'We're all connected' - Burds reunites with birth mom

Emily Burds (right), of Monticello, always knew she was adopted. Just under a year ago, she reconnected and located her birth mom, Kori Gish in Oelwein, Iowa. The two met for the first time in July 2017, and the resemblance is uncanny. (Photo submitted)

After meeting her birth mom, Emily Burds also got to meet her half-sisters. She said after always having a little brother, Ben, it’s nice to have little sisters, too. From left are Hailey Scott, Burds, and Taylor Gish. (Photo submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “My mom will always be my mom.”

     March 10 marked the eighth anniversary of the passing of Jody Burds, mother of Emily and Ben Burds.

     Years later, Emily has been fortunate enough to have another mother enter her life, her birth mother Kori Gish. And she only lived an hour away…

     Emily has always known she was adopted. Her parents, Dennis and Jody, never kept that from their children, including Ben who was also adopted.

     “It wasn’t like we were told about being adopted at any specific age,” said Emily. “We just always knew.

     Our parents were very open about it; they never hid anything. They always told us they chose us and that’s the way it was.”

     The Burds family has been long-time residents of Monticello. Both Emily and Ben graduated from Monticello High School. Since high school, Emily graduated from the University of Iowa, earning degrees in journalism and mass communications, with a certificate in leadership studies. After college, Emily spent two and a half years living and working in Kansas City, Mo., and most recently moved to Texas.

     “The town in Texas where I live is smaller than Monticello believe it or not,” she joked.

     Emily is an account executive working for a start-up communications agency.

     “My boss is a friend and mentor of mine,” she said.

     Burds said she’s young enough that she can take on a job that requires travel and meeting with clients.

     “I didn’t have any ties and it was a good time to switch it up,” she said. “I’m able to meet a lot of people.”

     Emily actually accepted the job in Texas and worked from home in Kansas City before moving to Texas.

     Those “ties” she spoke of, however, have become stronger than she ever anticipated.

     A year ago this summer, June to be more precise, Emily reconnected with her birth mother, also meeting her half sisters (Hailey, 19, and Taylor, 17), maternal grandparents, and more family than she ever thought possible.

     In May 2015, during Emily’s senior year of college, she was working on a semester-long class project and decided to produce a how-to video on searching for one’s birth family.

     “That’s when the interest began to peak for me,” she said of diving into her own search.

     Dennis and Jody adopted Emily when she was born, actually starting the process when Gish was expecting. The families utilized the adoption services provided by Catholic Charities out of Waterloo.

     The Burds family kept in contact with Gish until Emily was 8 years old. The two parties would send letters and photos back and forth, with the correspondence filtering through Catholic Charities.

     Since that time, Gish lost contact.

     “Everything just stopped,” Gish said. “It was heartbreaking. I didn’t know if she was OK or anything.” She said while the Burdses didn’t have to keep in touch with her, it was nice that they did for those eight years.

     Emily geared her focus toward finals, graduating from college, and finding a secure job.

     Then in the spring of 2017, she got the inkling again to find her birth mother.

     “I didn’t expect to find anything,” she said. “But I knew there was a chance with the technology out there and social media.”

     Burds started by contacting Catholic Charities to assist, but they could only provide minimal information, and it came at a cost.

     “I really didn’t know much about my mom’s history,” she said.

     After a couple of weeks of digging into her past, Emily returned to Iowa to attend a friend’s wedding. That’s when she started sifting through the adoption records Dennis and Jody had kept through the years.

     With that information, Emily then started forming her birth-family tree on ancestry.com.

     “Some of the details I had weren’t all that accurate,” she said of stories and bits of information she had been told through the years.

     Emily said her dad’s memory was a bit fuzzy.

     “If my mom were here, she would have remembered everything,” she laughed. “So I started playing detective.”

     After finally finding Gish’s full name and knowing she had two daughters, Emily started searching on Facebook.

     “I found a Facebook profile, and the name and location matched with the information I had,” said Emily. She knew her birth mom was in the Waterloo area, Oelwein to be precise.

     “I always had a gut feeling that Emily was in Iowa,” Gish said.

     Gish’s Facebook profile picture included her and her two daughters, which Emily also found ironic.

     “They looked familiar and the names matched,” she said, having known her biological half-sisters’ names as well. “I thought it was too much a coincidence at that point.”

     Emily made the digital connection, having a pretty good feeling she had tracked down her birth mother, but was in the midst of packing and leaving to move to Kansas City. So she hit the road and phoned her best friend for advice.

     “I told her, ‘I think I just found my birth mom,’” she said. Emily sent her friend a link to Gish’s Facebook page and she also confirmed the resemblance.

     Not wanting to contact her via Facebook, Emily sat down and wrote Gish a letter. She tracked down her mailing address online.

     “I thought a letter would be a better way to broach the situation,” said Emily.

     The letter was postmarked from Kansas City, where Emily was living. Gish didn’t know anyone from that area, though she never knew where the Burds family ended up after the correspondence ceased.

     “I freaked out,” Gish said of reading Emily’s letter, stating she was contacting Gish because she believed she was her birth mother. “I stuffed the letter in the envelope and ran over to my mom’s crying.”

     A couple weeks later, Emily had not heard back from Gish, so she took the same text from the letter and sent it to Gish in a private Facebook message and via e-mail. (She tracked down an e-mail address, too, because Gish worked for the local school district.)

     “I was growing impatient,” said Emily. “What if I had the wrong address? What if she didn’t get my letter?

     “For my sake, I wanted to do everything I could to contact her.”

     On June 7, 10 minutes after sending Gish the private message, Emily received a response. That evening after work, she had a response from Gish waiting in her mailbox. It was all happening at once.

     Gish said she replied back that she was Emily’s birth mom, and filled her in on information about her family and that she gave her up for adoption “not because I didn’t want her; I loved her very much.” Gish said at the time she was single, didn’t have a job and had just moved back to Iowa and was living with her parents.

     “Everyone in my family knew about Emily,” Gish said of giving her up for adoption. “It wasn’t a secret.”

     Years later, her other two daughters were also told they had a big sister out there, but it wasn’t real until they actually met.

     “My youngest just cried and cried,” Gish said. “They were happy tears.”

     After a few weeks of calls Facebook messages, and FaceTime, Emily was back in Monticello over the Fourth of July holiday to help her dad move. It was at the time that she set up a face-to-face meeting with Gish and her daughters in Oelwein. Ironically, their meeting was the day before Gish’s birthday.

     “That was the best birthday present ever!” Gish said with delight.

     Emily traveled alone for the occasion, and then Dennis met Gish and her family a couple weeks later at a family picnic in Manchester.

     “My dad was just as curious as me,” said Emily. “He was part of the reason I started this journey.”

     Looking at photos of Gish and Emily together and her sisters, the resemblance is uncanny.

     “We all have the same natural hair color,” shared Emily. “And we all wear glasses.”

     Unfortunately, Emily joked that she got the short gene in the family, as her young sisters both tower above her.

     “I grew up with a younger brother all these years,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted a younger sister, too. And now I have two.”

     Gish said it all seems so surreal now.

     “I still think I’m dreaming,” she said.

     Since their first meeting, Emily was able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with her new family members before moving to Texas in January.

     “This really is the best possible outcome,” said Emily. “We’re all learning as we go.

     “There is so much love and support, and now I have a whole new family to lean on and to enjoy life with. It’s fantastic!”

     For Christmas, Gish gave Emily a Precious Moments figurine that Jody sent to Gish years ago when Emily was young.

     “That gift just shows you the level of respect Kori had for my mom,” Emily said.

     Emily said it is unfortunate that Jody never got to meet Gish in person.

     “My mom would have loved to get to know Kori all these years later,” she said.

     With Jody passing away from brain cancer, Emily said coincidentally, Gish is a breast cancer survivor herself.

     “It’s crazy how we’re all connected,” she said. “I know my mom (Jody) had a hand in this.”

     Gish said it breaks her heart knowing that Emily spent so much of her impressionable life without a mother.

     “She grew up without a mom where I wished I could have been there for her, too. I never plan to replace Jody,” she said.

     “Through the years I always felt that something was missing,” continued Gish. She said she always kept photos of Emily around her house. “Now my heart is so full.”

     Aside from working on establishing a relationship with Emily, Gish said also formed a friendship with Dennis.

     “We talk a lot,” she said.

     Living just an hour apart, both Gish and Emily said they’ve realized they share mutual acquaintances here in Monticello, and actually attending the Great Jones County Fair at the same time over the years. Gish said she always had an idea of where Emily ended up, and would scan crowds to see if she could spot someone who looked like her.

     “I would look for her in the crowds at the fair,” said Gish. “How many times did we pass each other at the fair?”

     Emily said she knows Gish gave her up for adoption to make sure she had the best life she could.

     “She gave an incredible gift to a couple she felt deserved me,” she said. “I’m grateful for her sacrifice.

     Gish shared that she sorted through hundreds and hundreds of profiles of perspective adoptive parents before choosing the Burds. She said Dennis and Jody seemed sincere and raw.

     “She was given up with extreme love,” she said of making the decision to give Emily up for adoption. “I cry every time I talk about it.”

     Shortly after sharing her incredible story on Facebook about finding Gish, Emily said, “I’ve enjoyed getting to laugh at folks who tell me I look like a Burds or the rare instances someone decides to be a little crazy and say I look like my mom.” Only reiterating the fact that she was adopted.

     Both Emily and Gish look forward to the next chapters of their new lives. With Emily living in Texas, Gish admitted it’s hard after just reconnecting.

     “I am looking forward to the next adventures we’ll have together,” said Gish.

     Emily said if her story helps others who have been adopted then it’s worth it.



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