Myers hired a company, BirthParentFinder.com, which specializes in adoption reunions, and was told he lived less than an hour away, in Manhattan.
When she finally spoke to him for the first time, “It was amazing, just to hear his voice,” she said. “He accepted me with open arms.”
Myers isn’t alone in searching for a birth parent during this time of scary upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus, either to finally make a connection and fill a blank in the past, or to learn more about their health history. BirthParentFinder.com, for instance, says it has taken on 88 new cases since March 16, helped with 58 reunions, either in person or virtually and fielded 803 new inquiries, more than double from the same period the year before.
“People are saying, ‘We have nothing to lose now,’ ” said Jay Rosenzweig, who created and runs the company. Birthparents, even those who didn’t know they had kids or might not have wanted to be found, also may be more open to connecting.
“People right now are compassionate because of what’s going on,” he said.
A changed perspective
“If anything has changed, it is the mere perspective of so many people because of their isolation and their willingness to face challenging new relationships, [such as] that of a relinquished birth child, simply because human contact has been in such challenging commodity,” said Joel Chambers, founder of SearchAngels.com, a nonprofit group that helps people searching for their biological family members. SearchAngels has had more than 1,000 cases of birth families reuniting so far this year, an amount that’s more than they normally see in a full calendar year.
The website Adopted.com created a new feature in April called Community to aid in reunions among their increasing subscribers. From March through July, the group had five times the number of new subscribers and five times as many reunions — parents and children connected via their site — than it had in the same time period last year, founder Katharine Wall said.
Meanwhile, Ancestry, which helps people discover and connect with living relatives through DNA matching and family history research, reports a 37 percent increase in subscribers since the pandemic began through mid-July, compared to the same time period last year, said Gina Spatafore, an Ancestry spokeswoman.
Part of that could be that more people are at home with time to fill and this is something they’ve wanted to do for a while, said Crista Cowan, a genealogist for Ancestry. But she also said “it speaks to the need that people have, not just to have something to do but to connect in real and meaningful ways to something outside themselves” at a time when connection has become harder.
At 23andMe, meanwhile, there has been a 17 percent year-over-year increase in customers writing in to customer service to share stories, including stories of connecting with birthparents, said Aushawna Collins, a communications coordinator for 23andMe.
For Philip Harasek, 35, from Tyngsborough, Mass., who was adopted at birth, the inspiration to search for his birth mother came less from pandemic-inspired thoughts of mortality than from the extra time on his hands — and lots of TV ads for DNA-testing sites.
“I really didn’t have much else to do,” he said.
To his shock, Ancestry’s database turned up a direct match to his birth mother, not distant cousins. “That was a crazy feeling,” he said. “I stared at it for a while and said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this.’ ”
He hired BirthParentFinder.com to contact her this spring and, three days later, he was on the phone with her. All he had known was that she’d had him when she was 16 years old, in Brooklyn. He has now learned that he’s from a large Puerto Rican family, solving the puzzle of his ethnic heritage; his skin is darker than that of his adoptive family.
“People always asked me, ‘What’s your background, ethnicity and that?’ and I never really had an answer,” he said. “Now I do and it feels pretty good.”
He met his aunt, who lives closer to him, in July and will soon take a trip to meet his birth mother in New York City.
Until a few weeks ago, many of these reunions couldn’t take place in person. But virtual reunions are increasingly common, and can be less fraught than a physical reunion — not just because of the coronavirus, said Charles “Chuck” Johnson, president and chief executive of the National Council for Adoption, an advocacy organization for adoptees and their families. Social distancing makes some people feel safer wading into difficult emotional waters.
“The technology has created a new opportunity,” Johnson said. “It’s a rehearsal for future contact. It’s not only the next best thing, but lays the groundwork for a smoother in-person meeting.”
Which is not to say that search-and-reunion efforts aren’t fraught during a pandemic.
“ ‘Search’ isn’t limited to the literal meaning of looking for someone,” said Debbie B. Riley, chief executive of the Center for Adoption Support and Education, and a therapist who works with many adoptees. “For the adoptee, it’s an emotional, psychological and spiritual quest about who they are and where they came from.”
Some adoptees, she said, feel guilt about searching, worrying that it will hurt the parents and families that raised them.
Meanwhile, not all birthparents want to be found.
The only thing Ann Marie Frohoff, 49, a writer in Manhattan Beach, Calif., knew about her birth mother was that she was only 14 when she had Frohoff.
Two years ago, while researching a young adult novel, she took DNA tests at Ancestry and 23andMe. She found distant cousins, who revealed that she was part of a large Mormon family. But it didn’t turn up a birth parent match — the database only includes those who take the DNA tests, and her birthparents clearly hadn’t.
Then the pandemic hit. “Everything has been uprooted and you have to figure out how to replant yourself,” she said. “That just ignited the fire.”
With covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, spiking, she also felt the need to know her full health history, including what diseases and conditions ran in her birth family. Her adoptive mother had died young of cancer, which left Frohoff wondering whether there was some health issue in her DNA that might not let her live long enough to see her 21-year-old daughter marry and have a family someday.
So Frohoff hired Rosenzweig, whose company acts as an intermediary between the child and the parent. He found Frohoff’s birth mother and contacted her and, after some time, she agreed to be contacted by Frohoff. They exchanged an email but “she’s not ready to dive in,” Frohoff said.
Still, Frohoff said, she has gained some insight and peace, just knowing that her birth mother is still alive — that her life wasn’t cut short by a disease Frohoff might inherit.
“I feel a sense of completion now,” she said. But, she added, “I’m really hoping sooner than later that she’ll want to connect. The story is to be continued.”
For Krystal Myers, her efforts had a more gratifying result. In July, her husband and her birth father helped plan a surprise birthday party for her, where she met her half sister and her father’s wife.
“I have found the silver lining during this pandemic,” she said. “Truly a dream come true.”