This story was originally broadcast on Aug. 6, 2004
Candace Buesing and Tammy Overholt's relationship is close — and complicated. Their bond grew from a simple story of sacrifice and love. They are two women who made mistakes as teenagers and lived to be deeply grateful for a second chance.
Buesing, a 19-year-old special education major at Minnesota State University, had been given up for adoption when she was 3 days old. Barb and Joe Buesing raised her in a small town in central Minnesota along with their biological son, Tony. From early on, Candace knew she had been adopted.
"We always felt it was best to be open with her … that she would always know she was adopted, and that she would always know that her birth mother loved her so much," Barb Beusing said.
Candace remembers crying herself to sleep, wondering about the biological mother she never knew, a 15-year-old who had given her up as a baby.
She couldn't imagine that her life would take the same painful turn as her biological mother's. But at 17, Candace became pregnant.
Teen Mom Weighs Painful Options
During her pregnancy, Candace considered her options. She ruled out an abortion. Marriage to the teenage father of her unborn child wasn't an option. The prospect of being a single mom, going to college and trying to raise a child didn't quite work either.
"There was always one fairly big piece of the puzzle missing, whichever way you put it together," Candace said.
Candace felt paralyzed by the difficult decision she faced. Was giving the baby up for adoption her only choice? Or should she keep the baby and give up her dream of a college degree and a career?
Her parents realized that the one person who might have the answers to these excruciating questions was someone they had kept secret from Candace — her birth mother.
The Buesings always knew who Candace's biological mother was. It had been an "open" adoption. But they hadn't decided when it would be best to tell Candace.
But with Candace pregnant and desperate, they knew there would never be a better time. On her 18th birthday, they told her what they knew about her birth mother.
Barb Buesing felt that giving Candace an option to contact her birth mother could be helpful, because she could speak with a woman who knew how it felt to place a child for adoption. "I had no idea how it felt," she said.
‘Hi, Mom, It’s Your Daughter’
A day after her 18th birthday, Candace contacted her biological mother — Tammy Overholt, who lived about 200 miles away.
Overholt knew the baby girl she had given up had just turned 18. She had seen Candace only once, for a few minutes when she was born, but thought of her often.
Overholt says she still relives the pain of giving up Candace. "I knew in my heart the right thing was what I did," she said. "But, you go home and you think, maybe, what if. I spent so many years with people asking me, 'What if, you didn't try.' Maybe I could have done it."
She would have had to do it alone. The teenage father of her child quickly dropped out of her life. But seven years later, when she was 25, she married John Overholt and soon gave birth to their daughter, Alexis. And now her first daughter, Candace, was about to burst back in her life.
Overholt recalled the phone call that caught her off guard. "I picked up the phone and there was silence for a minute, just a couple seconds. And I heard, 'Tammy?' " Overholt said. "I thought something bad had actually happened, because I had this shaking voice on the other end of the phone. And all I heard her say was, 'Hi, Mom, it's your daughter Candace.'
"That made everything … all of the guilt, all of the second opinions you have of yourself go away, because in that conversation she told me how happy she was. Then she told me I was going to be a grandma," Overholt said.
When they finally met, Candace was more than eight months pregnant. From photographs, they recognized each other instantly, and saw themselves in each other.
An Extraordinary Proposal
The next few days were agony for Candace. She had found her birth mother, but she still had to make a gut-wrenching choice. Would she give up the baby? Every hour, it seemed, she changed her mind.
Then Overholt made a phone call to Candace's adoptive parents that would change all their lives. She had a proposal. "If Candace just needs to see her grow up and be part of her life," Overholt said, "John and I would adopt that baby in a heartbeat."
Candace was ecstatic. And so, as the legal adoption proceedings began, the entire family gathered at the hospital for the birth of Candace's baby girl, Anabella.
Overholt, Candace's biological mother, was now the adoptive mother to her own granddaughter. Candace's newborn daughter would now become, in a sense, her own sister. But while Candace knew that baby Anabella would be in good hands, her new mother, speaking from years of experience, warned her that letting her go would be profoundly painful.
"When I come and bring the baby home and you say it's OK," Overholt told Candace, "that's going to be the worst day of your life."
Candace took Anabella home for four days then packed her up for her new life with Tammy and John Overholt.
Overholt's warning to Candace about the pain associated with giving up a child proved true. Candace said she went "numb" when she let go of Anabella. "I just went outside and just sat there and stared ... It just hurt so bad. ... Worst day in my life. And I'm sure it'll always be the worst," she said.
And it was a painful day for Overholt as well. "I could hear her crying when I took 'Bella out of the house," Overholt said. "I cried the whole way home."
Overholt said, "I almost wanted to give her back but I knew that one more day wasn't going to make it any easier. … No matter who had the baby, it was going to be hard."
As tough as she knew that day would be, Overholt also knew just how joyful the days ahead could be for Candace.
And indeed, this fractured family has come together in an unlikely win-win scenario. Candace gets to see Anabella at least once a week and is doing well in college. Tammy and John Overholt are delighted to have two daughters, Alexis and Anabella, who have become inseparable companions.
While outsiders are sometimes mystified about the family relationships, it doesn't faze anyone on the inside.
Candace says she is deeply grateful everything Overholt has done for her. "She gave me a great life like two times now. How do you thank somebody for that, you know? It's just kind of like 'I love you' just doesn't quite cut it anymore."