May 17, 2009

It's Never Too Late

It's never too late: Mother/daughter reunion is 50 years in the making

By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — Growing up, Katie DeCosse, 52, of Minneapolis had every
opportunity to succeed in life. She grew up in a comfortable home,
attended private schools and graduated from college; and among her
favorite memories are the annual vacations to see family in Bozeman,
Mont. Both of her parents are extremely bright and creative people
which lent itself to a very interesting childhood. But something was
always missing from her life.

“My parents told me I had been adopted when I was very young and I
always wondered if my birth mother looked like me, why she gave me up,
if I had any siblings and a myriad of other things,” says DeCosse. “I
thought of trying to find my birth mother several times over the
years, but never took action.”

Turns out Jackie Maher, 73, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., had thought about
trying to find her daughter several times over the years as well.

“But I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she says. “I was afraid my
appearance in her life after so many years would be disruptive.”

Not to mention, Katie’s very existence was a deep, dark secret. None
of the five children Maher had raised in Robbinsdale and Crystal knew
about their older half sister.

“I didn’t know how to break the news to them after all those years,”
says Maher.

But shortly after turning 71, Maher decided it was time to finally
reveal her secret. She said, “I had reached a point in my life where
all the loose ends began clamoring for attention.”

Maher finally shared the adoption story with her family in March 2007.
Shortly thereafter, the search began.

The decision to give up her baby

Maher says she gave Katie up for adoption for one reason and one
reason only.

“The decision was in the best interest of my child at the time,” she
says. “There’s no way I could have given Katie the life she deserved
in the 1950s. I didn’t have much money, marriage was not an option and
there was nothing worse than coming home pregnant. I didn’t want to
put that shame on Katie or the rest of my family.”

Once she made her decision, Maher, who was 20 at the time, and her
boyfriend, went to the church to ask for help. The pastor sent them to
Catholic Charities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Maher was placed in
a work home and eventually sent to the Catholic Infant Home in St.
Paul where she lived until ready to give birth.

“After I had the baby, I didn’t even get to hold her, remembers Maher.
“They took her to the nursery immediately.”

The only time she ever held the child she had named Melinda Louise was
on the cab ride back to what she refers to as “the home.” The next
morning she returned to her apartment, leaving the baby behind.

“I saw her only one more time after that. On May 12, 1957, the day I
signed the adoption papers,” says Maher.

A few days later, Melinda Louise became Katie DeCosse of Minneapolis.

The search

DeCosse grew up in Orono, the middle of three children who had all
been adopted by Cyrille (Cy) and Barbara DeCosse. She attended
Catholic grade school, high school and college, then after school
worked as a veterinary technician for nearly 25 years.

Meantime, her birth mother, the former Jackie Josephes, met and
married veterinarian Bill Maher, and over the next several decades
raised five children. She thought about the daughter she had given up
several times over the years, but didn’t actually start searching for
her until the spring of 2007.

“At first, it was slow going,” says Maher, whose first step was to
contact the adoption agency that had placed her child. Because hers
was a closed adoption, she was not entitled to the adoptive family’s

“I was told the only way they’d be able to provide that was if my
daughter had come to them looking for me, and she had not.”

Note: Katie had made an initial inquiry in 1979 but, since no
affidavit was on file, Jackie was unable to get information.

Adoption Law in Minnesota

In the 1950s, Minnesota law assumed both birth mothers and adoptive
parents wanted anonymity, unless an affidavit was attached to the
birth certificate stating that contact was allowed.

“No one had ever mentioned that option to me,” sayd Maher. “ It’s a
step I’m sure I would have taken if I had known about it.”

Unwilling to give up, Maher decided to conduct a search on her own.
She got the help she needed from a woman who had herself been adopted,
Gretchen Traylor at the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform, a
group lobbying to bring Minnesota’s adoption laws up to date; and a
fellow birth mother named Marj.

“I met Marj when Gretchen and I went to a Concerned United Birth
Parents (CUB) meeting and with the information I was able to provide,
which included my maiden name, the date of my daughter’s birth, the
hospital she was born in and the adoption agency, she found Katie
within two weeks,” says Maher, who just two months after revealing her
daughter’s existence to her family made several phone calls.

“I’ve found her,” she said over and over again, and a new chapter in
everyone’s lives began.

A new beginning

After learning the identity of her daughter, Maher decided the best,
and most fair way to initiate contact, would be to write Katie a
letter. It was dated May 12, 2007, exactly 50 years to the day after
she had signed the adoption papers. The letter began:

Dear Katie,

I am sure this letter is coming as a surprise to you. I recently
initiated a private search to locate a daughter I surrendered for
adoption in 1957. The search culminated in finding you...

Katie’s response:

Dear Jackie,

Wow! And I thought it was all downhill now that my 50th birthday
celebration is officially over... I have never seriously considered
searching for you but have always been open to the prospect of a
meeting should you initiate it. To what degree, I can’t say at this

Just 13 days after that first e-mail exchange, Jackie and Katie met
face-to-face for the first time. They’ve spent the past two years
becoming the best of friends.

At the urging of their friends and family, Jackie and Katie, who bear
a strong resemblance, have the same laugh and both love to write,
recently published a book titled Fifty Years in 13 Days: A Mother/
Daughter Reunion (Wow! Publishing Group Inc.). The text includes the e-
mails they exchanged during those 13 days before they met face-to-
face, as well as insight into what it was like to reconnect after so

“I would like to see our book reach others who are at the same
crossroads at which I found myself before I started my search. If only
one connection comes about because of our story it will have been a
worthy endeavor,” says Maher.

“We hope that sharing our story will encourage other birth parents and
adoptees who have been thinking about attempting a reunion to go for
it,” says DeCosse.

Fifty Years in 13 Days: A Mother/Daughter Reunion retails for $12.95
and is available for purchase on the publisher’s website: www.wowpublishinggr
. After May 19, it will also be available at the Once Upon a Crime
book store at 604 W. 26th Street in Minneapolis. Call 612-870-3785 to
check on availability.

Rachel is a freelance writer who lives in Minnetonka, Minn. She has
written professionally on family matters for the Minneapolis Star
Tribune and Tampa Tribune newspapers.

Copyright © 2009 Dunn County News

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