A few survivors are able to put their cruel beginnings behind them. Author James M. Michener was 19, a student at Swarthmore College, when he learned that he had been a foundling-left on the doorstep of Mabel Michener, the Doylestown, Pa., widow who had lovingly raised him. "For one weekend, I wandered over the campus, a really lost soul," recalls Michener, 90. By Sunday, he says, "I determined I was never going to know who my parents were, and to hell with it."
But for most who were abandoned at birth—including three who shared their stories with PEOPLE—the anguish, the sense of rejection and the curiosity about their biological identities are unrelenting. "What was wrong with me?" asks one of them, psychiatrist Robert Andersen. "That's the thing you can never quite get past."
Left by the river, she looks back in anger
Last November, a week after requesting her adoption records, Julie Carr opened an envelope from the Ohio Bureau of Vital Statistics and got the shock of her life: attached to her birth certificate was a Foundling Report. "I thought 'What the hell is that?' " recalls Carr, 41. As soon as she understood, she breathlessly phoned Kent, her husband of 23 years, who was working the night shift as an airline ramp supervisor. "You won't believe what I have in my hands—you can't imagine what it says!" she cried. "I was found on a riverbank!"
It was 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 20, 1955, when two fishermen, startled by her piercing cries, discovered an infant, naked and no more than 12 hours old, in the underbrush along the Ohio River in the town of Pomeroy. "The minute you tell someone, you get the Moses story," Julie says wryly. But her rage bubbles up. "I mean, you just have a baby and you lay it in the dirt? You could have found a rag, a coat or a blanket and had the common decency to wrap it."
Briefly a ward of the county, Julie was soon adopted by a Dayton couple, food broker David Marsh and his wife, Kathryn, a homemaker. Raised in a loving household, she never felt the alienation experienced by many adoptees, though she did long to learn where she came from. The Marshes, however, professed ignorance. "I didn't think that was true then, and I definitely don't believe it now," says Carr.
Not until her mother's death last year—her father died in 1981—did Carr feel free to trace her parentage. "It wasn't like I was looking for an instant family," explains Carr, who has a son Ian, 15, and a daughter Jillian, 8. "It's just that you look in the mirror and you wonder, 'Who do I look like? What's my medical history?' "
And so Carr consulted Seekers of the Lost—an Oregon-based group that tries to connect adoptees and birth parents—after seeing it featured on TV's Maury Povich Show. Told that Ohio had open adoption records before 1964, she called for the particulars and received the Foundling Report. "I thought, 'Now what?' " Carr says. A computer check by the Seekers led her to a niece of one of the men who found her (he had since died), who sent Julie some yellowed local news clips describing her abandonment and discovery. "Little Miss Nobody," the paper called her in a front-page story appealing to the parents to come forward. But no one ever did.
Carr is trying to trace her roots but wonders if she could ever forgive the woman who carried her nine months, then may have left her to die. "I hope I'm in her conscience," she says. "I hope on Mother's Day, I bother her. I hope on Aug. 20, I bother her. I hope at Christmas. I hope today."
For a foundling child, a lifelong loss of trust
On a warm gray afternoon last March, Marv Kreider climbed the dark staircase of a gloomy apartment dwelling on Fuk Wing Street in the bustling Kowloon section of Hong Kong. Scanning the sooty walls and the cobwebbed ceiling, she stopped on a landing and started to cry. "I'd gone halfway around the world for this," says Kreider, 38, of Pasadena, Calif. "It was a big moment."
In fact, she was standing on the very spot where, on July 15, 1958, she was found—a 2-day-old baby wrapped in a blanket—by a Hong Kong policeman. Kreider spent her first two years in a local orphanage called Po Leung Kuk. Then in 1960, she was adopted by a Quaker minister and his schoolteacher wife from Chicago who named her Marvel, after a great-aunt. As an Asian child of Caucasian parents, Kreider felt alienated from the moment she entered kindergarten. "The other children wouldn't touch me," she says flatly. "I damned God for making me Chinese."
At 19, Kreider dropped out after a year at Friends University in Wichita, Kans., then settled in California. She has since attended two other colleges, graduating from neither. Her eclectic resume includes stints in marketing, court reporting and massage therapy. Over the years, she has suffered from depression—once attempting suicide with pills—and struggled with anorexia. Divorced twice, she now dates respiratory therapist Cary Sodetani, but notes, "I have left every relationship—I leave people before they leave me."
Last July, Kreider decided to search for her birth parents. "I wanted somebody that loved me," she says. "I wanted my mother to love me." Her women's support group held a garage sale to raise $650 for Kreider's airline ticket, and on March 14 she took off for Hong Kong. During her stay, Kreider, helped by a translator, interviewed Kowloon residents, pored over old newspapers and toured the orphanage where she once lived, without success.
"She could have dumped me in a trash can—but she left me on a staircase, where people could find me," she says. "My fantasy has always been to let my mother know I'm okay. To say I love her and to say thank you for giving me this opportunity for life."
A doctor dreams of the mother he never knew
In high school, he was an A student, captain of the football team and king of the Sadie Hawkins Dance. He went on to become a psychiatrist acknowledged for his work with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet Robert Andersen, 57, is racked by a sense of inadequacy.
"I feel like I wasn't good enough," he confides tearfully, "or Mother would have kept me.", Andersen was only days old when he was purchased for $250 on the black market by a Racine, Wis., couple, homemaker Ann Andersen and her husband, Stanley, an electronics plant supervisor. The previous year, after being stricken with uterine cancer, Ann, then 25, had undergone a hysterectomy. Because of her health, perhaps, the state deemed her unfit to adopt, so she and her husband had turned to an illegal maternity home. "I was brought into the family to prevent her from killing herself," says Andersen, recalling his adoptive mother as a depressive who sometimes stared out the window for hours at a time.
Robert was 12, and the family had moved to Palo Alto, Calif., by the time he learned the Andersens weren't his biological parents. Having found out about Ann's hysterectomy, he asked her how she could have been his birth mother. He recalls little else of that day except the living room where she gave her answer. "The white, plain wallpaper," he says. "It was like our lives: plain and empty and hollow."
Not until he was 19, during an argument with Stanley, was Andersen told that his birth parents, who he had been led to believe had died in a car crash, could still be alive. For years, chary of upsetting the emotionally fragile Ann, he put aside any thoughts of searching for them. Moving to St. Louis, he earned his M.D. from Washington University and in 1973 joined the staff of the VA medical center there. He married and divorced twice, fathering two children, Paul, now 25, and Erika, 24. Only at 41, after Ann Andersen's death, did he start inquiring for details about his origins. When pressed, Stanley (who died in 1988) admitted that Robert had been bought on the black market.
Andersen, who shares his home with three llamas and seven adopted stray dogs, has since joined a search group and hired a detective but still knows nothing of his birth. He often reflects on his mother. "There are things I always wanted to know," he says. "Like, What was your favorite movie? What did you like for breakfast? What kind of shoes did you choose? I'd love to hug her and say, 'Did you miss me?' "
MARY HARRISON in St. Louts, MICHELE KELLER in Pasadena, ANDREA PAWLYNA in Hong Kong and BARBARA SANDLER in Indianapolis