ADA, Okla. – It’s the embrace she waited years for.
Vina Lorene Scott, 68, is finally able to hold on to the baby girl she hadn’t seen in years. The only word she can speak is “hello” before all her emotions gush from her eyes.
“When I walked in and I saw her standing there I knew it was her … I just burst into tears,” Scott, Chickasaw and Choctaw, said. “I will always remember that day. I feel like she really wasn’t lost. In a way she was. To see her again and I didn’t think I ever would. It was a wonderful thing. In a way I wasn’t worthy of so many things ... I feel like it’s a wonderful blessing. “
When Scott was 13 she became pregnant and had to give up her baby for adoption. Times were different then and the Department of Human Services took over. Scott was sent to several foster homes before she landed at Sequoyah Vocational School with other unwed mothers.
“I felt like it was such a sad time,” Scott said. “It was a sad time I believe for all the girls that were there.”
That sadness, loss and worry stayed with Scott until Dec. 29, 2012, when she and her oldest daughter were reunited.
“I’m 54 years old and I’m just now finding my mom,” Debbie Unap said. “I just started crying … and we just had a big family hug.”
Unap and her family drove to Ada from Skiatook to meet Scott and the rest of her biological family that Saturday after Christmas. Their gathering was in part due to a helping hand from above. Scott has five children: Debbie, Gayla, Monica, Sonya and Jason. Her daughter Gayla Scott died Dec. 4, 2011, and it was her obituary that led Unap to her birth family.
One of Unap’s daughter-in-laws, Regan, wanted to make one of Unap’s wishes come true by finding her birth family. She Googled Scott’s name on Dec. 12, 2012 and came across Gayla’s obituary. Scott’s daughter Sonya had her telephone number listed with the obituary and Regan wasted no time calling it.
“‘Is this Sonya Frazier? Do you know you have another sister?’” Sonya Scott Frazier said she heard on the other end of the line. She began to tell Regan what she knew about her long lost sister.
“She just got excited,” Frazier said, and Regan confirmed everything by exclaiming, “‘Yes, yes, yes; it’s all true. It’s my mother-in-law that’s your sister.’”
Unap was sleeping through this part of the phone call until Regan knocked on her door and said, “’I have your sister on the phone.’”
“All these things are going through my mind,” Unap said. “We just started talking … we have a lot in common.”
Frazier and Unap began exchanging pictures through the Internet and soon a date was set to meet. The families gathered on a Saturday, but the excitement was too much for Unap, Frazier and their brother Jason who couldn’t wait and they met up the night before.
“It was a great experience … we got to meet her and her boys,” Jason said. “I was very nervous … We have pictures and I still look at the pictures now and again.”
Scott always wondered about her daughter and hoped someone good was taking care of her. She said her children grew up knowing they had an older sister.
“I admire her story,” Frazier said of her mother. “ … that young, not having that support, having to give that child up and never see her again … Now it’s a healing process … now this is a time to help mom … stay strong and love is powerful … I couldn’t feel more blessed. This is a true, true blessing for all of us.”
Frazier said they want to start a documentary about their mother and the “survivors of Indian boarding schools.” They want to help keep hope alive for anyone searching for their lost child so they can begin healing the “intergenerational trauma.”
“My mother never shared with us her childhood stories because it was such a painful part of her life. Now with our sister finding us with the help of the spirit of another sister, my mother has the strength to share that part of her life with her children and grandchildren,” Frazier said. “She would also like to share her story with other Native women with similar life experiences to not give up hope and to continue to follow your heart and dreams to reconnect with your lost child.”
Scott said being sent to Sequoyah was, “sort of like a punishment … but all in all that’s what saved me.”
“I didn’t know what would’ve happened to me. I believe that’s what saved me. There were people there that I felt cared for me; help to steer me in the right path,” she said.
As Scott reflected on her youth, she called herself an “ignorant young girl.”
“I really didn’t have any boundaries. No parental guidance. That was, I believe, the worst of it,”
Scott said. “I thought about me and Debbie’s biological father. We were like the latch key kids … didn’t have the parental guidance that I feel our children need so much.”
Scott wants parents to keep close to their sons and their daughters and know where they are. She likes to hear her grandkids say where they’re going and thinks it’s important to meet their friends and their friends’ parents.
“In reality that’s how we stay close to our children,” she said. “I’m really thankful for all these children that we have. “
Unap said she grew up knowing she was adopted and was told her biological mother didn’t want to give her up. Her adoptive parents told her she was “chosen by God for them,” and they made a special trip to Oklahoma City to get her. She said they were good parents to her.
“I was with a nurse in a hotel room,” Unap said. “I smiled at them and they took me home.”
Unap was 3 months old and 14 lbs. when she was adopted. Her adoptive mom began looking for Scott when Unap was in the first grade and the school superintendent needed a tribal roll number for Unap. The search was unsuccessful and when Unap turned 18 she sought out a judge’s court order to get her original birth certificate. That’s when she found out her birth mom’s name. She also found out she was born with the name of Elizabeth Grace Cole.
Scott was worried Unap might be upset with her for giving her up all those years ago. Unap said she understands it was taboo back then to have a child and not be married.
“I don’t hold any grudges,” Unap said she told Scott. “I’m just thankful to find you.”
Unap’s adoptive parents died in August 2011 and she felt a void. Frazier said her family was also grieving over her sister Gayla and she’s amazed at how this reunion happened when everyone needed each other the most.
“When we lost Gayla it was like losing an extremity … very difficult,” Frazier said. “It’s kind of amazing how everything came together.”
Frazier said Unap has some of the same mannerisms Gayla had, and Jason said he likes Unap’s sense of humor. “When I met Debbie for the first time she started picking on me … I just sat there and took it,” he said, while Unap and Frazier laughed.
Today, the siblings keep in touch almost every day by sending text messages or via Facebook, and their kids spend time with each other now too.
“The daughter that I lost was a big loss to our family,” Scott said, and then she focused on their reunion. “To me it’s like a blessing … I’m really happy. I’m grateful to Creator for what’s been allowed me.”
Debbie Unap (left) and Vina Lorene Scott (right) immediately start to cry after they’re reunited on Dec. 29, 2012, at the Chickasaw Community Center in Ada, Okla.