Bound by Love: An Adoption Story
A three-part series
Bellevue Leader (Nov. 12-26, 2003)
By Wendy Townley
First-place winner for Best Feature Series in 2003 from the Nebraska Press Association
Part I: It’s a girl…times two
Separate paths that intersected anonymously.
Their story is written on plain white paper, inside Christmas and birthday cards, jotted down on ruled stationary during a quiet moment. Handwritten, honest and heartfelt.
The love for their children is without flaw, without an end. The proof is there, in the letters.
Kathy Scofield: the mother who thought she couldn’t have children.
Wendy Anderson: the mother who thought she couldn’t have her children.
Years may pass and lives may change, but pure love never waivers. Their story proves this.
What happens when two mothers love the same children? What happens when the two mothers meet?
* * *
Rick and Kathy Scofield met as Bellevue High School students in the early 1970s, then married in 1974, two years after graduation. They were excited about beginning their new life together as husband and wife and, later, dad and mom.
“I knew I always wanted kids,” Kathy says, smiling.
Rick and Kathy had been married about six years when they began trying to have children. Kathy got pregnant, but miscarried during the first trimester.
“I was pregnant long enough that you told people,” she says.
Not long after, Kathy got pregnant a second time. Again, she miscarried in the first trimester.
Rather than gambling with fate and Mother Nature, Rick and Kathy believed adoption would be the only way they could have children. As members of Immanuel Lutheran Church, whose offices at the time were in the basement of Southroads Mall, Rick and Kathy sought the advice of their pastor, Bob Buschkemper.
They had no idea what to do.
“What do you do? Do you pick up the phone book?” Kathy asks.
In early 1980, with the help of their pastor, Rick and Kathy did just that: paged through the yellow pages. One of the first phone numbers they dialed belonged to the Nebraska Children’s Home on Fontenelle Boulevard in north Omaha.
After speaking with adoption officials at the home, Rick and Kathy scheduled an interview to begin the intricate and arduous process of adopting a child.
“I remember leaving there thinking, We’ll never have a baby,” Kathy says, shaking her head slowly. “I remember leaving there kind of hopeless.”
Rick and Kathy filled out forms of personal and public information and later were assigned a caseworker, Joan Clements. They specified the kind of child they wanted: a newborn, boy or girl.
“We weren’t guaranteed to have a perfect, gorgeous baby,” Kathy says. “We felt we were young enough to wait for a newborn. And of course, newborns were the longest waiting period.”
A home study was a necessary part of the adoption process, so Rick and Kathy opened their Olde Towne home to surveying strangers.
Rick and Kathy, both 26 at the time, received the OK to be listed as potential parents July 30, 1980.
While they waited for the phone call to confirm they were parents, Rick and Kathy met other parents who adopted children through the 100-year-old, non-profit agency.
They noticed a pattern.
When the soon-to-be parents did get “the call,” it would be from Harris Van Oort, executive director of Children’s Home. He would ask the parents if they were sitting down, then slowly string out the good news.
“Well, that’s exactly what Mr. Van Oort did,” Kathy says with a big grin.
Kathy received the call at work just before 2 p.m., Aug. 25, 1980, nearly one month after she and Rick earned approval from the Children’s Home.
Rick and Kathy would meet Van Oort later that night at a parenting class. Kathy expected his phone call to be a simple, “How’s it going? Looking forward to seeing you tonight,” type of exchange.
She certainly wasn’t expecting this.
As Van Oort made small talk, he continually brought up the subject of children. A few minutes into the conversation, Van Oort uttered the words that changed Rick and Kathy’s lives forever.
“Are you sitting down?”
Kathy’s heart beat wildly in her chest. Her pulse quickened. She couldn’t see straight. Her mind was spinning. This was it. Throughout the waiting and thinking and wondering and hoping and praying, what Rick and Kathy wanted most finally arrived.
But they weren’t just getting one baby. They were getting two.
“We have twin girls for you,” Van Oort told Kathy.
Van Oort couldn’t accept Kathy’s decision alone. He needed Kathy to confer with Rick and call him back.
At this point, tears flowed down Kathy’s cheeks. Her body went numb.
As Van Oort provided brief details of the girls – born around 3 p.m. Aug. 1, 1980, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney – Kathy scribbled the information on scraps of paper littering her desk.
“I remember telling Mr. Van Oort, ‘I’ll call Rick right away. Just don’t call anybody else!'” Kathy says.
Still reeling from the call, Kathy used her shaky fingers to dial Rick’s number at the Bellevue Public Schools district office, where he worked as director of information services until 1998.
“I called Rick bawling,” Kathy recalls. “I don’t even know how much he understood.”
After Kathy blurted out the good news, she hung up and called Van Oort.
He asked for Kathy and Rick to meet him and their two daughters at Children’s Home two days later. Sheri Dunagan, the birth mother’s caseworker, would bring the girls from Kearney to Omaha for Rick and Kathy to pick up. (Since the girls were born, they had been staying with foster parents in western Nebraska.)
They had just two days to turn their house into a home suitable for two newborn girls. Kathy and her family blitzed Southroads Mall, buying clothes, bedding, diapers and furniture.
Then, on Aug. 27, 1980, Rick and Kathy drove to Children’s Home to meet their daughters – now 27 days old – for the first time.
Sheri brought the girls, then known anonymously as Twin 1 and Twin 2, from Kearney to Omaha in a tiny cardboard box on the floor of her car.
During their time dreaming of parenthood, Rick and Kathy tossed around a handful of names. When the day arrived to pick up the twins, they decided on Airon and Ashlee.
Butterflies had taken flight inside Rick and Kathy’s stomachs as they stood inside the antique building of Children’s Home, waiting for another chapter of their lives to begin.
Van Oort appeared from around a corner, cradling a tiny, baby girl in each arm. The girls were dressed head to toe in turquoise blue.
“They were wide awake,” Kathy recalls. “Just bright-eyed as could be.”
The girls’ blue eyes stared straight ahead as they met their adoptive parents.
The first girl, who became Ashlee, was handed to Kathy. As a result, she took Kathy’s mother’s first name for her middle name: Ashlee Lorene Scofield.
Van Oort handed the next baby girl, Airon, to Rick. She took Rick’s mother’s first name as her middle name: Airon Louise Scofield.
“They were just gorgeous,” Kathy says, tears glistening in her eyes 23 years later. “They were so perfect. It was just unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.”
* * *
The first letter landed in Rick and Kathy’s mailbox a few weeks after they picked up the girls.
The bubbled handwriting slants slightly to the left. A few sentences become paragraphs, the emotions slowly seeping from the author’s heart through her pen.
The letter is signed with three capital letters in the same script: WLA.
“I just thought that stood for ‘With Love Always,'” Kathy says.
It would take several years, but Kathy would eventually learn the story attached to “WLA.”
To my daughters new parents.
I never knew I was expecting twins until they were here. It was quite a surprise. I’ve brought two very beautiful daughters into this world and giving them away is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I’ve had them for 9 months and saw them for only two days but it was enough time to know they are very special people and that I want only the best for them.
I’ve made them healthy now you make them happy. All I ask is that you make their life good and give them what I can’t. Please never let them hate me.
Part II: A mother’s hard choice
Nearly 300 miles west of Bellevue, Wendy Anderson still had doubts about her decision to give away her twin daughters.
It was 1979. At age 19, Wendy was enrolled in cosmetology school in Kearney. Young and ripe with opportunity, Wendy was loosely planning the rest of her life.
She was dating Stan Nienhauser at the time, with no plans of marriage.
“I just finished up with beauty school and was just going to start my life,” Wendy says from her home in Gurley, a Nebraska town of 200 people, 20 miles east of the Colorado border.
Later that year, Wendy got pregnant. Stan was the father.
“It wasn’t what I had planned,” Wendy says. “I had to make a few decisions about what I wanted to do.”
Wendy looks back on those first days of her pregnancy with a whirling head and tears in her eyes. She had two options: Keep the baby or give it up for adoption. (Wendy didn’t know she was having twins until she gave birth.)
Sure, there was anger for “the mistake” she’d made.
“I was angry with myself for putting myself into a position to get pregnant in the first place,” Wendy says. “I was always raised to be responsible for my actions. It was very confusing.”
Wendy looked at her life, not far from high school but nowhere near becoming an adult. Initially, Wendy considered keeping the baby, but she wanted more for her baby than she could provide.
“I was just trying to come up with a life that was perfect for a child,” Wendy says. “I wanted to give them the life they would deserve, but I couldn’t do that.”
Wendy didn’t view marriage to Stan as a solution, either.
Five months into the pregnancy, perhaps making the best and worst decisions at the same time, Wendy, with Stan’s OK, decided to give her baby away.
“It was going to be a hard decision, no matter what,” Wendy says.
She saw an ad in the local newspaper about a free health clinic, where she could obtain care while she was pregnant. As she sat inside the clinic, Wendy glanced at a flier about the Nebraska Children’s Home, which had an office in Kearney.
Wendy made the phone call and inquired about the steps she needed to take to give up her baby for adoption. She was assigned to Sheri Dunagan, a caseworker based in Grand Island.
Wendy and Sheri met for lunch. Sheri discussed Wendy’s options, but Wendy’s mind was already made up.
The remaining months of her pregnancy were hard as Wendy knew she would soon part with the baby. She hid the pregnancy from friends and family. So did Stan.
On the morning of Aug. 1, 1980, Wendy was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney. Sheri was there; so was Stan. The baby was born just before 3 p.m.
It was a girl, weighing 5 pounds, 4 ounces.
But the doctor noticed something: another pair of feet.
“Of course, everybody was shocked,” Wendy says with a hearty laugh.
About five minutes later, the doctor delivered the second baby.
It was a girl, too. She weighed 4 pounds, 12 ounces.
Twin girls, the first children of Wendy Anderson and Stan Nienhauser. But the babies would also become the first children of Rick and Kathy Scofield, a Bellevue couple who adopted the girls 27 days later.
When the twins turned 2 days old, Wendy and Stan signed the proper papers, surrendering their parental responsibilities for good.
“Some comments were made that maybe we could keep them,” Wendy says quietly. “In the end, we knew it wasn’t the thing to do.”
After six days in the hospital, Sheri picked up the twins to be dropped off at a foster home in western Nebraska until suitable adoptive parents were located.
“I stood on the corner and bawled,” Wendy says, crying. “I did a lot of that in the year 1980.”
But the tears didn’t stop in 1980.
“There’s still tears,” Wendy says.
Wendy tried to move on from that experience, but she felt an empty place in her heart. Rather than sitting on the sidelines, Wendy made a bold move; a move, according to the Nebraska Children’s Home, was unheard of at the time. Wendy asked Sheri to ask the girls’ new parents if they would be willing to send Wendy occasional photographs and updates.
Rick and Kathy overwhelmingly agreed, and so began 17 years of handwritten correspondence. The letters were exchanged several times each year, coupled with photographs and mementoes charting the girls’ lives.
“I just read those letters,” Kathy says today, teary-eyed. “Look at the love, the caring, the sincerity. I think stuff is inherited, and I just felt by reading those letters and seeing what type of person she was, they (the twins) had to have some of that in them.”
Reading those letters, even today, Kathy cries. It was the quiet, reflective moments when Kathy embraced the sacrifice Wendy made.
“I can remember, especially when they were little, laying in bed just crying, thinking, ‘Oh, my God. I wonder where this woman is. There’s somebody out there,’ ” Kathy says. “My heart just ached for her.”
The exchange of letters and photographs continued over the years, both mothers grasping the words and images that tell the story.
A letter sent in May 1981 from Rick and Kathy to Wendy reads:
In opening we would like to thank you for placing the girls in the care of the Nebraska Children’s Home. We feel we are very fortunate to have been chosen to be the parents of the twins.
Since Aug. 25, 1980, the day we received the phone call from the N.C.H., our lives have changed only for the better.
The twins are very, very happy and beautiful little girls and as their pediatrician puts it, they are as healthy as could be.
Please know and understand that we will be very honest and open with the girls and will share with them all the information that we have received from the Nebraska Children’s Home in regards to their placement.
We hope and pray for the best in your future.
* * *
After experiencing two miscarriages before adopting the twins, Kathy got pregnant for a third time in 1981. The pregnancy was successful, and Airon and Ashlee now had a younger brother, Nick.
Rick and Kathy raised Airon and Ashlee without hiding the fact they were adopted. They didn’t think the girls would be protected by not knowing their origin.
“They always told us,” says Ashlee, now 23 and living in North Carolina, where she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. “They never hid it from us. I always remember knowing we were adopted.”
Back in Bellevue, Airon feels the same way as her sister.
“We just always knew the concept of it,” says Airon, who graduated from Missouri Western State College last year.
The twins were always aware of Wendy. Kathy shared every letter with Airon and Ashlee.
I’m a little slow with thank-you’s this year and I apologize.
The pictures you send are always so much appreciated. The kids are all growing up so fast it just doesn’t seem possible.
You all make a good lookin’ family. The NCH couldn’t have made a more perfect match.
Well, this has been a trying but fast year for me. I’ve gone through a divorce but now I’m finally getting my life in order.
The girls’ birth father and I were never meant to be together.
It’s funny how most of the things in my life have always managed to work out for the best somehow.
I am so thankful that the most important and dearest were blessed with you.
May you all have happy and loving holidays.
Please stay in touch. Thanks again for everything.
Always, with love,
When the twins turned 16, Wendy sent the girls little toy cars. It was one of the first packages from Wendy that arrived at the Scofield home. Until then, the two families exchanged letters, photographs and small gifts through the Nebraska Children’s Home in north Omaha. As a means of protecting both families and keeping the adoption closed, they crossed out any personal information in the letters. With photographs, they would color over or cut out the faces of any people besides the twins.
Kathy, at this time, also learned the secret behind “WLA,” the signature at the end of each letter. No, it didn’t stand for “With Love Always;” it stood for Wendy’s name: Wendy Lynn Anderson.
It was about this time that the twins referred to their birth mother as Wendy and not “the other woman,” as they had for so many years. They were old enough to understand who Wendy was and what role she played in their lives. Having only read her letters and seen a few photographs, they thought they knew all they wanted to know.
As the written relationship between Kathy and Wendy continued, Kathy felt comfortable sharing more details about the twins. They were volleyball standouts at Bellevue West High School, with plans for college that fall.
The team made it to the state finals in Lincoln, which are broadcast statewide on Nebraska Public Television. Kathy wrote Wendy and told her to watch for the girls during the state finals.
It would be the first time Wendy saw her daughters “in person,” moving around and talking – not frozen in time in photographs.
Wendy hosted a craft fair at her home in Gurley the weekend of the state finals, and was too nervous to watch the broadcast live. She taped the tournament and watched it later, instead.
“When the girls lined up and waved, I got a chill,” Wendy says. “This was the first time I’d seen this child since it was a baby. Now they’re standing up and playing volleyball. You could tell what they looked like.”
* * *
It was the spring of 1998, just months before the twins graduated from Bellevue West. They were excited about playing volleyball in college and ready for the next chapters of their lives to begin.
While addressing invitations, they included one for Wendy and her family. (In 1988, Wendy married her current husband, Phil Childers. Over the years, they had twin boys, Jacob and Cody, and a younger son, Max.)
From the day they were born, Wendy vowed to attend the girls’ high school graduation, but she wanted to keep her presence a secret. She didn’t want to take anything away from Airon and Ashlee on a day they worked so hard toward.
“I was just going to sneak in, watch them and sneak out,” Wendy says. “It totally threw me for a loop when I got invited.”
The paper invitation made the upcoming graduation – and all the years leading up to it – even more tangible. What Wendy predicted, believed, 17 years ago happened; and Wendy was holding to her word.
“Ever since they were born…” Wendy’s voice trails off. She’s crying, quietly. “I’m that way. If I know I’m going to do something, it gets done. Some things you just know. That was something I just knew.”
At first, Wendy was going to drive to Bellevue, sit in on the graduation, wait to hear Airon and Ashlee’s names be called, and head out the door.
After talking with her caseworker, Wendy decided reluctantly to accept the invitation. But she needed to RSVP first, and with it being just one week before graduation, a letter in the mail wouldn’t do.
Wendy, for the first time in her life, called the Scofield home. It would be the first verbal exchange between both families.
With shaky fingers, Wendy dialed the number. As Kathy was running around in a flurry, getting the house ready for the graduation party the next weekend, she unassumingly answered the phone on the second or third ring.
“Ka-thy?” the speaker paused, drawing out the name slowly.
“This is…This is…This is…Wendy.”
Part III: Together at last
Standing in her kitchen on an afternoon in May 1998, Kathy Scofield held the phone against her ear.
She was silent. For a minute, she couldn’t speak, didn’t know what to say.
Then, in a heartbeat, the emotions hit her, a wave of 17 years arriving in a single moment.
Wendy Anderson, the birth mother of her adopted twin daughters, Airon and Ashlee, was on the other end of the line. Wendy and Kathy, with her husband, Rick, had exchanged letters since the girls were adopted 17 years ago. They had never spoken.
Now, one week before the girls graduated from Bellevue West High School, Wendy called to RSVP for the party. She received an invitation in the mail, but wasn’t planning to attend.
Wendy’s only plan was to attend the ceremony, without the girls’ knowledge. Wendy didn’t want to intrude.
“Ka-thy?” the speaker paused, drawing out the name slowly.
“This is…This is…This is…Wendy.”
“Oh, my God! You mean Airon’s and Ashlee’s birth mom? Are you coming this weekend?”
Wendy told Kathy she didn’t plan on attending the party, just the graduation ceremony. Wendy didn’t want to take anything away from Airon and Ashlee’s big day.
But as they discussed the upcoming plans, the 17 years of separation seamlessly disappeared. The women heard each other’s voices for the first time, the birth mother and adoptive mother talking about the two girls they love so much.
“Two hours later, we’re still talking on the phone,” Kathy says. “What we’re talking about is mainly the letters. And there’s tears.”
It was the letters that tell the whole story. Handwritten letters that provided updates on the twins and words of thanks for sharing the details.
As Kathy and Wendy were still talking, Kathy heard the garage door open. It was Airon.
She walked in the kitchen to find Kathy on the phone. Kathy paused the conversation and looked at her daughter.
“Airon, you’re not going to believe who I’m talking to,” she whispered, her hand covering the phone’s mouthpiece.
“This is Wendy.”
Airon was silent for a heartbeat.
“Is she coming this weekend?”
“Well, why don’t you ask her?”
Kathy handed Airon the phone, and another first took place: birth mother and daughter hearing each other’s voices for the first time.
“We started talking,” says Airon, now 23 years old. “Neither me nor Wendy are much talkers.”
At first, Wendy didn’t know what to say. She was speechless.
“I didn’t cry,” Wendy says. “I was more in shock.”
Wendy and Airon made small talk. She asked Airon what she and her sister thought of being given away.
“It was the best thing you probably could have done,” Airon told Wendy.
Airon put Wendy back on the phone with Kathy. They agreed to chat later in the week to firm up Wendy’s travel plans.
“It was the longest week of my life,” Wendy says with a chuckle from her home in Gurley, Neb. “I didn’t know if I could do this. This woman has already shared their whole life with me, which is way more than I ever expected in the first place.”
Ashlee, who was in Kansas City for the weekend, called Wendy the next day.
Wendy asked Ashlee some of the same questions she asked Airon. How do you feel about our situation? Are you mad at me?
“I have no animosity toward you,” Ashlee, more talkative than her twin sister, told Wendy. “You realized you couldn’t sustain one child, then you had two. After meeting you and knowing your story, you did the right thing. The fact that you’re still interested in our whereabouts is enough for me.”
Ashlee hung up with Wendy. And the wait began.
* * *
A week passed. It was the day before graduation: May 29, 1998. A Friday afternoon.
Wendy and a friend were heading east on Interstate 80. Destination: the Scofields’ Bellevue home, south of 25th Street and Capehart Road.
Airon and Ashlee attended a friend’s graduation party that day. They knew that when they arrived home, Wendy would be waiting.
They approached their home. Seeing only familiar cars, Ashlee circled the block once. Twice. Three times.
Airon and Ashlee pulled into the driveway. As they got out of the car, they saw Wendy approach the Scofield home.
Wendy slowly exited her car. Birth mother and twin daughters stood silently.
Any bystander could see the resemblance immediately: Wendy’s nose, eyes and chin recreated in her daughter, Airon. Ashlee’s jaw, nose and forehead a carbon copy of her birth father, Stan Nienhauser.
The twins hugged their birth mother for the first time, a blending of characteristics and features in a pile of emotion.
Kathy saw the reunion take place from inside her home. After 17 years of wondering and waiting, the moment arrived.
Emotions more powerful than herself pushed Kathy out the front door and into the arms of the woman – the mother – she owes her heart to. This woman with dark blonde hair, blue eyes and the sacrifice that made this moment possible was standing silent, standing still, close enough to touch.
“Thank you! Thank you!” were the first, exuberant words out of Kathy’s mouth. They were for Wendy.
Kathy enveloped Wendy in hugs. Until then, Kathy could only recognize Wendy’s handwriting and voice. Now, she knew the face that gave her daughters life.
“I knew that I wanted to meet this woman some time, and that’s the reason I would love to talk just once to their birth dad,” Kathy says. “Just to say thank you. Thank you for what they gave us.”
The women – two families, now one – went inside. They posed with Wendy for photographs around the house.
Wendy was introduced to the other family members who were staying with the Scofields for the twins’ graduation. They stayed up late that Friday night, sharing memories and swapping tissue.
“We’d been bawling all night long,” Wendy says.
The emotions and stories behind the letters were exchanged in person now, between Wendy, Kathy and the twins.
“It all seemed so surreal,” Ashlee says. “I’m glad I had a twin to share all of this with. It was overwhelming.”
After 17 years, Wendy’s twins were close enough to touch. It was a moment she’ll never forget.
“You just kept staring at them, seeing little qualities here and little qualities there, and how they interact with each other,” Wendy says. “Everything you missed for the past 17 years all comes together.”
* * *
Needless to say, that weekend was a whirlwind. The twins’ friends met Wendy at the graduation ceremony the next day. Family members who knew of the letters met the mysterious author for the first time.
And today, five years after their reunion, Airon, Ashlee and Wendy remain in contact. They visit Wendy’s family in Gurley. When Wendy’s in the Omaha area, she schedules visits with the Scofields.
Letters haven’t been exchanged for quite some time. Now, they just pick up the phone and call. It’s possible now, the distance not so great anymore.
The twins say they’ve found room in their hearts for Wendy. They’re not fond of clinical names such as “birth mother,” “adoptive mother” and “adoptive father.”
It has become, quite simply, Wendy, Mom and Dad.
“I’ve got two families,” Airon says. “It’s just more people in your life that’s a part of you.”
* * *
The stacks of letters, photographs and mementos that tell this story remain. They’re piled in scrapbooks and shoe boxes, put away in closets and chests for safekeeping. The letters still bring Wendy and Kathy to tears. They’re reminders of a time when life was uncertain, filled with more questions than answers, more heartache than hope.
Wedged between a letter from Kathy to Wendy is a poem. She sent it to Wendy in 1984 with the hopes of easing the anonymous woman’s aching heart.
Legacy Of An Adopted Child
Once there were two women
Who never knew each other.
One you do not remember
The other you call mother.
Two different lives
Shaped to make yours one.
One became your guiding star
The other became your sun.
The first gave you life.
The second taught you to live in it.
The first gave you a need for love
And the second was there to give it.
One gave you a nationality
The other gave you a name.
One gave you the seed of talent
The other gave you an aim.
One gave you emotions
The other calmed your fears.
One saw your first smile
The other dried your tears.
One gave you up
It was all that she could do.
The other prayed for a child
And was led straight to you.
And now you ask me through your tears
The age-old question through the years:
Heredity or environment – which are you the product of?
Neither, my darling, neither –
Just two different kinds of love.
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