A Living, Breathing Thanksgiving

A grown man thanks his birth mother for the gift of life.

Dennis was adopted, and he couldn’t be more grateful.

An 18-year-old girl walked into a Methodist hospital in Philadelphia, and she says, “I’m pregnant.” And she literally almost delivers me in the elevator. As she’s going to the hospital, she tells the nurses and everybody else that she wants to put the baby up for adoption and that she doesn’t want to see the baby, she can’t see the baby. She’s with her mother. And her mom is surprised that she’s pregnant, she literally just learned that day that she’s pregnant. She hid me from her parents and her sister for the entire pregnancy.

Dennis Gerber, 37, is telling me the story of his birth.

At the time of his birth, there was a couple in town — the couple who would become his parents. “They were down in Philadelphia staying at my aunt and uncle’s house.” His uncle, an ob-gyn, was helping them connect with a fertility expert. Then they were going to attend a conference on overseas adoption. The husband was going to be transferred to Europe so that they could adopt from Italy or Germany, which were their ancestral backgrounds. That was the plan, anyway, before the doctor who was the uncle’s practice partner delivered Dennis.

“He told my uncle about this baby who was just born. The mother wants to put him up for adoption.” He immediately called home and asked, “’Dennis and Marianne, would you like to adopt a baby?’”

Before they bothered to ask a single detail about the child, they said yes. They found a lawyer through other family connections, and within three days they were parents.

They had no idea it was going to go so quickly and really did nothing to prepare. Back home in Saddle Brook, N.J., they lived in a two-family apartment with a breezeway. “All of my grandparents lived there. Our house was like the demilitarized zone,” Gerber says, joking about Sicilians and Germans living together. On the day of the adoption — three days after the initial call — the man and woman who would become Dennis’s parents pretended to go to work when they were actually going to the hospital. The birth mother “was about to leave the hospital, and she handed me to the attorney, and then the attorney took me out the doors and handed me to my parents,” he says. “And my parents were able to bring me home that day.”

They hadn’t had time to tell much of anyone in that short while. So they called home: “Well, we’re in Philadelphia today, and you’re grandparents now. We adopted a baby.”

“And my grandparents went crazy.”

Meanwhile, having no car seat, the new parents used a large wicker basket Dennis’s uncle and his wife had received as a gift for a recent wedding anniversary. They lined it with blankets to bring him home.

By the time they got back (they took back roads because they’d been warned of the dangers of kidnapping during the window before the adoption was final), there were upwards of 200 people in their house — an impromptu baby shower! In three hours, they had a painted bedroom, a crib all set up, and toys.

After Dennis came into their lives, they were able to have two biological children. Two years after his birth, his brother was born. “It’s always been a great adoption story. I came home in a wicker basket!” Dennis Gerber is living, breathing thanksgiving. A few years ago, through an organization called Brave Love, he even threw a thank-you party for birth mothers.

Since then, he has thanked his birth mother.

A neighbor alerted him that Pennsylvania had opened up its adoption records. He had never really thought to search for his birth mother, having had all the love a child could ask for. But he’d also had a recurring dream, “forever”:

Me walking up the stairs, and there’s my birth mother, and I don’t know what she looks like. I don’t know if she’s okay or anything. It wasn’t quite fearful, it was — it was just nagging.

Right before Christmas last year, he got a letter in the mail with the name of his birth mother. He and his wife, Elise, of course Googled her. They found her on Facebook.

They did wind up meeting — and his birth father, too. Dennis had a business meeting near where his birth mother lives, and he brought his wife and three young daughters (their first plane trip). For the first time, he saw someone who shared his DNA. For the first time, he would thank her in person for the incredible gift of his life — including his parents.

“She loved me so much that she knew that she could give me the best option, the best life,” he tells me about his birth mother.

I ask him what he wants birth mothers to know, and he says:

You’re just multiplying grace, and you’re multiplying love. It’s a multiplying factor. Your decision can change the lives of so many people. You make a husband and wife parents. You make siblings. You make houses whole. You make spouses find each other. You make more life. It’s this multiplying factor of grace.

You take something “people see as a mistake or violence or something horrible that happened to somebody,” he adds, “and turn it into something just amazing.”

In a season of thanksgiving and gifts, Dennis Gerber has had the best and gives the rest of us the gift of remembering to cherish life and love and the most intimate sacrifices.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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