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She got into the habit of studying men’s faces: on the street, in the grocery store, at the mall, in her office hallways. She checked for Smiths in her company directory and area phone books. Whenever she saw a man in the right age range who looked like her son, Kenny, or Ray, whom she’d divorced in 1985, she’d walk up and ask if his last name was Smith. It never was.
When the Internet became popular in the mid-’90s, Jane entered her information into adoption registries—to no avail. Then Ray died of colon cancer in February 2003, at 56. Knowing a man is more likely to contract that disease if a direct relative has had it (more than twice as likely, in fact), Jane frantically renewed her search. As always, the futility of her search felt like a knife to her heart, as sharp as the day she gave her son away.
Twice she consulted private investigative firms, only to be told she didn’t have enough money to pursue the matter. Eerie coincidences kept her engaged. When she and second husband Gerhard, a German watchmaker, moved into their home in Stratford, they met their next-door neighbor, Francis Smith, who had a son the same age as Jane’s firstborn child. Her heart nearly leaped out of her rib cage. Alas, the son clearly resembled his father.
By 2005, exhausted from four fruitless decades, Jane finally was ready to stop searching. “I can’t stand the pain of this,” she thought. “I just want it to be over.”
Then, during a business trip to Philadelphia, she found herself sitting next to a woman who had adopted a child. Jane told her about the son she’d given away and her unsuccessful efforts to find him. The woman burst into tears. “Without people like you,” she sobbed, “I wouldn’t have a child.”
Jane went home that night and changed her mind.
Early in the summer of 2008, Jane’s phone rang. It was Kenny, and he told her some sort of inner voice had spoken to him. “Mom,” he said, “have you ever done anything to find our brother?”
Jane wasn’t prepared for that question, but she answered honestly. “I think I already found him.”
More than a year before that call, Jane had used an updated people-search site to narrow thousands of Smiths born on Feb. 10, 1964, down to about 50. She homed in on one in particular: William Francis Smith of Easton, Pa.—formerly of Hamden, Conn. “I don’t know how, I just knew it was him,” she says.
She ordered a comprehensive report, which confirmed her suspicion—and turned her gut inside out all over again. After so many years and enough tears to fill a bathtub, the regret that had hung over her life since the day she carried her son out of the hospital suddenly returned full force. She wondered whether to intrude on his life—or if she’d forfeited that privilege the day she gave him up.
From June 2007 to August 2008, Jane wrestled with herself over what to do, but shared her dilemma with no one. At one point, finally at peace with her decision to make contact, she called William Smith at home. But when his voice came on the answering machine, she freaked out and hung up.
She decided to write a letter.
I have been searching for a young man born in Milford Connecticut with the last name Smith. . . . I do not know quite where to begin, and I do not wish to be intrusive. However, the person I am searching for was adopted, and I as his birth mother, have personal information to share with him regarding his biological siblings, as well as some health issues that he should be made aware of. . . .
Bill Smith read the letter at his dinner table. “My initial thought was that it was some kind of scam,” he says now. He called Jane and left a message. “I’d love to help you find your son, but I’m not adopted,” he said.
Nonetheless, Jane called him the next morning and they got to talking. Too many details made too much sense. He agreed to take a DNA test to help her find closure, then got anxious and e-mailed Jane a photograph.
“I opened it up and it painted the screen,” she recalls. “They heard me screaming down the hall at my office—‘Oh my God, this is my son. That’s my son!’”
She had Kenny’s wife send Bill a photo of Kenny and Ray, which clinched it for Bill. At 44, having lived most of his life without a mother, he called Jane and said, “Hi, Mom.”