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WORKING TOGETHER TO UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF ADOPTION

My Cole Baby Saga

When I learned I was adopted, my world was turned upside-down.  It was a few months before my fortieth birthday.  A "long-lost" relative found me through the Internet and shared the truth about my birth.  My parents, the people that raised me, had both been dead for many years. 

I didn't believe it at first and made several phone calls to other surviving relatives and they confirmed, that yes, I was adopted.  My aunt wanted to know what that meant to me.  I told her that I already had a family and I wasn't looking for a new "mommy."  I did wonder if perhaps someone was looking for me.  Maybe I had siblings.  And medical history was very important.  I told her I wanted to search.  My emotions were in turmoil as I looked at baby pictures of myself.  They didn't look the same as they always did.  I looked into the eyes of the couple that raised me and wondered, " What were they thinking?"  Family told me my parents were unable to have children.  I knew my mother had a miscarriage.  They had tried to adopt for years but were turned down again and again.

Aunts, uncles and cousins helped me piece together all the information they had.  The Internet provided the rest.  I very quickly found out I could search but chances were slim that I would find anything. I was a black market adoptee, a Cole baby, born in Coral Gables Florida in 1961.  My mother found out about Dr. Katherine Cole from a family friend, an insurance broker, who had gotten a son through her.  Cole corresponded with my mother for a period of time.  Apparently she matched pregnant girls with childless couples who agreed to her terms.   Cole called my adoptive parents 2 weeks before I was born.  They flew to Miami from Brooklyn New York and waited for my birth mother to deliver me.  My adoptive parents paid naturopathic doctor Cole $10,000 for me.  My birth certificate lists my adoptive parents as my birth parents.  No records exist on my birth mother.  Family members said my birth parents were college students from wealthy families and my birth mother might have been a pre-med student.  No one knew any names.  This information may or may not be true because it came from Cole.

Cole delivered thousands of babies between 1927 and 1963 in her clinic in Coral Gables.  She housed pregnant girls, delivered their babies and basically sold those babies to couples who were desperate enough to pay her price.  She stole the pasts of all those babies by falsifying the information on the birth certificates she signed.  Not only did she list adopting parents as birth parents but also changed dates, even the sex of the babies to prevent her work from being traced.  She practiced for decades.  Cole was arrested 7 times on charges ranging from attempted manslaughter to illegal adoption.  In 1955 she was questioned in Washington, D.C. in the Kefauver hearings, which focused on black market adoptions.  She admitted to "placing" 32 babies.  (No records on her placements exist.  My adoptive parents did not have adoption papers.) Authorities had to know what was happening. Newspapers wrote about her during that time.  Her name on a birth certificate coming through the Florida Department of Vital Statistics should have been a red flag.  How did Cole manage to get by with this for all those years?   I asked myself this as I searched the first few months after my discovery. 

I turned 40 on April 11, 2001.  My wonderful husband and family threw me a huge surprise birthday party, a welcome distraction from the past few months of searching for non-existent answers.  I put my seemingly futile search aside and concentrated on my family.  I still visited the adoption websites, looking for my date of birth.  It quickly became very depressing.  There were so many adoptees searching for their birth parents.  There didn't seem to be nearly as many birth mothers searching.  I joined online adoptee support groups and registries and hoped that maybe someday she would come looking for me.

My life has gone on.  I work, have friends, take care of my family, and stay involved in my church.  Most of my close friends know my story.  I don't talk about it too much now but it's always there, in the back of my mind.  A day doesn't go by that I don't think about my birth mother.  I wonder if she is still alive, if she thinks about me.  Other birth mothers I have met in my online support groups assure me that she does think of me often.   I look at my own daughter and remember my pregnancy with her.  It was a time of so much joy and wonder at the little person growing inside me, excitement and impatience too!  What did my birth mother feel?  Society in the 60's did not condone unwed pregnant girls.  I'm sure her pregnancy made her life very difficult.  Did she feel any joy? Did she wonder if I was a girl or a boy?  Did she even get to see me when I was born?  Did anyone comfort her after my adoptive parents took me away to live in another state?  I've been told my adoptive parents were in Cole's clinic when I was born but did  not have any contact with my birth mother.  My dad always told me he held me the minute I was born.  One of my aunts said "they cut the cord and took you home."  My parents took me home to Brooklyn when I was 3 days old.  My heart goes out to my birthmother.  I could not imagine having to go through 9 months of pregnancy and to then let someone else have that life.  She made a sacrifice of love so I could have a better life.  I'd like her to know I am ok.  My adoptive parents took care of me and loved me very much.  I don't blame her for what she did.  Giving me up was the only thing she could have done.  My daughter wants to know about her too.  She wonders about her grandmother. 

It's almost three years since I learned I was adopted.  I drive along listening to the radio, and suddenly it hits me. Emptiness, sadness, a yearning I can't describe. It doesn't take much to trigger it.  My daughter looks across at me. 

"What's the matter Mom?" 

She can sense something is wrong.  I fight the tears welling up inside and struggle to speak normally.

"I'm just tired, sweetie," I answer, and change the subject, talking about the weather, what we're going to do tomorrow, anything but the pain and sadness.

I try to push the feelings and the questions back in my mind once again. 

My husband and I have talked about this search.  It seems so useless.  He sees me sit at the computer for hours, searching message boards and databases for a clue.   I read about others' reunions, poems and stories written about adoption by birth mothers and adoptees.  I cry often.

"Why are you still putting yourself through this?  You have a family that loves you.  What are you looking for?  You know, I never knew my real father." he says.

My husband grew up not really knowing his birth father.  His parents divorced when he was very young.  He saw his father only once in many years.  His mother remarried and his stepfather adopted him and his 2 sisters.  His stepfather was his dad, his father, the one he loved and cared about.  I know all this.  I tell him,

"You know your birth father's name.  If you wanted to, you could probably get on the phone right now and talk to one of his relatives.  You have his picture and everyone can see the resemblance.  And you have your mom and your sisters.  You can look at them and see yourself.  I don't have that.  My daughter is my only genetic link in the world and she doesn't even look like me.  I have no idea of my medical history.  I'm not even sure I even want to do this searching.  It's tedious, time consuming and has been very unproductive.  But I am driven to search, to do something, to find out who I am, my heritage, who I look like, the things about me I can't explain."

So he hugs me and holds me and asks what he can do to help.

I am not sure what anyone can do to help.  Searching adoption websites have not been useful.  I had a feeling a while back about the University of Miami.  It is located in Coral Gables, the suburb of Miami where Cole's clinic was located.  I thought about looking though old annuals to see if there was anyone who looked like me.  A huge long shot, but it was something.  I sent pictures of myself to a search angel who had copies of old yearbooks.  She spent some time looking and comparing pictures but didn't find anything.  I had another search angel familiar with the whole Cole baby story suggest filing a lawsuit against the state of Florida for allowing Cole to get away with this for all those years.  The purpose would not be to get monetary damages from Florida but to get publicity for the story, not only for myself but for the other Cole babies.  I never pursued that but I thought gaining publicity for us would probably be a good idea. Maybe some Cole birth mothers would see it and come forward.  The television show Million Dollar Mysteries did do a segment on Dr. Cole and the Cole baby story about 2 years ago. It featured 2 other Cole babies but no new information surfaced.  I have written to talk shows, magazines, and newspapers since then.  I even spoke to a reporter and thought our story would be featured in an article in a major Miami newspaper.  So far, there has not been any more interest.  I will not give up, though.  I'll continue to tell this story. Maybe someone will listen and tell it to someone else. Maybe someone knows something about a girl who had to "go away" for a while in 1961.  Maybe that girl will read this story and want to know more about the little girl she had to give up in 1961.

If this story is familiar to anyone please contact me at colebaby61@yahoo.com

Dolores Slavin Tomarelli