SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - Andrew Van Woerkom has always known he was adopted, but never dwelled on the past for too long.
“The biggest wonders I always had was I wonder what she looks like, it would be cool to see somebody that looks like me. I wonder what her name is,” he said.
The now 32-year-old San Diego man, like many, has had a roller coaster of a year in 2020. For him, the chaos stems from multiple aspects of life.
His family grew from four to five this year after his wife gave birth to their third child. But this baby wasn’t the only addition to the family.
Andrew signed up for a genealogy website and through the years has reached out to any distant relatives who pop up, hoping to gain some insight into his biological family. No one ever responded, until this past summer.
“She says I’m your aunt so and so. I was there for your birth coach. This is your mom’s name. This is her number and email address and here’s a little message from her and it’s way more information than I ever thought I would get and it’s just this flood of emotion,” he said.
This message turned out to be the key to his past. He found out his birth mom, Melissa Willis, had him at 19 and knew she wasn’t ready to become a parent, so she chose to keep the baby and give him up for adoption. She later went on to get married and have five more kids, but always wondered what had happened to her first son. So, in 2020, hearing from him answered many of her own questions.
“Then I lost it. Because for 32 years I wondered is he dead in a ditch, is he in jail, is he abused, is he happy,” said Melissa.
Both of them vividly remember their first time on the phone together.
From Melissa’s perspective: “he said I’m grateful for the choice you made me and the life you gave me, and I said I did everything I did out of love, all I wanted was for you to be happy and healthy and have everything I couldn’t give you.”
Andrew says for him, he felt like he had to get out a lifetime of emotion in a handful of minutes.
“First five ten minutes of the phone conversation was just sobbing and just expressing all this gratitude and emotion that I didn’t know was pent up inside and all these feelings I had for a person that gave me life. That gave me such an awesome opportunity to have a shot and have a chance at life,” he said.
Since then, the two have started introducing each other to their families.
This excitement coming at a hard time. Andrew’s adoptive mother is battling cancer for the fourth time, so he’s balancing the joy of finding his birth mom with the stress of supporting his adoptive mom, but thankful for the positive parts of life this year.
“At a time when we’ve had so much fear and worry about what’s going to happen in the future, to have those joys… our son being born, meeting my birth mom… just how impeccable is that timing? It’s really gotten us through this year,” said Andrew.
Both say that their new relationship is not replacing any other relationships, rather adding to them.
When asked if she would change anything about her past, Melissa said she has no regrets.
“The very best life I could’ve given myself and my baby is the one that I gave. The one I gave him and his family and me and my family. And I’m so grateful for that choice I made 31 years ago,” she said.
This holiday season, everyone has found a new meaning of the word ‘family.’
“Family is what you love. Family is what’s close to you, what you hold dear and yeah *we’re definitely not a cookie cutter, molded family. There’s definitely more of a different dynamic to it but I’m okay with it,” said Andrew.