The actress's daughter – given up for adoption in 1977 – talks for the first time about reuniting with her birth mother
Credit: John Huba

The moment Danielle Gaudette was told who her birth mother was, “My world shrunk into a tunnel,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was like 8 a.m., and I was waiting for a taxi to come and take me to work. The phone rang, and this woman said, ‘We think we’ve found a match.’ Immediately I’m like … it’s hard to describe. What is it? Fear? Panic? Anxiety? It was definitely adrenaline.”

Gaudette, who was 22 at the time, recalls the woman on the phone saying, “We’re all so excited at the office. Do you watch Star Trek? It’s Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek.”

Her mom, of course, is Kate Mulgrew, Emmy-nominated actress of Orange Is the New Black, whose new memoir, Born with Teeth, details the 22-year search for the daughter she gave up for adoption. Now a yoga teacher on the West Coast, Danielle is speaking for the first time about reuniting with her birth mother.

“It was intense,” says Danielle. “It was really hard to believe. Kate has a very unique personality and style. She’s strong, forward and bold. She said, ‘I need to come and meet you. I’m coming in four days.’ And of course she was like, ‘Is that okay?’ ”

Those four days were stomach-churning, says Danielle: “I did not eat a morsel for four days. Nervous isn’t even the word.”

At noon the day they met in 1999, Danielle walked into the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, spotted her mother and rushed over, where the two hugged for the first time. Mulgrew whispered, “I believe I’m your mother,” to which Danielle could only respond, “Yes, I believe you are.”

The two walked to the hotel bar, where they sipped on wine and gradually got to know each other. “I couldn’t feel anything,” recalls Danielle. “I was utterly disconnected from my body.”

She continues, “She really wanted to be a part of my life, which I wasn’t expecting. But I was open to it. Now, we have a very good relationship, a very good connection.”

Mulgrew credits Danielle for all of it. “This is the rare story. I told Danielle, ‘You’re the rare one. You were able to forgive.”

For more on Kate Mulgrew, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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