María Jesús on the day of her DNA test. Photo by Damiàn Torres in Las Provincias.
Manuela to Her Daughter: “I Always Knew You Weren’t Dead”
An octogenarian and her “stolen daughter” reunite 44 years later. DNA tests have proven with 99.70% certainty that this daughter did not die at birth but rather was given up for adoption.
El País: Manuela a su hija: “Yo siempre supe que no estabas muerta”
N. Junquera and L. Bustabad reporting from Madrid and As Pontes, respectively, March 27, 2012
“I always knew you weren’t dead. But until today I thought you were a son and not a daughter,” Manuela Polo said today to María Jesús, the woman who, according to the first DNA test taken, has a 99.70% probability of being her daughter. María Jesús told the story herself by telephone from As Pontes (A Coruña) just an hour after meeting her mother, who 44 years ago in a Coruñés hospital was told by doctors that she had had a son who had died after birth. “She held my hand tightly,” María Jesús continued, “and she said to me, ‘I already knew that I had a strong baby and that he couldn’t have possibly passed away.”
There is a second test to take, the mitochondrial exam, to give 100% assurance, but today in As Pontes, they still looked alike. Manuela met her daughter two days before turning 80. Her husband passed away before he could meet his daughter. “When my father asked to see the cadaver, the doctors showed him four little white caskets, but they weren’t opened,” explained Eva, 32 years old, Manuela’s youngest daughter.
“I feel a mix of happiness and sadness,” explained María Jesús to this newspaper just an hour after the reunion. “I’ve completed my objective; I’ve met my mother. But I’ve lost 44 years with her. I’m very emotional, having met the whole family. I’m not used to being surrounded by so many people!”
María Jesús discovered today that she has seven siblings. She was given up for adoption to a couple in the Community of Valencia, very far from the hospital in A Coruña where her mother was told on March 25, 1986 that she had died. The mother always suspected that wasn’t true. “She thinks they took the baby from her because she already had many children,” Eva explained. The couple lived in the countryside.
“When I was 14, my parents told me I was adopted. They didn’t give me the details. I know they paid for me, but I don’t know how much. They also talked about a priest in A Coruña who was present at the birth and a taxi driver in Valencia who served as a transporter of children. But I don’t know anything. I’m a victim, and I want everything to come to light so the truth can be known,” explained María Jesús, who has reported her case to the district attorney. “When the cases of child robberies started to come out in the media, I started to get suspicious. When my adoptive parents died, I began to look for my mother. She, for her part, was looking for me. Until today.”
Manuela searched as well. She tossed and turned in her sofa in Sexe, a town in As Pontes, every time she saw news about stolen babies. “My mother always told us that she had heard a baby cry, and she had touched its hand,” explained Enrique, another of her sons. “The priest told her that there was nothing to be upset about because she already had six other children, so why would she want one more? It hurt her so much she’s never forgotten it.”
Four decades later, her children got in contact with an association for those affected by child theft, and it told them how to send DNA evidence, which arrived at the beginning of this month.
María Jesús believes that her adoptive parents “were also victims. They accepted the conditions that were placed on them. They never knew what had happened behind the scenes,” she assured. Ever since she was told she was adopted, she had imagined her biological mother several times. “Lots of things ran through my head. I thought it would be best if it were a very young mother whose parents made her give the child away, or a girl without means…I received a lot of support from the association SOS Stolen Babies of the Valencian Community. We affected are like a clan,” she explained.
“My mother was very content. We’ve been looking forward to having a sibling come home so we could have a big celebration,” Eva explained. “María Jesús was the only one of us born in a hospital. The rest (two men and six women) were all born in the home,” she added. All of them passed the last day in Eva’s home in As Pontes. The youngest daughter of the family confessed that María Jesús had more of a resemblance to her two brothers than to her, “although we all have something in common.” In addition to looking alike, they also talked about the allergies they have in common. “We live almost 1000 kilometers apart, but now we’re going to get closer to each other,” promised María Jesús.
Pending the confirmation of the mitochondrial test, this is one of the very few reunions between mothers and children who were stolen or irregularly given up for adoption. It is another fruit of the perseverance of the victims and of luck, moreso than of the help of the national government or justice system, although María Jesús has denounced her case to a district attorney.
In Catalonia there was also a very similar case. A woman found her daughter 37 years later. She, too, had been told that she had had a son who died at birth. In that case, it was not a large family but rather a single mother. The baby had been given up for adoption. When years later this woman went looking for her origin, she discovered an envelope with the supposed relinquishment by her mother – which she assures is falsified – and her own death certificate from her birth. At first, it seemed like an error and nothing more, but she finally ended up finding her biological mother’s telephone number and calling her. Her mother thought it was a cruel joke and insulted her. But a few days later, they met, and a DNA test finally proved they were mother and daughter. This case has also been reported to the district attorney.
Congress Calls to the Affected
Today Congress unanimously urged the Government to “drive” the investigation into the cases of stolen babies, taking into account “the legal limits, competences, and existing budgets,” this last condition at the PP’s request. The Justice Commission promised to invite the affected to speak about their situations in the chamber.
The non-binding proposition, presented by Socialist Odón Elorza, requested “continuity” with the acts initiated by the previous Minister of Justice, Francisco Caamaño, and requested that the Attorney General “give clear instructions of how to proceed” to the provinces.
PP representative Susana Camarero criticized that the bill asked to “settle accounts of the previous government” and introduced a transactional amendment so that it would finally urge Rajoy’s Administration to “maintain coordination between the Ministers of Justice, the Interior, Health, Social Services, the Attorney General, the National Institute of Toxicology, and more institutions” so they could help clear up these actions and “create a working group to coordinate these efforts.” Nevertheless, an amendment by the UPyD to create a special attorney for these cases was rejected. “The victims expect a little more than our good will,” stated Rosa Díez. Elorza of the PSOE said that it would be “rash at this moment.”
It has been exactly a year since a group of family members of stolen children explained their cases to Congress’s Justice Commission. After that, the chamber promised to facilitate the clearing up of these actions in every way they could, but one year later, these organizations are not content. The protocol on free DNA tests signed by the National Institute of Toxicology only applies when a judicial authority demands them, and it has not resolved problems of access to the archives. Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who will meet with the affected April 12, has asked for a technical report from the Data Protection Agency to see what legal modifications could be made to facilitate access to the archives.