December 25, 2017
Link to story on KOB.com: https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/a-christmas-miracle-21-years-in-the-making/4720778/
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but Heather Trujillo – then Heather Dudley – says she didn’t have much of a choice at all.
The year was 1994, and the 20-year-old was already raising a young boy.
“I was living in a little house in an alley behind someone else’s houses,” she said.
Raising two kids just two years into adulthood would be an undertaking for any parent, which is why when Deena was born, plans were already in motion for her to be adopted by a loving family.
“I didn’t want to, but I chose adoption because I don’t believe in anything else. It was the hardest decision I ever made,” Trujillo said. “Hardest because that’s your baby.”
The mother – then living in Clovis – went on to have and keep two other kids.
But she never forgot about Deena, instead keeping in close contact with the parents, who lived in New Jersey. From opposite sides of the country, they consistently sent Trujillo letters and photos of Deena for two years. Trujillo kept them in a photo album, which, on one page, still holds baby pictures of Deena and her biological mother side-by-side – seemingly a mirror reflection of each other.
But all that correspondence ended unexpectedly after two years when Trujillo said she moved.
“I lost contact with them. I was sending letters and they were coming back, and I couldn’t figure out why. And I couldn’t send them to her house because I wasn’t allowed to know the last name,” she said. “I didn’t have a name. All I knew was ‘Deena,’ and I only knew the parents’ first names and that they were in New Jersey.
“That’s all I knew.”
For more than two decades, the last images Trujillo had of her daughter were from when she was two years old, the most recent letter dated Dec. 10, 1996.
On Dec. 23, 2017 – 21 years later – Trujillo returned home from work and hopped on social media, and what she saw she couldn’t believe.
“I noticed that…this girl had commented on one of my pictures of me and the other kids when they were little, (a) Christmas picture,” she said. “A lot of my stuff.”
The possibility probably seemed too good to be true. Could this woman be her daughter? She kept scrolling, until she found affirmation.
“There was her baby picture, I saw her baby picture, and I immediately knew it was her.”
She messaged Deena Smith via Facebook. Smith’s reply: “I was born on November 26th 1994 in Clovis New Mexico to heather Dudley. my adopted parents names are Ellen and Ira Smith. I live in highland park New Jersey.
“And u have no idea how long I have been searching for u.”
It was almost too much for Trujillo – a few pixelated sentences had ended years of searching, years of wondering and reunited a family.
“I cried for two hours,” she said. “I never thought she’d find me.”
And now they might never stop talking. Trujillo says when she’s not at work, she’s on the phone with her daughter or otherwise talking to her in some way.
After all, they’ve got 21 years to catch up on.
“Everybody’s telling me and her, ‘She looks just like you,'” Trujillo said. “I told her, ‘I just can’t wait to see you again so I can hug you and hold you and tell you I love you like I’ve been dying to for 23 years.”
Trujillo added that for years she was afraid Smith would resent her for adopting her out. But as it turns out, her daughter would come to understand exactly what she went through, after telling her biological mother that she, too, was forced to give up her own daughter just seven months ago.
As for how Smith found her mother? It took some luck, as well as some obscure New Mexico connections that Smith continued to have in adulthood.
It all comes at a tough time for Trujillo. Currently residing in an East Side studio apartment with her fiancé, they couldn’t spare any money for gifts, or even decorations.
No other gift would have topped this for her, anyway.
“It’s been a rough year for us,” she said. “This is my present, I don’t need nothing else. She’s still my kid, even though she wasn’t here. Now I just want to get her here.”
As for those reunion details, cost is proving to be a bit of an obstacle. Trujillo wants to find a new place that has room for Smith, she recently started working again after being out of work for a few months and you can bet she’s noted the cost of plane tickets.
But her resolve is clearly visible. The difficult part is over, and this Christmas miracle, it seems, is still in its very early stages.
“I never thought I’d see her again,” Trujillo said. “I told her, ‘Thank you for being so persistent, and not giving up.'”