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Adoption unites

When Holly (King) Ouelette reunited with her birth mom, two close-knit families found love and lots in common

December 1, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series on adoption for National Adoption Month in November.

Mona King said when she, with husband Wayne, applied to become adoptive parents, they were nervous before their interviews with social workers.

"I'll go in first," Wayne said.

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Mona waited.

When Wayne came out, he was shaky and had lit his waiting cigarette.

It was with that opening that Mona went in, seeking approval to become a mother.

"It must have gone okay, because they approved us," Mona said.

Six months later, a letter arrived. Mona said, "I was so excited I had to tell someone. Wayne was on the road, so I ran to the neighbor's house and blurted it out to them."

The Kings drove to Sioux City to pick up the baby girl they named Holly. Two and a half years after that, they brought Holly when they picked up son Jay. Holly said nothing on the way down, which was "very uncharacteristic," Mona said.

When they arrived in the restaurant parking lot, Holly leaped out of the car and exclaimed, "I'm ready to pick up my baby!" She held Jay before Mona or Wayne.

The meeting took place in a parking lot away from the Florence Crittenton Center in Sioux City, because the Center was meticulous about privacy.

"It was all very secret back then; they didn't want someone writing down a license plate or overhearing a name," Mona said.

Summing up her experience as the adoptive mom of a son and daughter, Mona said, "It's been a very good thing."

Adoption brought love and emptiness

Holly picks up the story from there. "I was 10 days old when my parents picked me up. They always told me I was special and chosen. I was so loved, but there was this emptiness I could never explain, and could never fill, though I tried to fill it with a lot of things."

Holly was 27 years old, a single mom of two children, working and taking classes in Fort Dodge, when she started to get headaches.

With trips to Sioux Falls and to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Holly was diagnosed with migraines.

"I had no idea of my genetic background, or if this ran in my family," Holly said.

Her physician wrote a letter to the attorneys who had handled the adoption.

Iowa is a state in which it's notoriously difficult to get records opened, according to many adoptee advocates.

Every child is issued a Certificate of Live Birth, signed by the attending doctor. This certificate lists the biological mother, and father, if known, of the person born. It is a genetic and medical record.

When a child is adopted, this birth certificate is sealed, and the adoptive parents are issued an amended birth certificate, listing them as the parents at the birth on the birth date at the hospital in which the birth took place, even though this is not precisely factual. It's the way Iowa and many other states choose to give adoptive parents the same status as any other parent when they adopt a child. It's the same process for a stepparent adoption; a new certificate is issued listing the parent and the stepparent as the parents, just as if the stepparent had been the birth parent, and the original birth certificate is sealed. This record is unsealed under only extraordinary circumstances.

Finding out

The attorneys in Holly's case did not rush to get the records open.

Holly said, "After some time, my dad said, 'I think they're jerking your chain. Give me 10 minutes.'"

Wayne called Holly back and said, "Are you ready?"

Wayne had the information that Holly's birth mother was Katherine Lee Hollingshead of Wyoming, Iowa.

Katherine is the name of one of Holly's aunts. Lee is also Mona's middle name. Hollingshead practically has the name Holly in it. The connections began forming, and that emptiness began fading from Holly's insides.

Holly called Information.

"In those days, the operator would give you two listings at a time," Holly said.

She called back until she had five listings for Hollingshead in the area, and began at the top of the list.

"I called a few times but hung up right away because, what was I going to say?" Holly said.

She finally decided to say she was on a class reunion committee or something, and she tried again.

"May I speak to Katherine?" she asked the woman who answered the phone.

The woman said, "Hold on a minute."

Another woman answered, and Holly's script evaporated, leaving her hemming and hawing trying to regain something like a sequence of words that made sense.

"Is this Katherine's daughter?" the woman asked, very excitedly.

"Yes," Holly managed."

"Diane! Get me a pen!" Holly's grandmother called out to the first woman, Aunt Diane.

Holly learned that Katherine had spent a week with her, that they had left a blanket and a note with the grandparents names, address and phone number.

Mona said she never received a blanket or any information with Holly.

That was Thursday.

The Reunion

Two days later, the phone rang.

When Holly answered it, she heard, "Hi. It's your mom."

Katherine and her husband had been on vacation and were headed home. They stopped by Estherville to meet Holly, along with Wayne and brother Jay.

"I bought this huge bouquet of flowers with a great big ribbon."

And when she saw her birth mother for the first time, that emptiness was gone, never to return.

"She looked like me, we had the same hands, we talk alike," Holly said.

The emptiness was not a result of any lack of love, Holly said.

"It's not at all because I wasn't loved; I was. It's because there was a piece missing, and only getting that piece back would cure the emptiness," Holly said.

The family Holly grew up in was close-knit, and Holly's birth family is the same, Holly said. Her younger sisters and brother grew up knowing they had an older sister. Katherine had given Holly the name Wendy Lee, and when her first sister was born, that sister was named after her, Wendy Sue. It was in honor of Holly, but not to replace her.

Katherine's story was one common in the day. "She was 15 and pregnant, which in those days was a big no-no," Holly said.

Katherine wanted to know one thing: did Holly hate her?

"No. Never," Holly told her. Holly said she was very much loved, and that Wayne and Mona had always told her she was given up in an act of love, so she could have a chance at a good life.

Katherine never forgot, and in fact each year on Holly's birthday, Katherine would go into a room alone, light a single candle, and sing, "Happy Birthday," to the baby she knew as Wendy Lee.

The same year she was reunited, Wendy Sue asked Holly to be maid of honor in her wedding. Wayne and Mona went with Holly to Wendy's wedding. The families have bonded; Katherine and her husband would visit and camp for weeks in Wallingford while visiting the King family until health problems curtailed camping. Holly and her family spend each Easter with the Hollingshead side.

"Now I don't have to wonder anymore," Holly said.



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