For Helen Ford, finding her birth mother four months ago was "exciting, but scary."
"I was nervous, but I also had a feeling of happiness," Ford, 54, said Monday. "If you've been the product of adoption, you have some questions, but it felt good. You think, ‘Maybe I'll meet this person, see who I am, where I came from.' "
She learned she was born to a 17-year-old blond-haired white girl from a strict Mormon background and a young black man the teen had met in high school in Seattle.
Early Thanksgiving morning at her Longview home, Ford and her birth mother, Delores Burlew, 72, saw each other for the first time in more than five decades.
Their reunion wasn't the only one to take place that day. Burlew also met Mark Robinson, 52, another child she had with the man two years after Ford was born.
Growing up in Longview
Ford and Robinson were adopted by a black couple, Melvin and Jeanette Robinson of Longview — she at age 2 1/2, he shortly after his birth. They grew up on Eighth Avenue in Longview in a predominantly black neighborhood.
"We were blessed, in a sense, that we got to grow up in the same household. As far as Mama was concerned, we were hers," Ford said of her adoptive mother, who gave her children little or no information about their background. "Growing up, we did have issues (being biracial), but for the most part, it made us who we are today."
Ford said she had tried to find their birth mother in 1986 and again in the 1990s through the Children's Home Society in Seattle.
"I did get her name, but that's as far as I got," she said. "I'm not financially wealthy, and you have to come up with all this money to get information."
But when her daughter suffered a stroke in April, Ford was determined to track down her biological mother.
"They kept asking about the family history and medical stuff, so I decided to contact Children's Home Society again," she said.
A caseworker there told Ford to write a letter to the agency regarding her daughter's condition. The need for a medical history can speed up the process to find a biological parent, the caseworker told her, and it can prompt the agency to waive its fees.
"She said they would try to locate her, she'd do what she can, but don't expect anything," Ford said. "I didn't really have expectations."
A little more than a week later, she got the good news.
"The lady said, ‘I located Delores and she's interested,' " Ford recalled. "She's alive and would like to speak to you."
Burlew remembers the day she received the document from Children's Home Society, asking if she would agree to let Ford contact her.
"I got the letter on Friday, and I was scheduled to go to heart surgery on Monday, Aug. 10," she said Monday from her home in Ogden, Utah. "In the meantime, I had to send in a consent form, but because of my surgery, the caseworker circumvented it, and Helen and I spoke that weekend."
One of the first things Burlew told Ford during that phone call was that she'd also given up for adoption a son born March 17, 1959.
"I told her yes, that's my brother, Mark, and that we'd been adopted by the same couple," Ford said. "Dee (which is what Ford calls Burlew) was just floored at that point."
"It was great to find out they were together," Burlew said.
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‘It wasn't something I wanted to do'
Burlew moved from Utah to Seattle with her mother and stepfather in August 1954, just before her senior year of high school.
"I thought my mother was taking me straight to hell; I hated it there," Burlew said. "I had to leave all my friends in Utah."
When Burlew discovered she was pregnant, "My mother told me I wouldn't handle the stress and couldn't keep the baby. It wasn't something I wanted to do."
Burlew went to a home for unwed mothers in Seattle. "My mother didn't want anyone to know what happened. My mother was a very, very staunch (Mormon)."
The young man had gone into the service, and when he came back on furlough, "it was one time, and boom, there was Mark," Burlew said.
This time, her mother kicked her out of the house. Burlew said she got a job baby-sitting until she was far enough along in her pregnancy to return to the home for unwed mothers.
"It was just really difficult for me to go through it again," she said. "But I wanted them to be wherever they would be the best off. I thought I would try to find them, but I never had the means. That's why I never changed my maiden name. I thought maybe they could find me."
She returned to Utah in 1959 following her first marriage and gave birth to another son and daughter.
"When they were old enough to know, I told them I figured I needed to tell them (about Ford and Robinson)," she said. "I wanted to tell them of the possibility that ‘You might not like your brother or sister because they're biracial.' "
"You can see the resemblance between Mark and Dee's other son," Ford said Monday as she compared childhood photos of the two.
"You can see some of the same mannerisms," Robinson said of his sister and newly found birth mother, whom he calls "Mom."
The Thanksgiving reunion went well, they said, with Burlew meeting Ford's two grown children and three grandchildren. Ford also has spoken with Burlew's other children.
"I'd like to go (to Utah) next so that we can meet her side of the family," Ford said.
Reuniting with Burlew has filled some gaps in their lives, the siblings said.
"I use an analogy: I thought of us as test tube babies — essentially our history began when they adopted us," Robinson said.
"It seems like it lightened some kind of load or opened a door or shined a light on something," Ford said, adding she would always consider the Robinsons, both deceased, her parents.
There is still one gap they'd like filled — their birth father. His name doesn't appear on either of their birth certificates. Burlew said she's tried several times to get in touch with him.
"Not too long ago, I found him in Seattle, but he said he wasn't interested," she said.
That's not good enough for Ford.
"I want him to tell me that," she said. "I want to hear it from him."