We spoke to the author and investigative genealogist about the many miraculous ways she reunites adoptees with their birth families.
Posted in , Mar 16, 2018
The below Q&A is taken from the April/May issue of Mysterious Ways magazine, a Guideposts publication filled with true stories of miracles.
How profound are the bonds of family? We asked Pamela Slaton, author of Reunited: An Investigative Genealogist Unlocks Some of Life’s Greatest Family Mysteries. Herself an adoptee, Pamela undertook an intensive search for her birth mother and discovered she had the amazing ability to solve even the most confounding adoption cases. She’s reunited thousands of adoptees with their birth families.
As an adoptee, did you always feel as if something was missing?
I always knew I was adopted. By age three or four, I told my family, “I’m going to find that lady.” They were puzzled until they realized I was talking about my birth mom. I had amazing parents and a solid upbringing. But something inside me needed to know “that lady.” Another human being carries you inside their body for nine months. There has to be some kind of imprint that’s left on you. I still carry her in a very special place in my heart.
But you didn’t get the happy reunion that you dreamed of.
Finding my birth mother was one of the saddest days of my life. I tracked her down in 1994, after years of wondering and searching. I gave her a call, explained who I was. At first, she denied she’d given a baby up for adoption. Then she implied that her father had raped her and that he was my biological father. I later found out that wasn’t true. In the process of trying to disprove her, I learned the ropes of searching through adoption records. I also joined an adoption support group. People noticed I had a knack for searching, and it turned into a career. When I help clients now, it’s as if I take a tiny piece of their reunion with me. My work constantly patches my heart.
How are you able to crack these impossible-to-solve cases?
I work based on intuition. One thing will lead me to a name, or I’ll feel compelled to search a certain file. Things just fall in my lap. I’ll instinctively know if something is off. Or I’ll get a lurch in my stomach and know that what I’m looking at is important. That feeling guides me throughout a case. Once I was trying to get a client information on her birth mother. I only had the mother’s age, not her date of birth. So I gave the person on the phone my birth date with the relevant year. It ended up being correct. I can’t explain it. Something is guiding me. And placing people in my path. Some days I feel like an adoption magnet!
I’ll be getting my nails done and the person sitting next to me is an adoptee. Or I’ll go to a restaurant and the waiter is an adoptee. I always seem to run into an adoptee who needs my help. It even happens to my husband, Mike. He’s a contractor. Years ago, he was painting a house and the owner happened to mention she was adopted. Mike brought her over to our home. She told me about her search for her birth mother. I took on the case. When I called her birth mother, who was in her eighties, she said, “You have the wrong person. My baby died in 1951.” That’s what she’d been told. I said, “Your baby didn’t die. She’s sitting right next to me.” It was an incredible reunion. They’re inseparable now.
Is the timing of these reunions significant?
They happen when they’re supposed to happen. Two years ago, one of my clients said, “Something is wrong with my birth daughter. I have to find her.” I located her daughter. Sure enough, she was struggling with addiction and her adoptive parents were no longer in her life. She needed her birth mother, and her birth mother knew somehow. Another birth mother reached out to me because she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. “My daughter needs to get herself checked,” she said. I found her birth daughter and, shortly after their reunion, she went to the doctor. It turned out that she also had breast cancer. She was young, so the disease probably wouldn’t have been detected that early otherwise. Birth parents and their children definitely have a connection. In fact, many times, if I tell an adoptee that one of their birth parents has died, they say, “I knew.”
Can adoptees have that same bond with their adoptive families?
We’re connected by DNA, but we’re connected to our families by love. My brother was adopted, just like me. He was diagnosed with cancer at 19. After he died, I had a very vivid dream about him. He was playing cards with two young guys in an attic. I tried to get through the entrance to the attic, but my brother scolded me. “You have to go back,” he said. “You don’t belong here.” Later I told my mom about the dream. She was shocked. Unbeknownst to me, my brother used to play cards with two other patients during his chemo treatments. One of them died before my brother. The other died right before I had the dream. I’d never met either of them. But the three of them were in my dream. We’re linked to people on many different levels, not just genetically.
Is there a case you’ve solved that still floors you?
One of my clients was just a baby when her mother, Phyllis, went out for bread one day in New Jersey and vanished. My client was raised by her dad’s family, and her two biological brothers were adopted. I managed to reunite the siblings, but I couldn’t find Phyllis. I had her Virginia birth certificate and searched every database for her, but sometimes people just don’t want to be found. I gave up. Fast forward about a year and a half later. I got a phone call from my childhood friend Chrissy. She’s a home health aide for the elderly. One of her patients, Pat, was in really bad shape. Pat was sick and needed Medicare, but she had no documents, not even a birth certificate. Chrissy called me for advice.
“Where was she born?” I asked her. “Virginia,” Chrissy said. Luckily, Virginia’s birth records are online. I searched Pat’s name. Nothing popped up. “Try Phyllis,” Chrissy said. “That was her original name.” I almost dropped the phone—I recognized the name. Chrissy’s patient was my client’s missing birth mom! She’d changed her name. I told Chrissy—she started screaming on the phone. I’d been trying to find Phyllis for almost two years, and then Chrissy randomly calls with the clue to crack the case. It was the craziest thing. But stuff like that happens all the time. When the timing is right, it’s like a train coming through. God puts everyone in your path—everyone you need—and things just align properly.
PAMELA SLATON is known as a miracle worker by the nearly 3,000 adoptees she's helped. After founding her own practice and using a never-quit policy to get around restrictive state laws, she has been able to locate 90% of her clients' missing relatives, and has earned a reputation as one of the country's leading investigative genealogists. She helped DMC find his birth parents on Vh1's Emmy-Award-winning documentary My Adoption Journey, and starred in the Oprah Winfrey Network show, "Searching For…" Pamela lives in New Jersey with her family.
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