HOUSTON, TX — For 17 years, it pained Katherine Beal-Roblin to walk down the aisle of a store that had Mother’s Day cards on display. After her mother died unexpectedly in 2000, Beal-Roblin always tried to avoid the greeting card aisle every May.
But last week she bought one and mailed it off, and the Houston native couldn’t have been happier to send it. The recipient was an 81-year-old lady in Los Alamos, California — the person who actually gave birth to Beal-Roblin six decades ago.
The story begins in Detroit, where Elizabeth Frasier became pregnant with Katherine. Frasier’s father was a bigwig in the Detroit auto industry, and his daughter planned on having the child out of wedlock, which was wickedly taboo in the age of the baby boom.
Her father kicked her out of the house, and Elizabeth went to live with her sister. She gave birth to a baby girl, but caring for a newborn was more than she could handle. The realization hit hardest when she arrived home one day to find her baby with scalding burn marks on her necks. The babysitter had warmed up the infant’s milk too hot, causing the burns, and even more pain soon to follow for Elizabeth.
The young mother made one of the toughest decisions of her life — she signed over papers in a courtroom to give up her child.
Little Katherine was placed in an orphanage in Mount Clemens, Michigan, at just 7-and-a-half months old. In what normally would’ve been a lengthy process to get adopted, Katherine got fast-tracked because of an outbreak of measles at the orphanage. At 8 months, she was adopted and living in a loving home.
Photo of Katherine at 8 months when she was adopted – 1 months after Betty gave her for adoption. When Betty saw this photo she immediately recognized her.
Her new parents showered her with love, trips, education and guidance. The other local kids used to gaze in awe at the amount of possessions Katherine had. Her parents were open about Katherine getting adopted, but her mother had just one request.
"She was insecure about me finding my biological mother. She wanted me to wait until after she died before I found my biological mother," Beal-Roblin said. "I knew her name and I knew she was from the Detroit area. I knew only what my adopted mom told me."
Katherine’s adopted mom passed away suddenly, and unexpectedly, in October 2000.
Katherine (left) with her adoptive mom when Katherine was 22.
"I was devastated," she said. "I had to avoid the Mother’s Day card aisle."
Katherine began caring for her adopted father, who had already been diagnosed with dementia. He passed away in 2002.
Getting older, and with no iota of her biological family tree, Katherine yearned to know more about her family health history. Her husband submitted queries on adoption websites with a shred of hope there might be a connection. Somewhere, somehow and some way.
Then they submitted a profile on 23andme.com, a website that takes saliva from an individual and traces the DNA and matches it with other members in the system. The first results that came back were a 10 percent match to a first cousin in Missouri. Katherine’s husband is an attorney, and he initiated the contact with Tom Kokorunda, an attorney in Kansas City.
When explained the situation and asked if he knew Elizabeth Frasier, Kokorunda said "That’s my Aunt Betty."
The irony in finding Kokorunda, or cousin Tom, was that he probably would have never signed up and made a profile on 23andme.com had his daughter not bought him a package.
With her cousin Tom (the tallest) who is the first relative she met on 23&Me. Tom made contact with Katherine’s mother.
Cousin Tom got the ball rolling on that family’s side. Though he hadn’t spoken to his Aunt Betty in 25 years, he made the call with Katherine’s 80-year-old biological mother to break the news and perhaps set up a phone conversation. But Katherine still has some doubts lingering.
"When you’re adopted, you have a fear of rejection," Katherine said. And to top it off, her biological mother was so emotional after getting the initial news from Tom that she couldn’t speak that night.
The next day, Katherine and Elizabeth finally spoke on the phone. Mother and daughter. Blood relatives who had six decades worth of questions for each other. They chatted away for two and a half hours. They could have gone longer had the two-hour time difference not been a hurdle.
"We wanted to talk and ask each other questions," Katherine said. "She had more for me. She wanted to know about my childhood and my adoptive parents. I assured her she couldn’t have given me to a more loving home. And she talked more of her life."
They stayed in touch, and Katherine made the voyage to Los Alamos, just north of Santa Barbara, to visit her biological mother and half-sister Paula for Thanksgiving. The build-up for the meeting was at high pitch.
"I had always hoped to have a relationship and find her," Katherine said. "It was beyond my wildest imagination I’d having another loving family."
The reception was tearful and joyous on the fall California evening. They spent a lot of time that holiday, and spent even more time this Easter, which fell just two days after Betty’s 81st birthday. The education has been as cool for Katherine, who says her mother is beautiful and healthy.
"I didn’t know she struggled seven months to keep me," Katherine said. "I respected that and what she went through."
Likewise, Elizabeth was thrilled to know the daughter she had to give up because of circumstances went to a loving family who brought her up and cared so much for her.
The mother and daughter share some of the same mannerisms and nuances that could only be shared by the same DNA.
They talk a couple of times by week, and Katherine has become quite the friend of her half-sister, Paula.
Katherine plans to call Elizabeth for Mother’s Day on Sunday. Not to just see if the gift she sent had arrived, but to say "Hi" to her mother in a newfound family.
Tom lives in Kansas and had not talked to Betty for 25 years. Soon after Katherine visited Betty, Tom also re-united wit her and with Paula (Katherine’s sister)
Paula and Katherine at Thanksgiving 2017 in California.
Top image: Katherine with her biological mother, Elizabeth, last Thanksgiving in California. (All photos and video courtesy of 23andme.com and Katherine Beal-Roblin)