In June, The Inquirer told Cheryl Edwards’ story of being abandoned at birth in West Philadelphia in 1967. As a result of the story, Edwards found her biological family and The Inquirer detailed their meeting in a follow-up story in October. Today, Edwards writes in her own words about meeting her biological mother for the first time in December.
This year has been the most rewarding and fulfilling year of my entire life. This year, something I never believed would happen did.
This year, I met my biological mother.
On Aug. 14, 1967, I was abandoned as a newborn in West Philadelphia. I was put inside of a pillowcase and hidden under a dresser in an empty room of an otherwise occupied rowhome.
Through a series of events, which I learned about from newspaper articles at the time, the pillowcase — with me inside of it — was placed into a trash bin behind the house on Haverford Avenue by one of the residents, George Ikard.
A neighbor saw this, pulled the pillowcase from the trash, and found me inside. I was taken to a hospital, placed in foster care, and later adopted by a loving couple, Ernest Lee Sr. and Susan Edwards. They loved and cared for me as if I was their own biological child.
This year, I decided to tell my story for two reasons. One, because during an argument, someone very close to me maliciously stated, did I even know who my biological parents were; and the other reason is because I had experienced so much loss of friends and family due to COVID that I sought out grief counseling through my employer. In those sessions, the therapist suggested I discuss my childhood. After a bit of hesitation, I agreed to open up and share it with her. She listened very intently and was very quiet. I felt vulnerable, but I also felt like I could trust her. After I finished speaking I felt a slight sense of relief and she said to me, “You should tell your story. It will take the sting out of the horrific circumstances.”
In June, after my story was written and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Stephanie Farr, she was contacted by a woman who said George Ikard, the man who placed the pillowcase in the trash can with me inside of it, was her grandfather. She said she believed she was my first cousin and that her aunt may be my biological mother.
I spoke by phone with that woman the next day along with her sister and one of their aunts. I fell in love with them immediately. They were so warm and welcoming, as if I’d known them my entire life. We set a date and agreed to meet in person.
Ironically enough, one of my potential family members only lived 30 minutes away from where I now live in Maryland, so we all met at her home. We ate, laughed, and they couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance I had to a lot of their family members.
After that initial meeting, we agreed to conduct DNA testing. On Aug. 13, a day before my 54th birthday, DNA confirmed that the woman who initially contacted me was indeed my first cousin.
I went numb. I couldn’t believe it. I kept pinching myself and saying, “No, this can’t be real. It’s been 54 years, no way.”
The striking resemblance that I have to some of my family members is unbelievable. It is like looking in the mirror. I was elated to discover aunts and cousins and even a half brother. But there was one person I had left to meet: my biological mother.
The family told me she was alive and lived in North Carolina in a nursing facility but was unable to speak due to a stroke she suffered about 12 years ago. My hopes diminished that I’d ever get the opportunity to lay eyes on her, be in her presence, touch her, or hug her. I kept thinking if I did ever get a chance to meet her, would she even understand who I was? Would she be receptive? Would she care?
Those thoughts secretly haunted me. I couldn’t come this far in my journey of discovering who I was without meeting the woman who birthed me.
One morning, I woke up with courage I never knew I had and told myself “I’m going to see her. I have to, I won’t be able to rest until I do.”
I called my cousin and told her my fears, excitement, and apprehension. She calmed my nerves and we set a date to travel to meet my biological mother.
The week leading to the visit was insane. I could barely eat, couldn’t sleep, and I was an emotional basket case.
The day we decided to make the journey to North Carolina was Dec. 3, which is also the birthday of my adopted mother. I chose this date because I wanted it to be a beautiful reminder of two very special women in my life who created and molded me into the woman I am today. I couldn’t think of a better day to honor them both.
I had an early flight that morning, so I didn’t sleep at all the night before. We made it to North Carolina safely, grabbed a rental car, and made the trip to the nursing facility.
As I pulled into the facility, I had a panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was shaking uncontrollably, and I was sobbing. I was seconds away from seeing my biological mother.
We walked the halls and it seemed like an eternity reaching her room. My cousin walked in first and I walked in behind her. I walked over to my biological mother’s bed and we just gazed at each other in amazement for what seemed like minutes.
My cousin then came over and asked my biological mother if she knew who I was. She shook her head yes and pointed to herself and then her stomach as an acknowledgment of me being her child.
I completely lost it. I ran out of the room in tears. So many emotions took over. I was nervous, anxious, a little scared but also RELIEVED. I was finally looking my mother in her eyes, breathing the same air as her, in the same room with her.
After a few seconds, minutes, what seemed like a half hour, I gathered myself together in the hallway and went back into the room. We both stared at each other again, and this time we both smiled.
I asked if she needed my help feeding her and she shook her head yes. I guess I was moving too slow and she motioned for me to speed it up while she smiled. What did I do? I sped it up!
After that, I showed her pictures on my phone of when I graduated college and other important moments in my life. What really struck me was when I showed her a picture of my son. I said to her: “This is your grandson.”
She stared at the picture for what seemed like an eternity with the sweetest expression on her face. She double tapped the picture to zoom in so she could see her grandson clearer. I cried again.
The entire visit lasted about an hour. I didn’t want to leave but knew I had to. We embraced when I was leaving and I told her “I love you, pretty lady.”
I’ve been missing her terribly ever since. My goal is to visit her as much as I can. I’m 54 years old and feel like a little girl again. I finally know who I am and where I came from.
If I could tell people one thing it would be don’t ever give up hope and don’t underestimate the power of forgiving others. Forgiveness is not for “them,” it’s for YOU.
With a heart full of love and gratitude, I’m looking forward to more moments with my biological mother. While she may never be able to tell me why she chose to or had to leave me, she is just amazing in my eyes. Ironically enough, we both have something in common. We are survivors. We both endured a very traumatic experience and still managed to get through life the best way we knew how.
Cheryl Edwards may be reached at cde54STORY@gmail.com.