After searching for her birth mother for more than 20 years, RJ Anderson has finally found her roots. The Rancho Santa Fe resident followed a string of leads and hints for years until it all came together on March 7 and she met her mother for the first time in Los Angeles.
Not only did she find her mother, she found herself looking into the oddly familiar faces of two of her three new sisters.
“I feel like I’m falling in love,” Anderson said of the constant butterflies in her stomach, and the joy and excitement that comes from a text or message from her mother or her three new sisters. “Can a person actually feel connected with a blood relative they do not know at all? It was this instant connection, all of the girls just connected — it was very strange.”
Anderson is not married and does not have children. In her adoptive family, she has two sisters, a brother and a nephew. She is the youngest of her three new sisters and has also gained three nieces and one nephew.
“The more the merrier,” Anderson said of her suddenly full family. “My goal now is to get everyone under one roof.”
A San Diego resident for 25 years, Anderson was raised by her adoptive family in La Cañada Flintridge, outside of Pasadena. She was adopted at birth and the adoption was private.
When Anderson was 18 years old, she decided she wanted to find her birth mother.
“I’d never seen my ‘blood’ before. I’d never experienced anyone who looked like me, sounded like me,” Anderson said. “I had an amazing adoptive family, I wasn’t looking to replace them … I just always wondered. I had no hang-ups about being adopted, no abandonment issues — it was just so critical for me to be able to look at someone and hear the same voice or see the same eyes or see if we had the same personality traits.”
So she wrote to the state’s social services department in Sacramento. The public record had no names, just basic information such as physical descriptions of the mother and father.
Her adoptive mother gave her the last name of her birth mom and she tracked down the legal court decree of the adoption. The “bits and pieces” weren’t a lot, and Anderson searched on and off for years. Pre-Internet, searching for someone wasn’t easy. She scoured the phone book for last names, narrowing them down to people who lived in Glendale, the town she was born in, who had given birth in 1968 on her birth date.
A year ago, Anderson got a ”huge lead” that she decided to pursue. It ended up being a dead end, but she was able to find a woman who knew her mother and said she would reach out to her.
“I never heard back, so it was devastating. I thought, ‘This just isn’t meant to be,’ so I decided just to leave it alone,” Anderson said.
However, four months ago she was encouraged by her girlfriends to try one more time.
“For some reason in my heart, I didn’t want to give up and I was prepared for the worst,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if I could’ve handled it in my 20s. In your 40s, you have more experience and more of an understanding about life and circumstances. It was a blessing to reach this point in my 40s versus my 20s, because I was more emotionally prepared either way.”
She got back on the phone to the woman who was friends with her mother and was able to get the name of her niece. She found her niece on Facebook and sent her a message. She didn’t hear anything back for months and had resigned herself to the search being over once again before the niece wrote back last week: “You’re my aunt. My mom is your sister and you have three sisters.”
One of the sisters sent a message on Facebook and said she was dying to meet her. Amazingly, the family had grown up in Glendale, just one town over from La Cañada.
A “light dinner” was set up in Los Angeles and a flurry of photos and texts were exchanged in the days leading up to the meeting. The whole week leading up to the dinner, Anderson could not sleep.
Last Saturday, she expected to be meeting just her two sisters; the third sister was unable to attend.
“Walking in and seeing them all for the first time, they looked like me, it was so crazy,” Anderson said.
While her sisters are all blonde (with a different father), there were definitely some facial similarities.
The sisters had said that they weren’t sure Anderson’s mother was ready to meet her yet and she wasn’t expected to attend. But as a surprise, her mother walked into the restaurant.
“She looked at me and said, ‘My daughter, my daughter.’ We gave each other a big hug,” Anderson said. “It was very emotional for my mom. She had to get up from the table several times … My mom said she always thought about me over the years when my birthday came around and always hoped I had a good life.”
Over wine and many, many questions, Anderson found it unbelievable how similar she and her sisters are, sharing the same laugh, way of talking and sense of humor. Anderson, a chef, also found that her mother is also a great cook — a favorite dish for both is lamb.
“We haven’t even gotten into the deep stuff and the question ‘Why?’” Anderson said. “But as the evening went on, it became less and less important because it is what it is and it doesn’t change anything and we have what we have now.”
Anderson said she can’t wait to learn more about her new family and hopes to find her biological father as well — she has his name from her birth mother, and her searching is starting anew. From her mother she learned her father was very smart, handsome and swept her off her feet.
Anderson encourages anyone on a similar search for family to keep trying; the world is a lot smaller through social media, and connections are possible. More than anything she stresses having an open mind and to be prepared for the different ways people handle these situations. She knows that she is blessed that by the time she finally found her family, everyone wanted the same thing — to come together.
“I don’t know how many times I hit rock bottom, but the fact that I didn’t give up made it all worthwhile. I think it all happened for a reason with the timing of everything,” Anderson said.
“It’s a whole new journey, a whole new life. I feel like it’s a new start on really knowing who I am and where I came from. It was always such a void to me, and in so many ways I didn’t even realize how important it was.”