Even as a little girl, Wendy Samaroo searched the faces of strangers.
“I would look at people, and think, ‘Could that be my mother? Is that my father?’” said Samaroo, 50, who was adopted by John and Carolyn Giberson of Fort Fairfield as a newborn. “They could have been right under my nose … Turns out, in a way, they were.”
After decades of fruitless searching and dealing with bureaucracy, inaccurate paperwork and one tossed-away letter, Samaroo last month finally found her birth parents.
Her mother, Rosetta Henderson, 66, lives in Fayette, just outside Augusta. Her father, Doug Dunphy, 68, lives in Hampden, barely 15 miles from Samaroo’s home in Eddington.
“It just feels like a gift from heaven. It feels like I’ve been given a second life,” said Samaroo. “Most people only get to have one set of parents. I get to have two.”
“It feels like there’s this big puzzle that you’ve worked on all your life, but there’s always been a piece missing, and you’ll never be complete without it,” said Henderson. “And then you can put that final piece in.”
The story starts in Kingfield in 1967, where Henderson grew up. As teenagers, Henderson and Dunphy dated. Henderson, who was in foster care for much of her youth, found out at 16 that she was pregnant. Dunphy was the father.
Because Henderson was a foster child, the state would not allow her to keep her baby. Her daughter — whom she named April Ruth, for the month she was born — was taken away just after she was born and given to her adoptive parents. Policies like that have not been the case in Maine for some time, according to adoption and foster support organization Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine. But in 1967, young pregnant women in foster care had almost no choice when it came to giving their babies up.
Henderson stitched her daughter a baby blanket that went with her to her new home. Samaroo still has it, 50 years later.
“I really didn’t expect [the blanket] would be passed on, but it just goes to show what loving adoptive parents she had. I always wanted her,” Henderson said. “I always loved her. I told Wendy that she was on loan. She’s been on loan, because they needed her. Last month, they let her come back. They let April come back.”
Samaroo grew up in Fort Fairfield, with her parents and adoptive brother, Mark. Carolyn Giberson passed away in 2014. Samaroo’s father, John, still lives in Fort Fairfield but suffered a stroke a few years ago. Her family told her she was adopted as soon as she was able to understand what that meant. And when she came of age, she petitioned the state to release her birth records.
The state denied her request. In fact, for many years Maine required original birth and adoption records to be sealed, and only a judge could unseal them, which rarely happened.
Henderson and Dunphy had also been searching.
“For 20 years, I looked. I knew she was out there. I wondered if she was OK — if she was happy,” Henderson said.
Henderson and Dunphy both married other people. He had three children, and she had four, all of whom knew they had a half sister somewhere. Samaroo also married and had two children. She lived in the Midwest for some time before returning to Maine.
It wasn’t until after 2009, when the state’s adoptive birth records were unsealed after a law change, that Samaroo dared again to hope that she would find her biological parents. That time, when she asked for her records, she got them.
Unfortunately, the records listed the wrong town for Henderson — Kingman, an unorganized territory in Penobscot County, not Kingfield, in Franklin County. When Samaroo looked in Kingman, nothing turned up. She thought she was at a dead end.
It wasn’t until earlier this year, when Samaroo and some friends attended a concert at Sugarloaf in Kingfield, that it dawned on them that the town’s name could have been wrong and she could have been looking in the wrong place. A little more sleuthing, and suddenly, Samaroo had a name and an address for Henderson.
She found her on Facebook and sent her a message, but got no response. She sent her a card in early October, which Henderson tossed out, assuming it was sent to the wrong address.
“I didn’t know anybody in Eddington. Yet,” Henderson said.
With no response after a week, Samaroo sent another card — this time with more information on the envelope. Henderson opened it.
“I got through the first sentence. The second one said, ‘I was born on April 15, 1967,’ and I almost collapsed,” Henderson said. “I waited an hour and called the number, and she didn’t answer, but then she called back. We talked for three hours straight.”
Henderson and Dunphy had reconnected about 10 years ago and remain good friends, so it was easy to put Samaroo in touch with her birth father.
“Rosetta called and asked if I wanted to talk to our daughter,” said Dunphy, who in 2015 retired after 35 years as mechanical superintendent of the Bangor Daily News. “My response was, ‘Holy cow!’ I’ve been waiting a long, long time.”
They met at Tim Hortons in Bangor on Friday, Nov. 3.
“I saw the family resemblance right away,” he said.
Now that she’s reunited with her parents, Samaroo has seven half siblings to get to know, as well as 16 nieces and nephews and two grandnieces. Henderson and Dunphy have two new grandchildren to spoil. Next week, Henderson and Samaroo will travel to Florida together to meet Henderson’s daughter and her family.
“Since this happened, people tell me I look different,” said Henderson. “They see something in me that I didn’t even know was there.”
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