Published December 1, 2016
ATLANTA—The Aug. 26 reunion in Atlanta between Suzanne Hayes and her birth mother Heather Cardin was 29 years in the making.
Born in August 1987 in Omaha, Nebraska, Suzanne was adopted by her parents, Paul and Ann Hayes. They are parishioners of St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, where Paul is the business manager.
“I’ve always known. It’s never been a secret,” said Hayes about her adoption.
Her adoption day of Oct. 26, 1987, became known as “Gotcha’ Day” in the Hayes household.
“We always celebrated the adoption day. We would just have a family celebration,” she said.
She was raised in a happy home, the only daughter between two boys.
She is a student at the Elaine Sterling Institute in Sandy Springs, pursuing a career as an esthetician.
The Hayeses told their daughter they would help find her birth mother if she wanted to.
“I always had kind of a curiosity,” said Suzanne.
The adoption was handled through Catholic Charities in Omaha, where the Hayes family lived at the time. Suzanne contacted the agency when she was 25, the required waiting age for seeking information on birth parents. She learned a fee was involved and decided not to pursue it.
But this past spring, Hayes began to have health problems. Doctors told her, “We really need your medical history.” That renewed her interest in finding her birth mother.
Ann Hayes told her daughter that one adoption form included the full name of the birth mother, whose first name was Heather. Instead of going through the agency, Suzanne Hayes took to the internet since the last name was an uncommon name. Although this did not lead directly to her birth mother, a search for possible relatives led her to a social media profile that caught her attention.
“I found a girl named Amanda,” said Hayes.
She sent Amanda a message to inquire if she was related to Heather, prefacing it with “I know this is really weird and strange.”
But Amanda replied to the inquiry.
“Oh my God, call me. You’re my sister,” she wrote back.
“She knew everything,” said Suzanne. “Right away, it was the strangest thing. We had so much in common.”
Suzanne learned Amanda was 15 months younger and that she also had two half-brothers.
By that evening, Suzanne was put in touch with her birth mother on Facebook.
“I talked to Heather the very next day,” she said.
Meeting for the first time
Suzanne began to learn some of the circumstances of her birth and adoption. Now Heather Cardin, her birth mother was 17 when she became pregnant and was not married to her boyfriend.
“They decided they needed to give me up for adoption,” she said. “They didn’t have many options.”
She was a bit taken aback by the news that Amanda was not placed for adoption.
“I was a little surprised at first. You can’t have hard feelings,” she said.
Heather Cardin flew to Atlanta the weekend of Aug. 26 to visit the daughter she placed for adoption. Cardin’s husband and their 4-year son, Ben, accompanied her to Georgia. Cardin also has a 25-year-old-son from a previous marriage.
They arranged for a restaurant meeting.
“I was going to meet them by myself,” said Suzanne. But she told her mom, “I can’t stop shaking.”
Ann Hayes offered to go with her daughter.
“She drove me. I’m really on the shy side,” explained Suzanne.
It was a particularly emotional moment for Cardin.
“She just burst into tears,” said Hayes.
The next night, her birth mom visited her at her parents’ home. They spent the evening looking at photos.
“I respect her for that,” said Hayes of Heather’s choice of adoption.
She now touches base with her birth mother weekly.
“To me, she will be a friend,” said Hayes.
She texts Amanda frequently and arranged to meet her earlier this year while in St. Louis, Missouri.
“There’s a friendship there for sure,” she said. “We have the same mom and dad.”
When Suzanne shares her story, some question why she was placed for adoption, but her younger sister was not.
“That’s what God wanted,” said Hayes. “God has his way of doing things.”
Suzanne urges women to choose adoption over abortion.
“There really are people who genuinely want children,” she said.
Couple longed for more children
In 1987, Paul and Ann Hayes, parents of a 10-year-old boy, learned they couldn’t have any more children.
“We had our first son, Adam, and really wanted another child,” said Paul Hayes. “It’s just not going to happen. It took a year for us to reach that conclusion.”
“Why don’t you adopt?” someone asked.
Paul Hayes honestly admitted a concern to a friend who had adopted. He worried it would be hard to love an adopted child as much as his son.
That parent told him the fear disappears “once you get that baby in your arms.”
They decided to proceed with adopting but were placed low on agency priority lists as they already had a child. There were also more people wanting children than children available.
“The lists were getting longer. People were aborting,” said Ann.
Paul said that only 10 to 12 babies were available annually during that time frame.
They had a room set aside and baby supplies, but they continued to wait.
So much time passed that eventually Ann said, “Why don’t we move on?”
They sold the baby items and “just felt blessed to have Adam,” said Paul Hayes.
Out of the blue, they received a call about a home study. Not knowing how to interpret the call, they asked what it meant.
“You’ll probably have a child within six months,” they were told.
Suzanne, born Aug. 11, 1987, was premature. She weighed three pounds.
They received a call late on a Friday afternoon about her.
The prospective parents had to meet with a pediatrician to receive the special instructions and make sure they felt prepared to care for the preemie.
“We had to get CPR training,” said Ann.
“It was as exciting as the birth of our (biological) child,” said Paul.
Heather selected the family from information provided and later met with them briefly.
“She wanted her daughter to have an older brother,” said Paul. “We were absolutely convinced that God wanted us to have Suzanne. It was time.”
“This was the right thing”
Nearly 10 months after adopting, the Hayeses got surprising news that Ann was pregnant.
“How am I going to handle two babies with a pre-teen,” she wondered.
Suzanne is close with her younger brother Steven. They are separated in age by 18 months.
“It certainly was a wonderful experience for us. Heather gave us a wonderful gift,” said Paul Hayes.
He was pleased by Cardin’s effort to make the trip to see Suzanne. They had already planned to see her at Christmas while visiting Nebraska.
“We had a great conversation. It was a positive evening,” he said. “People should not be afraid of it. We always thought this day would come.”
Suzanne’s parents wanted the timing of meeting her birth mom to be right for her.
“I think her Mom told her, I can help you if you’re ready,” said Paul.
“I don’t know how it could’ve been better,” said Ann about the process. “I don’t feel threatened.”
Ann Hayes just wanted Suzanne to be prepared. “You may find out things you don’t want to hear,” she said.
Hayes feels adoptive parents should not fear reunions or the fact their children want information about their births.
She prayed the reunion “gave Heather peace.”
“I tried to take good care of her for you,” she told Heather.
The Hayes family moved to Atlanta 20 years ago. Had they stayed in Omaha, Suzanne and Amanda would have likely attended the same high school.
“We were all right there together in a small pocket of town,” she said.
At every Oct. 26 “Gotcha Day” dinner, the family prayed for Suzanne’s birth mother.
“This was the right thing. I know it was difficult,” said Hayes. “But it’s the greatest gift of love.”
There’s a photograph of Hayes holding the baby and crying. As a child, Suzanne asked her mom why she was crying.
“I was so happy to get you,” said Hayes.
“I was so happy to get you too,” her daughter replied.
“I chose them”
Heather Cardin never considered having an abortion. She was almost 18 and expecting a child.
“I really wanted to keep Suzanne. I didn’t want to give her up,” said Cardin in a phone call from Omaha.
She had no job and the consensus she heard from others was that she wasn’t “good enough” to handle the responsibility of caring for a baby.
“I was just really young and really naïve,” said Cardin. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent.”
She attended Catholic school and never felt shamed in that environment for being a pregnant teen. The counselors helped her, but society overall wasn’t supportive of single motherhood.
“It just wasn’t as accepted,” she said.
Cardin believes that young mothers considering keeping their children try to find programs such as pregnancy aid clinics with parenting programs and resources.
“It think it’s important to get impartial help,” she said.
Suzanne’s father, “popped back into the picture later,” said Cardin. They didn’t stay together. She decided to keep their second child because it had been so difficult emotionally.
She later married and had son Alex. The marriage ended in divorce. She is now married to Greg Cardin, whom she has known for 20 years. Their young son Ben is still trying to figure out the adoption.
“He saw a picture of Suzanne, and he thought it was Amanda,” she said.
The two sisters bear a striking resemblance.
“I was scared she was going to hate me,” said Cardin.
It was shocking to hear from Amanda about the communication from Suzanne.
“I was extremely happy,” she said.
Very nervous at the first meeting, Cardin said she experienced all kinds of emotions.
“I just wanted to hug her … to see her standing there in front of me. She’s turned out to be an amazing person.”
Cardin hopes her daughter will get to know her siblings but believes the future is all about Suzanne.
“I am here for anything she wants. … It’s whatever Suzanne wants,” she said.
She was thankful that Suzanne and her parents were open to meeting.
As a teenager, Cardin looked at the profiles of two other families wanting babies.
“The Hayes are such an amazing family,” she said. “I chose them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”