A crew of five siblings had a lot of catching up to do earlier this month — about 50 years’ worth, actually. That’s because none of them had known the others existed since their mother gave them all up for adoption in North Dakota when they were infants, more than 40 years ago.
The remarkable reunion all began with Deidre Handtmann, of Bismarck, North Dakota, who found her birth mother back in 1993. The two became close, and when Handtmann’s birth mom died of pancreatic cancer in March, her obituary noted that reuniting with her daughter had been the highlight of her life.
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Meanwhile, Buddine Bullinger of Dickinson, North Dakota had been given up for adoption by the same woman. She had been told the name of her birth mom (which the family wants kept out of the press) by her adopted family and had mentioned the name to her friend. According to Handtmann, her friend spotted the obituary and called the funeral home to try to track down Handtmann.
"I was like, this is strange. Can I bury my mother?" she recalls. But then Buddine called her, and the two sisters, along with their combined six children, began to form a close bond.
And Handtmann became certain of one thing.
“Once my sister from Dickinson found me, I just felt like there was others,” she tells KXMB-TV. “And we went through Catholic Family Services out of Fargo, and they found them all for me.”
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Carly Gaddie, director of adoption services at Catholic Family Services, tells Yahoo Shine that she’s never seen a reunion of adoptees quite like this one. “It’s an amazing story,” she says. “This situation was a little bit different in that the main person involved knew her birth mom. But we feel very fortunate we were able to locate the other siblings.”
The other siblings include a brother, John Blankendaal, in Tennessee; a sister, Sandy Watkins, in California; and a local brother, John Maixner — who had actually come in contact with Bullinger before.
“I’d seen Buddine here for years [working] at Wal-mart,” Maixner tells KXMB, “and I didn’t have a clue.”
None of the siblings have any inkling about why their mother gave them all up for adoption — or why she failed to mention to Handtmann after they reunited that she had four siblings out in the world. "I have no idea," Handtmann tells Shine. "She never would give me any answers [about giving me up]. I just quit asking. And I had a great upbringing."
DNA testing has confirmed that all five are indeed full brothers and sisters (which means they also all share the same biological father). But at a joyous reunion at Handtmann’s home in Bismarck on Oct. 19, none seemed too stuck on the past.
“We have wonderful lives. We all have wonderful families. And now it just grew, and it’s even more wonderful,” Blankendaal tells KXMB. “I just love every one of these siblings, and I can’t wait to be a part of their lives for the rest of my life.”
And for Handtmann, getting to know her siblings was mind-blowing. "We're all identical," she says. "My younger brother and me, we are like two peas in a pod. It's so cool … and Sandy and I have the same laugh." Still, she adds, meeting her brothers and sisters has had a sad element too.
"I think it's fantastic. But I'm hurt. I'm very betrayed," she admits. "Still, I love my mother even more because she had to hold it all in, and it must have been terrible. I will find out the truth, though. I'm not done yet."
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