The Importance of Timing

Celeste Baby Photos

By Celeste Gawanda, Farmers Alliance Underwriter Associate

In March of 1981, there were several lives changed forever. This is a story of a woman’s struggle to become a mother and her love for the little girl that would make her one. A story about my adoption. In 1981 after eight years of struggling to conceive due to a birth defect, my adoptive parent’s prayers were answered. Debra knew that if she had the opportunity to have a baby, “it would truly be a gift from God,” and for her, I was that special gift. Even though I was already given the name Alba Lucia Ibañez when I was born, she renamed me “Celeste”, which meant “heavenly” because she knew God had given her the most precious gift from heaven.

My Homecoming

My biological mother was Alba Lucia Ibañez. She was an unwed mother, unable to support a child, and made the difficult decision to put me up for adoption. She named me after herself, which may seem odd, but she had specific reasons. My adoptive parents, Edward and Debra (Ed and Deb) had friends in McPherson, Kansas who adopted a little boy from Bogotá, Colombia. They inspired them to move forward with the adoption process and connected them with attorneys in Kansas and Colombia. In March of 1981, the Colombian lawyer contacted Ed and Deb telling them a baby girl had been born and was available for adoption. There were weeks of paperwork to follow, but in May of 1981, Ed boarded a plane to Bogotá to pick me up. He stayed in Bogotá for 10 days with the host family that had been caring for me since birth. “I remember the first time I saw you”, my dad said, “oh little girl, you are going to make your mom cry, you’re so beautiful, and then I imagined how hard your biological mother must have cried when she gave you away.”  My mom remembered picking me and my dad up from the airport and said, “All of a sudden, I see it. Your dad’s cowboy hat and a little bundle on his chest, and I just ran as fast as I could to him. I just cried and cried.” They immediately took me to Sears for a baby photo. I was officially home on May 28th, 1981, and I was two and a half months old.

The first photo Celeste ever saw of her biological mother.

My parents were always very open with me about where I came from and helped me to understand my heritage. They told me that my birth mom loved me so much that she gave me up for adoption so that I could have a better life. They said, “all mommies love their babies, but you had a special love from yours”. I have known I was adopted since I was five, and since then I’ve always been so proud to share about my Colombian heritage.

The Search Begins

In 1999 I was a senior in high school and one of my teachers gave me the assignment to post on a thread on a website. I chose to post on on a thread for adoptive children looking for their birth parents. Years later, I received a call regarding my post on from Sue, who offered to help me find my biological mother. At the time I had two children and was going through a difficult separation from my husband, so I wasn’t in a place to pursue her offer. However, I did mention to her that I had a copy of my birth certificate, a hand-written letter from my birth mother, as well as several other documents that I would share with her when I was ready. Sue respected my decision and we connected on Facebook so we could stay in touch.

Celeste with her biological family meeting in Bogotá, Colombia for the first time.

On August 31, 2017, I woke up and decided I was ready to begin the daunting search for my birth mother. I sent Sue a photo of my birth certificate on Facebook and asked if she could still help me find her. She responded right away and said she would start searching and be in touch with more information. Luckily my birth certificate was more complete than most Colombian birth certificates and had my birth mother’s name and address on it. Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

I was shocked when I received another message from Sue asking me to connect with a woman named Angeles just four hours later. I did, and on that same day, on my way home from work, I received a phone call from Angeles who said she had spoken to a woman named Raquel who had located my birth mother, spoke to her on the phone, and had a photo of her that she wanted me to have. I had never seen a photo of my birth mom before, and I had cried so many times because I did not know her face. It took me almost 30 minutes to look at the photo.

Reuniting in Colombia

On June 28, 2018, my dad accompanied me to Bogotá to visit my birth mother. In the months leading up to the trip, I learned as much Spanish as I could and bought special gifts for my family members. I learned that I had another sister, a niece, and nephew, and a herd of cousins, aunts, and uncles. On that trip, my mom was very emotional about the fact that my father had brought me and shared a story. She remembered the lawyer telling her “Alba, your baby is going to be fine. They are a good couple. He is a good man. They will teach her about her Colombian family and someday he will bring her back.” She carried on “I held onto those words for 37 years ‘He’ll bring her back.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, including my dad’s who I hadn’t seen cry since 1986 when his father passed away. “And here you are with my baby.” My uncle said, “And that makes you a man of your word.” All five of my uncles then stood up, embraced my dad, and kissed him on the cheek. I remember wondering at that moment why I didn’t do this sooner. Why did I wait 37 years? My answer has always been: Because God’s timing is perfect.

Celeste celebrated Mother’s Day with her biological mother for the first time in 2018 by giving her 37 carnations. One for every year they were apart.

Watch a video of their reunion here.

The Story Continues

On July 25th, 2021, my sister located my biological father. We were reunited, along with my new brother and sister, on October 12th, 2021. A follow-up to this story will come soon!