Zuri Lazaro had no idea what to expect when she tried to find her birth mother earlier this year.
Lazaro, 42, had tried to look for her in her twenties, but was unable to locate her. “It was kind of hard because all I knew was that her last name was Anderson and that I was born in Ohio,” the Connecticut mother of three tells PEOPLE. “That s all I had to go on.”
Lazaro, who was adopted by a Connecticut couple when she was a baby, said she wanted to locate her birth mother, not only to meet her, but to find out about her family and medical history. “I had a great childhood,” she says. “I have great parents and a brother who is two years older – but I just wanted to find out where I came from.”
She decided to try to find her birth mother again in April, when she learned that Ohio laws had changed, allowing anyone born between 1965 and 1996 to obtain an original birth certificate, she says.
“It took about two weeks to get the original birth certificate back,” she says. “I saw the envelope and I was really excited.”
After years of wondering who her birth mother was, she learned that her name was Betty Jean Anderson, that she was 22 when she gave birth and hailed from Garyville, Louisiana.
“So I said, ‘Let me Google this to see if I can find out anything more,” she says.
To her great surprise, “Articles started popping up all over the place, saying that she gave birth to me on an airplane and that I was born in a toilet,” she says. “I thought, ‘Oh my God! This can’t be me! There is no way in the world.’ I was just in shock.”
She found other stories with her birth mother’s name and age, where she was from and the date that the baby the media called “Plane Jane Doe” was born – Feb. 19, 1973. “That’s my birthday,” says Lazaro. “I was like, ‘This can’t be a coincidence. This has to be me.’ I just kept thinking, ‘This is so crazy.'”
According to Associated Press stories Lazaro found online, her birth mother, then a senior at Southern University in Baton Rouge, had boarded a United Airlines flight in New Orleans, changing planes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before traveling onto her final destination, Youngstown, Ohio.
Fifteen minutes into the flight from Pittsburgh to Youngstown, Ohio, her birth mother headed to the bathroom, staying there for about 15 minutes after the plane had landed.
Ground crew members who were cleaning the aircraft saw the head and arm of a newborn in the bottom of a toilet filled with about two inches of water, with the umbilical cord still attached, according to court records. Unable to get the baby out, they called for help and cut a hole in the side of the toilet to get her out.
Anderson was arrested and charged with attempting to commit a crime aboard and aircraft and attempting to commit murder or manslaughter aboard an aircraft.
During her trial, her lawyers said she had no idea she was pregnant and had a sudden and abrupt birth, according to the Associated Press. She was convicted of attempted manslaughter in 1974 and sentenced to two years in a halfway house, says Lazaro.
“I was never mad or anything,” says Lazaro. “I was more like, ‘Are you kidding? She didn t know she was pregnant?'”
Still, she wanted to find her. More online sleuthing led her to find two women on Facebook, who she believed were her aunts.
“On June 17, I inboxed them with a picture of my mother coming out of a courthouse that I found in one of the articles and said, ‘Are you related to this Betty Anderson in this picture? I think that the woman in the picture might be my mother.'”
She admits she was nervous about reaching out to them. “I didn t know which was it was going to go,” she says. “I didn t know if they would say, ‘Why are you contacting us?’ or if they didn t know anything about me at all. I was kind of scared but I wanted to try it anyway.”
Minutes later, Lazaro’s phone rang. It was her aunt – Cheryl Davis. “She said, ‘I’m sorry, but I might stutter here because I am so emotional. I can’ t believe you found us. We have been looking for you your whole life.’
“I didn t even hear that sentence,” says Lazaro. “When she said that she and my family had been looking for me all these years, a thousand pounds just fell off of me.”
While she says she didn’t cry, “I was shaking really bad. I was so relieved that I found my family and they were happy to find me.”
Her aunt cried as she spoke to her long lost niece, telling her that she had two brothers and that her mother had died at 47 of a brain aneurysm at church. “That made me sad to hear that,” she says.
Davis also told her that her mother wanted to keep her. “She said that my mother and her family fought to keep me, but a judge wouldn t allow it,” says Lazaro. “My grandparents even said they would adopt me, but the judge would not give in. It’s good to know that they tried to fight for me but it was upsetting to find all of this out.”
Her phone kept ringing the rest of that day as family members called her, one after the other. “It was very overwhelming,” she says. “I didn t sleep that night at all. I was so happy. I was glowing. I’m still glowing.”
She was also very moved when she found out what her mother was like. “She had a heart of gold,” she says. “Everyone loved her. They say I look exactly like her.”
In the weeks since she found her birth family, she says they have been in touch constantly, getting to know one another.
“I feel like I have known them for months because we talk every single day,” she says. “They all just welcomed me so fast. Just to feel the love coming from them is amazing.”
On July 22, she and her three children drove to Ohio to meet her family for the first time. “We were just so excited to see each other,” she says.
Two days later, she and her family members from Ohio drove to Alabama for a family reunion. “I had the best time,” she says. “It wasn t long enough though, I feel like I needed more time to get to know everyone and that was impossible in one weekend.”
Her adoptive parents are happy she finally found her birth family. “They’ve been really supportive,” she says.
So have her three kids, a 21-year-old son and two daughters, 16 and 12. “They had so much meeting the family, too,” she says. “They fit right in as well.”
Even though Lazaro was a bit shell-shocked to learn exactly how she entered the world, she says she is glad her story has a happy ending.
“To go from finding out I was born in an airplane to finding out I have this amazing family I am so blessed.”