In 1975, 14-year-old Lori Smith gave birth to her son and held him for twenty precious minutes.
“I just knew I couldn’t give him a life,” Smith, now known as Lori Gray, told the Cincinnati Enquirer 40 years later. “I thought about him all the time. Every day, every second – about where he was, if he was having a good life.”
Gray always wanted to meet the son who remained at the forefront of her mind, but an Ohio law sealed its adoption records from 1964 to 1996.
Like his birth mother, Brad Watts was also eager to learn more about the woman who gave him life.
Although he grew up with loving and supportive parents, Watts yearned to connect with his past. What he did know about his biological mother and father was limited: They were under the age of 16 when he was born, his father was athletic and his mother had olive skin and was allergic to penicillin.
But that all changed in March of last year when legislators made adoption files available to Ohio children adopted during the 32-year period.
Watts, along with 400,000 other families, were affected by this change as state received more than 7,200 file requests.
Watts, who currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and their 11-year-old daughter, said he was especially motivated to find his birth parents after losing a child in 2013, who was born prematurely at 27 weeks.
“When that happened, after we mourned, I just kept thinking, my birth family knows about me, knows that I was adopted, but it was kind of like I died for them. They don’t know if I’m alive or if I was raised properly,” he said. “If they were anything like him, he figured they’d want to know he was OK.”
He filed the paperwork and would call and text his wife everyday from work to see if it had arrived in the mail.
When it finally did, she called him in tears and said “It’s here! It’s here!”
He immediately took to Facebook and Google and found his mother.
Brad discovered that while Lori and her high school sweetheart, Matt Gray, gave him up, she ended up having five more children with him – four boys and a girl.
When they reconnected, they met at the same place where it all began – the hospital.
Lori, sick with cancer, looked at Brad and said, “We have to quit meeting like this,” he recalled.
She then spoke about the moment she gave birth.
“I only got to hold you for 20 minutes before they took you away,” she said.
“I’m a bit bigger now,” he responded.
His adoptive parents, Nanci and Byron Watts, were also thrilled to meet Brad s birth mother and siblings.
“The law should have been changed a long time ago,” Nanci Watts told the Enquirer. “In our case, everyone was open to finding out. He’s ecstatic that he has these answers.”
Lori, who has been cancer-free since her last chemotherapy treatment on Dec. 29th, says that this special reunion has helped her heal.
“I never thought I’d see him again,” she said. “It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”