A Wisconsin mother’s search for a Christmas gift for her adopted daughter has taken an unexpected Tri-City twist.
Jennifer Doering of Wassau wanted to give her 10-year-old daughter a copy of her “Finding Ad.”
That’s the advertisement that under Chinese law publishes after a child is “found” and placed in an orphanage as an infant.
Doering said her husband, Tom, spent hours scouring Ancestry.com for their daughter Audrey’s family history.
Audrey hadn’t expressed strong interest in her own roots, but her mother thought the ad would make a meaningful Christmas present.
Doering contacted Research-China.org, a website that specializes in finding information related to children put up for adoption, to buy Audrey’s ad.
That’s when she noticed the site had more information about Audrey, including a photo reportedly taken at an orphanage. Doering agreed to pay for the picture and soon found herself staring at a photo of a Chinese woman with “two copies” of Audrey on her lap.
Audrey, she realized with a jolt, had a twin.
Doering scoured old Yahoo group posts about adopting from China. Two days later, she had puzzled out the identity of the second girl as Gracie, the adopted daughter of Nicole and Scott Rainsberry of Richland.
Doering reached them through Scott Rainsberry’s sister’s Facebook page.
Two days later, the apparent 10-year-old sisters met on FaceTime in a cloud of tears. A week later, they haven’t stopped talking.
Gracie even gets up to talk to Audrey before she leaves for school in Wisconsin, which is two hours earlier.
The families have submitted DNA samples to confirm what the Rainsberrys and the Doerings agree is blindingly obvious — the identical twins were separated when they were 15 months old and placed with different families in 2007.
They also are working to reunite the girls in person.
“My Christmas gift to her ended up being a little bigger than I thought,” said Doering, an emergency room physician’s assistant. She and her husband also have three older children.
‘No question’ about relationship
Brian Stuy, who runs the website that gathers information about children adopted from China, said there’s compelling circumstantial evidence the girls are twins.
The “Finding Ad” information about both girls matches up, and their foster mother in China referred to them as twins in her journal. But he cautioned that it will take DNA tests to confirm it.
Adoptive families are often heartbroken when they think they’ve found a biological relative, only to have DNA prove otherwise. Appearances can be deceiving, especially in children who come from the same region, he said.
“I’m 95 percent confident that they’re sisters,” he said. “I’ll let science go the other 5 percent.”
Nicole Rainsberry doesn’t need a DNA test to affirm what she can see. Audrey and Gracie look alike, sound alike and move alike. Their own parents have difficulty telling them apart in photos.
“In our minds, there’s no question,” she said.
Special needs adoptions
Here’s what they know:
Audrey and Gracie were found on the same day in Jiangxi in Central China, and they were placed in the same orphanage.
Chinese officials gave Audrey an estimated birthday of April 28, 2006, and Gracie an estimated birthday of April 23. Both girls have significant congenital heart issues and were adopted to families that had registered for children with special needs.
Both girls are the fourth child in their American families, joining families with three biological children.
The Rainsberrys pursued adoption after they were unable to conceive a fourth child. Nicole wanted an even number of children and agreed to adopt after her husband, Scott, the children’s pastor at Richland’s Columbia Community Church, suggested it.
In Wisconsin, the Doerings also turned to adoption after their three sons were born prematurely and the couple decided to complete their family through adoption rather than pursue another risky pregnancy.
Both couples felt called to adopt a child with special needs — the Rainsberrys through prayer and the Doerings because they are medical professionals who felt equipped to welcome a child with medical needs.
After the adoptions, both couples quickly realized their new daughters’ conditions were more serious than had been disclosed.
Both girls had major heart surgery soon after they reached the U.S. Both responded well to treatment.
Gracie is a competitive soccer and basketball player, and is always on the go at Cottonwood Elementary School, where she is in fifth grade.
“The heart thing has never slowed her down,” said her mother.
Breaking the news
Neither Audrey nor Gracie have any memories of a sibling.
Both were startled a week ago when their parents broke the news, to Gracie on Dec. 8 and to Audrey the next day.
The news is so fresh that both families are still looking for guidance on the best way to proceed. But they’re having fun with it too.
Nicole Rainsberry said she has taken to quizzing her husband, showing him photos and asking him to guess if it’s Gracie or Audrey. As often as not, he gets it wrong.
Doering was riding with her husband in a car when she opened the email with the fateful photo from the orphanage. “There are two of them. I’m not sure which one is ours,” she recalled telling her husband.
Scott Rainsberry learned of the connection first and texted his wife a photo of Audrey and Jennifer Doering.
Nicole was puzzled that the girl she thought was her daughter was sitting comfortably with a complete stranger. “It wasn’t funny,” she remembered.
Eventually, her husband called and explained that a woman in Wisconsin suspected they had adopted twins.
“I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying,” Nicole said.
A week later, the life-altering news has folded into the bustle of the Raisberry household — Gracie’s oldest brother applying for college scholarships and everyone getting ready for the holidays.
“It’s pretty chaotic here right now,” she said.