State Adoption Records
Rita Updike, 47, of Craig, was reunited with her birth mother after receiving her birth certificate from the state. Updike talks about her experience and the process she went through to obtain the information that enabled her to make contact with her birth family.
Craig Rita Updike was lying on the floor of her apartment for more than 45 minutes, shaking and crying, clutching the phone in her hand.
At that moment, she was closer to finding her biological mother than at any other time in her 47 years.
She had just got off the phone with her grandmother, who at 93 years old never knew she existed until July 13.
She was waiting for her mother to call back. She didn't know if she would.
Rita was raised by Gene and Illena Updike, of Craig, who adopted her as a baby in 1963 in Pueblo.
Until this summer, Rita never knew the first name of anyone in her biological family.
She knew from 8 years old that she was adopted.
It wasn't hard for her to accept. Her skin was darker than her parents, a dead giveaway that they did not share the same blood.
But, there were other signs.
There were things that Rita could feel inside, signals that told her she was different.
That's not to say Rita felt ostracized. Life has had its hardships, and she said she wouldn't be alive today without the love of her parents.
"I smoked crack for : years trying to find myself," Rita said. "I was lost out there."
She moved to Denver in the 1990s and left Gene and Illena to raise her daughter, Ariah, until she was 12. Ariah is now 17.
"They were with me through many of my difficult times in my life," Rita said. "I love my adoptive parents and my brothers and sisters. I don't know where I'd be without them in my life."
Still, growing up wasn't easy.
"I just wanted to know who I am, who I look like," Rita said. "I just didn't fit in with some things. My family has 300 acres and a farm. That's not what I'm like. That's not my lifestyle, that's not me."
On top of it all, Rita is a lesbian, which didn't make things easier while growing up in conservative Craig.
"It's like there is a hole in your heart," Rita said about not knowing her birth family. "It was always a goal in my life to find my mother."
She tried a lot of things.
All Rita knew was that her birth name was Trujillo, so she scoured high school graduation records in Pueblo looking for the young girl who grew up to be her mother.
She bought an ad in the Pueblo Chieftain on Mother's Day 2007, asking for people to help find her mother.
It read, "Happy Mother's Day to the Mother that I have never met. Happy Mother's Day to the Mother I somehow cannot forget," and gave her birth name and a brief history.
She consulted with lawyers who wanted to charge her $2,000 to find her birth family.
For all her efforts, the final key to the puzzle came when Rita wasn't looking.
It was a morning like any other, so anonymous that Rita doesn't remember the exact day.
A morning news show aired a short piece about Colorado opening adoption records to adoptees born between July 1, 1951, and June 30, 1967, after a controversial state Court of Appeals ruling in April.
Rita went to her computer.
She contacted the Vital Records section of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and learned its office would be open to adoptees like her starting June 29.
Rita was one of the first in line that day.
Two weeks later, she walked by her mailbox and knew it was about to happen.
She was about to find her mother.
"Listen, my stomach just freaked out," Rita said. "I knew. I just knew. I never thought I'd find her, but there it was, in my mailbox."
Abelina Casaus, the name of her birth mother.
Rita set about tracking her down. She enlisted a friend, who used an Internet search to narrow the hundreds of Trujillos in the Pueblo phonebook down to a small list of those around Abelina's age of 69.
Rita used Trujillo because that was her family name.
She made one call. No luck.
She made a second, and the woman instantly knew who Rita was talking about.
Abelina moved away years ago, the stranger said, but Abelina's mother was still in town, and the woman had the phone number.
Within minutes, Rita was speaking to her grandmother.
More than that, Rita found out she had, by chance, called during a Trujillo family reunion.
Her mother, Abelina, was in town and would back from the store in 10 minutes.
Rita asked to have her mother call back.
Minutes later, she was shaking and crying on the floor.
In the 48th minute, the phone rang.
It was Rita's brother.
He said the family spent the last half hour learning it had a long lost baby girl. He also said he accepted Rita and wanted her to know she was his sister.
Then he put her mother on.
"Oh my God, my prayers have been answered," said Abelina, whose last name is now Montoya, about first talking to her daughter. "I thought I was going to explode."
She never told anyone in her family except her sister about Rita, who Abelina named "Baby Girl" on her official birth certificate.
She said she gave Rita up out of confusion and went back to the hospital where she gave birth three days later to try to get her back.
It was too late, though, and Abelina said she has struggled with guilt ever since.
She never expected to be absolved.
"I've had a lot of hurt in my heart," she said. "I never expected anything. That's a big load to carry. Every girl I saw I thought, 'That's going to be my daughter.' Now I have the real thing, and no one can take that away from me."
Rita's daughter, Ariah, said she's happy her mother finally has some peace after her lifelong search.
"I was really scared," she said about the day Rita tried to call her family for the first time. "I'm a pretty strong person, but holding onto my mom while she's crying, I was scared how she was going to handle it if it didn't work out."
Even now, Rita said she is shocked that finding her biological family worked out like it did.
"My heart and my life are complete, within four and a half hours from when I had the original birth certificate," Rita said. "They're like us. They look like us. My mom is just like me. She is me. She's just crazy and wild, and I love it because she's just like me.
"I've never known who I was, and now I know exactly how I fit in."
When they met, the first thing Rita and Abelina noticed about each other was they were wearing the same bracelet.
"That's a little thing, but it's one of those 'oh my God' things," Rita said.
Then, they talked.
It wasn't an in-depth conversation.
Abelina wanted to explain why she gave up Rita for adoption, and Rita told her she didn't care.
The two now speak to each other every other day.
Rita said the most important thing she did, looking back on the search for her birth mother, was never quitting.
"It's been a long, strange, hard life, but it's all come together and it's complete," she said. "If I could help anybody, it would be to tell them it's possible. You shouldn't give up. You should never give up."
Not everyone will have the same experience she did, Rita added.
"But for some of us, there's something missing inside you, and you have to know," she said. "Those people need to know this service is available."
Not all birth records are available. The state will not release adoption records finalized before July 1, 1951, or between July 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1999, without a court order.
Adoptions finalized after Sept. 1, 1999, are only open to adoptees once they turn 18.
More information about state adoption records and how a person can obtain a copy of their records can be found at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/certs/adoption.html.
Rita also said she is available at 620-1273 for advice and support to anyone trying to find their birth family.