Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
For decades, Kathie Walker wondered when she would receive a call from her firstborn, the son she had known in her womb for nine months and held in her arms 15 minutes before he became someone else’s child.
That day came last month, when Walker received first a letter, then a visit from Raymond Deschesne, 38, whose birthday she had celebrated without him every Dec. 17 since he was born in Newburyport, Mass.
“He was always on my mind,” said Walker, who moved from the East Coast to Boulder City in 1984.
After two decades of looking, Deschesne met his biological mother, Kathie Walker, and half-sister Jenny Nordstrom during a three-day trip in September to Boulder City, where mother and daughter live next door to one another.
Deschesne now lives in Raymond, N.H., 20 minutes from Walker’s parents and close to his adoptive mother, who has been ailing since his adoptive father died three years ago.
“You know, I grew up in a loving family, and I loved them and they loved me,” Deschesne said. “But to see my mother and my sister and the family, that was a new kind of love that I felt. To see a family resemblance for the first time was amazing for me. It fulfilled my wants and my needs, and I didn’t even know what I was looking for.”
Nobody tracks how many similar reunions occur in a given year. The Census Bureau in 2000 just began counting adopted children separately. Two million were living with their adoptive parents during the last census, about 2.5 percent of all children living in their parents’ homes.
But what researchers do know is that attitudes about adoption are changing in the United States, Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute said. The nonprofit institute works to improve adoption laws and practices through research, education and advocacy.
A survey the institute did in 2002 showed that 64 percent of those asked viewed adoption very favorably, compared with 56 percent in 1997. The poll showed 68 percent said it was a good thing for an adopted person to seek out birth parents.
Deschesne, Walker and Nordstrom would agree with those people. All three spoke of an instant bond they felt as soon as they saw their long-lost relative.
“It was like love at first sight,” said Nordstrom, who added that it didn’t hit home that she had a brother until she saw him.
“The three days he was here, there was never an awkward moment,” Walker said. “The love is just incredible.”
That is typical of such reunions, though not all, Pertman said. “Stars are in everybody’s eyes at first,” he said.
As new-found families get to know one another, they may end up having the same types of difficulties that other families have, he said.
What surprised Nordstrom was that her brother had no hard feelings about being separated from his mother all those years while she had Walker’s full attention as an only child.
Walker was 20 and had broken off an engagement when she found out, at seven months along, that she was pregnant with her former fiance’s child. By then, she was with another man who agreed to marry her on condition that she give up the baby for adoption, she said.
“I had to sign papers saying I would not look for him,” Walker said.
She was not even supposed to see her newborn, but she talked the nurses into giving her 15 minutes with the boy she called Jeffrey. Then she said goodbye.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said.
She waited and hoped that her son would find her, and thought that once he turned 21, she would hear from him soon.
But adoption laws made that difficult. From the time he was in high school, Deschesne tried to find his biological mother. He imagined she had long, dark hair and a dark complexion, like his. Every attempt he made hit a dead end, he said.
After living in Colorado for 13 years, Deschesne moved back to New Hampshire in June to be near his adoptive mother, who was ill. That move brought the breakthrough he needed.
When he went to get a New Hampshire driver’s license, he was asked to get a new copy of his birth certificate, which had grown old and illegible. While at Town Hall in Newburyport, Mass., he asked whether he could get his birth records. Multiple requests before had been denied, but it was worth asking.
What he did not know was that Massachusetts had changed its laws 18 months earlier to open birth records in adoptions that occurred before 1974 and after January 2008. It’s a trend in the United States, as state after state has relaxed laws to provide more information to adoptees, Pertman said. Nevada’s birth records, however, remain closed in adoptions.
Deschesne was given a phone number for the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records, which gave him the information he needed.
The Internet made the rest easy. He found an address for Walker’s parents, his grandparents, in Seabrook, N.H., and wrote a letter.
The hard part, he said, was putting that letter in the mail.
“I said, ‘If I don’t get an answer back from this letter, then what?’” he said. “I was really scared to do that.”
He mailed the letter on Sept. 8. Walker’s parents received it on Sept. 11, called Walker and read it to her.
She had waited so long for this contact, but she needed time to think. She asked her mother to mail the letter and then called her best friend Vicki Motley, who was at the house in minutes and grabbed the phone. In no time, Motley had Deschesne’s phone number and dialed it.
“I thought he’d be at work,” Walker said.
He was, but he answered his cell phone.
“I picked up the phone, and it was her friend Vicki,” Deschesne said. “She said, ‘Hang on a minute. Kathie wants to talk to you.’ I kind of knew when she said ‘Kathie’ what was going on, but I was in shock. And we just talked.”
They talked for 40 minutes. Walker asked if he was all right, if he was happy. He was.
He asked what he had done wrong, why she had let him go.
“I don’t know why I said that. I was adopted when I was two or three months old,” he said.
She told him she was young and made a hard choice, that she had thought of him every day and that she loved him.
“It was a relief to talk to her and get a good cry going,” Deschesne said.
He booked a flight to Las Vegas to meet the mother who had waited for his call for 38 years.
“I needed to hear that. I really did,” he said. “I had a fear of rejection a lot, and there was always that reason, why? Why did I get adopted?”
“All I can see is her smile right now, while I’m talking about it. I’m getting lost.”
The short but intense reunion won’t be their last, the three say. Walker and Nordstrom are planning a trip to New Hampshire to visit Deschesne later this month. All three repeat a refrain of how much they miss the other.
“I grew up in a family with very pale skin, and in all the pictures we have of each other, I always look out of place, the wrong piece of the puzzle, it seems like,” Deschesne said.
“When I got to meet my family, my biological family, that puzzle just fit into place. It juts fit in. That is the feeling it was.”