Steve Stansfield was an only child, until last Thursday.
On that day, life as he knew it blew up in a way that not even the Hallmark movie people would believe.
At 38, his life has settled down — no longer playing in bands, like the night he backed up Earl Williams at The Jazz Corner.
Now he lives in the Pine Forest neighborhood of Bluffton, works at Giuseppi’s Pizza on Hilton Head, is a husband to Erin Hanson, father of two, and faithful son to Jerry and Kathy Stansfield of Sun City Hilton Head.
Jerry and Kathy always told him he was adopted. They got him through Catholic Social Services near home in Philadelphia when he was two-and-a-half months old. As a child, Steve always begged to hear the story again about the night he came into their lives, and how he threw up on them, and how he came with a stuffed animal his birth mother had left with him, a little dog named Sherlock.
“It was the greatest thing,” Jerry said about having a son, their only child. He was a whiz at hockey and played guitar.
“We told him that he was given up for love, and that we loved him and his birth mother loved him,” Jerry said Friday afternoon, standing outside his son’s home, with all the hustle and bustle inside.
But Jerry and Kathy always hoped Steve could meet his birth mother. They worked for years trying to find her.
Meanwhile, Steve always kept Sherlock on the top closet shelf.
On Thursday of last week, Steve checked the mail after work and there was something from the state of Pennsylvania.
It was his birth certificate, which had been tracked down by his wife, Erin. And there in the kitchen, with lights to be hung in the Christmas tree, Steve saw the names of his biological mother and father.
They were both 16 when their William Alexander was born.
Jerry typed the father’s name into BeenVerified.com.
“Whoosh, everything came up,” he said.
“I told Steve, your mother and father got married and you have three full-blooded siblings.”
On Friday afternoon, they were all together for the first time at Steve and Erin’s home.
His birth father, Bill Foran, an electrician from suburban Philadelphia, stood by his birth mother, CarolAnn Foran, and said, “There was such a hole in her heart.”
Steve, holding Sherlock, hugged her and said, “Never again.”
The logistics are mind-boggling.
And that doesn’t include the overnight car trips from Pennsylvania to the Lowcountry on pure adrenalin, or all the Skyping and texting and Facebooking that helped bring together four siblings, two 12-year-old girls and a pair of 7-year-old boys who found sudden cousins. Or the little grandson, named William, that Bill and CarolAnn never knew they had.
The logistics of finding each other was a deeper maze, seemingly designed to disappoint, they all said.
“I found out by Googling my name,” said Steve’s sister, Kristi Foran, 32. That’s when she found out that her grandmother was poking around online trying to find a baby apparently born to her mother. She eventually told her siblings, Nicole Foran, 28, and Matt Foran, 25.
Then Nicole pieced together why her mother was crying, because it was March and she knew a baby given up for adoption was born March 14.
“I told her it was OK,” Nicole said. “I told her I knew about him, that we all knew. I told her because she was hurting by herself.”
CarolAnn said she wanted to marry Bill because without him, she would lose her last contact with the baby that in her heart she called Billy.
She said that for a long time, all she thought about was Billy. It was especially hard on his birthday. But at some point you have to push it inside.
She didn’t want to talk to her husband about it because it brought up a lot of hurt. “When I talked, it was to my mother,” she said.
But as a family, after the siblings finally told their dad what they knew, it was something they didn’t have to hide anymore.
“We could talk about it,” Nicole said.
A change in Pennsylvania law opened the key to a door the families never dreamed would be so beautiful.
Last year, state law changed to enable adoptees over age 18 to apply for their birth records.
That gave the South Carolina searchers new names.. And it led Steve’s wife, Erin Hanson, to Facebook.
Last Thursday night, she plugged in Nicole’s name. She sent her a message, saying she did not want to intrude, but maybe she was her husband’s sister. Ten minutes later came a response:
“Oh, my God, we have been looking forever.”
Nicole spent days making sure everything checked out. And then she had to figure out how to tell everyone in the right way.
She told her parents to come to her house last Sunday night. They were hesitant. CarolAnn didn’t feel well. Bill needed a haircut. Just come over, Nicole said, and I’ll cut your hair.
Then she had to get her sister and brother there, badgering them in text messages.
“I told them nobody had died, and not to worry, but they better be there,” Nicole said.
Matt said, “I was texting Kristi and said Nicole better be pregnant. Something had to be up.”
Steve’s adopted father, Jerry, had been texting photographs to Nicole showing her unknown brother growing up. She had them on the phone, ready to show her parents.
Her mother glanced at one or two and then said: “Don’t EVEN! Don’t EVEN!”
Nicole knew her mother believed it when “she grabbed onto my leg.”
“I said, ‘Mama, we found each other.’ “
Sunday night turned into a Skype-fest that went on after midnight.
By Wednesday, Bill and CarolAnn had flown to the Lowcountry. Erin filmed their tearful, joyful meeting on Facebook.
By Friday, all the siblings were together, in person, for the first time. Laughter and pizza and stunned disbelief filled the room. “We’re going trough the motions, but we’re still in shock,” one said.
“I wish I could bottle everything up,” CarolAnn said.
They discovered that Matt played in a band with a guy who was Steve’s best friend growing up. Kathy Stansfield made that discovery.. He is Martin Coffee, a drummer. They called him Styx Latte. “No way,” Kathy said when she saw Styx as Matt’s friend on Facebook. “No way.”
Jerry and Kathy Stansfield said the most stunning thing to them is that Bill and CarolAnn got married, and that their Steve had three siblings.
“It’s not supposed to be like this,” Jerry said.
Jerry and Kathy are about 15 years older than Steve’s birth parents, and Kathy said it was important to her that he find his family so he would never have to be alone.
The two sets of parents have now compared notes and see places where they were not treated right in their search, and they don’t want other families to go through their struggle.
CarolAnn and Bill can’t quit thanking their “angels,” Steve’s adoptive parents..
“This is all about love,” Jerry said. “This is all about Steve and this family that he now has. It’s not about us.”
And in the hubub, Bill pipes up, “And I still haven’t gotten my haircut.”