An Iowa Adoptee’s Thoughts the Night Before He Meets His Birth Mother

I was adopted as an infant in Webster City, Iowa in 1959, and told from a young age that I’d been adopted. It wasn’t a big deal for me. I had great parents that loved me very much and gave me a great life.

When I was two, we moved to Carmel, Indiana, where I grew up with my sister, who was also adopted. Neither of us ever thought much of looking for our birth parents. The few times we did, we agreed not to search until our parents passed, out of respect for them. Our father passed in 1984, our mother in 2010.

A few months ago, I submitted paperwork and a check to the Iowa Department of Human Services to request background and medical information on my birth parents. According to the state’s law, adoptees and their birth parents can find each other through their “Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry.” Information is only revealed if both parties have registered and there’s a match.

A package arrived in the mail a couple weeks later. It included basic information, my birth parents’ ages, nationality, height, weight, eye color, education level and religion— and my given first and middle name:  Jeffrey Todd.

The medical history portion on my birth father stated that he had died at age 40, and in parenthesis said: “birth father’s brother wrote us of his passing.” The paperwork did not provide either of their names, only that he was 21-years-old at the time of my birth, 5’10”, brown hair, blue eyes, and 160 lbs.—the same as me at that age. Those words made me weep for the man I never knew, and for the brother’s act of kindness.

And I wondered if my birth mother was still alive, and worried—more like panicked—that I’d waited too long.

My wife, Robyn, helped me immensely through the roller coaster of emotions. Knowing that the state of Iowa could help me no further, I reached out to a good friend of ours, Aly, who knows many people in the adoption industry. She put me in touch with a search angel. Search angels, I learned, are often adopted people and have a network that works together to help people like me. I was very lucky in that I had three “angels” help me in my quest— Cheryl, Denise, and Julie. There are no words to express how grateful I am for these three ladies.

On my youngest son’s birthday, Cheryl called and said, “I’m sure we found your mother. We have a phone number too. . . and guess what? She lives in Florida.”

My birth mother was living in Naples, FL, just 50 miles south of me. I was astonished. I moved to Sanibel, Florida two years ago. They discovered that my birth parents were from Kokomo, Indiana, just 30 miles north of my childhood hometown. There was an uncle and cousins in Kokomo and Michigan, too.

After a pep talk from Robyn, I called the number and hoped for the best, or at least not to be hung up on. Her husband, Jim, answered the phone. I explained that I was doing genealogy research on her first married name and asked if I could speak with Nancy to ask her a few questions.

When she came to the phone I introduced myself, and asked her to verify her maiden name so that I’d know that I was speaking to the right person. Once I was sure that she was Nancy, I asked if she recognized my father’s name. She did. Then I told her where and when I had been born.

I think she knew who I was from the first moment. She seemed so calm while I was an emotional mess. She asked, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“My mother”

“Yes, yes— you are,” she said.

She had thought that I was still living in Iowa and that she’d probably never hear from me. We exchanged basic information and decided to let things sink in and talk again in a couple weeks. Before we hung up, she asked me to forgive her.

Forgive her?

My throat tightened. I held back my emotions, and said, “Nancy, I have had a great life and great adoptive parents and family. I understand the circumstances you must have faced back then, being unwed and from a religious family background. You don’t need me to forgive you. I understand.”

And I did. I knew she did what was best for me. Nancy told me that I have never been a secret from any of her family, including her two children. She has a 49-year-old daughter and 45-year-old son.

I told her I have three sons, two beautiful step-daughters, nieces, and a precious 1-year-old granddaughter.

Beyond the normal exchange of who, what, where, when, I learned that Nancy had been divorced prior to marrying Jim 24 years ago. It turns out that Jim was from Indianapolis and was my adopted mother’s boss for 12 years. What a small world.

We’ve talked a few times over the last few weeks. I’m going to meet her—my mother Nancy—for the first time this week. Fifty-four years is a long time, to say the least. I’m very nervous. I’m still thinking of questions I might ask, but then again, those questions will probably come naturally when we start to talk. I’m excited to see her, hug her, and let her know how happy I am to finally meet her— to fill this empty part of me.

I’m bringing my childhood pictures on through my college years to show her. Wish me luck!

Editor’s Note: For more information on Iowa’s access laws visit the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Image of Dan as a child: provided by author. 

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11 Responses to “An Iowa Adoptee’s Thoughts the Night Before He Meets His Birth Mother”

  1. […] I would like to say Happy Fathers Day to my newly found uncle in Utica, Michigan—Happy Fathers Day uncle Jim! I consider myself one of the luckiest fathers this year. I’ve been getting to know members of my birth families and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful new family.” —Daniel Koerselman (Daniel’s story: An Iowa Adoptee’s Thoughts the Night Before He Meets His Birth Mother) […]

  2. Carolyn says:

    Glad the search Angel was able to find her. Like the others I’m anxious to hear how it went. I would imagine very good. It’s such a great day to have secrecy end and fine your mother alive. I’m a reunited natural mother since 1985 with my son. . I was lucky and have grandchildren. I surrendered my only child.

  3. […] An Iowa Adoptee’s Thoughts the Night Before He Meets His Birth Mother—Adoptee, Dan Koerselman […]

  4. sheri says:

    So glad to hear of your success. How did it go And how is it going? I to have found my birth family And going to meet face to face In aprox. 3 weeks. Im anxious to know how your handling your New family

  5. Cindy says:

    I too am a 59′ adoptee who recently reunited with my first mom. I am so happy for you! You will never forget that first meeting!

  6. Dan, Best of luck! I’m from Ohio. Lived in Sarasota for a while. Love the FL Gulf coast! Good idea taking the photos to show.

  7. Karen Koerselman Rider says:

    Dan: Your sister sent the info. So glad for you. You ‘re an excellent writer.. Ruth and Willie would be proud.

  8. Michelle says:

    Great Story! There is a wonderful movement in Iowa to get laws changed so all adoptees can have access to their original birth certificate. I will be thinking of you all as you meet for the first time! I remember when I experienced it 21 years ago, like it was last night!

  9. Susie says:

    So happy for both of you – Just remember to breathe!

  10. Joyce says:

    That is wonderful and I wish you a wonderful reunion! So funny how many of us midwestern adoptees have similar ties. My birth mother and father were also from north of Indy and I have aunts and uncles in IN and Michigan also…and my birth mom is now in Florida, where I also lived until a few years ago. Mine, however, has declined to be identified via the agency contact. But so many of us midwesterners all end up in Florida at some point. And perhaps a bit esoteric, but much of the attitude I found in (south) FL was detached and people came and went with little real interaction which seems a good fit for many affected by adoption and I always wonder if that’s why so many of us are drawn there. But I digress. 🙂 Best of luck to you and yours!

  11. Darlene says:

    I am so thrilled for you and your birthmother. Better late than never.