Until the summer of 2006, Laurie and Chuck Thompson had shared a secret for a quarter of a century.
The secret dated back to their school days in 1980, when Laurie was a sophomore at Fort LeBoeuf High School in Erie, Pa. She played saxophone in the school band, and she had a horse named Lady that she rode and relied on for company whenever she had a bad day.
Chuck was a senior — the kind of kid who collected beer cans and loved fixing things.
They went to a movie and a square dance on their first date, but their romance quickly turned into something neither was prepared to handle.
In the first semester of her junior year, Laurie discovered she was pregnant.
"It was a huge dilemma, obviously, for any 16-year-old who is still in school," Laurie said. "I wasn't sure what to do. So it was a very scary time for me."
She kept the secret from everyone, but her mother, her twin sister and Chuck. Chuck told only one other person, his brother. "Other than that, for 26 years, I never told anybody," he said.
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Laurie continued to attend school until late in her pregnancy. "And then what happened was, I just got too uncomfortable to sit in a class," she said. "It was the '80s. … Big clothes were kind of in. We all wore big sweat shirts and sweat pants, so no one really could tell that I was pregnant."
In April 1981, Laurie gave birth to a 7-pound, 2-ounce baby girl by Caesarean section at Erie's Hamot Medical Center. She and her mother had already decided that the child would be given up for adoption.
"At the time, my mother and father were going through divorce. My mother needed to work full time, so there wouldn't have been anyone available to take care of the baby," Laurie said. "I wanted to continue going to school and, of course, money was an issue."
Laurie saw the baby once, shortly after she was born.
"It took me a while to decide whether or not I was going to even look at her, because I just felt like it would be really hard to see her and not be able to take her home with me. But my mom encouraged me to do so. She said, 'You'll regret it if you don't.' And I remember thinking … she was beautiful. I also felt sure of my decision. I felt that it was the right decision at the time for me to give her up."
Laurie returned to school and six weeks later, she and Chuck went together to her junior prom.
The couple defied statistics. According to the book "Making a Love Connection: Teen Relationships, Pregnancy and Marriage," most teen mothers are unlikely to marry the biological fathers of their children. Under those circumstances, the vast majority of teenage couples break up.
Instead, Laurie and Chuck resumed their lives together. Laurie graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and in 1986, the couple were married a day before Laurie's 22nd birthday.
They've remained together ever since, but they never had another child.
"I think mostly because we just didn't feel like it would be right to give one up and then have another," Laurie said. "But we always pictured someone coming to our door someday and saying …' Hello, I'm your daughter.'"
More than 20 years passed. No one ever came.
"The hard part for me was wondering if she was OK," Laurie said, "because we didn't even have an idea of whether or not she's alive or well."