A woman who was 19 when she discovered she had been adopted to the U.S. from Colombia as a baby finally shared her first hug with her biological mom after 30 years.
Melissa Guida-Richards, 30, from Pike County, Pennsylvania, was adopted into an immigrant Italian- and Portuguese-American family, who kept her adoption a secret for 19 years because her mom was afraid that she and her brother wouldn’t be accepted properly into the family.
Growing up, Melissa said she experienced racism from her family and those in her neighborhood as though she believed she was Italian; others saw her as Latina.
At age 19, Melissa discovered she was adopted, which led her to online groups, where she found support among other transracial adoptees.
Melissa said she did not truly come to terms with her adoption until 2016, and after a 2019 article that she wrote about her experience went viral, Melissa decided to turn to writing as a source of therapy.
She wrote a book about her experiences, and after receiving support from her adoptive parents, she was encouraged to meet her birth mom.
After finding her birth mom in January 2020, in-person meetings were delayed due to lockdown travel restrictions.
But, over time, Melissa was able to use a translator to slowly build a relationship with her biological mom, Sandra Contreras Nieves, 54, who is based in Zetaquira, a Colombian town of around 5,000 people, around a four-hour drive from Bogota.
Knowing her mom had health issues, Melissa didn’t want to keep putting off paying her a visit, so she was finally able to arrange a trip to Colombia for November 2023.
Having arrived in Colombia, Melissa and her husband, Charles, then traveled for hours through a series of winding, hilly roads to where her birth mother lives.
After coming down a hill on November 17 and seeing her biological mother there, outside her home, Melissa ran out of the car as fast as she could and straight into Sandra’s arms.
The moment was captured on video by Charles, and Melissa later shared the clip along with her Colombian journey on social media.
Through her social channels and websites, Adoptee Thoughts, Melissa looks to raise awareness of the complexities of some adoptions – practically those that involve transracial adoptions.
Melissa said: “After traveling for so many hours in the mountains on curvy roads, it felt like we were never going to get there.
“So when we came down the hill and saw her standing in front of her home, I freaked out and ran out of the car as fast as I could and straight into her arms.
“Normally, I’m not a big hugger, but at that moment, I needed to hold her in my arms, and I couldn’t help but think how devastating it was for us both to have to wait 30 years for that moment.
“I’d worried things would be awkward, and I’d feel a sense of obligation, but it felt like the right moment in my life; I truly felt at home for the first time after years of wondering where and how I fit in.
“While moments like these make it seem simple and beautiful, adoption and reunions are very complex.
“With every moment of joy I’ve experienced, there have been years of loss and trauma from maternal separation and cultural isolation.
“Over the past few years, I’ve been working on my platform, Adoptee Thoughts, and working on a memoir so other adoptees know they are not alone.
“Because of my books and sharing my story, I’ve been able to help families all around the world, give keynotes on adoption, and teach adoption classes that advocate for the needs of adoptees to have child-centered, trauma-informed care.”