Anatomy of a Successful Reunion

    By Renee Mills DeLuca, born Christina Beata Pellini

    I was born Christina Beata Pellini on January 7, 1964, to Linda Pellini–exactly one week after most states began closing and sealing all adoption records. Though I now know who my birth parents are, I am not allowed to own my UN-amended birth certificate from Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. unless I petition the court.

    Meanwhile, Providence has guided my life—it is so appropriate that I was born there.

    I was placed in the arms of Bob and Mary Ann Mills of Clinton, Maryland through the services of Catholic Charities. I became Renee Ann Mills. Renee means re-born, though my mother didn’t choose the name because of that—she just liked the name. (For clarity, I call Mary Ann Mills, my adoptive mother, “mom” and “mother.” I call my birth mother, Linda. Similarly, I call Bob Mills “Dad,” and my birthfather Jack.)

    When I was seven years old, my parents took me for a walk in the woods of my mother’s hometown, Girard, Ohio, and told me that I was “special”–I was adopted. They explained what that meant and said my little sister Diane was adopted too. I think I asked if I could play after that.

    My mother is the youngest of 11 in a big Italian family. We have had an annual family reunion every year since 1967, and I have only missed one in my whole life. With family being so important, you can bet I had questions about my own identity and birth family. (Back in the day, they tried to match backgrounds somewhat, so that the children might blend in with their adoptive families—turned out I actually was of Italian and U.K heritage…my birth names are Pellini-McAuliffe, and my adopted families are Oliva-Mills. The Pellinis came from Northern Italy…Lake Como and the Olivas came from Reggio Calabria, the toe of the boot, so I claim all of Italy as mine. Meanwhile, the McAuliffes come from County Cork Ireland, and the Mills hailed from Rugby, England.)

     
     
    When I was a teenager, I finally got up enough nerve to ask my mother about the very politically incorrect “Real Mom.” (We never talked about adoption…it was silently understood.) I could see her cringe when I asked. She told me what the nuns had told her to answer when this day came—she said my birth mother had been killed in a car accident shortly after my birth. I was stunned. And I knew my mother was lying. And I vowed to find her someday, without ever telling my mother. I knew my mother had lied to me, but I also knew I hurt her when I asked her about my “Real Mom.” When I asked her about my “Real Father” she told me he was “killed in the war.” Whatever war that was supposed to be…Vietnam I guess. (This was in the 70s.) Don’t be too critical of or judgmental about my mother—again; this is what parents were counseled to say when their children asked back then. And you know this will come back later in my story.

    Fast forward to my adulthood. I married David A. and gained a daughter. Elizabeth was my stepdaughter… but I loved her as if she were my own. Pretty much how an adoptive parent feels. When Elizabeth was 11 years old and I was 29 years old, I became pregnant, and our family was growing.

    1994 was a big year for me. On January 7th, I turned 30. On January 18th, my daughter Ali was born, and for the first time in my life I looked into the eyes of someone I was biologically related to. The entire time I had been pregnant, I was thinking, “I really need to get serious about finding my birth parents. These doctors are asking me a lot of questions I don’t know the answers to.” Also, I knew my birth mother had been pregnant from April to January 30 years earlier—and my mind often wondered if she went through the same stages of her pregnancy as I did—was she as big as a basketball at Christmas, too? I had no one to ask.

    In my 20s, I had sent off information to the International Soundex Reunion Registry—I must have read about them in the paper or something. For several months I ran to the mailbox, hoping for a match. It didn’t come.

    Six weeks after Ali was born, a letter arrived from the ISRR, saying there was a match! I told you 1994 was a big year. And the letter had about six yellow forwarding address stickers on it. They had been trying to reach me for several years about a match—but I moved a lot in my 20s, and the letter never found me, until exactly when I needed it.

    To quote Alanis Morrisette, Thank you, Providence.

    I immediately called the ISRR office and got the founder, Tony on the phone. He said he still had my birthmother’s phone number on file, he would call her and make sure she was still interested in hearing from me. He called back 15 minutes later—with her phone number and news that she wanted to talk to me!

    In my teenage years, I had always wondered where I got my green eyes—both of my adoptive parents had brown eyes. When I had Linda on the phone for the very first time, the first thing she asked me was, “Do you have green eyes?” Indeed, we knew immediately we were connected. We talked for three hours.

    In the coming weeks, Linda and I wrote long letters to each other—(this was before the Internet had made it into our house). The first thing I noticed was that her handwriting was exactly like my own scribbles!!! I had always hated my handwriting, but now, I loved it!

    She sent me a package of photos…and I sat at the post office and opened them in my car. They spilled out into my lap—and I couldn’t take my eyes off of my handsome Tyrone Powers-looking grandfather, William Pellini, and my beauty queen grandmother, Kathryn Hatch Pellini, a former Miss Rocky Mount, North Carolina in their amazing engagement photo. There were also photos of three brothers I didn’t know existed! I grew up with two sisters—my middle adopted sister Diane, and mom and dad’s surprise baby when mom was 40—my youngest sister Michelle. I had always wanted a brother, and now I had three!

    I couldn’t believe I was finally looking at the faces of people who looked like me—(so that’s where I got those eyebrows, thanks, Grandpa Pellini!). I raced to a girlfriend’s house and asked her, “Do I look like these people or do I just want to look like these people?” And she looked at the photos and looked at me and said, “These are your people.”

     After about nine months of correspondence, the time came for me to fly down to Florida and meet Linda face to face.  I was going to bring Ali, her first grandchild, with me. I didn’t want to lie to my mother Mary Ann about where I was going, so the time had finally come for me to have a heart-to-heart with her about finding Linda. It wouldn’t be easy—I still remembered that she had lied to me about Linda even existing. It was the cause of many years of not feeling close to my mother—feeling a distance between us that nothing seemed to take away. There was always that wall; that lie between us.

    I invited my mother over one afternoon when Ali was taking her nap. (My dad, Bob Mills, died of a heart attack at the age of 52, when I was 24 years old. I miss him terribly.) Mom lives back in her hometown of Girard, and I was residing in Hiram, Ohio at the time. I laid the letters and photos out before her, and I said, “Mom, you will always be my Mother. But I have found my birth mother, Linda, and I am going to meet her this weekend. Here are the letters and photos she has sent me.”

    Well, as you can imagine, the tears came for both of us then. She told me that she had always regretted telling me that lie, she knew it was wrong the minute it came out of her mouth–and I told her I always knew it was a lie. She said she knew that I would somehow find Linda some day—I was a news reporter, after all, she knew I had that curiosity. She also said that the entire time I had been pregnant; she wanted to come to me and tell me she would help me find my birthmother—she knew I must have had so many questions at that time, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

    I told her my birth name, Christina Beata Pellini, and she said she remembered the “Beata” part. I told her it was for the nun in the home for unwed mothers where Linda spent the majority of her pregnancy—the nun she had butted heads with at first, and came to love.

    My mother wrote a letter to Linda that day, a letter thanking Linda for giving her the gift of raising me, from one mother to another. It was a very generous thing to do, and the healing had begun. That wall was being torn down, brick by brick.

    When I saw Linda waiting for me in the airport that very first time, she ran to me and hugged me so hard I couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t stop looking at each other—looking into the green eyes we both shared. I went to her house and met my youngest brother, Ivar, who was still in high school and still living with her. Both of them towered over me at six feet—I had always felt tall at 5’8”—who knew I was short??? Questions I didn’t even know I had were being answered just by being in Linda’s presence.

    In fact, several years later, Linda and I appeared together on the Oprah Winfrey Show, discussing our reunion through ISRR, and how grateful we were to be together again.

    So of course, I asked Linda about my birthfather. I mean, I had to, I had come this far. She got out her yearbook from West Nottingham Academy 1963. It was the country’s oldest boarding school, on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania, and it was where I was conceived. She was a senior, and so was my father.

    Linda showed me the photos of her longtime boyfriend, Jeff Perry. She and Jeff had dated for several years, and they each knew each other’s family. Linda told me that while Jeff was her boyfriend, there was another boy—a boy she had a fling with at the end of her senior year—Jack McAuliffe. She told me she was 98% sure that Jeff was my father.

    Here is where I’ll make a very long story shorter. My father is Mr. Two Percent, Jack McAuliffe. I had to break this news to Linda after a DNA test that Jeff and I had done. (That’s a whole other story, believe me!)

    Well, because Linda found herself pregnant after graduation in 1963, she told her parents that Jeff was the father, and they went to him. He said he didn’t know if that was true or not, but he was enlisting in the Army and that was that. Linda went to a home for unwed mothers, and we know what happened from there.

    Meanwhile, back in the present day, Ali’s father and I divorced, and I met the man who is the love of my life, Paul DeLuca. One night when we were dating, after he attended an Adoption Network event with me, he asked me if I was interested in finding my birth father. I told him I had already been through enough disappointment in finding Jeff, (though I got many positives out of contacting him—he was very accepting) I didn’t think I had the energy to thrust myself on another man telling him I was his long lost daughter he didn’t know he had. Jack had never been told about Linda’s pregnancy—why would he have been?

    Well, Paul was curious enough for both of us. Unbeknown to me, he put an inquiry about Jack McAuliffe on a McAuliffe family genealogy website, saying he was looking for Jack, a graduate of West Nottingham Academy, 1963, and some other information he gleaned from the yearbook that Linda had given to me.

    One night when we were out to dinner, Paul slipped a piece of paper to me and said, “Here is something I think you should see.” It was the reply to that inquiry; he printed off an email from a woman named Cathy McAuliffe that said, “That’s my brother…what should I tell him?”

    Well, we went home, and I immediately began composing a very long email to Cathy, about whom I was and why I was interested in knowing her brother Jack. I attached a few photos and hit send…and held my breath and waited. That was on a Saturday night. We got our reply that Monday.

    It was a reply of joy and acceptance—I could hardly believe it! But Cathy “got it” right away—it turned out that she was a birth mother herself! She had given up a daughter in 1967. She totally understood where I was coming from and why I was searching. She was not reunited with her daughter and longed to be. More on that later.

     Much to my joy, Cathy and Jack’s father, John McAuliffe, (we call him Pasee) was alive and well and living with Cathy. She told him about me, and he was overjoyed to have found another grandchild! It took some time, but Cathy finally told Jack about me—at first he said he didn’t want to know who was looking for him or why. Jack was a guy who had never married and lived his life as a rolling stone.

    Here’s the best part. He had a vasectomy at the age of 21 because he knew he didn’t want children. Ha! Too late! Only he didn’t know it.

    Eventually, Jack became curious wondering who was looking for him. He asked Cathy about it, and she told him it was BIG. He asked, “How big?” And Cathy said, “Oh, about 5’8”!” She asked him if he remembered Linda Pellini. He had fond memories of Linda, so Cathy went ahead and told him: Linda had a daughter in January of 1964, and that daughter believed Jack was her birth father. Jack’s reaction? He said, as only Jack would say, “It’s a communist conspiracy.”

    Well, Jack came around to the idea of having a daughter who was already an adult and didn’t really want anything from him other than getting to know him a bit. I told Cathy that I had had a wonderful father, and wasn’t looking to replace him. Paul and I made plans to fly to San Antonio, where the McAuliffes were living.

    It was a joyful reunion. I felt welcomed and loved by this family from the start. How lovely that I was able to meet my grandparents—Linda’s parents had been long gone, so this was a special thing to me. My Masee was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s so while I met her, I’m not really sure she understood who I was, but when she looked into my eyes, she said, “Jack.” So who knows if she understood more than we knew?

    So here we are, reunited with my birthmother and brothers, and my birthfather and his family. Paul and I decided to get married shortly after 9/11 struck our country and life seemed more precious than ever. We set a date for May 17, 2002.

    On that day, my life came full circle when both of my Mothers walked me down the aisle when I married Paul. My brothers Ivar and Scott were also in attendance (another brother, Bill, couldn’t make it), as well as my adoptive sister, Michelle. And while Jack wasn’t quite up to playing father of the bride, my Aunt Cathy was there, representing the McAuliffe clan.

    My daughter Ali was the flower girl, and my stepson, Matthew, Paul’s son was the ring bearer. The Oliva and Mills clans met the Pellini and McAuliffes as I became a DeLuca—and everyone rejoiced.

    And you’ll be happy to know, that Aunt Cathy sent her information off to Soundex, and she is now reunited with my biological cousin, Carol, her daughter. And she’s a grandmother of six! Cathy had never had any other children, so this is a great joy to her life. We all got together in San Antonio just over a year ago.

    So while the lies of the past are still locked in the file cabinets and courtrooms, and birth certificates remain sealed across this country, the truth sets them free anyway.

    I am: Christina Beata Pellini Renee Ann Mills Arnold DeLuca

     For those searching, you can register with Soundex here.
     
     

     

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    Jessenia Arias
    Jessenia Arias
    I'm Jessenia. I am an adult adoptee with 10 years of experience advocating and fostering relationships with adoptees, and over five years of experience teaching adoptive parents how to have a successful and genuine relationship with their adopted child.

    6 Comments

    1. Lesli says:

      Great reunion story. Renee is so brave. As an adoptee I totally relate to wanting to see someone with similar features as you and then questioning the similarites as real or imagined. I am a Chamorro adoptee raised by a caucasion family. I had never seen another Chamorro person, other than the one's I made, until I was 30. I remember staring at her and asked my friend if I looked like her. And my friend and the Chamorro person made fun of me for asking that question. Then I thought, they have no idea what it is to be adopted. Thank you for posting Renee's story.

    2. Jessenia says:

      hi Leslie and thanks so much for checking out my site and sharing your life with us. Renee is definitely brave and i enjoy her kind and humorous words via Twitter. i believe every adoptee feels like us wanting to know where we get certain features from. i even remember reading or listening somewhere that a few adoptee's dont even care to have a relationship with their birth parents they are just curious to see how they look in comparison to their b-mom and dad. when i was reading your comment i didnt know what a chamarro person was, so i had to google it. talk about amazing history! i read up on it on Wikipedia as well as http://www.chamorro.com. the strong history of women learning to fight back and be strong through the war, now that is what you call brave! even though you were adopted into a caucasion family know that your culture and family history still runs through your blood. i am like you, i ask people all the time when i see someone of a similar ethnicity as me if they think i look like that person. i am at the point where i want it so bad that i think everyone looks like me haa haa, i just want to make a connection. people dont know how it is to be adopted and not know the feeling of belonging. please stay tuned for more adoptee stories through the week as i give thanks for them all. be brave my friend.
      love always, the voice of the adoptee's

    3. Lesli says:

      Thank you for your kind words and checking out my cultural history. Most people do not know what Chamorro is so once I tell them where the Mariana's Islands are that's enough for them. There are very few Chamorro people so like adoptee's, Chamorro's are very excited to run into another Chamorro. They always ask "What village are you from?" and "What is your family name?" One guy saw my Guam sticker on my car and yelled out of his truck window while we were driving on the freeway "What village?" lol. It feels good to be viewed as one of them. I was able to find out my family name and village when I searched for my b family so now I really feel like one of them. Enough of my rambling. I really enjoy your blog. I feel like part of the group when I read it. Good luck in your search for b family. It answers a lot of questions that you've always had. Just be prepared for any outcome.

    4. Jessenia says:

      aww i actually laughed when i read the part when you mentioned about the man that see your Guam sticker. thats so amazing. heritage and culture, its so much to be proud of. i really hope all your dreams come true in everything you hope for. i cant thank you enough for your support. you are right about being prepared…very right.

      i dont know if you have subscribe, but if you get a chance please click the word "follow" to become a part of the journey. thanks so much again!

    5. etropic says:

      What an awesome reunion story. Thank you so much for sharing..

    6. Jessenia says:

      thanks so much for stopping by and being a part of this journey…look forward to hearing from you soon.

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