The first time I saw her was the day after I turned 20. I couldn't believe my eyes. My biological mother, right there in front of me. I had so many tears, so many questions I needed answers to, all of which were met-for the moment-with a wordless stare.
Part of me wanted to reach out and touch her, but another part of me was grateful for the computer screens between us. I knew next to nothing about her, but this felt like a good way to start, to break the ice.
An hour earlier, I’d received the most unexpected Facebook® message of my life, from a long-lost half sister in England.
A flurry of instant messages back and forth, and then my sister drops another bombshell: "Our mom is here next to me. She wants to talk to you."
I took a few shaky breaths and typed out a response, asking if she had a webcam and suggesting we could "meet" face-to-face over video chat. I then ran into my adoptive parents' bedroom-they were both fast asleep-and woke them up. When they heard the news, they were as shocked as I was, but still able to calmly offer me advice on what to say.
The few rings before our video stream connected felt like an eternity. And worry started to sink in while I waited. What if the app stalled or froze? Even worse, what if the call dropped and I missed any part of what my birth mom had to say to me? There was no doubt in my mind this was the most important video chat of my life, so I wanted everything to work perfectly. And it did.
Our first conversation
The first thing we commented on was our resemblance. My birth mom's hair was long, thick and dark, like mine, and we had similar smiles. My mother said I didn't look how she thought I would, much more fully-grown than expected. She wasn't even sure she would have recognized me if I'd passed her on the street.
We stayed on the call for hours, just enough time to wrap our heads around it all. We talked about so many things, like where I was going to school and what I was studying, what she did for a living, her other children, how I had been celebrating my birthday and how this was the best way imaginable to start my twentieth year.
“I’ve never forgotten you”
In the weeks that followed, mobile tech and apps were critical in helping us learn more about each other. When my mother told me about her bungalow in a small English town, I used Google Earth™ to pinpoint her location and see a street view of the house. And she learned more about my life and how I'd grown up by looking through my Facebook photo albums. Her favorite shots were the ones where I was-as she put it-beaming at the camera, making the dimpled smile that runs in our family.
As our conversations became more relaxed and comfortable, we found ourselves video chatting with tablets, which let us move around from room to room showing each other the little details that made up our day-to-day lives.
Using a tablet, my mother gave me a virtual tour of her home, quite literally sharing a window into her world.
She showed me her back garden, with its flowers and birdhouses and squirrels running along the wooden fence. She showed me her conservatory, a glass-walled room where she folded laundry and kept a collection of dollhouses.
Before we ended that call, she had one last thing to show me: the shelves in her bedroom where pictures of me as a baby were kept in frames. I'd never seen photos of myself so young, and was amazed to be looking at them now.
“It’s crazy you still have them,” I told her.
“Of course,” she said. “I’ve never forgotten you.”
One day, my mother and I had another video chat I never expected: discussing the logistics of meeting up in person. She wanted to fly to the US to see me, so I helped her pick a date and choose the right airport for her flight.
I'll never forget the nerves and anxiety I had about meeting my mother in person. I couldn't sit still, constantly pacing and peering out the front-door window for the first sight of her. I was worried it would be awkward, that maybe our video interactions wouldn't translate well to real life. Onscreen we could smile, wave hello and start chatting away, but being together in person might be different. How much physical contact was acceptable in this type of situation-go to hugs straight away or lead off with a firm handshake? I didn't want to overwhelm her (or vice versa).
Walking down the front steps of my house that day was surreal. Two months ago, I didn't know who or where she was, and now she was standing right in front of me: a petite, 4-foot-11 woman with tears of joy and disbelief streaming down her face. We must have had about a hundred hugs and taken twice as many photos that day.
For the next two weeks, we spent all our waking moments together. We toured my city, went shopping, watched movies, and cooked meals together. We also took time to talk about my adoption and the difficult circumstances leading to that decision.
"I want you to know that as a mother, it was never easy to give you up," she said softly. "But I did it because I thought you would have a better future than what I could provide."
I was floored. I'd had years to theorize why she did it, mostly assuming I was a burden, for whatever reason, that she simply wanted to be rid of. It had never occurred to me that her decision was made out of love.
This isn’t goodbye
The end of my birth mom's stay came sooner than either of us wanted. At the airport, we shared a goodbye as tearful as our first hello. I knew the return to England would be hard for her, but I reminded her of the bright side: We were in each other's lives again.
Five years later, our relationship continues to grow. We've had many late-night calls telling our life stories, we've shared each other's special days and we've wished each other happy birthdays and happy holidays. And when we could, we've crossed the Atlantic to be with each other-she to the States for summer vacations, and me to the United Kingdom to see and smell the flowers in her back garden, walk along the beach in her coastal town of Broadstairs, and stroll through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on a rainy day.
Best of all, we don't wonder or worry about each other anymore. Technology gave us a second chance at a relationship, one that I doubt could have happened otherwise. Now we're always connected, even when we're oceans apart.