Until Friday, Raella Bodinus had never touched her firstborn child.
When Ken Drake was born almost 50 years ago, he was swiftly taken to the nursery of St. Anne’s maternity home for teen mothers in Los Angeles. Bodinus was allowed to look at him through the window. He had a mess of newborn hair and big ears.
As she and her daughter, Robin Ramirez, drove to Lindon to meet Drake for the first time on Friday, Bodinus, who lives in Whittier, Calif., counted down the distance on the GPS: "One more mile!"
Drake, meanwhile, had been anxiously preparing for this day since an online DNA test revealed a match to Bodinus’ family in February.
But he hadn’t planned on searching for his birth family. He grew up happy in Riverside, Calif., with his parents and an adopted sister. His father told him when he was a little boy that when they adopted their children, it was like "picking the best candy bar on the shelf."
"They might advise [adoptive parents] to talk about it in a different way now, but it was to make me feel good," Drake said. He moved to Utah to attend BYU and remains close to his parents, who live in Hurricane. Any lingering questions about his birth family were set aside after his adopted sister years ago became estranged from the family upon finding her own birth mother.
"The fallout from that was really bad," Drake said. "I never wanted to put my mom through that."
But Drake was interested in genealogy. He submitted a DNA test to Ancestry.com in 2012, shortly after the Utah-based company began offering the test, to get his ethnic profile. The DNA tests are linked to family trees, which other users can refer to.
The tests also notify users of relatives in the system.
Meanwhile, Bodinus’ brother received a DNA profile as a Christmas gift from his daughters.
A few weeks later, Drake’s wife, Sheron, logged on to find a notification for her husband: "Close match."
Ken Drake sent a message to the account of his biological uncle, Richard Larsen.
"I’ve never made much of an effort to find my birth parents," he wrote. "But I’m curious."
Two days later, he received a reply. Larsen’s family was "99 percent sure" Bodinus was his mother.
"She would like you to contact her if you are OK with that," the message stated, providing a phone number.
Bodinus herself had written the message on her brother’s account. She long had wanted to seek out the baby she last saw in 1964. But she resisted, not wanting to intrude on his life. Not only had she signed the papers for his release, but at 16, her whole pregnancy had been a secret her whole family had struggled to pull off. For her last trimester, Bodinus was stashed in a maternity center for unwed mothers, able to contact only immediate family. Friends were told she had gone to a prep school associated with Gonzaga University in Spokane. A mailing address was created there to front the ruse.
Even her boyfriend, who knew he had fathered the baby, didn’t know where Bodinus was. He and Bodinus wrote letters through the Spokane mailing address even though staff at St. Anne’s told Bodinus to cut off contact.
"I was naive," Drake said, "and I never really understood the social forces that shaped what my birth mom had to go through. I never really gave it any thought, and I feel guilty now because I never put myself in her place and imagined what she was feeling."
Bodinus was allowed a weekly indulgence: Tommy’s hamburgers, a Southern California chain that would go on to be one of her son’s favorite restaurants.
After the birth, Bodinus was taken on a family vacation to recover. She had three months to finalize or reverse the adoption decision, but she knew she could not bring a baby home to raise herself. Closed adoption was the norm, and she reconciled herself to not being part of her son’s life.
"It had been decided. I was hoping and praying he was with a good family, and I didn’t want to impose," Bodinus said.Next Page >
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