformation where the veins in my ear didn’t form correctly and it’s a theory that, mine and my birth mom’s theory, that this was probably formed because I was so premature and my body wasn’t fully formed yet. That’s probably where that came from because she said nobody in her family or my biological father’s family had that, that she’s aware of or anything like it.

Damon (18:00): So basically what you’ve learned then is that the circumstances for your birth are actually highly likely attributable to a physical condition that you have. Basically, you got answers that you didn’t have before.

Ron (18:11): Yeah, that’s very true. You know, I honestly have not thought about it from that direction, but that’s absolutely true.

Ron (18:18): Ron knew that if she was interested too, he wanted to meet his birth mother as soon as possible, but funds were low at the moment. So he crowdsourced the funding to assist with the long trip to Missouri. His family spent several days with his birth mother visiting, sharing photos and getting to know one another. But before meeting his mother, he had met his brother from North Carolina first and their resemblance was uncanny.

Speaker 1 (18:43): I started a Go Fund Me account, which, which got me about 5 or $600, 20 friends and even some of my biological family that donated to help towards the trip. So I just I planned a trip for, uh, the week of July 4th. Uh, we left out that, uh, whatever that Sunday morning and drove a thousand miles from South Carolina to Missouri. Um, the reunion was great. I mean, we, uh, there wasn’t any tears, wasn’t any, Oh, you know, it was just a big, oh, Hey, how you doing? Come on in. And we went in and was pretty much, you know, there was myself and my wife and our three children, whom we’ve actually adopted. We, uh, we went right, went right in and we were all part of family. You know, she had three, three new grandchildren and new daughter in law and new son. I mean, it was just almost like I’d always, always been there, you know.

Damon (19:33): That’s amazing.

Ron (19:35): Uh, previous to that I met my brother first. Um, that was about a week before we went out there. He came down from North Carolina and spent the day with me. And again, you know, for one thing it was kinda funny because he and I dressed very similar that day. Had no clue we were going to do that. And everyone that saw us now he’s again, he’s 41 I’m going to be 43 in a couple of days. So we’re close in age and everybody that saw us, it’s just like, Oh my goodness. You know, they just could not believe how much we favor. Now he’s in the army, so he’s in a little bit better shape than I am. But uh, you know, if I was to lose some pounds and bulk up we could almost pass as twins.

Damon (20:13): That’s crazy, man. How interesting is that for you? You’ve gone from, you know, having an adopted sister whom you’re not really related to, don’t probably look alike to have in somebody that’s, you know, got half your DNA and you look very much alike. That must’ve been crazy.

Ron (20:28): Oh, it blew my mind. It was really, and neither one of us, he nor I really realized how much we looked alike. I mean, I caught us standing, you know, somewhat posture a couple of times throughout today and that kind of, you know, freaked me out just a little, but at the end of the day, I had promised all of mine and his Facebook family that, you know, I was going to share some pictures of a reunion. We were too busy talking and just hanging out to take pictures. But at the end of the day, I told my wife, I said, while he’s here,go ahead, snap a picture. You know, so I got something to prove that we met and he and I both looked at the picture and jumped, Hey, like, Whoa, how much we favored.

Damon (21:09): That’s really unbelievable. Wow, that’s so cool. So you’ve met him first, you go down, you meet your mom, you go down and you meet your wife, she gives you a big old hug and says, come on in. How was the reunion? Who was there and how did it go?

Ron (21:22): Well, right then was just her and her husband, you know, in my family. Um, her husband, really nice guy. She was really nice and we did. We just sat and chatted for a little while. You know, while I was there, we had some meals, sat around talking, catching up, you know, I, I took a bunch of photo albums with me, like many adoptees do, and showed her some of my baby pictures and she found a couple that I’ve got to send her copies of eventually. And just, it was just a family reunion and everybody accepted me just like I had always been there but maybe had been gone for a year or two, you know, was just really an amazing time.

Damon (21:56): That’s fantastic.

Ron (21:57): You know, it’s just been a really surreal couple of months for me.

Damon (22:01): Yeah, I can imagine. That’s crazy. During those few days, Ron met several family members from around his birth mother’s town. He even stopped in St Louis to meet a cousin during the road trip back home to South Carolina. At the time we spoke, Ron’s reunion was only a week old. So my normal process of asking a guest how life has been since their reunion was absolutely irrelevant. But Ron did offer an insight to where he was in loving his newly found mother.

Ron (22:30): My, my adoptive mom passed away in 2014 and it’s really hard to explain because so many people are, well are you trying to replace your, your mom? Or are you trying to, you know, is it, it’s something like that. And the best way I can explain it, explain it to people. And it’s really helped with people who have two children is I’ll ask them, you know, when you had your first child, how much did you love them? Well, you know, I love them with everything. I love them more than anything. Okay. Well, when you had your second child, did you love that first child any less? Well, of course not. All right then I’ve got a second mom. I can love both of them. Just the same without taking anything away from either of them, you know? And so that’s kind of kind of where I’m, I’m at, you know, mentally and emotionally is, you know, I’ve definitely fallen in love with my birth mom. She’s a sweet lady. She’s a, you know, a little bit, um, to the point sometimes, but that’s all right. You know, and it just, yeah. But, uh, you know, so I’m not replacing my adoptive mom by a long shot, but it is nice to have a mother figure that I can call and talk to, you know, should I feel a need.

Damon (23:41): That’s right. And I could see how, you know, non adoptees kind don’t get it, but you have put together an amazing analogy for helping people understand that there’s enough love to go around. You know, just because someone holds a similar position doesn’t mean that you can’t, you have to love one less than the other and you’re not replacing one parent for another. I totally agree with you on that. Ron mentioned earlier that he had adopted children of his own. I wondered how this experience has affected them.

Ron (24:12): Well, when we, I’ll give you a little bit of their back story of course their story is theirs to tell when they’re old enough and ready. But, um, we’ve got them as foster children when they were six, seven and nine, took about two and a half years for the adoption. So, you know, of course they were old enough to know their birth parents and we got to know their birth parents as well throughout the process. Um, even though South Carolina all adoptions are legally closed adoptions. When we adopted them, uh, it went from being Ron and Wendy, which is mine and my wife’s names that they called us as foster children to mama and daddy pretty much before the ink dried on the paperwork. Um, so, so even by that point they really understood what adoption was and now, you know, they, it’s just like they’ve always been part of our family. And in fact, my oldest daughter’s 17 now, she, she had tell us quick that, um, she’s really our daughter, but she was going to somebody else that, you know, they’d really understand it. And I don’t, I don’t know that this impacted their life, you know, emotionally outside of the fact that, Hey, we’ve got another family, you know, to add into to the family we already had. And, uh, I, I have to believe that most of their experience has been pretty positive. They’re excited to have another grandmother.

Damon (25:22): I asked Ron what his hopes are for the future with his birth family. He has fitness goals that he’s driving toward with his brother and aspirations to visit Missouri again and again.

Ron (25:33): Well, I’m hoping to stay in touch with them. Um, I’ve talked to my brother about possibly next year he and I came up to run a Spartan race, which is, I’ve been working on a weight loss journey. Um, I’ve lost about 70 pounds so far this year.

Damon (25:46): Wow. Congratulations!

Ron (25:46): One of my goals is run a Spartan race. Yeah, one of my dreams is to run a Spartan race. And I talked to him. He said he’d like to team up and do it. He said he’s got to up his game of working out also. That’s my plans that, you know, venture out to Missouri at least once a year, whether it’s with my entire family or alone to visit with my birth mom and other members of family. I’ve found a few more cousins that I would like to get to meet that I didn’t know about while I was there. Um, so yeah, as far as with them, that’s, that’s definitely where I’d like to see that go is just to keep in touch and at least have yearly visits.

Damon (26:25): Mhmm. Build any relationship. That’s really amazing. Good for you, man. Wow. What a journey you’ve been on.

Ron (26:31): It really is. You know, from a personal standpoint, I’m, I’m working to, uh, possibly start a, uh, organization and, and write a book based on my story to help not only adoptees and adopters, you know, people in adoption and foster families, but really any family that is struggling with the meaning of true family. I’m a firm believer that, you know, true family is not just in your DNA. It’s not just on the legal paperwork from the court. It’s who truly loves you, cares about your supports you. It may not, you know, your true family may not be who legally it is.

Damon (27:07): That’s very good. That’s, that’s a, an admirable set of goals you’ve got. The book, the foundation work and you know, your own personal development, both to, you know, get yourself in better health, but also do it in conjunction with your brother who wants to run a race with you. That’s going to be really awesome. You got some good goals ahead, man.

Ron (27:24): Um, I’ll tell you what I’m really hoping they come true. Um, so I, I’d have to really discipline myself, actually continue to, uh, build some muscle after losing the weight.

Damon (27:33): Yeah.

Ron (27:34): But I think it’ll get there. I think it’ll get there.

Damon (27:36): Yep. You just got to commit to it, man. You can do it. You got it in you. Cool man. It was really good to hear your story. Ron, thanks so much for sharing with us. I appreciate it.

Ron (27:46): Thank you very much.

Damon (27:52): Hey, it’s me. Ron’s journey started off pretty challenging with the dead end searching pre-internet information resources about a young mother on a South Carolina military base that closed after his birth. DNA testing, which sometimes helps families to connect and learn more about one another, also turned into an odd dead end with a first cousin. Thankfully, the incredible investigative skills of his search angel identified his birth mother from transposed ink from paper copies of years old records. In the end, his mother was glad to have been found and Ron connected with his brother with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance. Ron told me he’s received nothing but support from his adopted family throughout his experience. He said he even took his brother to meet his dad and for a while there it seemed like they had forgotten Ron was in the room. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Ron’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn Who Am I Really? If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, You can also find the show on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @waireally. And please, if you like the show, take a moment to rate Who Am I Really on iTunes, Google play or wherever you get your podcast. Those ratings can help others find the show too.

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