Marissa McDermott was in a meeting when she received a text message from her neighbor with big news.
McDermott, the first lady of Hammond, was adopted from Warsaw, Poland, at the age of 3 by a New York family. She and her neighbor, who grew up in Krakow, Poland, had connected over their shared roots and were searching for McDermott's birth family.
The news: McDermott's birth mother had responded, and she wanted to have contact.
The breakthrough came as the search for McDermott's birth family seemed to have come to a dead end. Unbeknownst to her, a neighbor's mother, who still lives in Poland, had written a letter to a final address that may have had a connection to her birth family.
Days later, McDermott video chatted by computer with her birth mother. In October, she and her 12-year-old son, Tommy, traveled to Poland to meet her birth mother and siblings in person for the first time.
“I couldn't be happier with my family here and, of course, I adore my parents very much,” McDermott said. “But it is so nice to be able to complete the puzzle so to speak and have this relationship now with siblings I never knew.”
Her birth mother greeted her at the airport and took her to a Polish dinner filled with ham, pierogi, sauerkraut and lots of conversation with the whole family.
McDermott began to notice similarities in personalities and interests. Her birth mother loves to bike ride and garden, which are two activities she enjoys. McDermott's twin brother, who was adopted with her, was an electrical engineer in the U.S. Air Force. Her birth father was an electrical engineer as well.
“It just makes me realize how important genetics are to who you are as a person. I was always very interested in art growing up and took a couple of art classes and considered going to art school,” McDermott said. “Come to find out my birth sister is an artist.”
The trip was McDermott's first back to Poland after she left the country at age 3 with a one-way ticket to New York. During the trip, McDermott and her siblings lined up for a picture that she described as 35 years in the making. She plans to return with her entire family to continue to explore her birth country.
“My mother has been tremendously supportive of me during this whole process,” McDermott said. “She never made my adoption a secret and, in fact, made me feel special for having been 'chosen' by her. Then, when we found my birth family, she urged me to go and has been nothing but happy for me.”