Kathylu Szabo spent 10 days with her son. She held him, nursed him, loved him and let him go. Twenty-five years passed before she saw him again.
On Friday, her son, Demetrius Brice, sat next to her, jumping up to fetch her a tissue when tears overflowed as she spoke of their reunion. The pair were guests at a Catholic Charities Adoption Reunion Celebration. The event honored the three parts of the adoption triad: birth moms, adoptive moms and adoptees.
“It was hard,” Szabo said of the choice she made. “I was 35, single and barely able to support myself. I figured he’d do better in a two-parent household.”
Brice had always wondered about his birth mom. He recalls searching strangers’ faces on the street and wondering is she my mother? “My biggest thing was I just wanted to know what she looked like,” he said.
So a few years ago his adoptive mom set the reunion wheels in motion by contacting Catholic Charities. The organization is celebrating 100 years. Although it no longer places children for adoption, it facilitates the reunion process for those who adopted or relinquished children through Catholic Charities.
For many years they’ve hosted a birth mothers luncheon, but adoption caseworker Sandra Marr felt the time was right to hold an additional event for families who’ve been reunited.
Marr has facilitated many such reunions – including Szabo and Brice’s.
After exchanging letters and phone calls, Szabo and Brice met at a downtown restaurant. “It was great,” Szabo said. She looked at her son with brimming eyes, “You can’t turn back the clock, but sometimes, I wish I could.”
Brice, 28, said, “It filled in a void for me. I needed that.”
Melisa Milholland understands exactly what Brice meant. When she turned 18, her mom gave her a letter and a necklace her birth mother had left for her. Soon after, Milholland called Marr and started the reunion process.
She was a high school senior and pregnant at the time, and said her own unplanned pregnancy made her think of the tremendous sacrifice her birth mother made.
She met her birth mother, Katie, over Mother’s Day weekend in 1999. “It was really powerful to see this person who gave birth to me,” Milholland said. “I don’t think there was ever a part of her that didn’t want me.”
In fact, her birth mom was also pregnant when they met, and they both gave birth to daughters not long after their reunion. Milholland chose to parent her child. “I don’t know how any birth mom can do it – can separate herself from her child.”
Sadly, although Milholland’s birth mom had four children, she was unable to raise any of them. “The issues Katie had prevented us from having the ideal relationship I’d pictured,” said Milholland.
But in meeting Katie, she also got to know her grandparents and was eagerly embraced by the extended family. After a couple of meetings, Katie discontinued contact with Milholland and the rest of her family as well. Ten years passed. Then Milholland got a call from her aunt.
“She said, ‘Katie is sick and she’s not going to make it,’ ” Milholland recalled. Her grandfather and her aunt flew her to Seattle.
“She recognized me,” Milholland said. “I looked into her eyes and saw how desperately she wished she could have been there and been a parent to her kids. It was hard, but I’m glad I got to say goodbye.”
Milholland’s mom, Alicia Simpson, encouraged the reunion process. “Melisa had always been curious about her birth mom. I never felt threatened. I knew I was Melisa’s mom – I’d raised her since she was a baby,” Simpson said.
Though Milholland only saw her birth mom five times, she said each meeting is embedded in her memory.
“I’m happy I pursued the reunion process,” she said. “There would always be a part of me missing, if I didn’t know where I came from.”
Not all adoptees are interested in finding their birth parents, and some aren’t ready until later in life. For Tamara Visser, her mother’s death served as a catalyst. “It seemed like the right time,” she said.
Less than a month after she placed the call to Catholic Charities, she met Liz Eich at a coffee shop in Helena. Asked to describe that first meeting, Visser only needed two words: “overwhelming joy.”
Eich kept her eyes fixed on Visser as she spoke, “For 31 years, I pictured my daughter. She looks exactly like I thought she would; tall, thin, long blond hair,” her voice broke.
Overcome with emotion, they wept and wrapped their arms around each other. “It completes your life to know you do the right thing,” Eich said. “But you’re always missing something.”