September 14, 2008

Family Reunion: After Long Search

Family reunion: After long search, teen meets woman who gave her up for adoption
Kalamazoo Gazette September 10, 2008

KALAMAZOO -- Dionne Torrence had received a message that a young woman from Michigan was trying to reach her. Torrence called the phone number and heard the young woman's voice on the other end.

A few seconds of silence followed.

Finally, the young woman, 19-year-old Anie LaVasseur of Augusta, broke the tense silence: "I'm not angry with you for giving me up. I had a good life."

The comment was followed by tears on both sides, as Torrence and LaVasseur, who Torrence gave up for adoption, took their first steps toward getting to know each other.

"It felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders," the 39-year-old Torrence recounted recently while sitting in the home of the Augusta couple to whom she'd entrusted her daughter.

Torrence, who lived in Ohio when she became pregnant and used a Kalamazoo adoption agency, said she decided to give her daughter up for adoption because she was single, was not sustaining a relationship with the father and wanted the child to grow up with two parents.

Last year, LaVasseur, like thousands of other Americans each year, undertook a search process that eventually led to her birth mother. Hundreds of Web sites offer advice on how to undertake such a search, and the Internet has made it easier for people to find each other. Intermediaries also can aid the process.

LaVasseur, a 2007 graduate of Gull Lake High School and sophomore at Western Michigan University, says she had always known she was adopted and that one day she'd look for her birth mother, whose maiden name she knew.

She started her search in January 2007, shortly after she turned 18. She requested information from the Kalamazoo County Probate Court and about a year later decided to hire Theresa Heller, a certified confidential intermediary, to help with the search.

Heller, who works for the court and in 2002 located her own daughter she'd given up for adoption, has for 10 years helped other people find their birth parents or children.

She spent about seven months looking for Torrence, although she initially made contact with her a month into the search. Torrence remembers getting that first call but says she ended it abruptly because she thought someone was trying to scam her.

Heller said she looked up 30 to 40 other "Dionne Browns" -- Torrence's maiden name -- but her search came up with nothing. Not wanting to disappoint LaVasseur, she started over again.

This time she made contact with a relative of Torrence's who said she might be able to locate the woman -- "which told me that all she had to do was call her," Heller said.
Heller finally spoke to Torrence and told her that the daughter she'd given up 19 years ago wanted to contact her.

"I was so overwhelmed," Torrence said, tears welling up in her eyes as she sat in the LaVasseurs' basement.

After their initial telephone contact on Aug. 6, which lasted three hours, the two talked by phone several times.

Among the questions LaVasseur had for Torrence: Did she know the date she was born? (Yes.) Did she have any other children? (No.) Did she want a relationship with her? (Of course!) Did she think they had anything in common? (Yes, for instance, their sense of fashion and love of shopping and their "girlie" styles.)

Meeting face-to-face

After about two weeks of telephone calls, the two met in person Aug. 22 in the lobby of Kalamazoo's Radisson Plaza Hotel & Suites.

Torrence and her husband, Keith, drove there from their home in Clinton, Ohio.
Torrence said she immediately recognized her own facial features in the younger woman as the hotel's elevator doors opened.

"We just cried and hugged," Torrence said.

The two sat in the hotel lobby for about three hours, laughing, crying and talking as they tried to bridge a gap of 19 years.

They later went up to the Torrences' hotel room, where LaVasseur met Dionne's husband, who suggested that, because of the lateness of the hour, she stay over.

"I was totally amazed because they look so much alike," Keith Torrence said. "It's made Dionne a different person -- seems like she's ... complete."

Birth mother and daughter talked even longer into the night, only getting about three hours of sleep before it was time to head to the LaVasseur home the next day.

Meeting the families

In Augusta, the Torrences met with Anie's parents, Tim and Janet LaVasseur, and their son, David, 18, who was born after Anie was adopted and after they thought they could not conceive a child.

The family prepared a brunch together. Frequently, Anie and Dionne fell into private conversations, seemingly oblivious to the others.

Janet LaVasseur said she has always supported Anie in finding her birth mother. "People ask me, 'How do you feel? Are you OK with this?' Anie having one more person to love her can only be good."

Janet said she urged her daughter to talk to a counselor before starting the search process, even though Anie was initially hesitant to do so.

That was very good advice, Heller said. It is important for all the parties involved to understand that they all have concerns, she said.

"Both birth mothers and adoptees have the same set of fears" about whether the other person will want to sustain a relationship with them and how persistent or pushy they should be or may be perceived as being, Heller said.

For instance, adoptees who have dreamed their whole lives about reuniting with a birth parent might be disappointed when that person does not seem to mirror their enthusiasm, Heller said. What is likely happening is that the person being contacted is dealing with a whole range of emotions surrounding the fact that a child they gave up for adoption wants to contact them.

"A surprising number of adoptive parents are supportive, like Anie's. It's really a good gift that they give to the child," Heller said.

After visiting at the LaVasseurs' home, Anie and Dionne spent a few hours on an outing at The Crossroads mall before the Torrences headed back to Ohio.

The Torrences came to Michigan to visit with Anie again the next weekend. Both birth mother and daughter say they hope their newfound relationship will continue.

"I'm looking forward to learning all I can about her," Anie said of Dionne. "I want this relationship to last forever."

Contact Stephanie Esters at or 388-8554.

© 2008 Michigan Live.

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