Most people take for granted what it is to be someone, from somewhere. But for Cynthia Guditus, a happily married suburban mother of three, there is one perpetually nagging question: Where did I come from?
She was adopted in New York City 43 years ago and, like many other adopted Americans, Guditus had resolved never to look for her biological parents. This all changed two years ago, when Connor, her 12-year-old son, was diagnosed with cancer and she wanted to try to get some information about her genealogy for medical reasons.
Guditus' search led her to Pam Slaton, another adoptee and a well-known adoption searcher. To learn more about Slaton's work please click HERE.
"The primary motive is, I think, adoptees just wanna say, 'I'm OK, here I am,'" Slaton said. "I think first and foremost [you want] to let the birth mother know you're OK. Secondly, where did I get my eyes, where did I get my hair, my height? Who do I look like? I mean, you can't look behind you and see where anything has come from. And, of course, medical. Medical's huge."
During her 14 years in this business, Slaton has matched more than 2,500 adoptees with their birth mothers, including that of rapper DMC. That search was featured in a VH1 documentary, which resulted in a happy reunion.
"Every little reunion I do kind of puts a piece of my heart back," Slaton said. "So I get to experience the joy of a reunion through somebody else's eyes, even though it's not my own. I get to know that I helped facilitate that, so I think it's healing for me."
And each is especially important to Slaton, whose own search ended up in disaster. She says her biological mother screamed at her and threatened to kill her and her children if she pursued her again.
But Slaton says the hostility she received was still better than going through life not knowing where she came from.
"I would do it a million times over," she said. "I know what she looked like when she had me and it's my own face; it was amazing to see that."
Slaton says that while some of her searches can be difficult, and further complicated by varying state laws, others can be relatively simple.
"It really depends on the case but generally, for me, it's about a week," Slaton said. "It's not hard when you know what you're doing. It's just basically taking old records and combining them with contemporary records."
Which brings the story back to Guditus, and a single day last November that was pivotal in the search for her biological mother.
Slaton met her in New York City, where Guditus' adoption took place. She instructed Guditus on the questions to ask at her appointment at New York's Foundling, the institution that handled Guditus' adoption. There were records there that contained important clues.
"I compiled a list for you [to] go over some of the things," she told her. "Some things you may be allowed to ask, some things considered non-identifying information. … I want to know what region of the U.S. she came from."
"I am excited," Guditus said, but nervous, too.
Although the identity of Guditus' biological mother was in the file, the Foundling's director, Wendy Freund, was not permitted by law to reveal it. But she could reveal non-identifying details that will help in the search.
"Your birth mother was referred to us by Catholic Charities," Freund said. "She got pregnant on her school break. She was a school teacher."