Peninsula's Jackie Sheldon reunites with birth parents after long search

Jackie Sheldon was recently reunited with her great uncle Ed Klee, a former resident of Astoria, whom she located during a search for her birth parents.

KLIPSAN BEACH - Jackie Sheldon was put up for adoption in 1955. Now after many years of searching and passage of Ballot Measure 58 in Oregon, she has been reunited with her birth parents.

Sheldon was born in Portland and raised by a nice family in the suburbs. She was a happy child and her adoptive parents Audrey and Ray Jensen were open with their daughter about her adoption. She was raised in a loving home, but she wanted something more than just knowing she was adopted. She yearned to know about her birth family, and most importantly, why she was given up.

As Sheldon got older, she started to do research into her rights as an adopted child. Starting in the early 1980s, she registered with advocacy groups and talked to people about how to go about finding her biological parents. She talked to councilors and got in touch with groups like Washington Adoption Reunion Movement (WARM), but every path she went down led to a dead end.

Before Ballot Measure 58, anyone born in Oregon could readily obtain a copy of their birth certificate. Anyone that is except people who were adopted. Their original birth certificates were sealed, and available instead were revised birth certificates listing the names of the adoptive parents. Measure 58 changed that by allowing adults who had been adopted to obtain their original birth certificates - with the names of their birth parents.

In the Sate of Washington adoptees searching for birth their parents will often use a "Confidential Intermediary," according to Pam Caird, Program Manager, Adoptions Social and Health Services for the State of Washington.

"An adopted person has the right in Washington to petition the court for an intermediary," said Caird. "This is someone who will contact the birth parents for the adoptee to determine if their is a mutual desire to be reunited. To my knowledge their is nothing going through the legislature at this time like Ballot Measure 58."

Adoptees' original birth certificates were sealed by law in 1957. The Legislature's intent was to protect the identity of both parents, usually mothers. At that time, unwed motherhood - the circumstance that most commonly led women to put their babies up for adoption - was cloaked in shame. Women who bore "illegitimate" children often sought to keep their pregnancies secret and demanded that adoption agencies respect their need for confidentiality.

"Measure 58 helped me out because once I got my original birth certificate I had a name," said Sheldon. "It was the first time I actually had a name to work with, Sharon Wicklund."

Sheldon reacquainted herself with WARM, and within a matter days she was looking for her birth mother. WARM had been able to find out that at the time of Sheldon's birth, her mother had been a resident of California, not Oregon where Sheldon had been doing the majority of her searching. They traced the name to a woman in Belmont, Calif., Sharon Reich.

Sheldon talked to Reich on the phone, and although Sheldon was sure this was her mother, Reich was apprehensive. Reich admitted she had given a child up for adoption because her parents wouldn't allow her to marry.

Sheldon's birth mother and father dated through most of their high school days in San Fransisco. When Reich became pregnant at 19, the couple made plans to marry in Reno. In 1954 adults under the age of 21 couldn't get married without signed authorization from parents. Reich's mother wouldn't agree to the marriage. Reich was sent to live with a doctor during her pregnancy, and subsequently lost touch with her baby's father.

Reich was especially surprised by Sheldon's call because she believed she was already in contact with her birth daughter. Reich said she knew where her baby had gone because both the doctor who attended the birth and the lawyer who did the adoption said her child went to a family named Morley. So once again, Sheldon started to think she might have reached a dead end.

"I called the Morleys at their home in Palm Desert," said Sheldon. "We got to talking about birth dates. I was born in October and the girl my mother thought was her daughter wasn't born until the following January. There is no way that girl could be my mother's daughter."

During the three months since Jackie Sheldon first made contact with her birth mother they have talked on the phone numerous times but still haven't met face to face.

This weekend, Sheldon will be reunited with her father, Carmello "Mel" Chiarenza. This will be the first time the two have met. Sheldon plans to show her dad the sights and sounds of the Peninsula on the Fourth of July.

After Sheldon found out from her birth mother she was high school sweetheart with her father, Sheldon did a search for the high school they attended in San Fransisco. On a Galileo High School website, used to reunite friends from school, Sheldon found a posting in one of the chat rooms. Mel Chiarenza had described himself as Sharon Wicklund's long-time boyfriend.

Sheldon quickly got in touch with the man who might possibly be her father, and after several weeks of trading email and phone calls, Sheldon got some good news - positive results from a paternity test the two had taken in the weeks of getting to know each other.

"I could not read the entire form they sent from the testing company, but I could read the part that said there was a 99.99 percent chance he was my father," she said. "It turns out I have a half-brother and sister. I'm so happy. It is like I have a new family."

In November 1998 Ballot Measure 58 was passed by a slim margin by voters of the State of Oregon. The controversy over the measure continued for more than a year until Dec. 30, 1999 when the Oregon Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the measure brought before them by seven anonymous birth mothers who had sued to stop the law from going into force.

When asked how she felt about the argument of confidentiality, Sheldon said "I have rights, too, and so does every other person that has ever been adopted. We have a right to know our medical history and the reasons and ethnic background."

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