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Family Ties: An Adoption Story

Finding other families

After finding Anya's family, I discovered other amazing stories of connections between adopted kids and their birth families.

Russian-born Denisen was 3 when her parents, Joy and Fred Croom of Raleigh, North Carolina, heard from their adoption agency about Denisen's birth sister. She'd been adopted by a Maryland family, who had learned about Denisen while still in Siberia. A local woman knew the whole story.

Back in the U.S., the two families spoke, and when Denisen was 6 and her sister 4, the families met on the Carolina shore. "The girls jumped out, stared at each other, and hugged," Joy Croom says. They looked so alike, she said, "each felt she was looking in the mirror"—an experience I understand, having practically choked on my coffee when I saw baby pictures of one of Anya's sisters; she was the spitting image of my daughter.

Like Denisen's sister's family, it's not entirely uncommon to learn about U.S.-based birth siblings before you even leave your new child's native country. While Sally and Peter Bruderle of Oakton, Virginia, were completing their daughter's adoption in Paraguay, they learned that Beth had a brother, Matt, in Pennsylvania. The families met and became close; Beth and her other brother—the Bruderles' biological son, Bobby—were even invited to take a key role at Matt's bar mitzvah.

Sometimes the twists of fate in discovering siblings almost defy imagination.

It turns out that Beth and Matt have a brother named Ian; he's the son of Ron and Robin Netter of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. An incredible coincidence brought the Netters and the Bruderles together: In 2004 both families were touring Paraguay, seeking information on the children's birth mother. A social worker put the pieces together and introduced them.

And then there are people who got involved with their children's families at the start. A former classmate of Anya's has a brother, Rudi, born in Cambodia; their mother, Paula Shirk of Brooklyn, New York, has connected with Rudi's family in a dramatic way. She is supporting the whole family, in a village near Phnom Penh. She's supplied the motor scooter the father uses to carry fish from the village to sell in the city; she's paying the children's school fees. "When I adopted Rudi, I didn't know I was bringing Cambodia home with me," Paula told me. "But as soon as I saw their faces on the photo, I knew I had more work to do."

Joan Oleck is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.