Jenny Thomas has been looking for her birth family her whole life. She would come across women her mother’s age and find herself studying their faces intently, thinking, “Are they looking at me because that’s my mother and she recognizes me?”
Thomas had always known she was adopted because she had memories of foster care, but remembers distinctly a conversation she had with her adopted parents at age 4. She knew one of her birth parents was black, and one of them was white. Beyond that, she had no other leads.
When she told her adopted parents she wanted to reach out to her birth mother, they were supportive, but it wasn’t a topic that was often brought up.
But as she got older, she longed to find her birth family even more—her adopted family didn’t have an extended family, and seeing her peers surrounded by cousins, aunts, and grandparents, she would long for that same experience.
And then as an adult, she had questions about her health that needed genetic answers.
“There were some depressing times,” Thomas said. She spent years trying to track down her birth mother on the internet to no avail.
Eventually, she signed up for a TLC show that reconnected long lost family members. She hoped, obviously, that they would be able to locate her mother, but she was completely unprepared for what came next.
One of the show hosts sat her down to give her the news: They found her.
Tears started streaming down her face; the answers she had been seeking all her life were finally in front of her, she just didn’t yet realize how close they really were.
“She’s alive, shes happy, she’s safe—all of those things that you want to know, you have the answers,” Thomas said. That in itself was a huge relief.
The host had a photo of Thomas’s mother to show her, but she prefaced this with a little warning: “You may know this woman.” That’s when Thomas’s heart started pounding.
Then they showed her the photo.
Nina Valdez, a patient transporter, was Thomas’s mother.
And she did know her. Thomas is a nurse, and the two women had actually worked closely together a decade ago in a hospital in Rochester, New York. The two of them had been coworkers for two years.
Thomas was completely speechles, and her mind was blown.
“I saw her so many times,” she said. “I was in complete shock.”
Out of all the women Thomas ever looked at and wondered if they were related, Nina Valdez would be at the bottom of the list—Thomas had always imagined there would be instant recognition and a connection of that sort, but she had seen Valdez every day and never had an inkling they were related by blood.
“I never imagined, in a million years,” she said.
“She’s very quiet, funny. I’m comical, so she would always laugh at my jokes, so that was a plus,” Thomas says. “We never went past a working-professional relationship at all.”
Then Thomas discovered she had siblings on both her birth mother’s and father’s side.
She discovered who her father was as well. Though he had passed away before Thomas got the chance to meet him, she now knew that he had several siblings—which meant that now she had a huge extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins.
“I’m in constant contact with one of my uncles!” she said. “He’s very supportive, he’s always there for me.”
She’s also come to terms with why her parents could not stay together. It was 1975 in New York, and racial tensions were in the air.
“There’s a lot of people who give their children away because they’re in a position where they have to, and I’m sure that was the case for her too,” Thomas said. But giving a child away because of their race is not something she could accept today.
She hasn’t had a big reunion with her birth mother and says it might not pan out, but Thomas feels she finally found what she was looking for.
“I do feel complete. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “It’s really about possessing your truth.”