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Thread: Adoptee discovers co-worker is birth mother

  1. #1
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    Default Adoptee discovers co-worker is birth mother

    ELDRIDGE, Iowa — Michelle Wetzell told her co-workers at the salon that she had a fantasy about meeting her biological mother.

    Wetzell, who was adopted when she was 4 days old, wanted to somehow learn her mother’s name and address and mail her a coupon for a free manicure. She wanted to see her mother and learn a little about her, without the threat of awkwardness or rejection.

    That was 10 years ago. The memory gives Wetzell chills because of what she learned in February. She found out her mother had been a co-worker at the Davenport salon, working at the receptionist’s desk, just out of earshot of the stylists and manicurists. Her mother was someone she knew and admired.

    “There she was, the whole time,” Wetzell said.

    Wetzell, 30, of Prophetstown, Ill., began to search for her mother late last year after a blood test that showed an unusually high cholesterol level, which raised questions about her family medical history. The search led her to Cathy Henzen, 55, of Eldridge.

    Wetzell and Henzen have been getting to know each other for the past five months after working together for part of 1996. They were interviewed on a recent weekday afternoon, the first time they told their story to anybody beyond immediate family and a few friends.

    They sat at Henzen’s kitchen table, speaking in a rapid fire as they recalled how they didn’t get a chance to talk much to each other when they worked at the salon, Hair By Stewarts in NorthPark Mall.

    “Gosh, Michelle, what if you had come up and we had started talking? We would have known (about our connection), I think,” Henzen said.

    “Absolutely,” Wetzell said.

    This is the kind of happy reunion that adoption professionals say can be rare. Biological parents often don’t want to revisit memories of an unplanned pregnancy. Adoptees often fear they will learn they share the genes of criminals or substance abusers. Wetzell and Henzen were willing to take those risks.

    Raised in Prophetstown

    Henzen found out she was pregnant in 1975 at a time when she was getting a divorce and already had two young daughters.

    She was living in East Moline and still sharing an apartment with her husband because they couldn’t afford separate homes.

    Henzen remembers the time around the divorce as the lowest point in her life. She and her husband had heated arguments almost every day. She feared her daughters were being harmed by seeing and listening to the fighting.

    “I couldn’t risk bringing another child into this family,” Henzen said.

    She decided to place her child for adoption with a nonprofit agency, Bethany for Children and Families, which has offices on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Quad Cities. On Feb. 23, 1976, medical staff took the newborn girl away five minutes after she was born.

    “It was almost as if they snatched her out of my arms,” Henzen remembers. She wonders if she would have backed out of the adoption if she had been given more time to hold the baby.

    Michelle Wetzell, maiden name Johnson, was adopted by a couple from Prophetstown, Ill., about 45 miles from Davenport. She was told that she was adopted even before she understood what it meant.

    Her adoptive mother had given birth to a son, then decided to try adoption because she was told that she probably couldn’t get pregnant again. Despite this, the mother gave birth to a daughter several years after Michelle was adopted. This meant Michelle grew up with an older and younger sibling who weren’t adopted.

    As Michelle entered school, she began to notice all the ways she was different from the rest of her family. She was outgoing but struggled in school. Her two siblings were top students but were reserved.

    Like many adopted children, Michelle fantasized about her biological family, imagining that she might fit in better with them. This grew into a consuming anxiety when she was in her early teens.

    Michelle’s adoptive mother, Joan Johnson, also had questions about Michelle’s biological mother. The adoptive parents had been told only that the mother was divorced and Lutheran.

    “I wondered about her a lot over the years, especially on Michelle’s birthday,” Johnson, a retired nurse, said in a telephone interview from her Prophetstown home.

    After graduating from high school, Wetzell moved to Davenport and attended Capri College, a cosmetology school. She got a job doing manicures at Hair By Stewarts.

    At the salon, she was one of about a dozen young women who did hair and nails. Henzen worked out front, greeting customers and scheduling appointments.

    Wetzell remembers Henzen as the glue that held the business together with her bubbly personality and her ability to stay cool during busy times.

    Henzen’s two grown daughters — who were 6 and 7 when Wetzell was born — would visit her at work and say hello to the other employees.’’

    “We were envious of her two girls, Carrie and Chrissy. We were like, ‘Oh man, we love Cathy so much. We wish our mom was like Cathy’,” Wetzell said.

    Wetzell was away from home and feeling a flare-up of her anxiety about her family and her identity. She remembers feeling like she didn’t know who she was or what she was going to do with her life.

    Lives converge

    In the 10 years since leaving the salon, Wetzell moved back to Prophetstown, got married and has a 2-year-old daughter. She works part-time jobs as a bartender at a country club and as a manicurist.

    Henzen, who is single, left the salon in 1998 and now works as a receptionist for a trucking company.

    The two women were reunited because of a medical test that Wetzell had to take to get a life insurance policy. She found out her cholesterol was unusually high for someone her age. The doctor told her that she needed to look into whether her family has any history of heart disease or other illnesses that can be passed on to children.

    Johnson, Wetzell’s adoptive mother, urged caution.

    “I just didn’t want her to be hurt. As it turns out, it was fine. But I said to her, ‘You have no idea what you’re going to be find’,” she said.

    Wetzell went to Bethany to see if the agency could tell her anything. It turns out that most adoption agencies, including Bethany, have become more willing to facilitate contact between biological parents and their adult children. This is part of a growing openness in the adoption industry.

    Deanna Solis, Bethany’s adoption program supervisor, said the agency would agree to help contact biological parents unless the parents specify at the time of the adoption that they didn’t want to be contacted. Once the parents have been located, the agency gives them the option to refuse disclosure of their name or location.

    “It’s a very sensitive situation and needs to be approached delicately,” Solis said.

    Henzen agreed to give her medical history and contact information. Her ex-husband agreed to give his medical history but has not yet had contact with Wetzell.

    The first communication was a letter from Wetzell to Henzen in mid-January of this year. At this point, the women didn’t know they had met before as adults.

    On Feb. 4, a case worker at Bethany noticed that Wetzell and Henzen had both worked in cosmetology and mentioned this to Wetzell. This led Wetzell to ask the case worker for more details about Henzen’s job experience.

    After a few minutes, it clicked. The case worker then called Henzen to tell her the news that her daughter was a former co-worker.

    “I was like, ‘Oh … my … gosh’,” Henzen said.

    Wetzell and Henzen spoke on the phone later that day. They met a week later at a restaurant, accompanied by Wetzell’s adoptive mother and sister.

    Since then, Wetzell and Henzen have spoken or met every few days. They are slowly trying to figure out what kind of relationship they will have and how their immediate families will be involved.

    Wetzell insisted that her adoptive mother attend the first meeting and has assured her adoptive family that nobody can take their place in her life. Henzen has made similar assurances to her two oldest daughters.

    “Where does it go from here? I just think that we take it a day at a time,” Henzen said.

    Wetzell said she can see elements of her outgoing personality in her biological mother, something that helps her understand herself. Henzen said she feels validated that she made the right decision 30 years ago because she can see that Wetzell turned out to be the kind of person anybody would want as a daughter or a friend.

    “In my heart I believe I did make the right decision,” Henzen said.

    Can you imagine if they had absolutely hated each other when they worked together? That would have been hilarious.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

    "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
    --Sinclair Lewis

  2. #2
    Hit By Ban Bus! AliceInWonderland's Avatar
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    you already know.

    Default Re: Adoptee discovers co-worker is birth mother

    wow thats wierd...

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