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Child photographed at the Bessbrook home, in County Cork. Photo by: Adoption Alliance

One US woman’s desperate 44-year search for her birth mother

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Child photographed at the Bessbrook home, in County Cork. Photo by: Adoption Alliance

A woman who was taken and put up for adoption by Irish nuns spent 44 years trying to track down her birth mother.

She was born in the notorious Bessborough home in County Cork where protests were held this weekend and calls were made to remember all the unmarried mothers and children who passed through there.

Catherine Deasy was separated from her mother by the nuns of the Bessborough Sacred Heart Convent in Cork as soon as she was born. Her mother, Johanna Sheehy, had been declared an unfit mother and was warned to keep away from her child.

One night in 1954, Johanna was caught trying to sneak into the nursery to deliver a tiny pair of crocheted booties to her daughter and was transferred to another convent miles away as punishment.

Four years later, she received a photo of her daughter with a devastating message.

"They gave her my picture saying, 'This is your daughter waving goodbye. She's gone to the United States and you're never to contact her again,'" Deasy, now 59, told People.

"It broke her heart."

“My mother was told nobody wanted her and it was best she live out her days and repent for her sins,” she said.

Deasy remembers being put on a plane to New York City, at aged 4.
 
"I was frightened and crying,” she said.

She landed in New York where she met her new mother and sister, from an Irish Catholic family.

"I had a lot of emotional baggage as a kid," said Deasy, who said she wasn't used to being shown affection.

She said that although her adoptive mom was "marvelous" and supportive, "I had low self-esteem. I never felt like I belonged."

In 1987, she set out to find out more information about her history and reached out to Sacred Heart.

"For years I wrote back and forth with Sister Sarto. She'd ask for money to aid in her search and once even suggested my mother was probably dead."

As in the case of Philomena Lee, whose search for her son is chronicled in the Oscar-nominated film "Philomena," church officials denied any knowledge.

However, in 1996, Deasy saw a "20/20" segment featuring the convent where she was born.

"I saw women crying, looking for their babies," she says, growing tearful. "It gave me hope my mom might be alive."

Deasy’s dream came true in 2002.

By then, new laws had allowed her to track down her birth certificate, and an Irish volunteer found a nun who knew where her mother was.

Deasy traveled to Ireland and saw her birth mother, then 90, for the first time in 44 years.

At their reunion Johanna Sheehy "just kept looking at me," said Deasy. "It was like a reflection."

They talked for hours with the help of a relative to translate Sheehy's thick accent.

"She told me the whole story of my father and how she'd been sent away," said Deasy.

Sheehy had worked as a hired hand on a farm, where she had a brief relationship with the owner's son. She became pregnant and his mother had church officials take her away.

She did not leave the laundries until 1993.

Deasy visited her mother 15 more times before she died in 2009.

"We beat the odds," said Deasy, who still continues to visit her extended family in Ireland and campaigns for victims' rights.

"Through all of the lies and threats, I have a family – a forever family."

Rare footage of a Bessborough child arriving in America for adoption:


* Originally published in June 2014.

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