For any child abandoned by their parents, the mystery surrounding their origins is often hard to ignore. The struggle to learn more about their biological parents and, by extension, their own selves, can sometimes be unending.
That was certainly the case with Jen Chervin, who was abandoned at a hospital in 1971. After being adopted by a loving family, she had a happy childhood. She was always well aware of the fact that she was adopted, but her birth parents remained a troubling mystery.
Frustratingly, Jen’s search for her birth parents unsuccessfully continued into her forties. When she eventually learned the truth about them, however, she had to come face-to-face with a truly shocking outcome…
Jen Chervin is a 45-year-old, married teacher and resident of Beaverton, Oregon. Her life may seem fairly ordinary, but things weren’t always easy for her. As a baby, she was found on December 18, 1971, abandoned on the steps of California’s Fremont Hospital.
“It was a stormy night, and I was wrapped in two blankets,” she said in a 2015 interview. Jen knew she was adopted, but growing up, she could only find information about her earliest days in the local newspapers.
For example, she knew that the nurses had heard her crying outside of the fire door as they happened to pass by on their rounds. Since this was just a week before Christmas, they decided to name her Holly Fremont. Unfortunately, they had no idea how she got there.
Moreover, police officers couldn’t find any identifying information about her birth parents. Luckily, Jen was promptly adopted by a couple who loved her deeply, and she grew up to teach math to children with autism. Clearly, she was quite well-adjusted, but she could never quite shake the questions surrounding her abandonment.
“Every year on my birthday at Christmastime I would wonder, ‘Is my mom thinking about me?’ Because I would think about her,” said Jen, who was 20 when she began to search for her biological parents herself.
The search went on for over 20 years, and by 2014, Jen started using social media to find some clues. Finally, she reached a turning point. “I had a woman reach out to me,” explained Jen. “She sent me a message, and she said, ‘Do you have a search angel working with you?'”
A “search angel” is a popular term for individuals who devote a great deal of their own time to helping others discover more about their family history. Jen decided to take the woman up on her offer right away.
“She said, ‘Have you tried DNA?’ And I thought, ‘What do you mean, DNA?'” Jen explained. Taking her search angel’s advice, Jen sent samples to two different companies that specialize in DNA testing.
“I had hundreds of DNA cousins, hundreds,” Jen said of her discovery after her test results came back. “And I’m looking at this page, and it’s people I’m related to, and that was surreal to me.” Once one of these cousins decided to help, Jen’s search accelerated.
The more family members Jen learned about, the more of them were willing to have their DNA tested. Finally, she found an uncle, and when he agreed to a DNA test, so did all seven of his brothers. Not long after that, Jen believed she had found her birth father!
That was good news, but what came next was unimaginably difficult: Jen had to call her biological father and reveal to him her identity. “He was shocked and tongue-tied,” said Jen. That wasn’t all, though. As it turned out, her father had some shocking news for her, too…
“They’re still married to the same individuals they were married to at the time, so [evidently] I’m a product of an affair,” said Jen. Because she was a reminder of his infidelity, he refused to meet her. That was hard to hear, but he did give her a clue as to who her birth mother was. Ultimately, it took more DNA testing, though… and another awkward call for her to find her mom.
Then, the moment arrived: she found her. “All the signs lead to you,” Jen recalled saying to her biological mother, who initially vehemently denied what Jen (who was essentially a stranger) was telling her. “She said to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.'”
“I don’t want to hurt you, I just want answers,” Jen remembered telling the woman over the phone. “That’s when she broke down and started crying, and she said, ‘I’m so sorry, and I thought about you every day.'”
Finally, the woman revealed the truth. Her husband had been serving in Vietnam while she temporarily relocated to North Carolina to stay with her family. That’s where the affair with Jen’s father started. Once she returned to her California home, she gave birth to Jen on her couch.
During this same conversation, Jen learned other things about her past, including the fact that her birthday was, indeed, the exact same day that she was found at the hospital: December 18. She also learned that she had some half-brothers and sisters. Most surprisingly, perhaps, was that she learned about the details of her abandonment.
“[After my mom gave birth to me] she said she held me for a couple of hours,” Jen recalled. “And then she woke up her daughters and put them in the back of the car and took me to the hospital and dropped me off.” Her birth mother was confident that the baby would be safe there.
As uncomfortable as the conversation may have been, Jen claimed that her birth mother was happy to hear from her. It brought up another challenge, though: her biological mother’s family may never find out that she exists, as she was the product of an extramarital affair.
“I know she was shocked that I found her,” explained Jen. “One of the first things she said was, ‘You can’t be a part of my family,’ and she said it panicked her, and I said, ‘I know, it’s okay.'” Even so, Jen hopes that one day she can meet her birth mother in person.
“She said she had a lot of guilt and shame that she’s been carrying all these years,” Jen continued. “I told her she needed to let that go.” Proving that their connection was still being rebuilt, Jen received her first Christmas present from her biological mother in 2015: a necklace with a note that read, “The cross is a reminder that you are always in my heart.” Jen is also happy to have closure. “It’s my mystery solved,” she said.
It’s incredible that Jen learned who her birth parents were after all this time, even if the circumstances surrounding the situation prevent her from having the kind of relationship with them that she’d like. Hopefully, though, she now has a little bit more peace of mind.
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