Laura Hernandez named her baby girl Christina Mariah. She knew the adoptive parents would likely change it, but the 17-year-old from Oklahoma wanted her baby to have a name. Laura got to hold her just 10 minutes before she was whisked away. “Then I cried like a baby,” Laura said. “It was horrible.” As a nurse took the baby away, Laura gave her a letter. She wanted her baby to understand that a very bad thing had happened, but out of a tragedy came a beautiful baby girl. It would be more than 40 years, though, before Christina – now Erin – learned of the story and the sacrifices her biological mother made. She gave her up, so she would have a better life than Laura could give to her.
Every year on her baby’s birthday, she would say: “Lord, thank you for letting her have a good life.”
It would be more than 40 years before Laura learned her baby’s life had not been the fairy tale she had hoped and dreamed of.
It had all the beginnings of a fairy tale. Linda Taylor was giddy with excitement over her baby. She wanted nothing more than to be a mom, but she and her husband Donald weren’t able to have children. They turned to Catholic Charities and adopted Erin in 1977. Three years later, they adopted a little boy, completing their family.
“She was the kind of mom who couldn’t stop talking about and showing pictures of her kids,” Erin Slater said. “I was loved so deeply for five years.”
Erin’s world was turned upside down on Aug. 22, 1982. The Taylor family was returning home to Lafayette after shopping for back-to-school clothes in Indianapolis. A teenage driver ran a red light and crashed into the driver’s side of the Taylors’ car. The teenager was killed. Erin remembers waking up in the ditch. Her arm was broken. Her dad was pinned inside the car and badly injured. Her mom was alert and trying to take charge of the situation. After going to the hospital, she had a heart attack and died. She was only 32.
Erin and her brother lived with relatives while their dad recovered. Not long after, he remarried, and her stepmother and her daughter moved in with the family. While the three siblings were close, it was not a happy home. When Erin was 16, her dad died after struggling for years from a hereditary lung disease. After his death, her stepmother threw Erin – then only a sophomore in high school – and her 12-year-old brother out of the house. They had nowhere to go, so their stepsister invited them to live with her and her father. He later got custody and took care of the two siblings.
More than ever, Erin wondered about her birth mom. She looked for her everywhere, coming up with stories in her head about who she was and what she looked like. Erin knew from a young age she had been adopted. Her parents read her stories about adoption and were open and honest with their kids. But, it was a closed adoption, and she couldn’t get access to records. She knew only her birth mom was born in California.
She didn’t know Laura also had contacted Catholic Charities trying to connect with the baby she gave up.
“I always hoped and prayed, and in the back of my mind, I knew I’d see her again,” Laura said.
After giving birth, Laura returned home, where no one mentioned the birth. When she refused to have an abortion, they sent her to live with an aunt on a farm near Purdue University in Indiana. Her parents never spoke of the birth again.
“They didn’t say one word…I went about life and kept it all bottled up inside,” Laura said.
After Laura moved on with her life, she told her husband about the baby, and when they were old enough, she told her two daughters and two sons. Giving a baby up for adoption was never something she was ashamed of, even though her parents were.
“I loved my mother dearly, but we were like oil and water. She knew I’d been raped, but when she found out I was pregnant, she couldn’t ship me off fast enough. I used to fault her for that, then I thought, no, she probably did me a big favor, because I was able to concentrate on my studies.”
Laura enrolled in high school and was the youngest graduate of her senior class, all while pregnant, working on the farm and at the cafeteria at Montgomery Ward.
On and off, while working and then going to college at Purdue Erin continued to seek out information about her biological mom. The curiosity grew after Erin became a mom herself.
“I started thinking, it’s so cool to have someone who looks like me. I wonder who I look like?” Erin said.
Her husband, David, suggested she hire a private investor, but that seemed too intrusive. Erin didn’t know what her birth mom had told her own family. She didn’t know if she was still alive. She decided she wasn’t going to force it, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.
It did happen. Her husband gave her a subscription to Ancestry.com. A woman, who had been doing genealogy research contacted Erin. She was trying to figure out how Erin, whom she found on Ancestry, fit into her family. Erin shared her story. The pieces began to fall into place.
Laura got a text from her cousin Wendy asking if it was OK to share her number with a woman from Indiana looking for information about her family.
“I said to have her text me,” Laura remembers, not thinking it actually would be her daughter. “When Erin texted that she was looking for her birth mother, I about dropped my phone.”
“I told her I was trying to find my birth mom or parents, and based on my genealogy, I think it’s someone you may know,” Erin said. “Could you help?”
“Let me think about it,” Laura responded.
“I was a little disappointed,” Erin said. “Then she said. ‘It’s me.’”
“I just started crying,” Laura said. “So many emotions were coming over me. I was so ecstatic; I couldn’t wait to tell all my family.”
They messaged for a long time, and then talked two hours on the phone. Not long after, they decided to meet halfway between Fishers, Ind. and Lathrop, Mo., where Laura has worked at the post office for the last 20 years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life,” Erin said of the drive to meet her birth mom. “The minute we saw each other, it was calm.”
“It was like looking in the mirror,” Laura said. “She looks exactly like me when I was her age.”
“Now that I know my birth mom, it’s like everything is complete,” Erin said.
She’s learned that she’s part German and part Muscogee Creek Indian, which has thrilled Erin’s kids, who are 14 and 7 and have also met Laura and her family.
“When my youngest got out of the car, he was like ‘Grandma!’ My oldest is very much about family, and he feels like we’re more whole, because we haven’t had a lot of family,” Erin said. “This has opened a whole new world for him.”
It’s also opened a new world for Erin who’s has learned she has two half-sisters, two half-brothers, plus, Laura’s two stepdaughters, a stepson, foster daughter and 19 grandchildren.
Mother’s Day has taken on different meanings for Erin over the years. Before she had children, the day was filled with yearning and sadness. Now, she celebrates with her own children, her mother-in-law who has shown her unconditional love, her her birth mom and their new relationship, while also remembering the love of her mother.