SAN DIEGO - A Mission Beach woman just wanted to find her birth mother, but she kept running into roadblocks at every turn during a painful journey that lasted 40 years.
Sandra Estes said even though she's grateful to her adoptive mother, there were times when she felt alone.
However, things changed last month when she tracked down the sister she did not know she had.
Estes was adopted in Rhode Island when she was a year old, but she didn't know it until she stumbled upon her certificate of adoption when she was 14.
Through tears, she remembered how that made her feel.
"I felt so unwanted even though I was adopted. I couldn't figure out why my mother would give me up," Estes said.
As a teen, Estes was shocked, confused and looking for answers. Her adoptive father and mother divorced when she was 7 and she never saw him again.
Her adoptive mother told her little about her birth mother, only saying that her name was Mary.
"She tried to discourage me. I think she was afraid I'd be hurt," said Estes, now 60.
Estes eventually moved on, becoming one of the first female firefighters in San Diego.
When her adoptive mother died in 1999, she said she felt alone and started searching for her birth family again.
"I had written a lot of letters to Rhode Island, where I was born, trying to get my birth certificate, but they wouldn't unseal it," Estes told 10News.
The certificate held the key, and for more than 10 years, she kept checking.
She said she found the strength to keep going in what her adoptive mother had told her -- that Mary had other children.
In 2012, Rhode Island unsealed adoption records for people 25 and older. After getting her birth mother's full name, Estes said she went on the Ancestry.com website and found that her birth mother had died, but a sister was nearby.
"She was living in Kingman, Arizona," said Estes.
Estes said she was excited, but also a little scared to call.
However, it turns out she didn't need to be.
"She says, 'I've been looking for you all my life,'" said Estes.
Estes and her older sister, who goes by Jo, bonded instantly. Estes' middle name is Jo.
"I'm so grateful," said Estes, overcome with emotion. "I'm so grateful."
Estes visited her sister in early April, and she said of her visit, "It just felt so good to hug her and just to think this is my real sister; my wish has come true."
Estes actually has three other siblings and hopes to make contact with them, too.
She said she wants others in a similar situation not to give up and to know that the Internet has been very helpful.
Estes' sister told her she thinks the decision to give Sandra up was a financial one.
Estes' sister will be arriving in San Diego Thursday.
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