Woman finds birth mother after 44 years
LEVITTOWN — Cyndi Lane, 44, wiped the inside of her cheek with a cotton swab in her Kintnersville home last month, hurriedly packed it into a UPS box and shipped it to a DNA laboratory in Fort Worth, Texas.
More than 300 miles away, 82-year-old Audrey Gilligan of Bradford was doing the same. The women then went about doing what they’ve been doing for years: They waited. Anxiously. Hopefully. The minutes dragged like hours. In the interim, Lane, a married mother of one, and Gilligan, a widowed mother of five, continued doing by phone what they’d been doing for only a few days since finding each other last month with the help of social media: connecting their lives that were literally separated at birth 44 years ago in a maternity delivery room in upstate New York when Gilligan gave up Lane for adoption.
“As we spoke on the phone, we learned we have so much in common,” said Lane, who is employed by Allstate Insurance Co. in Pennsburg. “We both love music, decaf coffee and like to wear lots of jewelry. She’s a hairdresser, and I’ve always had this desire to be a hairdresser.
“And when I saw her picture, I saw we have the same nose, cheekbones and freckles in the same places. I look like her.”
The days of waiting ended eight days after those cotton swabs were shipped out. Lane’s telephone rang. The caller ID showed it was from Fort Worth, Texas. She held the phone and her breath. And then she learned the result of the DNA tests: “The person at the lab said our DNA samples showed a match of 99.997 percent that we were mother and daughter,” Lane said, sounding as excited as the day she got the news.
Lane quickly hung up the phone and phoned Gilligan.
“When I told her the results, she said, ‘Honey, I didn’t need a DNA test to prove you were my daughter. I could hear it in your voice. I just knew I’d finally found you.’”
ON JULY 7, 1968, in the former St. Francis Hospital in Olean, N.Y., Gilligan, then a widow with four children, gave birth to a girl she named Cynthia, her fifth child. For unexplained reasons, she chose to give up the baby for adoption. She never saw or held her newborn daughter, and only Gilligan’s oldest son, Steve, then 25 and now deceased, caught a glimpse of his baby sister. Twelve days later, the infant was adopted by a family from Philadelphia. Although Lane was never told she was adopted, she suspected she was because she looked nothing like her adoptive family.
“I’m blonde and blue-eyed, but my adoptive family was Italian with dark hair and dark eyes,” Lane said. “I always asked, but they’d never tell me anything. But all my life, I knew something wasn’t right.”
Eight years ago, when Dylan was born, Lane pressed her adoptive mother, who finally told her she was indeed adopted. The search for her birth mother began that day, a decision which the adoptive mom angrily opposed.
“She told me I had a great life and didn’t need to know,” Lane said of the woman from whom she is estranged. “Other family members told me I had a mom that adopted me and that should be enough. But they didn’t understand; I needed to know who I was and where I came from.”
Lane hired a private investigator, visited the Olean public library and photocopied all admission and discharges from hospitals during the time she was born and contacted them all. She hired lawyers, contacted doctors and visited hair salons. The search yielded nothing.
“I hit so many dead ends,” Lane said. “It was like getting slapped in the face. I was frustrated, but I never ever gave up.”
Then in March, a friend named Tracey Hall, who helped Lane obtain non-identifying information about her birth mother from New York state, suggested placing the information on Facebook. Lane typed in that her mom was 37 years old when she was born, was a hairdresser with four children, and gave birth in Olean.
Two days later, on March 19, there was a breakthrough. Teri Ogoz, a Bradford native living in Harrisburg, saw the Facebook post.
“Teri wrote, ‘I think the woman you’re looking for is my Aunt Audrey,” Lane said. “I wrote, ‘If that’s true, that’d make you my cousin.’
“And then she gave me my mom’s phone number.”
LANE’S HUSBAND and young son were asleep at 9 p.m. on March 19. She held in her hands a phone number, a connection to the woman she had never known but longed for all of her days. She looked at the number as though it was a living, breathing thing. She sat on the living room floor and punched in the number. A woman answered.
“I said, ‘Audrey, I was adopted in Olean, N.Y., in 1968 and I think you might be my mom,’” Lane said. “She was very quiet on the other end, and then said, ‘Oh, dear!’
“I didn’t know what to say next. Then I told her my mother was 37 when I was born and had four kids before me, and that her niece Teri gave me her number, and that I thought she was my mom I’ve been looking for.”
The older woman sighed, and then yelled out, “Oh my God! I’ve been looking for you my whole life!”
And then Audrey Gilligan began to cry.
THERE WAS a two-day celebration at Lane’s home. She, her husband, Scott, and their 8-year-old son, Dylan, welcomed Lane’s biological family. There was Gilligan, Lane’s biological sister, Darla, 52, and biological brothers Chuck, 56, and Greg, 58, and their wives sharing tears, hugs and stories of their lives. They were similar tears, hugs and stories they shared when the Lane family visited Gilligan and her sons and daughter last month in Bradford. During each emotional meeting, mother and daughter looked into similar eyes and could hardly believe what they were seeing.
“I looked so long and so hard to find my mom, and I learned she looked so long and hard to find me, and that we both encountered so many roadblocks because of adoption privacy laws. And then after all that looking, I finally found the person I’m most connected to,” Lane said. “I cannot describe what that felt like to find her or what it feels like to have her in my life after all this time.”
Added Gilligan: “I started looking for her 25 years ago, and even thought about it before that. I hired private investigators, but they couldn’t find her; the adoption laws are strict.”
“To lay eyes on her now is hard to explain. When she called to tell me she was my daughter, I thought all my birthdays were coming at once. I couldn’t breathe.”
“There’s this connection we have, one that only mothers and daughters have, and I’ve had it with her all these years.”
At their reunion in Bradford last month, Lane received a charm bracelet from Ogoz with a saying that sums up a woman’s long, persistent search for a mother she never knew: “My search has ended, now my story begins.”