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Mother-Daughter Duo Reunited Against The Odds: 'I Believed That You Were Dead'

Janie Bush (left) and daughter Tracey Bush at their StoryCorps interview in Dallas on Dec. 8, 2014.
Callie Thuma
Janie Bush (left) and daughter Tracey Bush at their StoryCorps interview in Dallas on Dec. 8, 2014.

In 1967, when Janie Bush was 19 and discovered that she was pregnant, she decided to place her baby for adoption.

But when Janie's daughter — whom she named Tracey Jane — was born with spina bifida, a potentially fatal birth defect, the planned adoptive family backed out.

Janie couldn't afford the expensive specialized care that Tracey's condition required. A social worker told Janie that her daughter might die if the child didn't receive appropriate medical care and that a state residence might be her best option.

Not long after, Janie gave Tracey up to the state, which assigned the newborn to a nursing home for children with disabilities.

Decades later and against the odds, the two women now share a strong mother-daughter relationship. During a 2014 StoryCorps interview in Dallas, they recounted the winding path that brought them together 12 years after they said goodbye.

"I always knew about my birth mom. I knew I was named after you," Tracey, now 51, told Janie. "There was a time, and I don't know if you know this, that I would only go by Jane. If they called me Tracey, I wouldn't answer."

Janie, on the other hand, didn't even know Tracey had survived: "I didn't try to find you because I believed that you were dead," she said.

But Tracey was very much alive. She lived in the state residence until she was 6, when it closed. At that point, the family who had owned the home adopted her.

Years later, when Tracey was 12, her adopted mother gave Janie a call.

"She just started telling me about you and asked if I wanted to talk to you," Janie, now 71, said.

They both fondly recounted the phone conversation that followed: Tracey liked Janie's voice ("I could hear the smile in your voice"), and Janie thought Tracey's sounded like her own. The pair made plans to meet in person. As it turned out, their reunion fell on Mother's Day.

"I couldn't really grasp the concept of meeting a mom, because I had a mom," Tracey said. "But I got to meet this new lady that I had pictured my whole life."

"I remember just looking at you and thinking how pretty you were," Tracey told Janie. "The sun being on our faces and we first held hands when we sat on the porch. And going home, I remember just feeling warm like that sunshine and what an absolutely perfect moment that was."

After years of physical therapy for spina bifida, Tracey has regained full mobility. Today, both women live near Dallas and enjoy a close relationship.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, atStoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
In the audio of this story, as well as in a previous Web version, we incorrectly say Janie Bush found out she was pregnant in 1968 at age 19. She found out in 1967 and gave birth in April 1968.