There is a saying that life imitates art. In this case, maybe the art is reminiscent of a television show. This is a real-life story but it has all the elements of something you would see on your television screen—compelling main characters, many obstacles, and a figurative commercial break, of course. It helps to understand the job of each show element. First, the main characters are individuals who are the main focus of the story. In each act, we learn more about the main characters, their motivations, how they move through a situation and come through the other side with more than they started the journey with.
The Main Characters
This story has two main characters: Emmalyn Paulette Moody and Lisa Wright. Emmalyn Paulette Moody, our first main character, was born in 1946 in Detroit, Michigan. When she got older, she moved to California, where she began to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. As many do when they are seeking stardom, she changed her name to Lynn Moody.
Our second main character is Lisa Wright. Lisa was born on December 10, 1964, in California. She was adopted at a very young age. Lisa was raised in a loving household where she was fully aware of her adoption.
Our two main characters knew of one another but never laid eyes on each other. Needless to say, they did not need to see each other to have a major impact on each other’s lives.
Act One: From Adoption to Stardom
At the age of 18, in the month of December, Moody gave birth to a baby that she knew she wasn’t ready to raise, so she decided adoption was the best option. She had no memory of what the newborn baby looked like because she never saw her. A towel covered Moody’s face while she delivered. Once the baby was born, she never held her or had the opportunity to properly say goodbye. During an interview, Moody remembered she screamed, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry baby” to the newborn baby who she could hear crying. She had no idea where the baby was going or who she was going to live with.
Like most adoptions in the sixties, this was a closed adoption. This meant that each party, the birth mom and the adoptive family, maintained their confidentiality, with no contact or information shared between them.
Although Moody knew she was not ready to be a parent, she continued to move forward with her dreams to pursue her acting career. Not only did she pursue them, but she also became a successful working actress. In the 1970s, she hit her acting stride. One of her breakout roles in the mid-seventies was as the daughter on the popular sitcom, That’s My Mama. Moody’s résumé continued to grow with a featured role on All in the Family. The talented actress also landed roles ranging from the critically acclaimed mini-series Roots to comedies like Soap and soap operas like General Hospital. A skilled actress with an extensive range, her career has spanned decades.
Act Two: It All Starts with DNA
Lisa Wright grew up with the full knowledge that she was adopted. Although her adoption was closed, her adoptive mother was open with her about being adopted. According to an interview given on the Today show, Lisa remembered a conversation she had with her adoptive mom when she told her, “Your mommy loved you, but she was really young, and she knew she couldn’t take care of you. I wanted the baby so bad, and that’s why your mom let me take care of you.'” She reassured Lisa by telling her “You weren’t abandoned. This was just the best thing for you.” Her adoptive mom clearly made a point to let Lisa know that she was not abandoned, which probably helped Lisa feel a sense of belonging in her adopted family. Her adoptive Mom’s words also held Lisa’s birth mom in the high esteem she deserved.
Equipped with this knowledge, Lisa had a good life with her adoptive family. Like many families, Lisa would watch television in the evening with her family. In 1974 when she was 10 years old, one of their favorite shows was That’s My Mama. At the time, Lisa had no idea why this show would be so impactful to her story.
Fast forward four decades later, a supporting character joins this story: Lisa’s son. He is a pivotal character because, without him, this story may not have come to be. Many individuals who were adopted see their own physical features in their biological children; those individuals then wish they knew who they resembled. It often moves them to search out their birth parents.
However, Lisa never had a desire to look any further for family outside the one that raised her. Her son persuaded her to use a DNA test to learn more about herself and her health background.
The accessibility and willingness to participate in DNA testing are increasing. According to an article written by the MIT Technology Review, “As many people purchased consumer DNA tests in 2018 as in all previous years combined.” In the article, they state that “by the start of 2019, more than 26 million consumers had added their DNA to four leading commercial ancestry and health databases.” This shows that many people, including adoptees, are intrigued by the technology and want to know more about their ancestry.
It is amazing to think that simply spitting into a tube can be like a time machine taking a human back into their ancestral beginnings—all for less than $100. These services have been welcomed by adoptees since some reveal genetic information like health traits and genetic connections. These DNA services offer adoptees the ability to find relatives if their family members have sent their information into the database.
Since Lisa did not have an interest in finding her biological family, her son urged her to use the 23andMe DNA test to learn more about her health traits. She used 23andMe because it is the only test on the market that provides health reports combined with ancestry information. To her surprise, there was a genetic match; it was not a biological parent, but an uncle. Sometimes the connection to the birth family is not linear and initially does not lead directly to the birth mom.
Most television commercial breaks are usually 30 or 60 seconds long, holding the space between the acts. In this case, it is almost unbelievable that the separation between the two main characters was more than five decades.
Since all her adoption records were sealed, her adoptive parents had no idea who her birth mom was. Once Lisa connected with her biological uncle, a lot of information was revealed.
Her uncle told her that her biological mother was alive and that she and the family had been looking for her over the years. So much life had happened between a young woman giving birth and a child being raised by her adoptive family. Moody had established herself as a successful actress whose career had spanned decades, and Lisa had grown up to be a mom herself. Moody and Lisa had been living separate lives in the same state for over fifty years.
Breaks create spaces, and spaces often take time to be filled. One phone call to Lisa’s newly-discovered uncle ended the break and led to a major discovery.
Act Three – Finding Each Other
After speaking with her uncle, it took no time for Lisa’s curiosity about her birth mom to take hold. It caused her to search online using the name her uncle provided. To Lisa’s surprise, she found images of a woman who she resembled. She had never experienced that before. Not only did she resemble her, but her birth mom was an actress.
Ironically, Moody starred on the popular ABC hit sitcom That’s My Mama, where she played the daughter. The sitcom had 39 episodes, and it was one of Lisa Wright and her family’s favorite shows. For two seasons, Lisa was seeing her birth mom every week right in the comfort of her own home. Then it was only entertainment. Now she was the real daughter and Moody was her Mama. Lisa could now literally say, “That’s My Mama.”
Soon thereafter, Lisa received a call and heard a voice on the other end of the phone. It was Moody making the first contact with a daughter she never was able to see. Wright describes the encounter: “A voice on the other end says, ‘Is this my daughter?’ And then I just went, ‘Oh, my God, is this my mother?’ And then she goes, ‘Yes, sweetie, this is your mom.’ It was just the most indescribable feeling.” Imagine Moody speaking with a daughter who was now a woman but still the baby she never forgot.
It is clear that the connection of motherhood does not end when adoption begins. This was evident when Moody learned that the daughter she had been searching for had been found. Reunification can be like a rebirth.
“When I found out that she was my daughter, at that moment, it was like I was giving birth,” Moody said. “Because I lost my legs, I was on the floor in a fetal position, screaming and crying. I didn’t know how deep that hole was.”
It was clear by Moody’s reaction that a closed adoption does not mean a closed heart. Moody pushed through even though. “As a mother, you never, ever, ever forget,” Moody said. “During those 50 years, all I did was try to learn how to live with it. I didn’t know if she was hungry, if she was alive, if she was happy, if she was adopted.”
Moody never had any other children, so meeting Lisa was truly a once-in-a-lifetime full-circle moment. When a birth mom reunites with her grown child who has a family, she gets the added benefit of an additional biological family. That DNA test reunited a mother and a daughter, but it also made Moody a proud grandma to the grandson who set all this in motion.
Since finding her mother, Moody has found relatives from her birth fathers’ side of the family, including 4 new sisters.
This mother-and-daughter story proves time is precious, but something unexpected can happen in due time. It was clear that Lisa would have been content if she had not taken the DNA test, but because she did take the test, her life is fuller because she made an important, unexpected connection. A connection that changed her life and gave her an invaluable familial relationship.
As for Moody, her story is a layered tale for birth mothers that is based on hope topped with a few miracles. It shows that birth mothers have dreams and although they experience detours like everyone else, dreams are still fulfilled and prayers can still be answered. Although Moody was searching for her daughter for years in hopes of finding her, without the popularity of the home DNA test, this reunion may not have occurred.
Moody put it perfectly when she said, “Life is full of surprises sometimes, so hang in there no matter what your circumstances are. Be open to miracles, be open to surprises, and keep the faith.”
Some situations are like a good television show; they are unbelievable stories woven through recognizable characters that many of us know so well, whether it be an adopted child, birth mother, or the recognizable voice of an adoptive parent. Moody and Lisa didn’t need a television script for their story to be written and to embrace their happy ending.Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Do you want more choices with your adoption plan? Do you want to regain more control in your life? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. We can help you put together an adoption plan that best meets your needs.