Gale Monahan had an experience Thursday evening that some adoptees only dream of. She met her sister Teresa Muse, 47, for the first time in her life.
The tearful meeting at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was a pivotal moment in a series of recent events that have introduced Monahan to a long-secret family, including two half-sisters and a half-brother.
An avid trail rider, Monahan, 51, lives on Mink Hollow Road, just north of the Patuxent River in a rural corner of Howard County, with her husband and two horses.
She knew for most of her life that she had been adopted, but says she didn't think much about it in the early years.
She was raised in Washington with her mother, father, and a sister, Forest, who also was adopted. As an animal lover, Monahan was happy that her father was assistant director of the National Zoo.
When she became pregnant with her son, Michael, now 26, her thoughts turned to her own birth and, like many adoptees, she became curious about her birth parents.
She hired an attorney in the mid-1970s but found herself up against a brick wall when it came to finding her birth mother. "He said it was impossible to get the information," Monahan said.
More than 20 years passed, and Monahan was married, a mother and working full time. During that time, her sister Forest died of a rare form of cancer, her parents retired to Florida and her mother died.
Three years ago, she felt a renewed interest in searching for her roots and decided to pursue her quest on the Internet.
She posted a notice on several adoption Web sites, listing the information she had: her birth date, place of birth and first name.
An e-mail from a woman on the Eastern Shore suggested that Monahan contact an adoption agency in Washington for information. The woman had been adopted from the agency. "I still have the e-mail," said Monahan, who declined to identify the agency.
Monahan contacted the agency and struck gold. Officials there told her that the agency had, indeed, handled her adoption. But they said she would have to petition a court in Washington to authorize them to track down possible living relatives.
With the court clearance, an adoption agency caseworker offered to help and to pass along a message from Monahan if any relatives were interested in learning about her.
The caseworker discovered Monahan's half-brother, Joe Broughton, 57, first. He lived in North Carolina and had the same last name as their birth mother. Asked whether he would like to hear from a possible missing relative, he checked with two half-sisters that he knew Monahan and he shared. They were enthusiastic and gave permission for the adoption agency to petition the court to have all records opened.
The petition was approved by the court Jan. 28, and three days later the agency gave Monahan the phone numbers of her sisters and brother. Within hours, a family was reborn.
"That evening, I called every one individually," said Monahan. "I called them and they were ecstatic." She learned that her biological father and mother had died, but the bond with brother and sisters was immediate.
After Monahan and Muse, who lives in New Hampshire, met at the airport, they spent the night at her Howard County home. They got up early the next morning to travel to Charlotte, N.C., where a second sister, Joan Harrell, 45, lives.
Harrell and Monahan learned that they have the same birthday, April 26. They also discovered a family resemblance: "We look alike and our hair texture is the same," Monahan said.
Monahan learned that one of her grandfathers had been a Southern Baptist minister. When her birth mother became pregnant with Broughton in 1943, he was adopted by a family member. But six years later, after dating a man for two years, she became pregnant for the second time. The father decided he did not want to be responsible for a child and disappeared.
"That must have been a hard time for her," Monahan said.
"To have a child out of wedlock was very difficult. ... It was a whole different time."
Records show that Monahan's birth mother visited her several times at the adoption agency between April and July of 1950. She was adopted by the John Perry family in September of that year.
The newly united family plans to get together again in April to celebrate the shared birthday of Monahan and Harrell. Broughton hopes to come, and John Perry, Monahan's adoptive father, plans to visit.
Monahan says she does not know who is happier - she or her siblings. But she said they all agree that God had a hand in their reunion.
Of her birth parents, Monahan said: "They must be all together looking down at us, smiling."