By Claudia O’Brien • Photos By Steve Floethe
Helen & Terry
Back in the 1970s, when Helen and Terry Egan began visiting adoption agencies, they were told they were too old to adopt a baby.
They certainly didn’t feel old. Terry was a commercial airline pilot based in Miami and Helen had a busy career in the city at a high-profile advertising agency. But they were in their late-30s, and preference was being given to younger adopting couples.
Helen and Terry persisted. They were both in great health and believed they had the reserves of energy and love they would need to be great parents. They had suffered the terrible heartbreak of losing two sons shortly after birth, and they felt in their hearts that adoption was the right choice for them now.
“We also talked with lawyers about private adoption,” says Helen. “They said they would call us if they heard of anything.”
They waited, hopefully, for months, which turned into years. Their chances of being able to adopt a baby seemed slimmer than ever.
Christine & Rob
In Minnesota, college student Christine Traut had to make an important decision. She was pregnant, and neither she nor Rob, her baby’s father, felt mature enough or financially able to take on the responsibility of an infant. They agreed, however, that they wanted to do the right thing for their baby.
“I had always felt a sadness for couples who couldn’t have children,” Christine remembers. “It was not a hard decision to make, really. We would find a couple who couldn’t have a child of their own to adopt our baby.”
Rob and Christine made arrangements to stay with Rob’s sister in Altamonte Springs, near Orlando, until after the baby was born. Soon after they arrived at her home, they began calling attorneys’ offices to find a professional to handle all of the necessary adoption details.
It took a number of tries before they reached a lawyer who would even talk to them about it. Attorney Leonard Wood happened to answer the phone himself that Monday and invited Christine and Rob to come in to see him the next day.
A Matter of Timing
The afternoon prior to their call, Terry Egan had been playing in a golf tournament in New Smyrna Beach. An attorney friend, Leonard Wood from Altamonte Springs, had ended up in the same random foursome. In passing, Leonard asked Terry if he and Helen were still interested in adopting a baby.
Terry told him them were.
The very next day, Christine and Rob called Leonard’s office. The attorney phoned Terry right away, and asked again, in light of the fact that there was now an actual possibility, if Terry and Helen were positive they still wanted a baby.
Of course, the answer was yes.
Kathleen Louise — they would call her Katie — was born in the late afternoon hours of March 2, 1985, a perfect little girl weighing 6 lbs., 7 oz. The next day, Terry and Helen left for Orlando to meet their daughter for the first time.
The nurses called her Baby Snap, a whimsical nickname given for identification purposes while she was in the hospital. After she was born, the nurses wrapped her snugly and brought her to Christine and Rob, asking if they wanted to hold her.
“I was afraid to,” remembers Christine. “I was still shaking from the cold temperature in the delivery room, and I was afraid I would drop her.”
Rob did hold her. “She was so beautiful,” Rob says, “and we didn’t think we would ever be able to see her again.”
“We would sneak peeks at her through the nursery window, though, and I felt at peace with our decision,” says Christine.
Staying in Touch
Christine and Rob married the September following Katie’s birth, and agreed they would wait until they finished school before starting a family.
“At Christmastime, we would send cards to Katie and her parents through Leonard Wood, and the Egans would reply and let us know that everything was all right,” explains Rob. “We also wanted to keep in touch so that if Katie ever needed us, for medical reasons, they would know how to reach us.”
Christine says they really didn’t know much about Katie’s adoptive parents. “We only knew that Katie was their only child, and that they lived somewhere in South Florida.”
When Katie was three, Christine and Rob asked if they could perhaps see a photo of her. They didn’t doubt their decision; they knew from Leonard Wood that Terry and Helen were wonderful parents. “We just wanted to see a picture,” explains Christine.
Photos of three-year-old Katie were sent through the attorney, and Christine and Rob saw her face for the first time since the hospital.
“One of the pictures was Katie sitting with two black labs,” says Rob. “This assured us that she was in good hands.” He explains that he and Christine have black labs as well.
From then on, the Egans occasionally sent photos of Katie through Leonard Wood so that Christine and Rob could have glimpses into her childhood.
The years passed quickly. When Katie was eight, Terry opted for early retirement from the airline, and the Egans discussed moving to an area where Katie could grow up in a more rural setting.
“We had some friends in Dunnellon,” explains Helen. “We came up to look at the area. We found a rural neighborhood we liked very much, bought a lot, and started building a house.”
Katie had no trouble with the transition to her new home. She had always been a bright and happy child. She did well in school and loved to ride horses and play softball. (She couldn’t have known it at the time, but she would later learn that her birth mother, Christine, had had the very same interests when she was a child.)
“I guess I always knew that I was adopted,” says Katie Egan. “When I was seven or eight, I figured out what that really meant. I thought it was kind of neat that my mom and dad chose me to be their daughter.”
Katie knew her birth mother’s name was Christine, and that she and her father had later gotten married. “As I grew older, I admired her for being able to do what she did — for giving me such a wonderful life.”
When Katie was a teenager, she learned that she also had two young brothers. She thought it would be nice to meet them and her birth parents someday, but she admits, “I didn’t want to get too excited about it, because I knew it might not work out.”
Meanwhile, Helen got in touch with Christine and Rob to let them know that Katie would like to know more about them. Helen began putting together a scrapbook, which included Rob and Christine’s wedding picture and photos of Katie’s full brothers, Sam and Spencer. It also included a letter written by Christine for Katie, explaining why she and Rob had made the decisions they had, and letting her know they would love to meet her someday, if Katie decided she wanted to meet them.
For the first time, Christine and Rob knew there was a real possibility they might see their daughter again. They couldn’t help but be excited at the prospect.
“We also felt a little nervous,” says Christine. “We couldn’t help but think, What if she blames us for giving her away? What if she meets us and doesn’t like us? What if…”
A Very Special Gift
On March 2nd, her 18th birthday, the Egans gave Katie the scrapbook of photos and Christine’s letter. They also gave her Rob and Christine’s phone number so Katie could call them if she wished
That evening, in Minnesota, the phone was ringing as the Zwieners were getting home from their sons’ hockey game. They answered and heard their daughter’s voice for the first time.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to say,” admits Katie, “and in the beginning it was a little hard. But then it was fine. We talked for about an hour and a half, mostly about what I was doing at that point in my life, and what the boys were doing. We didn’t talk about the adoption. It was like there was an understanding that we didn’t need to talk about it.”
Before they hung up, they discussed the possibility of getting together soon.
Afterward, for Christine and Rob, it was hard to believe that had actually talked to Katie on the phone and that they would soon see her in person.
The Egans invited the Zwiener family to come to Dunnellon for Katie’s graduation in May. The Zwieners decided that Christine would come down alone, and that Rob would stay up north with the boys.
“We didn’t want to say too much about it to Sam and Spencer,” explains Rob. “We wanted to protect them until we saw how everyone handled that first meeting.”
The day before her graduation, Katie drove to the Tampa airport by herself to meet Christine, who had promised to wear a white hat to make herself easier to spot.
“At first, I tried looking at faces, to see if I could recognize her that way,” Katie explains. “But there were so many people, I just had to look for the hat.”
“Everyone asked me, how I would find Katie in the airport,” reports Christine. “I had seen recent pictures and I knew that I would know her when I saw her. And then there she was! What a wonderful thrill it was for me to finally meet her. All these years, I had never doubted our decision, but I never stopped wondering about her. She was in our prayers every night.”
In the car, on the way to Dunnellon, Katie and Christine talked about what had taken place during the last eighteen years. They realized that they not only shared a strong physical resemblance, they also had many other things in common. Both had grown up in rural areas with a love of horses and riding. And it seems that Katie has inherited her mother’s sports inclinations — they had both played first base on softball teams!
The next day, when Kathleen Louise Egan took the stage as the Dunnellon High School valedictorian, there were two women in the audience who were especially proud of their daughter.
This was a first meeting for Helen and Terry Egan and Christine as well. Christine told them what a wonderful job they had done raising Katie. They told her how grateful they were that they had had that wonderful opportunity.
It had been arranged for Katie to fly back to Minnesota with Christine a couple of days following graduation.
When those arrangements were complete, Christine and Rob knew it was time to tell the rest of their families about what had happened so many years ago. They had chosen not to tell their parents and other siblings at the time Katie was born.
“My family was shocked,” says Christine. “Mostly because I’m a very open person and I had never told them about Katie. They all couldn’t wait to meet her!”
Christine’ mom passed away a few years ago, but her dad assured her that she was there for the special occasion as well.
Rob’s parents had actually known about Katie for some time, but hadn’t thought they would ever have a chance to meet their granddaughter. They and Christine’s dad welcomed Katie with open arms.
There were rounds of dinner parties and impromptu visits so everyone could meet the “newest” member of the family. In the 10 days she was there, Katie became acquainted with her two brothers, along with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the more than 30 cousins she had never known she had. (Christine and Rob have nine brothers and sisters between them, and there are cousins near Katie’s age on both sides.)
Katie became close friends quickly with her cousin Jessica, Rob’s sister’s daughter. They spent one of the days shopping and enjoying the rides at the Mall of America, with her Grandma Patty, her Aunt Sue, Christine, Sam and Spencer.
Rob says he was thrilled to be reunited with their daughter after all those years. “Getting to actually spend time with her was just so wonderful,” he says.
Sam and Spencer, Katie’s brothers, thought it was “pretty neat” to have a sister. “She’s fun,” Sam decided.
Katie reflects on that visit. “I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all,” she says. “Everyone was so nice and it was fun to see the resemblance I had with so many people. They made me feel like part of their family.”
Closing the Circle
Each summer, the Egan family spends a week in Crescent Beach. As they planned last year’s getaway in June, they invited the Zwieners to join them.
Rob had to work and couldn’t get away, but Christine came down with the boys. The Crescent Beach sojourn was an opportunity to get to know one another better and to take lots of pictures.
Katie says she is happy that everything has fallen into place in such a positive way, not only for herself, but for her parents as well.
“I have the best parents I could have ever asked for,” she says, “and I know I’m really lucky that they are so open. They waited until they thought I was mature enough to understand and to be able to embrace both my families. I think that this is also a blessing for them. After losing their own two boys, it’s ironic that they’ve now been given two little boys they can spoil.”
Helen says she knows that this kind of reunion of birth parents with a child is not for everybody. “But we feel so fortunate,” she explains. “With Christine and Rob’s help, we were able to close the circle for Katie.”
“We’re very sentimental, and we’re so thankful this worked out so well,” offers Terry. “Katie is such a treasure for us, and so are Christine and Rob.”
“We’re now in our sixties, and Christine and Rob are still in their thirties, younger than we were when Katie was born,” adds Helen. “It’s comforting for us to know that Katie has another part of her family that will be around for her for a very long time.”
Helen smiles. “And I have two little boys I can buy Christmas and birthday presents for.”
By Claudia O’Brien • Photos By Steve Floethe