Like many adopted children, Michelle Cehn often wondered what her birth parents were like. Despite growing up in a happy, loving adoptive family, she still longed to meet her blood relatives.
Michelle was born in New York in 1986, and adopted just hours later by a Californian couple called Joan, now 69, and Joel, now 70.
‘I’m forever grateful for the childhood my adoptive parents gave me,’ says Michelle.
‘I know how much they wanted a child, and I’m so glad I was put up for adoption so that we found each other.’
But Michelle always had a natural curiosity about the woman who gave birth to her, and when social media grew in popularity, Michelle saw the opportunity she needed.
‘I shared my story on every family reunion site going, as well as social media,’ says Michelle. ‘But the years went on and I had no luck.’
Michelle had very little information about her birth mother, other than a name and an old picture.
She’d trawl through the internet for anyone with her mother’s name, but had no idea where she could be living or even if she was alive.
Then, one evening in 2009, she came across a Facebook profile of a woman who shared her mother’s name, and who looked strikingly like the picture Michelle had treasured for so many years. She was sure it was her, and her instincts proved to be right.
‘I sent an emotional message, and waited to see if she’d reply,’ says Michelle.
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‘She did, and we talked on the phone the following day. The next week, I flew to meet her – it was magical finding out how much we had in common.’
Michelle understood when Diane, now 54, explained that, at 23, she hadn’t felt ready to be a mother and had wanted her baby to have the best life she could. But it was a blow when Diane explained she had no idea what Michelle’s father was called.
‘I thought it would be impossible to find him since I had no name, no photograph, no location,’ says Michelle.
‘I knew the little hole in my heart that was aching would just have to make peace with remaining vacant.’
But within a few years, at-home DNA tests became readily available. Suddenly, it was possible to be linked to thousands of blood relatives for as little as £80. Michelle realised that she could potentially find her father just by sending off a saliva sample.
The test results linked Michelle to a first cousin on her father’s side. After some online ‘stalking’ of her cousin, she came across the Facebook profile of a man called Greg Hicks – his uncle – who she knew must be her birth father. There was a definite family resemblance.
‘There was no feeling in the world like looking at this picture of the man I knew was my dad,’ she says. ‘For years, I had a recurring dream of meeting him – and here he was.’
Nervously, she sent Greg a message on Facebook, well aware he had no idea she existed.
At first, Greg assumed he was the victim of a scam because he didn’t recognise Diane’s name and had never lived in New York.
‘But when he looked up Diane online, he began to connect the dots: the pair had both worked in Philadelphia in 1986, and had mutual friends.
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‘We spoke on the phone for five hours the next day,’ says Michelle. ‘It was a rush of emotion like you wouldn’t believe.
‘There were tears as we swapped stories, and I was overwhelmed when he told me I had a half-brother called Austin. Growing up as an only child, I’d longed for siblings.’
Michelle and Greg set a date to meet a month later at Orange County Airport, California. ‘It unfolded like something from my wildest dreams,’ she recalls.
‘When we saw each other, we started running and just wrapped our arms round one another.’
It was an overwhelming yet joy-filled trip as Michelle was introduced to aunts, cousins, uncles and grandparents she never thought she’d have the chance to meet.
For Greg too, meeting Michelle has been an enormously positive experience. ‘At first I was a little suspicious when I received Michelle’s message,’ he says, ‘but when we spoke, I realised the truth.
‘I feel truly blessed – the joy and love my family has given Michelle has just ignited and multiplied back.’
Michelle now has two sets of loving parents, and feels incredibly fortunate. ‘I’m grateful because I know how many other adoptees are out there searching for parents and haven’t been as lucky,’ says Michelle. ‘It’s better than any movie I’ve ever watched and it’s my life.’
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