The story of a mother and child reunion told in The Waiting: The True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing, and a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up by Cathy LaGrow (Tyndale Momentum, May) was more than seven decades in the making. LaGrow had always thought her mother Dianna was her grandmother’s only daughter. When LaGrow’s brother called in 2006 to say Grandma Disbrow had borne another daughter when she was only 17, LaGrow says, “We were absolutely floored.”
There was much more to the story. Minka Disbrow had been assaulted by a stranger and given birth to a little girl she named Betty Jane before giving her up for adoption. Although LaGrow was in a new-mother haze of her own, having just given birth to her first son, she says “I knew a big part of the story was that she had fallen completely in love with her daughter.”
LaGrow was amazed to discover Minka Disbrow had written scores of letters over several decades to the home that handled her little girl’s adoption, asking for any news of her daughter. She politely inquired in her letters how everyone at the adoption home was doing, LaGrow says, but “it was clear [her daughter] was a bit of an obsession for her.” Grandma Disbrow also wrote about her life and events in the world at the time, creating a kind of diary.
In 2006, Disbrow’s Betty Jane--now named Ruth--petitioned the court to open her adoption records at the home. There she found the letters and began to search for her mother. Ruth’s son Brian combed through the records, pulling out Disbrow’s married name, her birthdate, and other key details about places she had lived. Then he turned to the Internet. An hour of searching public birth and death records turned up nothing, so Brian tried his search on Whitepages.com, and a single result with a California address and phone number came up. After verifying a few other details, Brian felt sure he had found his grandmother. He drove to Ruth’s workplace to share the news, and just a few hours later Ruth left a message on Disbrow’s answering machine that reopened a door closed nearly 80 years before.
That first contact touched off a flurry of phone calls, letters, photos, and visits that began to fill in the details of the many years mother and daughter had spent apart. It wasn’t until 2012 that LaGrow approached her grandmother with the idea of a book telling her story. Though the topic was an intimate one, kept hidden for so long, LaGrow did not worry the book would make her grandmother uncomfortable. By then Minka Disbrow had been speaking publicly and had given interviews to the Associated Press and other media about reuniting with her daughter. ”When I finally flew to California with the first fourteen chapters for [Grandma] to read, I gave her a highlighter and asked her to mark anything that wasn’t accurate,” LaGrow says. “When she returned the manuscript, I discovered she had changed three words. Then she told me she loved it and couldn’t wait to read the rest. That, to me, was the highest praise I could ever receive.”
For Grandma Disbrow, nothing could compare with the pleasure of ordinary things like celebrating Ruth’s birthday with her for the first time. LaGrow writes of that day, “Minka finally watched her daughter blow out her candles and make a wish for the future. Silverware clinked and voices rose in laughter and light shone off water glasses as they were raised to lips. The scene was simple and ordinary and perfect. Waiting had been worth it. Her daughter had been worth it.”
Disbrow and her daughter Ruth appeared on the Today show during the week after Mother’s Day; a story ran in the online edition of Reader’s Digest (which has requested international print rights). The Waiting also was featured in the New York Post on Mother’s Day weekend.