West Fargo man reunites with birth mother through Facebook
All Chuck Schwan wanted was to say thank you.
Thank you for giving birth to me.
Thank you for giving me up for adoption.
Thank you for my life.
It had taken the West Fargo man more than 30 years to reach this point. When he was 18, his adoptive mother tracked down his biological uncle to ask about the family's genealogy, but Schwan wasn't ready to make contact.
About five years ago, around the time Schwan became a father, he started searching online for his birth mother with the little information he had: A name his mom had seen on an adoption form and the fact she was from Fargo.
He found a listing on Classmates.com that he thought could be her, with a married name. But social media wasn't as popular then as it is today.
This April, while checking his Facebook account, it clicked in his head to search for her again. Facebook had suggested he friend someone with the last name McCormick, his birth mother's maiden name. Though that person was no relation to her, it prompted a new hunt.
Schwan, 36, searched the site's members using what he believed to be her name now: Eileen Anderson.
He narrowed the copious results to those who attended Fargo schools. Two women met those criteria. Schwan emailed the one with more friends named McCormick.
The search took minutes. Within hours, he received a reply from Eileen Anderson of Tucson, Ariz.
"OMG for reals??"
18 and pregnant
One thought ran through Anderson's head as she read Schwan's email: "He doesn't hate me. My God, he doesn't hate me."
Anderson says she was "18, young, stupid" when she got pregnant in 1974. She wasn't working at the time, and the father wasn't in the picture. She knew she couldn't support a child on her own. Her parents didn't want her to keep it. Even still, it was an emotional roller coaster as she debated giving the baby up for adoption or keeping him. That November, she began a diary, writing down her thoughts, wants, fears and desires.
On Jan. 14, 1975, she gave birth to a baby boy. Days later, she signed the papers giving him up for adoption.
"I knew I couldn't keep him," she says now. "I couldn't give him the stability he needed from a mom and dad."
Anderson said goodbye to her son as she left the hospital. At home, she locked herself in her room and "cried my eyes out for a month," she says. Then she left town.
She couldn't handle knowing he was in the state, wondering if every baby she saw could have been hers.
"I left, but I continued to pray one prayer that would be answered," Anderson says. "One day, I would meet him again, and I'd be able to give him my diary so he'd know it wasn't selfish reasons. It wasn't because I wanted a better life. It was because I wanted him to have a better life."
A month after he was born, Schwan's adoptive parents, Archie and Lorraine Schwan, brought him home to Balta, south of Rugby. He was raised an only child on the family farm and says he always knew he was adopted.
Lorraine Schwan says she always wanted Chuck to have the opportunity to seek out his birth mother, "just to find his blood, his true blood." She says she was surprised he finally decided to do so at age 36.
'It is you'
Anderson joined Facebook solely because of her church choir. That's where the group posts practice times and what color to wear for Sunday services.
She plays games on the site, too, like Farmville. When she got Schwan's email, she thought he was somebody who wanted to be her farm "neighbor."
Anderson started crying and shaking as soon as she read the message, which included Schwan's date of birth and one question: Are you the person I am seeking?
They began exchanging details, both cautious that the other person may not be who they thought.
One final exchange over instant message sealed it.
What was the name you gave me at birth? Schwan had asked. "Timothy Michael," she told him.
"It is you," Schwan replied.
"And it is you," Anderson wrote in return.
Their relationship progressed from emails to online chats to phone calls. Anderson made plans to travel to Fargo, and she sent Schwan the diary she'd written while pregnant.
"I have moved a lot. I have lost a lot of things in moves over the years," she says.
The baby picture she had of him disintegrated from running her fingers over it too much. Wedding pictures, yearbooks, birth certificates all disappeared.
But she held onto that notebook, even through a stint working for Murphy Brothers Carnival, where she met her first husband and father of her son, Danny. She's been married to her second husband for 28 years.
She never read the journal, though. Not until May 14, the first time Anderson and Schwan were together since their time in the delivery room.
An expanded family
The mother and son met outside Sanford South University Campus, formerly Dakota Hospital, the building where Schwan was born. The location brought them "full circle," they say.
Schwan, his wife, Jolien, and son Jaiden walked up to the building first, taking cover from raindrops under the building's portico. Anderson approached from the parking lot nervously, her hand to her mouth.
Mother and son rushed into each other's arms, as Jaiden still clung to his dad's hand. They hugged for several minutes. Anderson repeatedly cradled Schwan's face in her hands.
"I told you I was going to do this a lot," she says, stroking his cheek.
The reunion overflowed with emotion: smiles, laughs, tears. As they walked inside to sit, Anderson commented that she was having trouble breathing.
"That's half the reason I wanted to do it here," Schwan told her. "If you collapse, we have emergency staff."
"Smart-ass," Anderson replied. "Yes, he is my son."
The meeting not only reunited a mother with her son, but opened an entire family tree to Schwan: a grandfather, half-brother, two stepsiblings, nieces, nephews, an aunt, five uncles and cousins galore.
Over the last month, Schwan has been meeting relatives who live in the area, attending family barbecues, and, of course, friending them on Facebook.
Schwan has been struck by the familiar traits he sees between himself and his rediscovered family, including the smart-aleck sense of humor. He and Anderson also share a love of spicy food and a distaste for cake.
"I see some of Chuck in her," Lorraine Schwan says about the mother of her adopted son.
When the two women met at Jaiden's birthday party last month, they thanked each other for the role each played in their son's life.
Schwan, of course, has said his "thank you." And Anderson is thankful that he reached out to her.
She expected him to despise her, especially when he found out she had another son two years later, whom she raised. But that's not how Schwan was raised, Anderson says.
"He understood," she says. "It gave me closure."