Written By RENEE WEBB, Content and Design Coordinator, Lumen Media
Republished with permission from Dawn Prosser, Director of Communications, Lumen Media of the Diocese of Sioux City
When Denise Lamp of Emerson, Neb., was notified by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Sioux City that the daughter she placed for adoption 50 years ago was interested in contacting her, she was thrilled.
“She was overjoyed that the child she had placed for adoption had made contact with us,” said Amy Bloch, executive director of Catholic Charities who handles about 20 adoption searches and reunifications each year.
Lamp, who had informed her husband and four other children about the adoption years earlier, said she was always open to her daughter reaching out to her.
“I wanted her to find me,” she said. “I didn’t want to go knocking on her door and find out that her parents never told her she was adopted. I didn’t want to disrupt her life in that way. But it turns out she has known it all along.”
While Lamp noted she was dating the father and she wasn’t extremely young at the time of the birth, age 20, they had opted to place the child for adoption because their parents did not want them to get married. She was Lutheran and he was Catholic and the difference in religion back then “was a big thing.”
Hope Spencer, the adoptee who now resides in North Carolina, pointed out that she initially began the process to search for her birth parents in the late 1990s, but she felt guilty and decided to wait until they had passed away because she didn’t want to hurt them. By 2003, both her parents were deceased but she was uncertain if her birth mother would be open to a connection. She wondered if she was a secret her mother wanted to forget and those feelings caused her to put off seeking contact.
Not long ago, motivated by these unsettled times, Spencer thought now would be the time to try to connect with her birth mother but she wanted to do so in a very low-key, discreet manner. Her husband Michael has been supportive of the process.
“I didn’t want to disrupt any lives,” she said, with audible emotion in her voice.
Spencer reached out to Catholic Charities, knowing somewhat how the process worked from the initial connection more than 20 years ago.
With closed adoptions, Bloch explained that by law Catholic Charities is not allowed to give out identifying information without the permission of both parties – the adoptee and birth mother. If both parties are on board with reunification, the Catholic Charities director provides support to both parties and helps them process emotions.
“We typically have them exchange email or letters through me that are non-identifying,” said Bloch, who noted the communication might include why the child was placed for adoption, questions from the adoptee and a little bit about their lives. “After you get to know each other a little bit, then there is usually a phone call and they can decide if they want to share identifying information.”
Spencer was the first to write a letter and send some pictures. However, a few weeks went by and Lamp had not written any letters. Bloch assured Spencer that her birth mother had been thrilled that she was reaching out and told her not to read too much into it because there could be some extenuating circumstances.
“I was not handling it well,” acknowledged the daughter.
Sure enough, within a few weeks, Lamp’s aunt had reached out to Catholic Charities to inform them that Lamp was in the hospital. The aunt asked if the process could be expedited because writing letters would be difficult with Lamp being ill.
After Lamp was out of the hospital, Bloch set up a phone call.
“Immediately there was a connection,” Bloch described, pointing out some similarities between the mother and daughter. “They pose for pictures in the same way. They both have cat named Max. Their interests and the interests of Hope and Denise’s other biological children are the same. They have military backgrounds. It was like an instant connection and love for each other.”
On that very first phone call, they shared their names and contact information to be able to connect on their own. From that point on, every day they talked on the phone and quickly thereafter Spencer shared phone calls with her maternal siblings.
Within four days they had scheduled a trip to have Spencer come to the area to meet Lamp and the rest of the family in person. While in the area, she was also able to meet her birth father, three of four siblings on that side of the family as well as other relatives.
Spencer has relished in the family connections.
“I have been without my parents for almost 20 years. I am an only child and all of my family is out of state,” she said.
When the birth mother and daughter were able to meet for the first time on Sept. 3, Lamp said there was a lot of emotion. Not only her, but the whole family, “was waiting to welcome her with open arms.”
Having thought often about her daughter through the years – especially on Hope’s birthday – it was a relief for her to learn that Spencer had a good life and good parents. On the second day they were together, it did mean a lot when the daughter she had placed for adoption so many years ago asked if she could call her Mom.
“We are like two peas in a pod. It’s like we have been together our whole lives and it’s like that with all of my siblings,” said Spencer, who noted after being an only child she is overwhelmed with emotion at having siblings. “They mean everything to me. I’ve been so alone for so long. To find out that I have these amazing people that are just like me – they look like me, act like me and have the same interests – it’s amazing.”
Both Lamp and Spencer commended Bloch for her work on the reunification process.
With the new adoption records law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May, adult adoptees born before 1971 can now obtain a copy of the original birth certificate. On Jan. 1, all adoptees over age 18 can do so. In many cases adoptees will be able to track down their birth parents on their own.
But Bloch is a proponent of the more structured reunification as it allows for support through the process. Both Spencer and Lamp were also pleased with assistance provided during this journey.
“Amy was an integral part in all of this – in getting us together,” said Lamp. “The process was so professional; I was very impressed.”
Spencer found value in going through the reunification process with a third party like Catholic Charities because Bloch offered an emotional buffer/support system to help process thoughts and feelings.
“It has been an amazing journey. I can’t describe it any other way,” said Lamp.
This is just the start of Spencer’s journey and relationship with her birth family. Given that Spencer and her husband were both raised in Iowa, she said she’d even love to move back to the area at some point.