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Published Monday December 28th, 2009 at 2:58am

Original Article by Greg Mellen and Pamela Hale-Burns

Marnette Haynes has a large, boisterous family. But when they gathered for holiday celebrations, they were missing a voice.

For all the love and blessings that abounded, there was a small twinge.

That has changed.

Marnette Haynes, left, and the the daughter she gave up for adoption 42 years ago, Gina Gibson together in Long Beach, Calif. on December 25, 2009

On Friday, Haynes got to spend her first Christmas with Gina Gibson, the daughter she gave up for adoption 42 years ago.

"Each Christmas and birthday, I would think, 'Did she get what she wanted? Is she happy?"' Haynes said. Tears came to her eyes as she sat across from her daughter on Christmas Day. "But this is a better Christmas than all of them."

Haynes was just 15 years old in 1967 when she became pregnant. The Poly High student had barely thought about graduation, much less larger things like marriage and child rearing.

It was one of the hardest things she had to do, but Haynes was convinced by her single-parent mother to put the unborn child up for adoption.

So Haynes went to St. Anne's Maternity Home, a hospital for pregnant, unwed, young mothers in Los Angeles.

On May 14, 1967, Mother's Day, she gave birth to a baby girl whom she named Lendray. Haynes got to spend only three days with her newborn, but she vividly remembers those days.

"I wasn't sure I'd ever see her again," Haynes said, as the tears welled again. "The last day we spent together, I kissed her on the top of the head, and I told her, 'I will always love you wherever you go.' I didn't know if I'd ever have the opportunity to tell her that again."

It would be 42 years, five months and 16 days before she got another chance.

Filling empty place

On Friday, while Haynes' family hooted it up in the West Long Beach home of one of Haynes' sisters-in-law, mother and daughter took some time to talk about their reunion.

While Haynes would go on to graduate, marry, have a son and a career with the County of Los Angeles, there was always a hole in her heart.

Gibson grew up in a middle-class life, the only daughter of two parents who couldn't have children of their own.

Marnette Haynes, right, and the the daughter she gave up for adoption 42 years ago, Gina Gibson, with Gibson's new extended family in Long Beach, Calif. on December 25, 2009.

She had no extended family, but she never wanted for anything, was able to attend private schools in Altadena and went to UCLA and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in geography.

She now lives in Riverside and works as a city planner in Rialto.

Although she grew up never suspecting that she was adopted, she says "for some reason, when my adopted mother told me (about the adoption), I wasn't surprised," Gibson said.

Gibson's adopted grandmother told her that her birth mother hadn't wanted to give her up but had no choice. And Gibson said that helped her feel she had not been abandoned or unwanted.

That was when Gibson was in high school. Because California adoptions are closed, Gibson couldn't even begin to look for her birth mother until she was 18.

When Gibson's adopted mother died in 1999, leaving Gibson alone with her child, the search picked up.

"I asked Jesus to help me find her, and he answered my prayer," Gibson said.

It didn't happen quickly or easily.

As it turns out, the daughter had never been very far away.

"She's lived in Pasadena and has worked in Cerritos," Haynes said. "And she went to Cal State Long Beach. She was right there in the palm of my hand."

Not only that, Gibson even interned in Long Beach for the city planning department.

In November, Gibson's fiance called Haynes and exchanged information until they both knew they had found the match.

It fell to Haynes to decide if she wanted to make contact.

Haynes remembers she fretted and procrastinated. She remembers the Lakers game was on TV, and she was walking back and forth in front of the phone.

What would she say? How would she start? What would the daughter say? Would she be angry, hurt, resentful?

She remembers formally asking if Gina Gibson was available.

"After I introduced myself, she said 'Yippee,"' Haynes said.

"I said, 'Yippee, Skippy,"' Gibson added. "It's just one of those things I say."

Emotional meeting

Haynes was overcome with emotion when they finally met.

"It's just been ... I don't have any words. When I first met her, I was just in awe," Haynes said. "I kept touching her and hugging her, as if she would disappear if I let go."

While Haynes wanted to apologize, Gibson told her "There's no hurt to heal."

In the few weeks since they've met, mother and daughter have talked about just about everything. And yet, each day they learn something new.

For Haynes, it has also been fun getting to know her granddaughter, Gibson's 14-year-old child, Nairobi Watson.

Nairobi was with her dad on Christmas Day, but she and Gibson met a large part of their new extended family the day after Thanksgiving, when Haynes surprised them with a Welcome Home cake.

Gibson is still getting to know the family, including her 34-year-old brother, Brian Wilson. As for the rest of the brood, she's still trying to put names and faces together.

"She's been so excited. Her adopted parents have both passed away, and it's just her and her daughter," Haynes said. "When I first met her, I said, 'it seems like I've known you all my life;' and I have, in my heart. It's been overwhelming for her, too, but a good overwhelming.

"When you give someone up for adoption ... other people tell that they couldn't do it and what they would do, but you never know what you'll do," she said.

Although she's missed out on her daughter's life, Haynes is excited about their future.

"I told her, I can't do anything about the last 42 years, but until the day I take my last breath, I'll be here for you," she said.

"This is such a true blessing. She's everything a mother would want a daughter to be," Haynes said. "This is the greatest Christmas gift. Things like this just warm your heart and soul."

For all the loss and the lack that has been in her heart, Haynes she is happy to see the circle close and confirm that her sacrifice had purpose.

"Me giving her up for adoption allowed someone else to have a child and be happy and when their time was up, she came right back to me."

Gibson agreed saying, "Everything has a time and a season, and this is our time."

And it's a cinch it has been a holiday season like no other.