Robbin Kaylor hoped for the best and feared for the worst, but wasn’t expecting either when she sent the letter. She had spent years searching and a lifetime wondering, and when the phone rang two days later, she had to remind herself to breathe because it didn’t seem real.
“I couldn’t really process it, but I knew I heard a voice in the background that said ‘I’m your mother.’ The lady that was talking said, ‘I’m your sister, and we have been looking for you, too.’ ”
Now 51, Kaylor had been searching for her birth mother for more than 30 years. It wasn’t that she was ever unhappy; Kaylor grew up in Heflin with two loving parents who adopted her when she was seven months old, and whom she will always call Mom and Dad. She has never liked using the label “adoptive parents,” because John and Maylene Kaylor are her parents.
Nonetheless, she was curious about her beginnings. The Kaylors were supportive of her search to find her birth mother, something she didn’t always understand, but is thankful for.
“My mother always said she wanted me to find her,” Kaylor said, describing the conversation she and her adoptive mother, who died in 1987, had many times. “She said she wanted to meet her, too. When she said that, I thought it was weird, but she said, ‘Without her, I wouldn’t have you.’ ”
On her 19th birthday, the age at which an adoptee can seek information about birth parents in Alabama, Kaylor and her parents traveled to the Office of Adoption of the Department of Human Resources in Montgomery. She discovered where she was born, but was given only minor details about the woman who gave birth to her. She wasn’t allowed to see her mother’s name.
“I had been told ‘no’ so many times,” Kaylor remembered. “When people had a big, thick folder of information about me and my life, but they said they couldn’t tell me anything, well, it was tough.”
Kaylor knew that she was born in the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, so she went to the Elmore County Health Department to try and see her original birth certificate. Health Department workers couldn’t hand her the certificate either – but the Alabama Department of Vital Statistics was able to.
She found her mother’s name and birthplace, which at the time seemed like a lot, but quickly led to more questions. Searching for a person with nothing but a name brought Kaylor to dead ends each time she felt one step closer.
“Over the years, it’s been a rollercoaster, with starts and stops and ons and offs and ups and downs,” she said. “Three years ago, I decided I had gone as far as I could go and I couldn’t invest emotionally in this anymore.”
She was ready to give up on searching for a woman who seemed to not exist. If she did exist, maybe she didn’t want to be found, Kaylor thought, and if that was the case, it was time to let go.
Her search ended – until a few years ago when she joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In order to join the UDC, applicants must prove that they are a descendant of someone who served the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. While researching her mother’s name over the years, Kaylor discovered that she had a great-great grandfather who was a Civil War veteran. But, being adopted and unable to find a birth parent, she wasn’t sure she could prove it.
The president of the local chapter was determined to help.
“She said, ‘I can do this. I can make this work,’ ” Kaylor said. “I was kind of skeptical, but she did it. She made it work.”
She found a photograph of the tombstone of Kaylor’s great-great grandfather on a website called Find a Grave. Kaylor then found obituaries and other information about distant relatives, which led her to a cousin on Facebook. Her cousin added her to a group that helps connect families through social media.
“I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ and I typed in my information,” Kaylor said. “In less than 10 minutes, two ladies messaged me with an address and phone numbers.”
She had found her birth mother.
“I took the coward’s way out and I sent a card.”
She didn’t expect anything to come from it, but a few days later, her phone rang. On the other end was a sister she never knew she had. A mother she had never met was saying the words, ‘I love you’ in the background.
For years, Kaylor had wondered if she would be accepted if she found her birth mother, but it was no longer a question. Lola Mae Poole had been looking for her, too.
Poole explained that she gave Kaylor up for adoption because she wanted her to have more than she could provide at the time. Years later, she went to Montgomery to search for her daughter, but the only name she knew to look for was the one she had given her at birth: Shelia Diane.
She never got to hold her daughter, but was given a picture of her on the day she was born.
“They let her have one picture of me after I was adopted, and she has kept it all these years,” Kaylor said. “She slept with it. She cried with it. It was always with her.”
Poole held on to all she had left of her daughter until June 21. On that day, she handed the picture to Kaylor and said she didn’t need it anymore. She has the real thing.
That June day, as Kaylor drove to her birth mother’s house in Memphis, Tenn., she told herself their meeting would be nothing more than a time to answer all the unanswered questions. She wasn’t prepared for the emotions she would feel or the immediate bond they would share.
“You know how you put a magnet and steel together and they snap together? That’s how it felt,” Kaylor said. “There was just this warmth that surrounded us. It was like I knew her even though I had never met her.”
The women spent the day talking, hugging, laughing and crying. They discovered things they share, like a love of music, purses and Elvis. At lunch that afternoon, Kaylor found herself dipping her french fries in tartar sauce, a habit she always thought was something only she did. She looked up and her mother was doing the same.
“You always wonder if you are a product of heredity or your environment,” Kaylor said. “I now think that it is a combination of both.”
When it was time for Kaylor to return home, she realized how hard the goodbyes would be. Her mother kept saying how special it was just to be able to hug her. She had waited 51 years and nine months to touch her daughter.
They made plans to see each other again, and hope to be together for Kaylor’s birthday in September. Even so, neither was ready to let go of the other.
“There is a line in an Elvis song that says ‘I’ll hold you in my heart until I can hold you in my arms.’ I told her I would hold her in my heart until I see her again,” Kaylor said.