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Published Wednesday July 1st, 2009 at 6:44am

Original Article by Margaret Schmitz Rizzo

"I always felt something was missing and kind of felt empty," said Dora Masters (second from left). Then she and her twin sister, Lisa Airey (right), were reunited with their birth mother, Kathy Wattenbarger (second from right) and her sister, Patti Fuller (left).
No job. No husband. Twenty-four years old, fresh out of college, living in a small Missouri town and pregnant.

The year was 1969 -- a time when unwed mothers had few choices and long before it was stylish or even acceptable to raise a child alone. Kathy Wattenbarger did the only thing she thought she could. She withdrew to her sister's home in Detroit to wait out the pregnancy and give up the baby for adoption.

Labor started six weeks early. The doctor heard a heartbeat and marked the mother's belly with an "x." Then, another "x." Two heartbeats. Two babies.

This was not in the plan.

A hospital bed sheet obstructed her view, and then the babies came. And went. Without a glimpse or a touch.

She didn't ask to see them, didn't know she could until a doctor told her otherwise.

With her sister Patti along for support, Wattenbarger approached the nursery window and set her eyes on the newborns for the first and quite possibly the only time. Like the moments just before a car crash, she remembers little. Over time, shock turned to depression while she mourned alone.

"In my mind, I never really thought beyond the delivery. I just thought I'd done a bad thing and my penance was to go through the pregnancy, deliver it -- of course, it turned out to be them, but I didn't know it at the time - give it up and then go on," she said.

* * *

Dora Masters has always known she was adopted and can't remember a time when she didn't long to know her birth mother. Even with an identical twin sister, she wondered who else she resembled and craved a sense of belonging.

"To me, I always felt something was missing and kind of felt empty," said Masters, of Rochester, Mich.

After giving birth to her own twin daughters, the strength of the bond Masters shared with her babies enveloped her. If she felt that way, then certainly her own birth mother must have felt some sort of connection with her when she was born.

The need to find her birth mother took a stranglehold. Over the next 10 years, she searched for a link to her past, while her sister, Lisa Airey, worried that finding answers to their questions might bring more pain than not knowing.

* * *

In November, Wattenbarger began getting phone messages from what she thought was a telemarketer. She reacted to the words "important information" and "please call back immediately" as most people do -- she ignored the calls.

But they kept coming, one just days after Wattenbarger, with help from daughter-in-law Melissa Wattenbarger, had registered on an adoption Web site to find her birth daughters.

Finally, she returned the call. A confidential court advocate in Detroit told her one of the baby girls she had given up almost 40 years before was looking for her.

* * *

Mother and daughter talked on the phone for hours.

Masters learned her birth father had died several years after she was born. Wattenbarger learned Airey lived in England and had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Photographs and e-mails were exchanged and then the three, two daughters and their birth mother, met to reclaim a lost life.

This is how Wattenberger imagined it: A knock at the door, and standing there would be two tall, slender, dark-headed beauties.

"It turns out they are tall, slender, dark-haired and beautiful," said Wattenbarger, adding that they look like their birth father. "I thought we did a pretty fine job of producing two very pretty girls."

Like a connect-the-dot picture, finally they could see how it all came together. The big hands, long fingers, the second toes longer than the big toes - they all run in the family. Masters' quirky, somewhat sarcastic sense of humor mirrors Wattenbarger's. Her love for animals, healthy living and the outdoors is just like her Aunt Patti's. A granddaughter has a beautiful singing voice and Wattenbarger, chorus director of Northland Sweet Adelines, has been singing with the group for 32 years.

Their sense of direction is horrendous.

"Who knew that was genetic?" joked Masters. "It seems like a dream. It is still hard to believe that it is real. It has probably been the best experience I've had in my life. It is so easy. That is the most surprising thing. It is so much easier than I thought - talking and getting to know each other."

Over time, Wattenbarger learned the sisters had a less than perfect relationship with their adoptive mother and never felt they were truly a part of the family.

"I think they had their problems with their adoptive parents, but their parents must have done a lot of things right because they turned out to be such caring, sweet people," she said. "They were able to give them things that I couldn't then and now, I'm able to give them things that their parents can't, at this point in their lives."

For Masters, finding her roots has given her the chance to feel content, normal.

"It's given me a sense of belonging to someone," she said. "I think of all the years I wanted to know and I waited ... Maybe I shouldn't have waited so long."

The reunion gave Wattenbarger a chance to explain herself to her birth daughters.

"She had this hurt in her heart," said Melissa Wattenbarger, who is married to Kathy Wattenbarger's only son, Jarrod, 37. "It's like a part of her ... something was always missing.

"Suddenly, she had these little girls again. We couldn't believe it. We were in awe. It is like a new life to her ... a completeness. She has her two girls. Her babies are finally home."