OWENSBORO, Ky. — When she was 17 years old, Daniel Rigling’s biological mother knew that adoption was the best decision for her to make for her infant son. Now, 44 years later, a string of unlikely events gave them the opportunity to reunite.
“I have always known I was adopted. Some have a birth story, mine was an adoption story. I had a great set of parents, a great life, never wanted anything,” Rigling said. “Both my sister and I were adopted from different birth parents in St. Louis. We moved to Owensboro when I was five and she was three.”
What started as a change in the adoption law in his birth state of Missouri led to Rigling pursuing his original birth certificate and setting out to discover family members he never knew about.
“Until recently, I never really had a strong desire to meet my birth parents,” he said. “I was interested to find out more about them, but not a drive to go out and find them like some people do.”
When Rigling’s wife got him a DNA test for Christmas, it prompted his interest to learn more about his biological family.
“She got me the test to find out my medical information; when I got my results back, no close relatives were listed,” he said. “There was a cousin once removed that was like sharing great-great-grandparents. It did not get me closer to my birth parents.”
In 2014, Rigling went to St. Louis for spring break. Knowing he was close to his birthplace, he decided to make a stop at the adoption agency.
“The social worker who facilitated my adoption, and who worked with my birth parents and my adoptive parents, was still there,” he said. “Part of my story was that I was born in a car, and she remembered that, but laws were really restrictive at that point and she couldn’t tell me anything.”
The Missouri Adoptee Rights Law of 2016 gave people adopted in Missouri the right to request a copy of their original birth certificate with their biological parents’ names. Prior to this law, adoptees from this state had two birth certificates — one naming their biological parents, and one with their adoptive parents’ names.
When the laws changed in Missouri, biological parents gained the right to put a specification in their file saying they did not want to release any information to the adoptee. Rigling said at this point, his biological mom could have locked it down, and she chose not to. This decision opened the door for him to find her.
“I found out about the change in law through research. I was able to fill out a form, send in $15 and request my original birth certificate,” Rigling said. “When I got it back it had the address to where I was born — which happened to be in front of a Steak ‘n Shake — my mother’s maiden name, and no information about my birth dad.”
Once Rigling had his mother’s name, the search was on. Not realizing she had gotten married just a few years after having him, he still needed to uncover a few pieces of the puzzle before finding her.
“I found her full name on the Pinterest website, realizing she went by her middle name,” Rigling said. “I located a half-brother of mine and started scrolling through his Facebook page and saw my birth mom had commented on one of his posts. I clicked on it and boom, there’s a picture of my birth mom. I put together a Facebook message on Messenger, working up the nerve to send it to her.”
On March 15, 2021, Rigling clicked send. Since they were not friends on Facebook, the message did not go through to her main inbox.
“My message told her that I have always known I was adopted and wondered where I came from,” Rigling said. “I told her about Missouri changing the adoption law and how I got my birth certificate. I said I love you for the choice you made to give me up for adoption. I have had a wonderful life, I’m 44 years old, married to my high school sweetheart and have two children of my own. I would love to communicate with you, but I understand if you cannot.”
After not receiving a quick reply, Rigling sent a similar message to his birth mom’s sister who he had also located on social media. He asked if he had the right person and when she replied that he did, he was one step closer to meeting his biological mom. The sister alerted his birth mom about the message and on March 18, his birth mom reached out to him.
“One of the first things she said to me was ‘You have always been on my mind. I didn’t expect this day to come, but here it is.’ She told me it was a tough choice, but for the best at that time in her life,” Rigling said.
When Rigling was told he looked a lot like his dad, he decided it was time to reach out to him, too. He got his name, found him on social media and was able to see a picture of him for the first time.
“My first thought was ‘Wow, I do look a lot like him.’ He had my information at this point and I was waiting for him to reach out to me,” Rigling said. “Two weeks passed and he never did, so I was disappointed. I sent him a friend request on Facebook, and he responded immediately. It turned out he was waiting for me to reach out too.”
Meanwhile, Rigling and his birth mom set up a plan to meet in person for the first time since he was an infant. The meeting included his birth mom, her husband, Rigling’s half-brother and half-sister, and his nieces and nephews. Rigling’s wife and kids went, too.
“It was a mix of emotions — excited, nervous, hoping we get along, hoping no one is super weird or awkward,” he said. “My birth mom has red hair, her daughter has red hair, and her kids have red hair, so I bought a red wig on Amazon and I wore that to introduce myself to them and her kids. Turns out, the only thing that was weird about it was how un-weird it was. We were talking, catching up, like we’d known each other our whole lives.”
When Rigling walked toward his birth mom with a bouquet of flowers he bought for her, he broke the ice with “long time, no see.”
She responded with “You were a lot littler the last time I saw you.”
Rigling will meet his biological dad in person on May 8.