A Missing Piece of My Puzzle

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| This is the 523rd story of Our Life Logs |


My life began in 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona. To understand my story, you must know a bit of my mom’s. Sherry, my mom, was only 16 when she had me, and while my father continued to date her, he wasn’t involved in my care. He never disputed the paternity, but he wasn’t father material. Still, Sherry was determined to be a good mother. She dropped out of high school, worked two jobs, and got us an apartment.  

Sherry’s parentsBarbara and Bill, were prominent figures in the community and were embarrassed by their teenage daughter’s choice to keep me and quit school. Barbara pushed for Sherry to give me up, and Bill, who was actually Sherry’s stepdad, threatened to spread rumors that she was an unfit mother. Sherry refused at first, but eventually their bullying and false accusations forced her to quit her job, move back home, and give up custody of me when I was 14 months old. 

Sherry begged her mother, my grandma, to let her meet the people who would be adopting me, but Barbara refused. With no choice, Sherry packed my bags and hugged me good-byesobbing the entire time and praying that the family getting me would be good people who appreciated me. She wouldn’t know for many years, but her prayers were answered. 

Melanie (Mel) and Thomas (Tom), who were now my new mom and dad, had known my grandparents for years. Barbara told them that Sherry wanted to give me up and that she was excited to return to a normal teenage life. Still, Mel and Tom said Sherry was welcome to visit me any time and promised to send letters and photos of me growing up. They stuck true to their word and regularly sent updates of my life. Unbeknownst to themBarbara never showed Sherry any of those letters. 

As I grew up, I never knew much about my birth mother Sherry, but my grandma Barbara would still come to visit from time to time. At one of those visits, my adoptive parents discovered from her that Sherry had given birth to a baby girl just a year after me, who was also given up for adoption. My mom Mel was heartbroken that no one had asked her to take my sister too because she would have loved a girl in her house of boys. Not to mention, she would have loved to have raised us together. Barbara’s response was, “You wouldn’t have wanted her. She had problems.” Mom was taken aback but said no more. For years, we wondered what became of that little girl. 

I continued to grow up with a loving family. But, as I got older, I began to wonder more about where I came from. When I was 17, I decided that I wanted to find out who my biological father was and wrote a letter to Barbara’s husband, Bill. I told him that I thought a man named Steve was my biological father and asked if he or Sherry could assist me in finding him. Bill’s reply stated that I had it all wrong and that Steve wasn’t my father, but he didn’t know who my father was. He ended the letter by asking me not to contact Sherry or bother him or his wife ever again. I was surprised by his anger but figured it was best to leave him and his family out of my quest. With no other leads to go on, I gave up the search for my biological father. 

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Me in high school. 

However, I never stopped wondering about my sister. I loved my parents and brothers that I grew up with, so I was not looking for a “family.” But I couldn’t help wondering where my sister was and if she was okay. Did she know about me? Had she ever tried to find me? If anyone could understand how I felt, the curiosity of where I came from, it would be her.  

While I was one of the lucky ones who were given to a loving family, being adopted still comes with its mixture of feelings. There’re feelings of rejection mixed with understanding, acceptance mixed with isolation. Even with all the love that surrounded me, I still felt like I was missing a piece of my puzzle. Not knowing if my sister was safe and happy began to weigh on me. I felt protective over her even though I’d never met her. I felt like I was failing her as a brother by not making sure she was as safe and happy as I had been. What if she needed me?  

As the internet became more and more available in every household, I started searching open adoption blogs, typing in parameters as best as I could guess them. I didn’t have much information. I knew my sister was born after me, but I wasn’t sure of the exact year. I didn’t know if she was born in the same hospital as me, or if she was born in a hospital at all. Since Sherry gave up her rights immediately, I couldn’t use her info in my searches either. It seemed an impossible task and for years, it was. 

Then, when DNA kits started becoming more mainstream, backed by celebrities and influencers, I began wondering if my sister could be out there asking the same internal questions about me. I wondered if these kits could give me the answers I’d been searching for.  

Years later, I finally bought my first kit from Ancestry DNA. As I unwrapped the contents, I started to doubt if I had made the right choice. What if I was met with the same animosity as I had been from Bill’s letter all those years before? What if she had no interest in knowing me? Despite my fears, my curiosity won out in the end. I spit in the little plastic tube and sealed it in the box, knowing I was sealing my fate. 

At the time, it took six weeks to get your results. My family and friends knew about my search, and they were almost as excited and impatient as I was for my DNA results. Finally, I got the notification one morning that my results were in. As I logged on, my profile displayed my genetic make-up and that I had DNA relatives to view. I knew, from other people who had taken similar tests, that oftentimes these were very distant cousins and not close matches.  

I watched the small hourglass on the computer screen anxiously as it pulled the results up. The first match I saw showed we shared 2,799 cM across 52 segments of DNA. To the right of all that confusing gobbledygook were the words, “Relationship: Sister.” 

On April 13, 2018, I started and deleted an email to this person more times than I could count. I kept picturing all the possible outcomes, and I never felt like I could get the words right. I finally settled on the basics of my name, where I was born, when I was adopted and the little information I knew. I ended it with, “I hope this is a happy surprise and not a terrible secret that I have unearthed.” 

I checked my emails repeatedly for the rest of the day, into the next day and the next… I began to give up hope or feared that I had indeed caused problems, that I would never know my sister. I wondered if I should have worded my email differently or never sent it at all. Maybe I’d never really know. 

Then, on April 19, 2018, all my doubts shimmered away. I awoke to my alarm, and as I groggily checked my phone, I saw a message from Ancestry.com. I was instantly awake, and my hands shook so hard I could barely navigate to the site to read the response that awaited me.  

The message was short but just reading the words eased all my worries. My sister, I now knew by the name Stacy, stated she was crying happy tears and would respond with more soon after she got off work. The day went by in a blur of emotions. When we began to talk, I was beyond thrilled to have finally found a missing piece of my family. 

With every email I learned more and more. While I had a relatively open adoption, my sister knew nothing of our birth family, and I was happy to fill in the blanks. As the weeks went on, we talked and texted every day, shared pictures and stories of our lives and what we’d missed over the years. I was able to send a couple of old pictures of our birth mother whom Stacy had never seen. I remember remarking at how much they looked alike.  

My mom Mel was ecstatic I’d found Stacy, and she couldn’t wait to meet the little girl she had always longed to know. Unfortunately, by then my dad had passed away and was unable to meet her. I wish he hadn’t because he would have loved her. 

As we communicated more, Stacy and I decided it was time to meet face to face for the first time. That moment came in May 2018. I’ll never forget the moment when we locked eyes. I recognized her right away and ran toward her. One of her friends recorded our first hug in a Virginia airport as we cried and embraced, making up for all those lost years. We had a wonderful week together catching up in person. When it was time for me to go back home, we both cried and promised to meet up again soon. In July 2018, she came to visit me and see the place where she was born. She met my mom and a lot of my family. We all shed more tears that day.  

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With my sister Stacy, my adoptive mother Mel, and me. 

Since I reconnected with Stacy, I’ve had the chance to connect with and meet many other biological family members that I never thought I’d get to know. As it turned out, Stacy was a pretty skilled detective and helped us get into contact with our biological mother, Sherry, and my half-sister, Vicki. I’ve even been able to speak to my biological father, who was indeed the same man, Steve, that I had wondered about so many years before. I have many more family members to meet, and it’s been a whirlwind of secrets uncovered and happy stories told, but it has all been worth it.  

I never could have guessed how this part of my life would have unfolded. I can’t believe spitting in a tube led me to the sister I always wondered about as well as more family members than I could count. It goes to show that one should never give up on looking for what’s missing in their lives. It can bring a completeness that once seemed impossible. I have been slowly putting all the pieces of my puzzle together and the picture looks beautiful! 

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 This is the story of Nathan Kreitlow

Nathan currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his son, Cylis, and his dog, Ahsoka. When he was little, Nathan was given up for adoption, never having contact with his biological mother. When he discovered he had a younger sister who was given up to another family, it ignited a fire in him to get answers about his past, which led to him getting in contact with his sister Stacy and eventually his birth parents. He is glad that he never gave up on finding his family. Today, Nathan runs his own business, Funko Jones. He hopes this year brings more face-to-face interactions with members of his biological family. His adoptive mom, Mel, couldn’t be more thrilled and welcomes every new person with open arms. 

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Nathan and Stacy.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on April 92020. 

| Writer: Stacy Clair| Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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