Clark Alldridge of Houston, Texas, always knew he was adopted. Still, it was a surprise when a stranger reached out to him and suggested that he check out Cherie Alvis' Facebook page.
He didn't know Alvis at all. But there, on her wall, were his own baby pictures. At 22 years old, he had found his birth mother living just a couple of hours away—and he hadn't even been looking for her.
Alvis told KTRE-TV that she gave up her son for adoption when he was just a few months old. She was 17, a teen mom without a steady home; her baby was sick, and after spending days in the hospital with him, she knew that she couldn't give him the care he needed.
Giving him up "was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life," Alvis told KTRE-TV. "It was something I did not want to do but it was either give my son life with someone else, another family that could take care of him and actually give him an opportunity in life or to let him die in my arms with me."
But she never stopped thinking about him. His adoptive parents had sent her some photos of his first Christmas, thanking her for "our best Christmas present." Two decades later, she finally decided to search for her son.
On June 3—his 22nd birthday—Alvis posted his baby pictures on Facebook, along with a status update.
"I am looking for my son," she wrote. "22 years ago on this morning, I was blessed with a boy. Though I tried to keep you, I couldn't. I think about you always and wait for you to return. I don't even know if you know you're adopted. But I'm posting these pictures to try to let you know that if you're looking for me, I remember you. I think about you every day and I long to hug you again. To see you. To let you know I love you now, then, and forever. I will be waiting and never turn you away."
Alvis also posted a picture of herself holding a handwritten sign. It gave his birth name—Joseph Edward Saenz—the name of the Texas hospital where he was born, his birth date, her maiden name, and the name of the doctor who attended his birth. "He was put up for adoption in December '91," the sign read.
Just four days later, she got the response she had hardly dared to hope for.
"Here I am mom," Clark Alldridge wrote on her Facebook wall on June 7.
The next day, Alldridge drove two hours from Houston, where he lives with his parents and his adopted sister, to Lufkin, where he met his birth mother for the first time.
"Our family is complete," Alvis wrote on Facebook on Sunday. "I'm so glad he's home! I can't stop staring at him!"
"It's like 22 years later you meet your mom," Alldridge told KTRE. "It's like the most amazing thing in the world really."
"I love her and I don't even know her," he added.
The mother and son reunion had a little help from a complete stranger—something that wouldn't have been possible in the years before social media became a part of our everyday lives. One of the people who saw Alvis' widely-shared Facebook status was Sherri Riley; after a few hours spent combing through birth dates and state documents, she figured out where Alvis' baby boy had ended up.
Why go out of her way to help two strangers reconnect? "I just feel like we have a need in all of us as parents to know that our kids are OK," Riley told KTRE-TV. "I was really really happy to do that for Cherie and for Clark."
"If you are adopted and want to seek out your birth parents, it has become easier than ever to do so through social media," explains Dr. Sue Cornbluth, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Temple University. While some seekers find a few leads to follow up on, others reach dead ends, or even get scammed by strangers.
For most people, however, the experience isn't as easy or as quick as it was for Alvis. Janice Lobaugh of Wasilla, Alaska, spent years searching through databases and social media sites before she found a clue that led her to her son, whom she had given up as a baby 30 years earlier.
Alvis is happy to be back in her son's life, she says, and is grateful to his adoptive parents for raising him so well. And Alldridge says he understands why she gave him up—and is grateful to her for doing so.
"She basically had to have another family keep me alive, and I'm proud of her for that," he told KTRE-TV. "Everybody has to make hard choices at one point, and some are harder than others."
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