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Mother-Daughter Duo Reunited Against The Odds: 'I Believed That You Were Dead'

Nov 8, 2019
Originally published on November 8, 2019 8:10 am

In 1968, when Janie Bush was 19 and discovered that she was pregnant, she decided to put her baby up for adoption.

But nine months later, when Janie's daughter — whom she named Tracey Jane — was born with spina bifida, a potentially fatal birth defect, the planned adoptive family backed out.

Janie couldn't afford the expensive specialized care that Tracey's condition required. A social worker told Janie that her daughter might die if the child didn't receive appropriate medical care and that a state residence might be her best option.

Not long after, Janie gave Tracey up to the state, which assigned the newborn to a nursing home for children with disabilities.

Decades later and against the odds, the two women now share a strong mother-daughter relationship. During a 2014 StoryCorps interview in Dallas, they recounted the winding path that brought them together 12 years after they said goodbye.

"I always knew about my birth mom. I knew I was named after you," Tracey, now 51, told Janie. "There was a time, and I don't know if you know this, that I would only go by Jane. If they called me Tracey, I wouldn't answer."

Janie, on the other hand, didn't even know Tracey had survived: "I didn't try to find you because I believed that you were dead," she said.

But Tracey was very much alive. She lived in the state residence until she was 6, when it closed. At that point, the family who had owned the home adopted her.

Years later, when Tracey was 12, her adopted mother gave Janie a call.

"She just started telling me about you and asked if I wanted to talk to you," Janie, now 71, said.

They both fondly recounted the phone conversation that followed: Tracey liked Janie's voice ("I could hear the smile in your voice"), and Janie thought Tracey's sounded like her own. The pair made plans to meet in person. As it turned out, their reunion fell on Mother's Day.

"I couldn't really grasp the concept of meeting a mom, because I had a mom," Tracey said. "But I got to meet this new lady that I had pictured my whole life."

"I remember just looking at you and thinking how pretty you were," Tracey told Janie. "The sun being on our faces and we first held hands when we sat on the porch. And going home, I remember just feeling warm like that sunshine and what an absolutely perfect moment that was."

After years of physical therapy for spina bifida, Tracey has regained full mobility. Today, both women live near Dallas and enjoy a close relationship.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Janie Bush was a teenager in 1968 when she found out she was pregnant. She gave her daughter up for adoption. And then decades later, Janie came to StoryCorps in Dallas, Texas, with that daughter, Tracey.

JANIE BUSH: I loved being pregnant, but I decided that the best thing to do is make an adoption plan. You were born with spinal bifida, so I was contacted by a child welfare woman. She told me that you would probably die and convinced me that the thing to do was sign you over to the state for care.

TRACEY BUSH: Did you ever try to find me?

J BUSH: I didn't try to find you because I believed that you were dead.

T BUSH: Wow. I never knew that. I always knew about my birth mom. I knew I was named after you. And there was a time - and I don't know if you know this - there was a time that I would only go by Jane (ph). If they called me Tracey, I wouldn't answer.

J BUSH: When the residence that you were assigned to was going to close, the couple that owned it decided to adopt you. And then the time came that your adoptive mother called me. And she just started telling me about you and asked if I wanted to talk to you.

T BUSH: I remember I liked your voice. I could hear the smile in your voice.

J BUSH: After the conversation, I wrote in my journal - Tracey Jane M. (ph), 12 years old. Her voice sounds like mine. I'm overwhelmed. Sunday can't be here soon enough - because we had made plans to meet. And as it turned out, Sunday was Mother's Day.

T BUSH: I couldn't really grasp the concept of meeting a mom because I had a mom. But I got to meet this new lady that I had pictured my whole life. I remember paying extra attention to my hair that day, making sure my hair was really shiny since I thought that's probably something we had in common. And I remember just looking at you and thinking how pretty you were, the sun being on our faces. And the first time we held hands was when we sat on the porch. Going home, I remember just feeling warm like that sunshine. And what an absolutely perfect moment that was.

J BUSH: Now we're 34 years later, and I'm really glad to have you back.

T BUSH: Me, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRYAN COPELAND'S "ELEGIAC MIX")

KING: That was Tracey Bush talking to her mom, Janie Bush, at StoryCorps in Dallas, Texas. After years of physical therapy for her spinal bifida, Tracey now has full mobility. That interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. And here's an idea - if you're spending time with the people you love this Thanksgiving, try recording a family conversation using the StoryCorps app. You can get details at thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.