DES MOINES, Iowa — Families are full of stories. Some funny, others sad, and some that are never told.
“It was 1969,” Tom Taylor recalls, “I’d asked my girlfriend on New Year’s Eve if she’d marry me sometime and in February she calls me and says, ‘Guess what?’ I’m pregnant.’”
Tom and his fiancé’ Barb told no one. A few weeks before the baby was due, they decided to place it for adoption. “It was terrible,” Tom says through tears, “we cried all the way there. It was really hard.”
At the same time, Peggy Jacobson was longing for another child after years of heartbreak because of repeated miscarriages. “My husband said they called and they have a baby for us and I said, ‘What?!?’” They were thrilled to get the news that there was a baby for them to adopt, and as that baby grew into a little girl they made sure she knew the truth about how she came to their family. “I always knew,” says Cheryl Stillman, “there wasn’t a moment they sat me down and told me. I just always knew.”
But her birth parents kept the secret, went on with their lives and had two more children.
Cheryl grew up, got married and had kids of her own. She never searched for her birth family until last May. “A girlfriend of mine who is also adopted made a post, ‘my sister made history in Iowa today’… it was all about this group of women who pushed for legislation for Iowa adoptees to get their original birth certificates.”
She immediately told her husband – who’s also adopted. They filled out the paperwork and waited. “When we opened our documents and that’s when it all began,” she says about that day. “When you open that envelope and see the names, and to see two names on mine, it was very emotional, we both cried.”
Then they grabbed their cell phones and started searching. “He found my birth mother’s obituary. I knew, the minute he turned his phone and I saw her picture, I just knew. I saw myself in her.” As she continued reading, she learned more. “The husband’s name was that name that was on my birth certificate. That absolutely took my breath away. They stayed together. I have a full brother and a full sister.”
In a matter of moments Cheryl was able to see photos of her biological family. Her head was spinning. Her heart exploding. After a few days she started reaching out to Tom. “I thought – who the heck is Cheryl Stillman?!?” he remembers thinking. I thought someone was really messing with me because I had no knowledge of her being alive.”
Tom says the day their baby was born, they were told she had died. “It was terrible,” he recalls, “not only did we have this secret that she was pregnant and had this baby but now we’ve lost it and we couldn’t tell anybody… it was terribly hard.”
Certain he was being scammed Tom didn’t respond to any of Cheryl’s messages – or those from the search angel Cheryl had contacted. “I consider myself a reunion doula,” laughs Michelle Spear, “I’m that person here to help make the reunion as easy as possible.” She helps people search and connect with their biological families. It can be a tough job.
“Well of course I didn’t believe it, right???” says Scott Taylor. His sister Jennifer felt the same way after hearing they had an older biological sibling. “It was very emotional. I didn’t believe it. I was very defensive for Dad.”
Tom was also still getting messages from Cheryl. “I got a third message on her birthday – and it was a picture of my wife’s grave with flowers on it. And she says in the message, I found mom’s grave, I’m here talking to mom and praying with her and asked God to give you a nudge to accept me. And that’s what did it,” Tom says. “I knew. That was the turning point.”
By then Scott & Jennifer had seen pictures of Cheryl and the birth certificate. They knew they were looking at their older sister. They called their dad. “I think our exact words were, we know about Cheryl and we’re ok with it…how are you?” says Scott. “I hung up on you!” Tom interrupts.
After the shock wore off, the Taylors kept messaging back and forth with the search angel. Jennifer remembers the last exchange. “Shes said, she’s on pins and needles wanting to meet you guys. So we’re thinking – maybe a week or two – and she said, how about tomorrow!”
Everyone was nervous. But that feeling evaporated the moment they connected. “It was instant,” says Jennifer. “Instant. I ran down the driveway to hug her.” Tom describes it as surreal. “I cried and cried and cried,” he says, “to have that physical person in front of me was amazing. I saw my wife in her.”
And now for this family there are no more secrets, just more stories to share. “It’s terrific,” says Peggy, “it just adds to our family. We’re all a bigger family now because of this. A joyful family.”