Sandi had 50 years to prepare for this moment, but as she walked off a plane in Sacramento she felt the anxiety and doubt well-up inside.
“It was like the night before you get married and you get cold feet or jitters,” said the 50 year-old mother from New Hampshire. “You just know that in a moment your life is going to change, and you worry that maybe you’re not ready.”
Adopted at birth in Florida, Sandi had spent her whole life looking for her biological mother, wondering if she was out there somewhere.
Then after decades of searching without success, she found her after discovering a second cousin named Steve on 23andMe. Her cousin, who is about ten years older, had remembered when his aunt, Sandi’s mom, was pregnant with her.
It was through Steve that Sandi was able to connect with her mother and sister. Sandi’s trip across the country — just two weeks before Mother’s Day — was her chance to meet her mom for the first time. It was a meeting she’d fanaticized about her whole life, but as Sandi got closer to meeting her mother, she became more and more nervous.
While she splashed water on her face in the airport bathroom and ratcheted up her courage, her mother Sandra Freeland and Sandi’s sisters, Christine Herrera and Candace Campbell — who she was also meeting for the first time — had their own anxious moments as they waited for her in the terminal.
Christine had already bonded with Sandi through Facebook and several phone calls, but seeing Sandi in person for the first time triggered all sorts of emotions.
“There was so much going on inside me it’s hard to describe what I was feeling,” said Christine, who is Sandi’s full sister.
All her life, Christine felt like something or someone was missing. She had known most of her life that she had a sister out there, who’d been given up for adoption by her mother. Now after finding Sandi she felt like she was uncovering a missing part of herself.
For their mother, Sandra, meeting her daughter Sandi instantly brought her back to the few days she had with her as a newborn just before giving her up. At the time she’d been an out-of-work single mother trying to raise another another young daughter. County social workers in Florida had encouraged Sandra to give up the newborn for adoption, telling Sandra that if she kept Sandi there was a chance she’d lose both of her girls. It was an awful choice, but Sandra thought that giving up Sandi would offer her a better life than she could give her. But it was agony letting her go.
“I never stopped thinking about her,” Sandra said more than 50 years later. “Never. She was constantly on my mind.”
Each of the women were wound tight with emotion as Sandi walked into the terminal and into her mother’s arms for the first time in 50 years. As they held each other Christine stood next to them with tears in her eyes and her hands over her mouth.
They held each other for a very long time, and then Sandra whispered into her daughter’s ear.
“I told her it felt so good to hold her again and that I never wanted to let her go,” Sandra said. “And then I told her that I always loved her and I never stopped loving her.”
As she looked into her daughter’s eyes she instantly remembered holding her as an infant and the staring into her young eyes then, she said.
Almost weak in the knees with her own emotion, Sandi said none of the millions of meetings she’d imagined having with her mother over the years was quite as good as what really happened.
Sandi had been raised by a couple who’d been unable to have children. They were older when they adopted her, and they both passed away by the time Sandi was just 25. Although she adored her adopted father, she said her relationship with her adopted mother was more difficult. Still Sandi is thankful they provided her a stable upbringing. But Sandi never stopped looking for her biological mother, and over the years she’d fantasized about meeting her.
“To be held like that was something I’d dreamed about my whole life,” Sandi said. “I mean, it was my own mom holding me in her arms telling me she loved me, telling me how much she loved and missed me my whole life. It was amazing.”
For Christine too the moment was a bit surreal and overwhelming.
“I’m still in awe, still dumbfounded by it,” she said.
Just 11 months younger than Sandi, Christine said meeting her sister — their older sister had passed away more than a decade ago — was also something she’d dreamed about. Deep down Christine always thought she’d been a twin, and that missing twin sister was out there somewhere. Finally meeting Sandi and spending time with her she felt like reconnecting a missing part of herself. The connection she has had with her sister is like nothing she experienced before.
After meeting at the airport, Sandi spent a few days with Christine, and then met her extended family at a dinner in Sacramento — including her cousin Steve with whom she connected on 23andMe and who helped her find her mother. Sandi also got some more one-on-one time with her mother. She had a week on the coast before having to return home to her own kids.
“It’s crazy to have spent my whole life looking and then to finally find her,” she said. “It’s been amazing. It’s something I’ve yearned for my whole life, and that yearning never went away. It was important to hear that I wasn’t some kind of mistake. That I was loved and missed.”
And now she has someone she can wish Happy Mother’s Day.