Finding My Family

WARNING!!! The following post is a LOOOOONG one! It’s a memoir of a part of my life that I wanted to write down before I forgot all the little, but special details. I am also hoping that maybe this will reach someone with a similar experience. And, well, it’s a great story worth reading when you’ve got the time.

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The following is a story of a dream come true. It is an account of one of the most remarkable moments of my life. I have alluded to it in past posts, but have yet to actually put my story to paper. If we have been friends for any amount of time, you probably know this story or at least know that there is some sort of story to be told. If we have been friends for a few years, you probably have heard me tell this story at least a few times, each time with the same words and the same passion – for me, I never tire of telling it (okay, maybe it does get a little tedious retelling it time and time again, but then I remember how blessed I am to have this story to tell!). And if I am lucky enough to count you as one of my longest, bestest friends, you actually got to experience this story alongside me – laughter, tears, and all.

All of the following actually happened. Some days I still have to pinch myself to believe it.

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When I was a month old, in February 1985, I was adopted by my wonderful parents, Tom & Lois. They had tried to have biological children of their own for years, and for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working, so they went the adoption route. They chose to adopt a baby through Catholic Social Services. After waiting 5 ½ loooooong years, they got a phone call on February 20th, 1985 informing them that there was a little baby girl waiting for them. It just so happened to be Ash Wednesday, so they decided to name me Ashley. (You can read the whole, amazing account of my adoption here! I actually implore you to read it because it is a beautiful love story and just might restore your hope in people.)

Fast-forward 15 years. My parents didn’t adopt any other children and didn’t have any biologically. I was enjoying a plush life as a loved and spoiled only child. Our culture was on the verge of becoming cell phone and computer reliant. But for my family, our giant beige Apple (we weren’t calling them “Macs” yet) sat in our home office and its purpose was mostly for word processing and creating works of art using KidPix. All of my parents’ important documents were kept in a closet in the office. Nothing was online yet.

On the night of October 21st, 2000, I was snooping around the closet looking for something. To this day, I still don’t remember what it was I was looking for. But what I found was an envelope with the return address of Catholic Social Services.

I have always known I was adopted. It wasn’t some secret that my parents had to sit me down and explain to me once I was old enough. Many people have a story about what happened on the day they were born (where their mom was when her water broke, how long the labor was, how many broken fingers their dad had from their mom’s grip, etc.). Well, I have my story about the day I was adopted. I just always knew.

So when I stumbled across this envelope, being a nosey 15-year-old (who am I kidding…I never grew out of that. I’m now a nosey 28-year-old!), I of course opened the envelope and found the following:

Unidentifying Info

Not only did I discover things I had never known about my biological parents, but more importantly and life changing, I discovered that I have a biological older brother.

My 15-year-old brain went something like this: WHAAAAA?!?!?! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!! I HAVE A BROTHER?!? WHY DIDN’T MOM AND DAD TELL ME? THIS IS AMAZING! DO THEY KNOW WHO HE IS? WHAT’S HE LOOK LIKE? I HAVE TO CALL SARAH (my childhood and still best friend)!!!!!!

I don’t remember how long it was between finding this information and asking my parents about it, but when I talked with my mom, she told me that my brother wasn’t able to be adopted, otherwise they would have adopted him too. She tried to explain to my confused teenage brain that telling me I have a brother wasn’t a secret they didn’t want me to know, but a chunk of information that would most definitely change my life and they wanted to make sure I could handle it before dropping it in my lap.

And she was right. From that moment on, my life was changed.  There were very few days that I didn’t wonder what my brother was doing, where he was and if he was looking for me too. I felt deeply connected to this person, yet disconnected because we had never met. But being 15, there was nothing I could do to find him. All I could do was hope that maybe some “made for TV” moment would happen and I would run into him at a football game, the mall or Cedar Point and we just immediately know that we were long-lost siblings.

I went about my life as a typical high school student. When I turned 18, it was January 2003, and my senior year, I was busy getting ready to graduate, planning for college, worrying about what would happen to my first love when I graduated and left him behind, and just having a ton of fun. Finding my brother had gotten pushed to the back-burner. Life was great and even if I did decide to find him, I didn’t know where to begin. So I decided to figure it all out later.

I graduated from Ohio University in 2007. A few years later, once I was getting settled into my future teaching career, I decided that it was time to find my big brother. I had some life experiences under my belt and felt as though I could handle whatever came of the search.

I began by calling Catholic Social Services. They informed me that not only did they not facilitate adoptions any longer, so there wasn’t really anyone I could talk to, but even if there was, it was a “closed adoption,” so they couldn’t legally tell me anything anyways. Well crap. I mean, I kind of expected to get that response, but was still holding onto that made-for-TV-moment hope.  I asked if they could recommend a way for me to find the information. The woman I spoke with recommended I fill out a contact release form, stating that if someone were to come to her from my biological family, looking for me, that she could give them my name and contact information. Obviously I did this. She also told me that she could send me whatever information they had and could legally share. I took this as a tiny step forward, hoping that maybe they had something I hadn’t seen before. I was becoming a regular Nancy Drew (I may be young, but I still know who Nancy Drew is!!)!

Well, my hopes were soon diminished. Catholic Social Services sent me copies of everything I already had. Ugh.

I called Franklin County Board of Health…nothing. They sent me the same gosh-darn papers that Catholic Social Services did. Ugh.

I called the Franklin County Court of Pleas. Obviously, I didn’t come up with this lead on my own. I barely even know what a Court of Pleas does! Somewhere in all my phone calls, someone suggested it. And I called. And they gave me nothing.

I was calling Catholic Social Services on a weekly basis, hoping a young, dumb intern would answer and tell me everything I wanted to know. No luck. Eventually, a woman did tell me to try a website, adopteeconnect.com, because she had heard of people having success on this website. How it worked: I typed in everything I knew about my biological parents, where and when I was born and hoped that someone was out there looking for me too on this same website.

After typing everything in, I clicked submit, said a prayer, crossed my fingers and basically gave a sigh of resignation. There was nothing left I could do. My next step would have been to hire private investigators, but as a 24-year-old, part-time employed young woman, I just didn’t have that kind of money. I figured that I would give it a couple of years and try again.

That is not what happened.

I submitted my information to the website around 10am April 6th, 2009. Around 10PM that SAME day, I received this email:

Email from Diane

YEAAHHHHHH RIGHT. I had heard stories of people being scammed on the internet and was too smart to end up one of them. This was probably really some dude, millions of miles away, that would end up taking all my money (which was really only like $200) and leaving me with nothing.

But. I had nowhere else to turn.

On blind faith, I emailed “Diane” back. I only told her things she could find out about me if she Googled me and I definitely didn’t promise her any money or give her my Social Security Number.

This was my response:

Hello!
I just got your message from the Adoption Registry. I have just begun the process of finding my birth parents. I do know that in Ohio, where I currently live and was born and adopted, the law states that anyone born between like 1964 and 1996 looking to find their birth parents, must petition the court for information regarding the birth parents. I’m not sure how your show would work and how you would get around limitations such as these, but I am definitely interested in hearing more from you and possibly working together on this…especially if Ty Pennington is hosting 😉

I look forward to working with you!
Sincerely,
Ashley Arend

One email led to another and it turned out that Diane was the real deal. There was a real TV show being created and they were actually interested in my story being a part of it.

HOLY. SHIT. All of a sudden I was in talks with producers, sending videos explaining why they should pick me, emailing photos and legal documents from my adoption, and signing a giant, 30-page contract. My godfather Tim is a lawyer, so I had him look over the contract for me. Tim pointed out that their contract was more of a release of my rights and I should really think hard before signing it and agreeing to do the show. Yeah, ok. I thought about it for maybe 27 seconds before signing and overnighting it to Los Angeles.

Once everything was signed, sealed and delivered, this meant that I was in. ABC had picked me to be a part of their new show. HOLY.SHIT.

In July, I was flown to LA for literally 48 hours to complete a psychological analysis, to make sure that I would be able to handle what was about to happen to me. Good news! I passed! I finally got to meet Diane, the woman who discovered me and put all this is motion. She took me to dinner at Geisha House, a sushi restaurant owned by Ashton Kutcher! The next day I completed the analysis and was done by early afternoon. Joe, a young production assistant, accompanied me that afternoon. The production company gave me some money to cover my expenses for the day. So, obviously, I immediately commanded, “Joe! To a bar on the beach!” All in all, it was a pretty awesome trip!

A month later, in August 2009, a 13-person film crew was sent to Columbus, Ohio to film me, my family and my friends for 3 days. Yes, this show was categorized as “reality TV,” but it was not filmed in a way where I just went about living my life with 13 strangers trailing behind me (but believe me, there are many days where I think I need that!). Diane had actually gotten to know me really well through phone calls and emails and had a pretty firm grasp on what my life was like. I worked with her and 2 other field producers, Ed and Risa, to “recreate” my life. We staged a few scenes that could have actually happened, but weren’t actually happening. For example, at this point in my life, my friends and I were going to the same bar (Zeno’s!) every Wednesday night for karaoke. Well, instead of bringing the crew in on a Wednesday, we went in on a (I don’t really remember what day it was, so let’s say…) Monday, had some drinks, talked and ate pizza. So yes, it was a place we regularly went, but it was staged. They also filmed a scene of my parents and I having dinner together and looking over baby pictures. They filmed me Googling adoption websites, having a backyard dinner with my closest girlfriends and Kristen and I rollerblading at Antrim Park (ok. Seriously?!? Yes, I actually was big into rollerblading at that point in my life, but Kristen?? We were all over the place and nearly took out a few sound guys. Sorry, Fernando & Jim! That was freaking hilarious. I’m still pissed that scene didn’t make the final cut.). It was summer, so school wasn’t in session. My job then was a Latchkey Assistant and they wanted some shots of me with the kids. So I wrangled up the few with parents that would think what I was trying to do (find my brother) was cool and let their kids be filmed for a national TV show. They also filmed me talking about why I wanted to find my brother and how knowing him would change my life. These shots were done in a hotel meeting room against a white screen. None of my words were scripted. Risa (one of the field producers) would sit in front of the camera and ask me questions (“Tell me about this…how did that make you feel…”etc.) and I would answer as openly and honestly as possible, but without sounding like a total moron, which happens more often than I would like 😉 Each time we filmed, Risa would pull me aside and assure me that, should I need to cry, to just go with it. She knew that they were tapping into some pretty personal stuff and that it could get emotional. I assured her that talking about my family and finding my bother only excited me and she didn’t have to worry about my girly feelings.

Now, you should know that during this entire process, from initial communication, to planning, to filming, no one from the show told me anything about my “case,” other than it was going well. They refused to tell me if they were finding anyone. I had to trust that it was all working out for the best and that everyone knew what they were doing. Even if it turned out that they couldn’t find my brother, I would still have an answer. Maybe not an answer I wanted, but I would know that there was nothing more to be done.

At the end of the 2nd day of filming, Ed and Risa told me that the next day would be much shorter. They just had a few more things they wanted to film and that it would be at my house (by the way, my house has never been cleaner!). Ed told me they should be done around noon, so I made lunch plans with Kristen at El Vaquero and invited him to join us for a margarita…or 3.

That next morning, my house was taken over by camera guys, sound guys, producers Ed and Risa, Jack the director and a handful of interns. Furniture was moved, black tape was put over any and all logos, people were just running around gettin’ shit done. I was wandering around, taking in everything that was happening. At one point, Fernando, a sound guy, accosted me and as had become our routine over the past 3 days, I lifted up my shirt and flashed him. Ok, well, yeah, I did lift up my shirt, but not just for shits & giggles, like normal. He had to mic me through a strap that went around my waist. After I was mic-ed (miced?), Ed asked me if there was a quiet place in my house where he could privately make some phone calls about some other cases they were working. My house is pretty open, with walls that don’t actually reach the ceiling, so it’s not exactly the best place for “quiet.” I told him the quietest place was probably my bedroom and he was welcome to work in there (wink, wink, nudge, nudge…ok, not really, but a little…I digress…). Something about this answer changed his tune and he admitted that it was in fact MY case he needed to make calls on and that it would be best if I went to my room and hung out until he was ready for me.

My 24-year-old brain went something like this: WHAAAAA?!?!?! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!! I HAVE A BROTHER!! HAVE THEY FOUND HIM?? SHIT- MAYBE THEY DIDN’T FIND HIM! MAYBE THEY FOUND HIM AND HE DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW ME!  DO THEY KNOW WHO HE IS? I HAVE TO CALL KRISTEN (my sorority sister and still best friend)!!!!!! I CAN’T CALL KRISTEN BECAUSE I’M WEARING A MIC! THEY’LL HEAR EVERYTHING. OK, I’LL TEXT HER!

KRISTEN! DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING? I’M LOCKED IN MY ROOM. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. NO ONE WILL TELL ME ANY….

“Oh, hey Ed! Soooo, what’s going on? Everything okay??” (So calm and collected)

“Yeah, I think everything is fine, but I actually don’t know anything. Risa is at the hotel and on her way over. She can probably tell us more when she gets here. So just chill in here for a little longer.’

“Sure! No problem! Just let me know when you need me!”

…THING! AND NOW ED SAYS HE DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING. DO YOU? DID THEY TELL YOU ANYTHING? IF THEY DID, AS MY SORORITY SISTER AND BFF, YOU HAVE TO TELL ME.

Of course, Kristen knew nothing. Well, damn. At this point, I was definitely freaking out. I am my mother’s daughter and I immediately assumed something had gone terribly wrong (one of my mother’s many nicknames was “Worst Case Scenario.” If something bad could happen, she assumed it would. Sterility caused by my belly button piercing? Most definitely. Life ending car crash because I was driving her convertible? Abso-freaking-lutely.).

Risa finally arrived and came to talk to me. “Hey girl, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on. Here’s what I do know. There has been a break in your case. I don’t know what, so don’t ask. The show has flown in the host of the show (Tim Green, former Atlanta Falcons NFL player. Also adopted, so this whole thing touched him personally.) on a red eye flight and he is now on his way here. So here’s what’s gonna happen. He is going to knock on your door. Open the door, greet him, and invite him into the living room. Sit down and just have a conversation with him. Whatever it is that’s happened in your story, that’s when he will tell you. I won’t be in the room like I have been to coach you, so just talk to him like you would anyone else. Ok??”

“Yeah, sure! I can do that!” (So calm and collected)

But really: WHAAAAA?!?!?! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!! I HAVE A BROTHER!! HAVE THEY FOUND HIM?? SHIT- MAYBE THEY DIDN’T FIND HIM! MAYBE THEY FOUND HIM AND HE DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW ME!  DO THEY KNOW WHO HE IS? I WISH KRISTEN WERE HERE!!!

I know what you’re thinking. C’mon Ash….do you really believe that they, THE PRODUCERS, didn’t know what was going on? They had to know! That’s why they are THE PRODUCERS!!! Yeah yeah yeah. I know that now, but they had done such an expertly, brilliant job of freaking me out that they could have told me a freak August snow storm was coming and I should get ready be stuck in my house for the next month and I would’ve believed them (plus, it’s Ohio. Weirder things have happened with our weather. But I digress…). So, yes, OF COURSE they knew what was going on, but for the sake of good TV, they wanted a pure, natural reaction to whatever it was I was about to find out, on film. They didn’t want to have to recreate it. And yes, they were doing me a ginormous favor by looking for my brother, and they handled me very delicately. The least I could do was go along with their plan for a dramatic scene.

A few minutes after Risa gave me the plan, I was allowed out of my room and into the living room. Just like she said, there was a knock at my door. I opened it and found Tim, just like she said I would. He introduced himself and asked if he could come in.

I froze. Deer in the headlights. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even talk to the man.

Cue Jack, the director. “Ummm…ok. So we are gonna do that again, and this time, Ashley, can you actually talk to him??”

Snap back into it! We ran it again, and that time, I was able to pull my frazzled self together and invite Tim into my home. We sat on the couch and he said something to me. I was doing the best I could, but I was still panicked, so I really don’t remember what he said. Here’s what I do remember:

“I understand you’re looking for your brother”

“Yes…blah blah blah….”

“Well, I have some news for you. We found him.”

{insert GIANT smile} “Okay…”

“Would you like to see a picture of him?”

“Okay…!”

Tim pulled out a picture from his back pocket and handed me this picture of my brother:

David

AAAAANNNNDDDDD cue the tears. There they are! Those tears that Risa knew were going to come eventually! And let me tell you, I am secure in the fact that I am an attractive woman, but LORDY, I am an UGLY crier!!! So glad that was on TV! 😉 I just couldn’t control them.

“I just I just wanna stare forever…wow.” When I first looked at the picture, I just felt really, really happy and like everything I had been working, praying, and dreaming so hard for, for years and years and years was in my hands.

Tim went on to tell me that his name is David and he grew up not knowing I existed. As you can see, the picture they showed me was of David in some sort of military uniform. I don’t really have any military people close to me, so I didn’t know which branch it was. Tim told me David is in the US Air Force. Cue my mother again.

“He’s in a uniform…is he…alive?” I thought that they were showing me his picture and not actually him, physically, because he had gone off to fight and not come back.

“Oh my gosh, yes! He is alive and well! 6 years ago he found out that you were his sister and you were out there and there aren’t a lot of things he’s thought of since than finding you. He’s actually been looking for you!”

It takes a lot to render me speechless, but that did it.

Tim wasn’t done with his life altering spiel. After I had a moment wipe the tears and snot from my face (seriously. Not a cute crier.), he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out this photo:

Danielle

“When we were searching for your brother, we found someone else too.”

HOLY. SHIT. In a matter of minutes, I went from being an only child to a younger sister to a middle child. The idea that my birth parents might have had more children was something I had considered and thought of before, but never really focused on because I had nothing to confirm my curiosities. My efforts were concentrated on finding my brother.

“Her name is Danielle.”

As if that wasn’t enough for my mind to wrap around, Tim reached in his other pants pocket and delivered one last mind blower.

Danielle and Mason

“Danielle is a mother to Mason, who is 16-months-old. So, you’re an aunt!”

Ok, really??? Can we be done now?? If you have any more photos in your pockets, I am going to need some serious therapy. Thank goodness Tim was out of surprises.

At this point, there was a part of me that thought maybe all of these people were hiding in my front yard and Tim was going to walk me out there and that would be our big introduction. I mean, in my defense, he did say, “Let’s go find your family!” Apparently he meant in 3 weeks.

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Fast-forward through the looooongest 3 weeks EVER! The producers instructed me to not try to find David and Danielle on Facebook or anywhere else. They made sure to not tell me where they lived or their last name. But c’mon! I had become Nancy Drew! So, of course I tried to find them! I asked anyone with any military background to decipher David’s badges on his jacket, I showed everyone their photos and asked if they knew them. All I was able to dig up was that maybe David was on an Air Force base in Kansas.

On September 13th, 2009, the show flew me out to LA where they were filming all of their reunions. I asked if I could bring a friend for emotional support and they graciously allowed me to do so. Kristen packed a bag and came along for what was about to be one of the biggest moments of my life.

Once again, we were accompanied by a production assistant. No, not accompanied. Guarded. His name was Sebastian; a darling little gay Latino. I had come to find out that Kristen and I were staying at one hotel and David and Danielle were in another. This was to avoid us accidentally running into each other before they had a chance to film the reunion. We were only allowed to go to certain places, and they had to be within walking distance.

I don’t know how I slept that night. It was harder than Christmas Eve. I was nervous. What if they don’t like me? I was excited. I cannot believe this is actually happening. How did this become my life?? But somehow, I managed to sleep and awoke not really knowing what to expect. There was no hair & makeup, so Kristen became my personal hair & makeup for the day. She was sweet enough to do my makeup and straighten my hair. Mom and I had picked out a beautiful red dress for the occasion. Once I was dressed and as ready as I would ever be, Sebastian drove Kristen and I somewhere in the Hollywood hills. I really have no idea where we were. Here’s what I do know: Apparently, there is some scene in the first Transformers movie where Bumble Bee (??) has broken down and is fixed in a shack under a tree. Well, a lovely wooden bench replaced the shack, and that is our reunion tree.

Kristen and I were ushered into a trailer on site, I flashed Fernando again (“Hey buddy! Good to see you again! I bet you missed me! WINK!” all with my dress above my waist. I’m a classy broad.), and Ed and Risa gave me the rundown about how the reunion would happen.

I met Tim at the bottom of a hill. They filmed us talking about how excited I was and Tim motioned to the top of the hill where David and Danielle were waiting with another host. “The brother that you dreamed of for so long and the sister that you didn’t even know you had…are right there.” REALLY??  You’re going to point them out to me and expect me to stand here with you?? That was probably one of the more frustrating bits, but I went with it. Tim finally asked, “You ready?” My response:

“More than ready. Beyond ready.”

TIm and I

“Alright Ashley, go find your family.”

“Okay, here I go!” Yes. I literally said that.

And I was allowed to begin the climb up the hill.

“WAIT!!!!”

Huh?? What do you mean, “WAIT!!!!” ???? I’m about to find my family! Tim said Go! Apparently the shot wasn’t perfect and they wanted me to begin the climb again. Oh goodness gracious. Fine.

So back down I went. Aaaaand back up.

This time I kept walking.

And so did David and Danielle.

Ashley on Hill

Ohmygod, ohmygod, oh my god. This is actually happening! My face wasn’t big enough to contain the smile plastered upon it.

We met in the middle of the hill and immediately grasped each other for the first time. After our initial 3-person hug, I reached for David and hugged him as tightly as I could. I held his face in my hands and looked into the same pair of green eyes that stare me down every time I look in the mirror. I stepped back and held my arms out to Danielle. I held onto her, held her face in my hands and saw my natural hair color that I haven’t seen in years.  The first words I spoke to my siblings were, “Let me look at you! You’re beautiful!”

find-my-family

popup

After a few more long overdue hugs, David and Danielle expressed concern that I might be upset with my sister, even hate her, because our biological parents decided to give me up, but keep her. She couldn’t have been more wrong. I quickly calmed her fears and asserted that she was not a source of anger for me, but quite the opposite – I figured that if my birth parents put me up for adoption because they were “not in a position to provide adequate care for another child” (which I translated to they couldn’t afford another child), that having Danielle meant that their lives had turned for the better and they were in a better place all around, and able to provide financially and emotionally for another baby.

“You represent that your family was okay. They couldn’t keep me because they couldn’t afford another kid – and they were right! I’m kind of high maintenance!”

The things that come out of my mouth sometimes….maybe I should have been scripted a little more!

At that moment, in the middle of my big brother and my little sister, I felt like that was where I had always belonged. Everything happened just as it should have. Yes, I wish dearly that I would have known my siblings earlier in life and we could have grown up together, but better late than never, I suppose. I am so blessed to have the parents I do (Tom and Lois. The ones that adopted me. They are my REAL parents.) and I am so glad that God placed me in their care.

When the crew had gotten all the shots they needed, David, Danni, Kristen and I were set free for the night to hang out and finally begin to get to know each other. Mason had tagged along for the ride, but was not part of the filming, so I finally got to meet him. He was a chubby, big-headed, bouncy thing and full of hugs and smiles. I’m not sure whose smile is bigger in our first picture together!

Mason and I

Our first stop was dinner; nothing really fancy, but I will never forget our first meal shared together. I just kept looking to my left and across from me and wondering, How did I get so lucky that this is my life? I honestly still couldn’t believe it. From dinner, we hit up a bar near the hotel. I mean, really, what are you supposed to do when you first meet your siblings?!? Beers and car-bomb shots just felt right. Producers Ed and Hugh joined us and I was so happy they were a part of our celebration, because in all honesty, it couldn’t have happened without their hard work. One drink led to a shot, led to another beer, led to teaching my brother and sister “The Ashley Pose…”

Doin' the Ashley

…led to me drunkenly crying on David’s shoulder, lamenting over the fact that in a few short hours, the 3 of us would all head our separate ways. And what then? Will we still talk? Are we family now? How does this work? There isn’t exactly a manual for this type of life experience, so we were all winging it. The 3 of us promised that this was only the beginning; that from here on out, we were forever brother and sisters.

Buck up, Sis!

I dried my tears and wiped the snot from my face (freaking ugly crying again! This show really did it to me!) and we all went back to the hotel and sat by the pool drinking more beers and giggling until our stomachs hurt. True to form of brotherly/sisterly relationships, David and I ended up in a wrestling match and I went overboard and into the pool fully clothed…we were off to a great start!

Eventually, we all ended up back in the hotel room I was sharing with Kristen (apparently the other guests didn’t appreciate the life changing event that was happening right outside their doors) and we fell asleep ALL cuddled together (AWWW). We finally woke up in the middle of the night and David and Danni had to return to their hotel. Commence even more crying. I had to see them again, and soon. I wasn’t about to let this be the end of our story together.

And I held true to my end of our promise. The very next weekend, I went to Akron, Ohio to visit with Danni and Mason. The weekend after that, I flew to Wichita, Kansas to visit with David. 2 weeks after that, David, Danielle, and a much smaller film crew returned to Columbus to film an update. That was when my parents got to meet them and they could see what my life had been like for the past 24 years.

From there, Find My Family had done us all the greatest service I could have asked for and the crew and newly united siblings parted ways. David, Danielle and I were on our own to be brother, sister and sister.

…………………………………………..

Fast-forward 4 years. We have all held true to our promises. I have met and become part of the rest of my biological family, an absurd uncle, 3 crazy aunts and 9 badass cousins. I met by biological, paternal grandmother. She held my face in her hands (just like I did to David and Danni!) and whispered, “My Ashley!” My friends all got to meet my siblings…

….yeah. My GIRL friends got to meet my super charming and super good-looking (what? He looks like me, so he’s gotta be attractive!) brother. And guess what…2 weeks ago, one of those girlfriends, Kelli, married my brother in one of the most beautiful, perfect weddings ever (yeah, I’m biased). Numerous times throughout the evening of the wedding, I looked around and thought to myself, If it weren’t for one little email, sent on a giant leap of faith, none of us would be here. It’s amazing and mysterious how God works.

David and Kelli

David, Kelli and I

So needless to say, yes…we are still close and still siblings. It definitely took a lot of getting used to on my end. I had no idea what it meant to be someone’s SISTER. I knew what I had heard my friends talk about with their siblings, but becoming not only a little, but big sister at the age of 24, and to grown ass people!, was a challenge. But it was a challenge I had waited my whole like to take on.

And I am sure you’re wondering…yes, I have met my biological parents. They are now divorced, “Bio Dad” is remarried and living Ohio, while “Bio Mom” is living in Florida. To be honest, meeting them was not a life-changing event. Like I’ve said before, I was blessed when I was put in the care of two of the most generous, loving people God has created. So I knew what it was to have fabulous parents – that wasn’t a whole in my heart that needed to be filled. But I did want to say thank you to them – especially Bio Mom. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to carry a baby for 9 months, give birth, and not only not get to hold her at all, but have her taken away permanently. That took serious strength and courage – something I have been given both by both nature and nurturing. So we have met and spoken a few times, but neither are relationships that I give as much time and energy to as the ones I have with David and Danni.

…………………………………………..

In the past 4 years, I have met my long-lost brother and surprise sister on a reality TV show, lost my mom and Uncle Art to cancer, become a professional teacher, bought a dog, fallen in and out of love, earned my Masters degree, run a half marathon…and through it all, I have had my new, unique, crazy, blended family by my side. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

…………………………………………..

“It was just a huge relief to finally be able to hold her. I didn’t want to let go.”

-David

“This is something that I’ve dreamed about and prayed for so hard for so many nights. You don’t very often get to see your dreams come true like this and your prayers answered!”

-Ashley

“People ask me, how do you love somebody you don’t even know…you just do.”

-Danielle

Brother!

Sister!

SIBLINGS!

…………………………………………..

If you have ANY questions for me about this journey, please ask! I am an open book about it and will try to answer as best as possible.

Have you had a similar experience? I would LOVE to hear it!!

Unfortunately, Find My Family only lasted 6 episodes. It’s really too bad, because what they were able to do for people was truly a blessing. I am so grateful to have had the Find My Family Crew on my side through all of this!

Thanks To:

  • Diane for finding me!
  • Ed & Risa for dealing with my incessant texts!
  • Hugh for keeping me laughing and showing me my first fingerstache!
  • Fernando for tolerating my blatant flirting and awkwardness!
  • All of the Production Assistants/Interns for keeping track of me and keeping me sane! (Joe! Sebastian! Katie! Rochelle!)
  • The entire Find My Family team for treating us so well and changing my life for the better. I think of you often and hope that your lives have been as blessed as mine.

My episode is nowhere to be found online, but there are a few clips:

  • Clip 1: Ashley
  • Clip 2: David
  • Clip 3: Seeing David & Danielle’s Pictures for the FIRST time EVER!
  • Clip 4: THE LINK!!! The actual reunion. A sub par quality video I made using my iPhone recording my computer, but it gets the job done 🙂
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7 thoughts on “Finding My Family

  1. Excellent story. I could feel the tension, excitement, suspense and euphoria during your journey of discover. Abraham Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as peak experiences, profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self sufficient, and yet a part of the world. Self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences. They are more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on. Self actualized people are driven by innate forces beyond their basic needs, so that they may explore and reach their full human potential. Overcoming genealogical bewilderment through ancestry recovery was a moment of self-actualization for you that created just such a peak experience. I hope you have many more such experiences…
    https://judithland.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/hierarchy-of-needs/

  2. “Destiny is not always preordained. Life is about making choices. Our lives are the sum of all the choices we make, the bridges we cross, and the ones we burn. Our souls cast long shadows over many people, even after we are gone. Fate, luck, and providence are the consequence of our freedom of choice, not the determinants. When justice is served by following our principles, making good decisions brings us inner peace.” —Judith Land, author & adoptee
    http://judithland.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/destiny-and-ancestral-recovery/

  3. Finding your nameless, faceless, long lost brother (to be honest) ended up to be one of the most challenging cases I’ve run into (by the end of each work day that month, I could be seen regularly beating my head against the desk), but YOU ASHLEY ultimately are the very reason you are all reunited today — It was your strong passion to find your family that fueled me & the AMAZING FMF Search Team to never give up!!! ~ My love to you, David & Danni…so glad you found each other!!!

  4. Dearest Ashley: Someone you’ve met here……. Your story is magnificent, noble, definitely heart-rending, and, of course, sheer beauty. Your writing skills are fantastic and maybe inherited from not only your upbringing, but, maybe, genes too! Life is full of unexpected turns and wacko surprises. You are a Creature of Amazement! All of my children and grandchildren are….. Love and Peace, DW .

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