IMPACT

An Adoptee Shares How She Found a Family She Never Knew She Had

Hallie Wunsch was searching for her birth mother, but she found her sisters instead.

10/18/2017 23:58 EDT
Callie Barlow

Last summer Hallie Wunsch received an email that would change her life forever.

For nearly fifteen years, Wunsch had tried unsuccessfully to find her biological family. She had all but given up when she was connected to a relative through a genealogy service. The relative turned out to be her older sister, who Wunsch never even knew she had. But she wasn’t her only unknown sibling, Wunsch soon learned she had a younger sister, too. We partnered with National Geographic’s new six-part series, The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman (Wednesdays 9/8c), about the common humanity in all of us, to share how Wunsch found the unexpected connection she had spent a lifetime searching for in her new sisters.

Growing up, Wunsch always knew she was adopted. On January 19th, 1987, her parents flew from Long Island, New York to Austin, Texas to pick up her up from a young mother who had just given birth.

Wunsch was surrounded by love as a child, but she always wondered about her birth mother. As a teen, she spent years unsuccessfully searching fledgling social media sites like Facebook for the woman who brought her into the world.

“I just wanted to see myself in another person,” Wunsch told HuffPost. “I was looking for her constantly, and as more social media sites came about, I would look for her there, too. But I could never find her.”

In March of 2016, at the age of 29, she continued the search by signing up for a DNA service that would tell her more about her ancestry and possibly – familial matches who were also registered with the service.

It wasn’t until a year later, while traveling in Thailand, that she was finally notified of a “close family member” match. She immediately contacted the woman, a 31-year-old named Sasha, to find out how they could possibly be related.

“I sent her an email telling her about the search for my birth mother, and asking if she knew anyone by that name.” Wunsch explained. “I thought she might be a cousin, if anything.”

Wunsch waited anxiously for 10 hours before she heard anything. When Sasha finally replied, she explained the delay was due to the fact that she had just given birth to her first child and was still in the hospital, coincidentally it was right before Mother’s Day. She then revealed that she was actually Wunsch’s older sister, who had also been adopted.

“I guess I should tell you now that I’m not actually your cousin. I’m your sister!” she wrote in the email. She also told Wunsch that they had another sister named Dani, 22, who was living in Portland, Oregon. As they continued their conversation, Hallie learned that Sasha had found their mother a decade earlier through the use of a private investigator.

Hallie Wunsch
Wunsch with her sisters and nephew in Washington.

After learning Sasha’s full name and of her relationship with their mother, Hallie took to Facebook once more with the hopes of finding her birth mother through Sasha’s profile.  

While looking through her sister’s photos, she finally came across a photo of a woman who she knew immediately was her mother.

“When I saw that photo, I immediately teared up. I just knew it was her,” recalled Wunsch. “My heart was racing. I was just walking back and forth across this room on the other side of the world. It was a lot to take in.” Wunsch was finally able to contact her birth mother for the first time in her life.

“I wrote her a letter telling her everything I had always wanted to say,” said Wunsch. But, her mother replied that she wasn’t ready to have a relationship with her.

It was a heartbreaking moment for Wunsch, who, after years of searching, finally realized that things with her birth mother weren’t going to turn out the way she hoped. So instead, she focused on the positive – and put her energy into building a relationship with her two sisters.

Shortly after they began speaking, Hallie flew Dani from Portland to New York City to spend four days together. She introduced her new sister to her friends and showed her around the city for the first time. It turned out they had a lot in common.

A few months later, Wunsch flew to Washington to meet Sasha, as well as her husband and her new baby nephew for the first time. While she was there, Dani drove from Portland to meet them all for dinner. It was the first time the three sisters would be together in one room.

“We still talk all the time,” said Wunsch. “We tell each other what’s going on in our lives. We share photos. I send them flowers for their birthdays, but I’d really like to continue to spend more time with them in person.”

Wunsch still has contact with her birth mom, but she hasn’t developed much of a relationship with her, and she’s not sure she ever will. But, she hopes that one day she will find her biological father and possibly even more siblings. For now, she is excited about the relationship she has continued to develop with her sisters.

“All three of us are different, but even just seeing yourself a little bit in another person, when you’ve never had that before, is a powerful thing,” said Wunsch. “It took 29 years, but I finally found the connection I was looking for. The fact that it all happened in such an unexpected way – that only made it better.”

 

Like Wunsch, many people are on a lifelong mission to find love even in the most unexpected circumstances. We partnered with National Geographic’s new six-part series, The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman, to put the spotlight on journeys like these and the unexpected people who come together to drive humanity forward around the world.

The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman, Wednesdays 9/8c, on National Geographic.

Go to natgeotv.com/StoryofUs for more information.