JEFFERSON CITY — More than four decades have passed since then 17-year-old Jeannine Stricker had to give her newborn baby girl to the nurses. It was May of 1975. Jeannine had just graduated high school – and had to make the hardest decision of her life – to give up her child for adoption.
The years went by. Jeannine ended up marrying her husband Pat Schaefer when they were 25. Together they have three daughters Michelle, Elaina and Ellie. All the while, Jeannine said, she never stopped thinking of that precious baby girl.
“Every day I woke up and said a prayer for her and worried about whether she was OK, or whether she was having a good life or if her mom and dad, loved her, all of that,” Jeannine said.
Fast forward to 2018. Jeannine decided she wanted to public with her search for the daughter she never got to know.
“I gave up all rights at birth, so, I never even knew if they would tell her she was adopted,” Jeannine wrote in her Facebook post that has been shared 900 times. “I was told the only way we could ever reconnect, was for her to find me!”
Because it was a closed adoption, Jeannine could not access her daughter’s original birth certificate – only her biological daughter could do that. As life would have it, an entirely different avenue would connect the two women.
Barbara Jo Reid – Jo for short – lives in Anchorage, Alaska. She is 43 years old. She married her college sweetheart and has three children. She grew up with two parents who loved her, an older brother who was also adopted in Missouri, and two younger siblings were adopted from Guatemala.
Jo said she always knew she was adopted.
“My family was always very open about being adopted and always very supportive about finding my biological parents,” she said.
When Jo would imagine meeting her biological parents, she said, she never really knew what to expect.
“Growing up there wasn’t the Internet and there wasn’t social media, so I really had no idea I guess how that would even happen besides a phone call or knock on the door,” she said.
As DNA testing grew in popularity, Jo decided she would give it a try. She had no other way of knowing much about her heritage, so she bought a 23andMe: DNA Genetic Testing & Analysis kit to get some answers.
Jeannine had thought to do DNA testing as well, but she did hers through Ancestry. The two websites aren’t connected, so initially, neither saw each other on the site.
A mutual cousin who had done 23andMe found Jo through the relatives portion of the website. She began asking her some questions like, “When were you born?” “Where were you born?” “Were you adopted?” A light bulb went off.
The cousin told Jo she had a feeling she belonged to her cousin, Jeannine.
Jeannine first got the opportunity to speak with Jo’s mom.
“We started talking about our story and all of the puzzle pieces just hit,” she said.
They wanted to be sure, so Jeannine worked with adoption advocates to find a connector website that could test Jo’s DNA from 23andMe and Jeannine’s DNA through Ancestry. It was a match.
Before they knew it, they were talking on the phone. The night Jo figured out her biological mom’s name, she Googled her, and found the news story that had been done when Jeannine began searching for her publicly. She said she watched the piece with tears streaming down her face – realizing her mother had been looking for her.
For the last month or so, Jeannine and Jo have shared many phone calls together – just getting to know each other. Turns out, Jo had always wanted to find her biological parents.
“All this time we’ve been looking for each other,” Jeannine said.
Jeannine has also helped to connect Jo with her biological father and they are building a relationship.
The two plan to meet in-person for the first time in April. Both said they are thrilled about the opportunity – and Jo is enjoying getting to know extended family as well.
“I’m very excited to meet them and I feel like it kind of puts some pieces of the puzzle together of maybe who I am as a person,” she said.
Jeannine said she carried a lot of guilt around over the years, wondering if she had made the right decision. These days, she said she feels more complete – like a new woman.
“When I found out she was alright everything – all of that self-guilt, all of that worry, all of that self-doubt was just gone,” she said. “It just felt so much better.”
Jo and Jeannine both said their advice for people out there searching for biological relatives is to never stop looking and keep an open mind. Not every story will end as happily as Jo and Jeannine’s, but they said you can’t know until you look.