“After 7.5 years of infertility and pregnancy losses, my husband and I wanted nothing more than to be parents. We explored the different options of adoption, and we felt like adoption from foster care was the perfect path for us. There are over 100,000 children in our foster care system who are freed for adoption and waiting for a forever family.
We went through the process to become licensed, and started looking at children to adopt on the Adopt Us Kids website. One day, we came across an adorable, blue-eyed, redheaded, 4-year-old boy in the listings. My heart jumped, as I myself have vibrant blue eyes and the exact same shade of red hair. I applied our home study in hopes of being chosen as his family. I sent his picture to everyone we know and asked them to pray for God to choose us.
His case worker called and let me know they would not be considering us as his family because we were too far away. He was living in South Dakota, and we were in New York. They were hoping to find a family closer to where he currently lived. I begged her to please look at our picture and credentials. My husband and I are both special education teachers, and we have a lot of experience with special needs. Not to mention, he looks just like us! She promised she would take a look, but that they were still hoping to place him closer to his current location.
After seeing the picture I emailed her, even the case worker couldn’t deny he was meant to be a Dougherty. She called me and said we were chosen to be his family. I was elated! My dream of being a mom was finally coming true! We had to wait a few months for paperwork to go back and forth before we could get placement. Those few months seemed to drag on for an eternity. In June of 2010, we flew to South Dakota. We sat in the case worker’s office, waiting to meet him. I was so nervous. He ran into the office and right into my husband’s arms. ‘DAD!!!’ Then he looked at me with a huge smile across his face, and yelled, ‘MOM!!!’ We spent two days in South Dakota with him, before flying him home to New York.
We did not get the chance to meet Alex’s biological mom while we were in South Dakota. By the time we received placement of Alex, her parental rights had already been surrendered. We would later learn, Alex’s mom was in a deep spiral of bipolar disorder depression and living in an extremely abusive situation when she decided to surrender Alex to CPS in order to give him a second chance at living the life he deserved.
Pretty soon after moving in with us, Alex would cry himself to sleep over missing his mom. As the years went by, he asked frequently about his mom, and his desire to see her. We did not know why she had chosen a closed adoption, and we assumed she did not want to be a part of his life. We later learned she had done what the attorney told her to do in terms of signing over her rights, and she did not realize she could have an open adoption.
One day, our close family friend, Jen Shaffer, said, ‘Let’s look her up on social media and find her for him!’ I dug out the paperwork we had from his years in foster care, and we found her name. From there, we searched on several social media platforms. We finally found her on Facebook. I didn’t reach out right away. I was hesitant because I feared she wouldn’t be receptive to me reaching out to her. I didn’t want to unknowingly open any wounds she had maybe intentionally closed when she placed him for adoption.
One day I mustered up the courage to write to her. I simply said, ‘I just wanted you to know, we are the family that adopted your son Alex. I needed to reach out and tell you he is an AMAZING person, and we are so thankful to have him in our lives.’ I was thrilled when she responded! She was so happy to hear from us. She was in a much better place in her personal life, and had not gone a single day without wondering about Alex and how he was doing. She was beyond happy to see pictures, and to learn he was happy and thriving.
We let Alex know we found his mom. From there, they started sending letters back and forth, and would call and text each other. Alex was happy she was back in his life, but he still desperately wanted to see her in person. Unfortunately, the flights from her area to where we live typically run near $1,500. This was not something his mom, or us, were able to afford. We looked at possibly taking a train or bus ride, but that didn’t seem feasible either. By this point, his mom and I had formed a relationship as well, and we would frequently check the flights looking for a good deal.
When coronavirus hit our country, and everything shut down, the prices of airline tickets dropped dramatically. I was talking with his mom one evening as the kids swam in the pool, and I saw a round-trip, upgraded flight for $300. I said, ‘This is it! Let’s do this! Can you come here in 2 weeks?!’ I knew we would never find a flight that cheap again, so I wanted to secure it before it was gone. She quickly checked with her job and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I booked the flights! His mom said, ‘Let’s make it a surprise for Alex!’ It was so hard to keep it a secret for those few weeks. It was the best present I would ever be able to give him, and I was giddy with excitement!
I told Alex he had a late birthday present coming. His birthday is in February, but he wasn’t confused because we often celebrate birthdays in the summer when we can do a pool party. I was extremely nervous on the day of his mom’s flight here. It was an entire range of emotions. I was nervous, but excited. What if she didn’t like us? How was Alex going to respond? So many other questions raced through my mind.
I drove to the airport that evening to pick her up. When we got back, I came in the house and told Alex his present was in the van, and he could go get it. He walked outside as his mom stepped out of the van, and he immediately knew it was her. He stopped dead in his tracks and exhaled, ‘Mom?’ Then, he took off sprinting into her arms. Sobbing, he hugged her, and in that moment, I could tell he had everything he needed and wanted in life. That missing piece to his puzzle was complete. He had never stopped loving her. I was so thankful they were finally able to reunite in person, as I could immediately tell his heart was full.
Alex is my first child. He is now 14 years old and has become one of my most favorite people in this entire world. Being able to fill that void for him was a blessing.
Alex’s mom spent four days at our house. We made the most of our long weekend together. They spent hours upon hours talking and hanging out. It was as if no time had passed between them, and they had always been together. It was fun to see how similar they are. They look exactly alike, and they have the exact same bubbly, happy, hyper personality. They both love to craft. They are both beautiful people on the inside and out. We were all sad when she had to fly home.
Alex spent a few days after, processing the weekend. It was a lot to take in. Thankfully, Alex and I have an open relationship, and he knows he can talk to me about anything. I was able to help him process some of the things his mom had let him know about his early trauma and the abuse he endured. It was necessary information, as it helped Alex to realize why she chose adoption. He now appreciates that she loves him and wanted what was best for him. And, what was best for him was to be adopted by a new family, where he didn’t have to endure trauma and abuse, where he had enough food to eat, and where he had a mom who wasn’t suicidal and depressed, and could care for him.
Alex continues to text and talk with his mom. Our next hope is to be able to fly her here again for his high school graduation in four years.
It has been a whirlwind of a month, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Alex’s happiness means the world to me. He is turning into a young man full of love, with a wise level of empathy. His birth mom credits my nurturing parenting, but I credit her nature. That heart of his is gold, that came from her. I can never thank her enough for giving birth to my best friend.”