Published August 2015
By Samantha Spengler, Intern
The holidays are always interesting for Cradle adoptee Tess Berger. Her family has been expanding ever since her parents took her home from The Cradle Nursery in 1986. Tess says she now has five different sides of the family – her mother’s, her father’s, her husband’s, her own and that of her birth family.
From the start, Tess and her older brother Adam knew they were adopted. Their next door neighbor was also adopted. To Tess, adoption was completely “normal.” She had a happy, well-adjusted childhood.
This, as it turns out, was exactly what her birth mother, Carrie, had envisioned.
“There were three things that were very important for me: I wanted a middle-class family and for her to have another sibling,” Carrie says. “And I wanted her to know she was adopted.”
When she was 19, Tess became curious about her health history and her birth family. She contacted The Cradle, left her email address and hoped to hear back.
A few years later, Tess heard from Nina Friedman, a post-adoption counselor at The Cradle. Carrie had written Tess a letter. Nina helped Tess understand that reconnection is not an overnight process—there are a lot of what-ifs.
“You spend your whole life having no clue what these people are like, what they do, who they are,” Tess says. “If they’re amazing, awesome people or if they’re totally disappointing. You just don’t know. Opening that door brings a range of possibilities.”
Tess responded to Carrie in a letter she sent through Nina.
“When I had received her letter… it was the best letter imaginable, she is such a phenomenal writer. I was so intimidated,” Carrie says.
The two emailed back and forth frequently and finally met four months later. For some, this may seem too soon, but for Tess and Carrie—who emailed almost daily during those four months—it felt like a long time.
Although both women felt anxious and excited, the first meeting wasn’t awkward in the least. Carrie remembers how comfortable it was. Tess recalls how well they got along, how much they had in common, and how truly easy it was.
From that first meeting on, Tess and Carrie kept in touch weekly. And Tess’s family continued to grow. She got to know her birth aunt and Carrie’s daughters Alex, 10 and Megan, 24. But Tess felt nervous at first, and she wasn’t the only one. Both Carrie and Megan had told her they were scared to meet her. Carrie feared Tess would resent her for placing her for adoption.
“I was like, ‘You’re crazy! You gave my parents an awesome gift, you gave me an awesome gift, and now I have even more family,’” Tess says.
Today, at 29, Tess is very close with her birth family. She easily became close with both sisters- especially Megan because the two are so close in age. She and Megan both live in Chicago, just one mile away.
“We hang out probably three to five times a week. We are super close – she’s probably my best friend,” Tess says.
Carrie currently lives about two-and-a-half hours away, so while it’s a little more difficult for them to see each other, she and Tess have made it work. They get creative when it comes to holidays.
“Carrie will always switch celebrating Christmas to a weekend that will work for me, and is flexible about Mother’s Day. Usually I’m with my mom on Mother’s Day, so we will do something the day before. She never makes it uncomfortable, so it’s not too difficult,” Tess explains.
Tess is the common denominator in her huge family. Everyone was at her wedding in September of 2013, and her sisters both stood up. Says Tess, everyone has learned to integrate.
“I have a plethora of family in general,” Tess says. “Being adopted makes you understand that you don’t necessarily have to be blood-related in order to love people or be a family.”
Photos: Tess with Carrie’s sister, Linda, and her birth sisters, Megan and Alex; Tess’ wedding day, with Carrie, Megan and Alex.