By RENEE WEBB
Through the years adoption services have been part of the work of Catholic Charities.
Today, these services focus on adoption searches, as the agency has more than 4,000 records on file from adoptions made not only through their agency but predecessors such as St. Monica’s and St. Anthony Orphanage.
Julie Elbert, director of clinical services, said the number of adoption searches Catholic Charities conducts has been on the rise.
“Our number of search requests has doubled in the last year, in 2017 we had 35 requests for some level of adoption search activity,” she said.
Inquiries typically begin with a phone call or email. Sometimes only non-identifying or medical information is sought that do not require full searches. Other times, a reunion is the goal.
One such reunion was made about 18 months ago by birthmother Anita, who preferred not to use her last name. She was 17 years old in the mid-1980s when she gave birth to a daughter. Knowing she didn’t want to get married and lacking family support, she opted to give her child up for adoption.
“It was a really difficult decision. I wanted to bring her home, but I knew it wasn’t the best thing for her,” Anita said. “I wanted her to have a life I couldn’t give her. I wanted her to have a mom and dad, brothers and sisters and a secure home – a stable life and that is something at that point in my life I wasn’t capable of.”
Through the years, Anita said she always wondered about her child.
“It was like a hole in my heart,” the birthmother acknowledged. “I wanted to know that she was okay and that she had a good life. I wanted her to know that I loved her. I felt it was something I needed to do.”
The initial meeting was set up and facilitated by Elbert and was held at Catholic Charities.
“It was the best gift from God,” described Anita about the meeting. “It couldn’t have gone any better. It was magic. We hugged. We cried. We talked for two-and-one-half hours. We laughed. It was wonderful.”
Her birth-daughter has also made a visit to Omaha to visit and meet Anita’s four children along with cousins.
Anita acknowledged this reunion has caused some hesitation by the adoptive parents.
“They are her mom and dad. I wish I could meet them and thank them for doing such a fabulous job,” she said. “I am very grateful to her parents.”
At birth, Anita had given her daughter a cross necklace. After the reunion, the adoptive mother gave the necklace to the daughter.
Upon meeting her child, Anita discovered the now 30-something daughter had considered starting an adoption search a year earlier.
Elbert explained reunions are only possible when both parties agree to it. The way and speed in which reunions happen can vary greatly. Much preparation goes into the meeting as Catholic Charities guides the process, even to the point of assessing the stability of an individual before trying to facilitate a reunion.
“Feedback we get from most individuals is rewarding because they were able to put together some missing puzzle pieces they worried were lost forever,” she said.
What happens after a reunion, the therapist said, can also vary. Sometimes they maintain lifelong contact thereafter and other times they do not.
In addition to the parent-child search, Elbert pointed out that some searches are done by siblings looking for half-siblings. This can only be done if the birthparent is dead.
Cost of full searches are $650 and non-identifying information searches are $100. Assistance is available so that no one is turned away.
Working with Catholic Charities, Anita noted, has not only been a positive experience recently, but also was at the time of her pregnancy with “Nurse Mary” even providing support during labor and delivery.
“Catholic Charities was wonderful to me,” Anita said. “They took care of me.”
In addition to hearing from birth parents or those who were adopted, from time to time Catholic Charities receives a note of thanks from adoptive parents.
Here is an excerpt of one letter the agency received:
Dear Catholic Charities,
I’m sending a check for $10. I know it isn’t much but I’m a widow living on Social Security.
Since I may not be alive by next Christmas (when Christmas collection is taken), I wanted to write and thank you for the gift you gave us. We weren’t able to have children of our own so we applied to you and we came to Sioux City and got a beautiful three-week-old girl. She’s been the joy of our life. … Even though we did not have much money, you did give us a baby. I thank God for that.