2018-05-31 / Front Page

Mother, son reunite after 48 years

Plus a surprising connection
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


FIRST VISIT. Becky Hemmingsen smiles broadly as she reunites with her son after 48 years. Her son, Tom Cooley, was placed for adoption in 1970. FIRST VISIT. Becky Hemmingsen smiles broadly as she reunites with her son after 48 years. Her son, Tom Cooley, was placed for adoption in 1970. One phone call, two lives and nearly five decades.

It was a heartwarming recipe for reuniting a Suttons Bay resident with the son she had placed for adoption 48 years ago.

Becky Hemmingsen said the decision to choose adoption for her son was not easy, but she never doubted it was the right one.

“I was 19 when I was pregnant,” she said. “I was in my second year of college, and (the birth father) took no ownership.”

“It was such a different time.”

Different times indeed. Single parenting in 1970, especially for a young mother, was far from common.

“It was such a stigma,” Hemmingsen said. “Especially for the middle class.”

After she discovered she was pregnant, Hemmingsen left the school she was attending in Iowa and headed south.


ALL SMILES. Birth mother and son, Becky Hemmingsen and Tom Cooley, enjoy time together. Hemmingsen visited Cooley in Connecticut just weeks ago. It was the first opportunity she had to see his home and meet his husband Jimmy. ALL SMILES. Birth mother and son, Becky Hemmingsen and Tom Cooley, enjoy time together. Hemmingsen visited Cooley in Connecticut just weeks ago. It was the first opportunity she had to see his home and meet his husband Jimmy. “I had two friends who were up for an adventure, and we went to Florida,” Hemmingsen said. After two or three months, she said her parents discovered the truth. While they supported her decision to have the baby, “it was a closed door to go back home,” she said.

At that point, Hemmingsen moved to the Minneapolis area to be close to her sister and friends. The baby was born, and Hemmingsen signed papers to place him for adoption three days later.

Since that time, Hemmingsen said she always carried a picture of her son, Thomas Cooley.

And she hoped at some point he would try to find her.


SO YOUNG. Becky Hemmingsen was 19 years old when she placed her son for adoption. He was just three days old in this photo that she has carried with her since 1970. SO YOUNG. Becky Hemmingsen was 19 years old when she placed her son for adoption. He was just three days old in this photo that she has carried with her since 1970. “You had a choice of an open file, which the child could access when he or she turned 18 to get biological information, or you could have your file locked so the child would get no information about you,” she said. “Tom’s file was open, and I updated it when he turned 18.”

At one point, Hemmingsen said she had almost let go of the idea of finding her son. “I had been told men don’t typically seek out birth mothers until they start having children of their own. So I had kind of given up when he turned 40,” she said.

But everything changed with a phone call on Jan. 21.

“My cousin, Marcia, said she had sent her DNA in (to ancestry.com) but hadn’t paid much attention to it,” Hemmingsen said. “When she did, and saw Tom’s picture, she put everything together. She contacted both of us that day.”

Hemmingsen’s next step was sending an email to the person she hoped was the son she had held last 48 years before. She tried to keep her hopes from getting too high at that point.

“You must have a million questions, and I will answer them honestly and as best I can,” she wrote to Thomas. “One thing I want you to know, is that I always loved you - when you were in my womb, when I fed you and held you for three days in the hospital, when I signed the adoption papers, and every time I looked at a child, I loved you.”

Their first phone call was 10 days later.

Hemmingsen said she will never forget what she felt after hearing her son’s voice for the first time.

“It was the night of the blue moon and super moon. I sat in my living room and we talked for two and a half hours. When we hung up, I couldn’t put the phone down. I just kept holding it.”

A few weeks later, the two met in Grand Rapids. After a long hug, Hemmingsen said the first words to her son were, “You’re gorgeous.”

Hemmingsen and Cooley spent their first 24 hours together since 1970 alone. After that first day other family members joined the happy occasion, including Hemmingsen’s sister, daughters and granddaughter.

“It was like a family reunion,” Hemmingsen said. “It was a whirlwind. A huge emotional weekend. The entire four days we were together, all we could do was look at each other and say, ‘amazing.’”

According to Hemmingsen, her eldest daughter was “blown away and so happy that they were connecting.”

Her younger daughter was excited as well, Hemmingsen said, but just “quieter about it.” The first time they met, however, “she walked straight up to him, threw her arms out to hug him and said, ‘Hi, Brother. I’m Lili.’,” Hemmingsen said.

When asked if there was anything that surprised Hemmingsen about Cooley, she said there really wasn’t. “I haven’t been able to come up with any surprises that we have encountered,” she said. “Perhaps the wonderful surprise of just how easy it has been to be in each other’s lives.”

But there was one unanticipated event for both mother and son.

As puzzle pieces fell into place and they shared stories and swapped family pictures, a shocking connection was made.

When Cooley’s mother saw a photo Hemmingsen had shared with her son, she recognized Hemmingsen’s sister as a fellow nurse she had worked with at a hospital in Minneapolis two years after Cooley was born.

Remembering back, Hemmingsen said her sister would hear stories from her co-worker about a toddler son. Her sister said she knew the little boy had been adopted, but she never dreamed it was her sister’s child, Tom Cooley.

What is the relationship like between Hemmingsen and Cooley like after all of these years?

According to Hemmingsen, it’s like they are friends.

“The way I love him is like a mother loves, but it’s a friendship,” she said. “His mom did the mother stuff. I gave him birth, but she changed his diapers and taught him right from wrong. And I’m eternally grateful to them for giving the life they gave him.”

The visits have continued. Cooley visited northern Michigan in February, and earlier this month, Hemmingsen visited Cooley at his home in Connecticut. She said she plans to see him again in the fall.

“All of my vacation time is for Tom right now,” Hemmingsen said.

It is indeed, time well spent.

Return to top