Woman reunited with birth mother as an adult

An American woman who was separated from her family as a newborn baby in Chile 36 years ago meets her biological mother for the first time in her native country. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 9:06 AM
Updated: Jul 30, 2018 9:08 AM

Growing up in Minneapolis, Alisa Clare Cohen constantly wondered whether her birth parents in Chile really abandoned her. Nearly four decades passed before she learned the truth.

"The story that I was told was that my (biological) family had essentially never meant to keep me," Cohen said.

Her now-deceased adopted parents, Sheila and Steve Cohen, were always forthcoming about Cohen's adoption and the country she came from. And yet she wondered.

Was she really abandoned by her birth parents as she had been told, or was she an orphan as her Chilean passport and her adoption documents stated? There were many inconsistencies and she knew there was only one way to find out.

She was about to celebrate her 36th birthday when she finally decided to dig into her past.

Their names had always been in Cohen's adoption documents. Silvia Beatriz Córdova was listed as her biological mother and Jorge Riquelme Díaz as her father.

In February, she contacted the Chile Adoption Birth Family Search, an online group dedicated to connecting adopted children raised in the United States with their biological parents in Chile.

The group gave her a contact number with the "Carabineros," the Chilean national police. In a matter of weeks, she got the answer she was hoping for: her biological parents were still alive and very eager to meet her.

On July 19, she embarked on a 28-hour journey that would take her from Minneapolis to Santiago, the capital of Chile. After clearing customs and immigration at the airport, she headed to the waiting area where not only her biological parents, but a half-sister and others in her new-found extended family were waiting for her.

"Welcome to Chile, Alisa," read the hand-written posters that led her to the group and to Silvia Beatriz Córdova, the woman who carried her in her womb for nine months. There were no words, only tears of joy.

"I've been waiting my whole life to find my mother," Cohen said, overcome with emotion.

'I never saw her again'

Córdova said she gave Cohen a hug she wishes she could've given her daughter as a newborn baby 36 years ago.

"I saw her when she was born, but I never saw her again," Córdova said.

Córdova says she never intended to give her daughter up for adoption.

"No, no, no. Never! Never! I had already made a bassinet cover for her. I made it myself," she said. "I made it when I learned I was in the third month of my pregnancy."

After giving birth to her daughter, Córdova experienced complications arising from the surgery and had to stay at the hospital for three to four months.

During that time, she, her husband and other members of the family asked employees at the state-run hospital about their daughter. The answers were evasive and they never saw the baby.

Chile was under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1982 when the birth occurred, and Córdova and her family feared that asking too many questions would put them in danger.

"They would just say things to get rid of us. They lied to my sister, too. It was always like that: lie after lie," Córdova said.

For Alisa Clare Cohen things are finally beginning to make sense. "With the politics at the time and adoption not being regulated until years after I was adopted, even looking at the social worker that processed my adoption there were a lot of things, elements of it that were just incomplete and inconsistent with what I was told," she said.

"Can you imagine waiting for a child for nine months, a child you got yourself ready for and then you don't even get to see the baby? It was terrible, terrible! I could never fully recover emotionally," Córdova said.

Chilean government officials today say there were so many questionable adoptions back then that authorities now have a name for babies like Cohen.

They're called "Children of Silence." They're babies who were taken away from their biological parents in the '70s and '80s, in many cases without the parents' consent or knowledge of what was happening, and given to adoptive parents. Those children are now in their 30s and 40s and are asking questions about a secret that was kept from them for four decades.

Children of Silence

CNN has documented several cases of adoptions like these, including that of Travis Tolliver, who was also raised by American adoptive parents and didn't meet his biological mother, Nelly Reyes, until he was 41 years old.

"I was wanted, you know? I wasn't given up willingly like I thought for all these years. So that makes my heart feel wonderful," Tolliver told CNN in 2015, the day he reunited with his biological mother who was told at the hospital where she gave birth that her baby was stillborn.

"I'm still very angry. Taking my son away from me was an injustice. Why did they steal my son? I could've raised him just fine," Reyes said, sitting by Tolliver's side.

In 2015, Chilean authorities named a special prosecutor to begin investigating a list of these so-called "irregular adoptions", a list that is reported to include nearly 600 families. Constanza del Río heads an organization that helps families find each other and says they have an even larger list.

"We have 3,000 people that are looking for them. These are adopted people and families that are looking for these babies that were stolen from them," del Río said.

She says during those decades there were entire criminal organizations stealing babies from impoverished families to profit from their sale, while the Pinochet government looked the other way or simply ignored victims.

"Who's responsible for this? Doctors, midwives and social workers who were preying on poor people to steal their children. You need to understand that these kids were sold. This wasn't done for a good reason. They were a mafia selling babies," del Río said.

There will always be unanswered questions. The hospital where Cohen was born no longer exists and the same goes for the adoption agency. For now, it doesn't matter.

Since her adoptive parents passed away a few years ago, Cohen says her Chilean family, and an adopted sister, are all she's got.

"I feel happy, very happy," she said after meeting her biological mother, her eyes welling up with tears.

Neither Córdova nor Cohen speaks the other's language, but the love between a mother and her child, they say, knows no barriers.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76522

Reported Deaths: 3086
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16194731
Lake7742281
Elkhart495586
Allen4040163
St. Joseph361083
Hamilton2887104
Vanderburgh205313
Hendricks1943108
Cass18069
Johnson1794119
Porter136239
Clark130750
Tippecanoe124511
Madison103066
LaPorte93530
Howard92065
Kosciusko87212
Floyd82249
Bartholomew82147
Marshall79423
Monroe76732
Delaware76052
Vigo71411
Dubois71312
Boone69746
Noble69029
Hancock68839
Jackson5975
Warrick58830
Shelby56828
LaGrange56610
Grant53130
Dearborn51628
Morgan48934
Clinton4504
Henry41820
Wayne38810
White37711
Montgomery36021
Lawrence35727
Harrison35224
Decatur34232
Putnam3218
Daviess27920
Miami2772
Scott27310
Jasper2572
Greene25434
Franklin24715
DeKalb2384
Gibson2334
Jennings22812
Steuben2153
Ripley2138
Carroll2003
Fayette1957
Perry18713
Posey1800
Starke1807
Orange17824
Wells1782
Fulton1732
Wabash1715
Jefferson1662
Knox1640
Whitley1566
Tipton14912
Washington1441
Sullivan1411
Spencer1393
Clay1315
Huntington1273
Randolph1274
Newton12110
Adams1172
Owen1051
Jay920
Rush894
Pulaski821
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike620
Vermillion590
Parke551
Switzerland530
Martin500
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0208

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 104248

Reported Deaths: 3734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18965531
Cuyahoga13869512
Hamilton9844259
Lucas5512326
Montgomery448998
Summit3667224
Butler303364
Marion294245
Mahoning2623256
Pickaway240042
Stark1904142
Warren185039
Lorain183177
Columbiana168360
Trumbull1563110
Fairfield143232
Delaware136519
Licking134551
Clark121315
Lake114642
Wood109058
Clermont96211
Medina95936
Miami86839
Tuscarawas79714
Allen79446
Portage77664
Greene73012
Mercer64113
Belmont62726
Richland61912
Erie61028
Ashtabula57746
Geauga56144
Wayne55459
Ross5094
Madison50310
Darke41429
Huron4115
Ottawa40426
Sandusky39917
Hancock3973
Athens3612
Holmes3316
Lawrence3180
Auglaize2756
Union2731
Scioto2591
Muskingum2481
Jefferson2403
Seneca2344
Shelby2154
Knox2147
Preble2122
Putnam21217
Washington21122
Coshocton1967
Champaign1882
Morrow1792
Crawford1775
Hardin17512
Clinton1716
Highland1692
Logan1672
Ashland1553
Fulton1551
Defiance1544
Wyandot1519
Brown1502
Perry1483
Williams1373
Fayette1240
Henry1222
Hocking1229
Guernsey1197
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike800
Jackson770
Gallia741
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Adams642
Meigs580
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble170
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 81°
Angola
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 82°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 82°
Decatur
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 80°
Van Wert
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 80°
Mostly Sunny Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events