But as she grew older, O’Connor, now 39, began to wonder about the woman who gave birth to her at Mercy Hospital on an April day in 1975 and then, six months later, gave her up for adoption. O’Connor wondered about her own ethnicity, her family medical history.
So, in her early 20s, she pressed for her birth records, first contacting the adoption agency and then working through a lawyer to get the records she could. The documents gave her only a few clues: Her birth name. Notes that her mother was tall and thin, that her father was even taller. A hint that her maternal grandmother had once suffered from tuberculosis.
She wanted to know more, to understand what health risks might lay deep in her DNA, to connect with siblings she never knew.
In May, she took a leap, scrawling out her birth name – Brandy Lee Stevens – and date of birth on paper with black marker and posting a picture of herself with the sign to Facebook. “Here goes!!” she typed.
“I knew if I didn’t do it right then I would change my mind,” O’Connor said. “There are so many people on Facebook, that was really the only chance that I had.”
A week later, more than 10,000 people had shared it. Messages of support poured in from all over the world. Channel 2 contacted her. Then came a friend request that would unlock the clues to her family.
It came from a woman who turned out to be O’Connor’s cousin. Those conversations led O’Connor to discover she had a half sister and half brother. Sadly, she also discovered her birth mother had died 10 years before.
In August, O’Connor drove down to meet her siblings for the first time. She now talks to her sister every night.
Facebook, it turns out, was the key to solving a lifelong mystery that New York law had kept her from knowing.
Many birth records in New York are still shielded from adoptees, concealing the names of biological parents. That can lead to long and frustrating journeys for children like O’Connor who are left wondering about their roots.
Yet a handwritten sign and a post on Facebook ended her search in a matter of days. For O’Connor, it was less than two weeks before a family member reached out. Her picture has since been shared more than 24,000 times.
Not everyone is so lucky, and O’Connor’s journey has led her to believe adoptees should have access to basic information that can help them discover their medical histories.
It’s an issue still often fraught with emotion, and O’Connor understands that some parents may never want to be found. But she strongly believes that all children should have access to as much of their medical histories as possible.
“I find it so confusing that so many people have to live with not knowing what to watch out for,” O’Connor said.
New York lawmakers were close in the spring to changing the law, but a bill that would have allowed adult adoptees access to birth certificates failed to pass. Other states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, have recently loosened restrictions on birth certificates.
The puzzle for O’Connor is only half solved. She still hopes to find her birth father. For now, though, she feels blessed to find a family she thought she’d never meet.