United: Last year, Hastings' Michael Bauer found his birth mom; last week, he finally met his three sisters
MaryLou and Bernard Bauer did the paperwork. Attended the classes. And were given the go-ahead. They could adopt children to live on their farm south of Hastings near Highway 52.
And then the great news came. MaryLou was pregnant.
The great news, though, came at a bit of a price. The Bauers would slide to the bottom of the adoption priority list.
The Bauers went on with their lives, figuring adoption might not be in their plans.
Then one winter day, the phone rang. MaryLou, just a month away from giving birth, raced around the farmyard, looking for Bernard. She had to share the good news and couldn't wait. They were going to adopt a son. In just one month, their house of two would be a house a four. They were going to have a real family.
It turns out, nobody ahead of the Bauers on the adoption priority list wanted Michael. He was a mixed-race child. Half black. Half white.
It was the early 1970s. The world was a much different place. But for MaryLou and Bernard Bauer, none of that mattered. They wanted a family.
When he was just 18 days old, little Michael came home to Hastings.
For 36 years of his life, the only mother he knew was MaryLou. Of course, he knew he was adopted. And he wondered about his birth mom. Who was she? Where was she?
When he was 18 years old, he checked into her identity just briefly. But when he hit a wall, he stopped his search and went on with his life.
Fate brought them together in May 2008, and they met for the first time just two days before Mother's Day. It was a tearful reunion, but as Bauer's birth mom put it, they were all tears of joy.
The past 16 months have been a whirlwind for Bauer. He's developed a strong relationship with his birth mom, all the while his love and admiration for his adoptive parents has grown. They supported him through all of this, and are happy he has reconnected with his birth mother.
Now, Bauer is busy reconnecting with the other members of his family. Just last week, he met his three sisters for the first time. The three of them and their families came to the Twin Cities from Houston to spend five days here in Hastings to get to know their brother.
It was the final chapter in a story that reads like a tear-jerking Lifetime movie.
How he found his birth mother
Bauer and two friends were talking about adoption one night, and Bauer began to tell his story. He told them what he knew: He was from St. Paul, and he actually knew his birth mother's maiden name (Barbara Schaefer). It had been left on a piece of paperwork that MaryLou Bauer received with the adoption.
Bauer's friend, Johana, thought it was quite a coincidence, really.
She knew a Barbara Schaefer who would be about 16 years older than Bauer. And she was from St. Paul.
A day later, Johana approached Schaefer at a small concert. Johana laid it all out there, telling a teary-eyed Schaefer everything she knew about this man.
"I just kept saying, 'That's my son. That's my son,'" Schaefer said.
Phone numbers were exchanged, calls were made and a few days later, they met at the Applebee's in Inver Grove Heights.
"I walked in, and she stood up and said, 'Michael?'" Bauer said. "We had a few tears in our eyes that night."
The two talked for three hours.
Schaefer took a cell phone photo of Bauer in the booth at Applebee's, and sent it to her daughters in Texas. They finally knew what their brother looked like.
Schaefer was 16 years old when she learned she was pregnant. Adoption was the answer.
"I had no choice," she said.
It was a closed adoption. She didn't know where he went or who got him.
Schaefer eventually married and had a family. She lived in Chicago, New York, Michigan and Connecticut before coming back to Minnesota.
"My heart was always wanting to find him, to know more about him," Schaefer said. "But there's always that fear: Is he going to be mad at me? Will he understand?"
Bauer does understand why his mother put him up for adoption, and harbors no resentment.
"I get it," he told her again last week. "You were 16."
"All I could do was give him life," she said.
Now they are reunited, and all the lingering doubts and questions that have been in the back of Schaefer's mind have been put to rest.
"Every February, when his birthday came around, I was sad and depressed," Schaefer said. "To know he was happy, it was like the whole world had been lifted off my shoulders."
Just two weeks after Michael came home from St. Paul, the Bauers delivered a son, Joe.
They were far from being done having children. The family adopted 12 more children.
"He was such a pretty little baby," MaryLou said. "He inspired us to adopt more. Michael was always a joy to have around."
Bauer's sibling total has now reached a whopping 16. There are the 13 brothers and sisters from the Bauer farm and his three sisters from Schaefer.
MaryLou and Bernard are thrilled at these developments. They were a big part of the big reunion last week.
"It's like Michael really is with his family," Bernard said.
Schaefer is stunned at the way she has been received by the family.
"You have to think about what a wonderful woman (MaryLou) is, to open her heart to me," she said. "They've accepted me and never looked down on me."
Schaefer's three daughters made a trip here last week to meet their brother for the first time. LaQuita, Jonnette and Jasmine drove up from Houston to meet Bauer.
"Now I get a brother after all these years," LaQuita said.
"I think it's really cool he grew up on a farm," Jasmine said. "That's a totally different lifestyle than us."
"We're the city girls, and we have a farmer as a brother!" Jonnette said.
Bauer and his wife, Amy, have six children of their own. So, getting the eight members of his immediate family together with his three sisters, their husbands and their children meant his farmhouse was a busy place last week.
On the reunion, getting caught up was an easy thing to do.
"It's just kind of been natural," Jasmine said.
"We all fit together," Bauer said.