GREENFIELD — Every June 11 brought painful memories for Doris Holmes.
Having given her newborn daughter up for adoption four decades ago, Holmes has thought of her little girl every day. But her birthday was always the hardest.
For Melissa Waterman, June 11 was a day of bittersweet celebration. It was her birthday. There was cake, presents and parties. But also questions. Being adopted, she always wondered. Why did her biological family give her up?
Last month, nearly 40 years after June 11, 1975, when Holmes and Waterman parted under a blur of emotion, the mother and daughter reunited for the first time.
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It was a reunion that had been a long time coming. For Waterman, meeting her mother brought the closure she needed, alongside what she calls her new “bonus family” — a slew of siblings, nieces and nephews. For Holmes, the reunion brought the peace and forgiveness she’d yearned for in the daughter she’d always wanted to hold.
As it turns out, neither had needed to look very far. All this time, the pair had been living less than 20 miles away from one another.
The fact has uncovered all kinds of uncanny coincidences as they catch up on 40 years of photographs and memories.
Waterman, who grew up in New Palestine, always knew she had been adopted. It was never kept a secret.
And for 21 years, she searched, wondering where she came from.
Holmes, a Greenfield resident, was certain her daughter had been adopted by someone out of county. Having filed for various adoption locator programs over the years, she had all but given up hope of ever reaching her child.
“I just never thought it would ever happen,” she said.
“I just thought she didn’t want it. I thought maybe she was bitter toward me, didn’t want to know me.”
But that was far from the truth. Waterman loved her adopted family and grew up spoiled by both her parents, Robert and Wandie Waterman, and an older brother. Still, she had a desire to know more about herself and her past.
When she turned 18, she began her search.
“My mom and dad had always tried to help me,” she said.
“We went to the library and looked through records, went to the hospital, but no. Everything was a stop. You couldn’t get any records; as soon as they found out you were adopted, you were done.”
Early in her search, she wrote a letter to a Hancock County judge, who suggested she hire an attorney. A young mother at the time, she didn’t have the means to do so.
Her pursuit was put on hold.
But there were more pressing issues at hand as well, ones affecting Waterman’s health.
Waterman, a registered nurse, has struggled physically throughout the years. She had stomach issues as a child. She has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, lupus and now, breast cancer.
She decided she had to find her biological family, to see if there were any hereditary clues to her problems.
About a year ago, she ramped up her search.
Waterman followed that advice from years ago and hired an attorney to dig deeper. She got a phone number for the Indiana State Department of Health. The vital records division, she discovered, has a program where if both parties file consent forms, contact information can be exchanged.
And it was free.
But even as Waterman was filling out the form, she couldn’t help but feel somewhat crestfallen. There’s no way her biological family members would also know about the service, she thought.
Little did she know, they had just filed the same state forms a year ago.
Within two weeks, both Waterman and Holmes received letters from the department, copies of original birth certificates, adoption letters, and the names and phone numbers they’d been searching for all along.
The opportunity to find what they’d been missing was right in front of them.
“I just lost it,” Holmes said. “I was just trembling and crying … I always thought she didn’t want to meet, didn’t want to know who I was. And I wouldn’t really have blamed her.”
This being the age of social media, both first scoped each other out on Facebook.
Then came the emotional reunion — a day they won’t forget.
Of course, one of the first questions Waterman had for her mother was “why?”
Holmes, who does not want to speak publicly on the emotional decision she made 40 years ago, explained it all to her daughter. And there was immediate understanding and forgiveness.
“She did the right thing, what was happening in her life; that was what she should have done,” Waterman said.
“As soon as I found out, it was OK. It didn’t matter anymore. Just seeing (the family) and seeing her, I just want her to forgive herself. The animosity is over.”
Holmes was overwhelmed to hear what a good life Waterman had growing up. Her little girl had not wanted for anything.
“That was always my worst fear, what kind of life she had,” Holmes said. “She had a great life.”
Waterman’s adoptive father, Robert, said he’s glad his daughter found the family she’s been looking for. He and his late wife always supported their daughter, he said, because finding her roots was what she wanted.
Still, Waterman will always be his little girl. The Watermans decided to adopt shortly after losing a baby who had lived just over a day. When Wandie got the call that an infant was available for them, she dropped everything, picked up their new daughter and never looked back.
“I’m very grateful to him and his wife,” Holmes said, smiling across the kitchen table from her new acquaintance.
Since the Holmes and Waterman families lived so close to each other all this time, it’s almost surprising they didn’t discover each other earlier.
“I always used to be told, ‘You have a twin in Hancock County,” Waterman said. “I said, ‘Really? Because I’m adopted.’”
Waterman and her biological sister went to rival high schools, and Waterman’s sister ended up marrying one of her high school acquaintances.
The siblings also both regularly go to Something New at Tiffany’s beauty salon. Waterman has told the story of her search dozens of times to her hairdresser, little to know her biological sister-in-law owns the business and could have overheard the conversation and solved the whole mystery.
But she never did.
It’s all pretty overwhelming for Waterman, who was diagnosed five years ago with breast cancer. She didn’t think she would make it to 40.
Waterman, under treatment for Stage 3 cancer, never has gotten the medical answers she was hoping for. Her biological family doesn’t have a history of the disease.
Still, Waterman said her search ended in something much better. She and her three children, Mara, Austin and Aleah, gained a new branch of family.
Holmes and her husband have opened up their home to the Watermans many times, and Waterman is getting to know her sister, two half siblings and two step siblings.
“I don’t know, I never felt like my heart was empty, but I knew it was. And now it’s whole,” Waterman said.
“There’s no empty part in my stomach anymore, like I’m missing something.”
The mother and daughter don’t have any birthday plans yet for this June 11, but you can be sure Holmes will be at peace, and Waterman will be able to celebrate like she never has before.
“I always said 40 would be my year,” Waterman said.
Were you adopted and you want to find your biological family? The Indiana State Department of Health has a vital records division to help adopted adults locate their biological families. If both the adult adoptee and a birth parent file a written consent form with the office of the State Registrar, birth certificates, adoption papers and contact information can be exchanged.
To register with the Indiana Adoption History program, call 317-233-7279 or email Darci Johnson, adoptions clerk, email@example.com. Forms and answers to frequently-asked questions can be found at http://www.in.gov/isdh.
“I never felt like my heart was empty but I knew it was. And now it’s whole,”
Melissa Waterman, on meeting her biological family