January 7, 2010
Mother & child reunion: Louisvillian says ‘Karma' played a role in reconnecting with her firstborn
By Katya Cengel
December 13, 2009
NOTE: This adoptee's background was totally fabricated in her adoption file.
Whatever your belief system, every once in a while something happens that is too perfect to write off to chance.
Maybe that is why Susanne Howe named the cat “Karma.”
This story could have been written in the usual way: the trend story about how families around the world are reuniting on Facebook; the one shown in heart-wrenching airport reunions on the evening news, rehashed on morning TV talk shows.
Only you won't read that here. Despite an alluring Facebook connection, that isn't what this story is about. It's about two women who found each other despite numerous roadblocks. It's about a woman whose timing hasn't always been perfect, acting at just the right time.
And it's about the sense of disbelief and hope you feel when you realize that every now and then things really do work out.
A difficult beginning
When Susanne Howe discovered she was pregnant, the timing was not right. Howe had just resumed her college education and had moved halfway across the country. Her boyfriend, who was supposed to join her, was seeing someone else.
Howe was 20 and single. She wanted more for her baby than what she could offer and decided to place her for adoption.
Because she was surrendering the girl, Howe did not feel it would be right for her to seek her out later in life. But secretly she hoped her daughter would find her, she said later, and she did everything she could to make that happen.
She requested her name be put in the baby's file and left a letter for the adoptive parents and another for the child, explaining her actions and reasoning. Then she breastfed her. It wasn't encouraged, but Howe knew it would boost the baby's immune system.
“I thought, ‘I can't give her anything else, but maybe I can give her this, a little bit of a start,'” said Howe, now 50.
Thirty years later, Howe sat in a Louisville coffee shop next to a woman with hair as blond as her own, eyes as blue and the same dimple in her right cheek.
“I hoped, I think, on some level there would be some bonding — that years down the road, in the future (that bond) would be somewhere in her subconscious,” said Howe, patting Crystal Love's knee.
After three decades, Howe was back with her baby.
Growing up in Vanceburg, Ky., Love had known she was adopted. But it wasn't until she was 25 and had read Howe's letter that she wanted to know more about her birth mother. She had her adoption records released and began looking. Only the woman she thought she was looking for went by “Virginia Suzanne Paige.” Love had no way of knowing Howe went by her middle name, or that “Susanne” had been misspelled in the records.
Even worse, a lot of the details about her birth mother were wrong. Now that she knows Howe and they can laugh about it, Love enjoys talking about the way the records described Howe.
“You were Methodist, you played piano, were into needlepoint, cheerleading …”
Howe cut in, “ … made my own clothes.”
“… debating, she was studying speech pathology,” Love continued.
The only problem was none of it was true, Howe said.
“It was like somebody just fabricated that stuff just to give her a picture,” she said . “Give her a mental image.”
That image sent Love searching for women named “Virginia,” checking out speech-pathology programs and generally tracking dead ends. She joined adoption sites and used all the tools she was familiar with as a lawyer. But she found nothing.
Over the years she would try again and again, and at some point was able to figure out that her biological mother was a member of the Franklin County High School class of 1976.
Then, Love, a longtime MySpace fan, defected to Facebook and decided to search there for women in that class. When she found “Susanne Paige Howe,” she sent her a short e-mail explaining who she was — and waited.
‘Timing is everything'
Howe said she almost deleted the e-mail. She had gone online only because a cat had shown up on the doorstep and kept trying to get inside her house. Howe lived with her mother and stepfather, whose home was purposefully pet-free, and was trying to find an online list of lost pets. When that didn't work, she decided to check her e-mail before getting off the computer.
When she saw an e-mail from Crystal Love, a name she didn't recognize, she was ready to send it to the trash, but at the last minute recalled a high school student named Crystal and decided to see if it was from her. When she saw who the e-mail was from, she wrote back right away.
It was Mother's Day.
Her parents decided to keep the cat; she named it Karma.
“My stepdad and mom actually, I think, associate the arrival of Karma with her (Love),” Howe said.
Howe had spent three decades in Pennsylvania and raised two children, Kelly, now 27, and Ryan, now 23. But with her children grown, her parents' health declining and her own marriage over, she had recently returned to Louisville.
When Howe moved, Kelly urged her to join Facebook as a way to keep in touch with friends and family members who lived elsewhere. Two weeks before Love e-mailed her, Howe had joined a group for her high school on Facebook, using her maiden name so old friends could find her.
“Timing's everything,” said Howe, squeezing Love's hand.
After replying to Love's e-mail, Howe told Kelly and Ryan about their older sister. Two hours later, Love received a Facebook friend request from Kelly.
In the months since, Love, who works as a public defender in Ashland, has met with Howe several times and also with Kelly, Ryan, Howe's parents and her birth father. Occasionally, she gets a Facebook friend request from another member of Howe's extended family. Coupled with her adoptive parents and brother, Love has family galore.
“Some people have absolutely no one, and I have more than enough,” she said.
When she is with Howe, they are as affectionate and giggly as teenagers.
“It's all been sort of surreal,” Howe said. “The reason I named the cat Karma is I felt I must have racked up an awful lot of good karma somewhere to have everything happen.”