It was the spring of 1968. Two families were meeting to talk over less-than-ideal circumstances.
Donna Horn, a cheerleader, and Joe Cougill, a star athlete — both students at an Indianapolis high school — had been in a relationship for two years. And now, Horn was pregnant.
“Joe will do whatever you want him to,” Cougill recalls his father telling Horn’s father, according to the South Bend Tribune. “If you want Joe to marry Donna, he will marry Donna. If you want Joe to keep this secret, Joe will keep it secret. If you want Donna to have the baby, Joe will support her. If you don’t want him to be part of her life, Joe won’t.”
The two were told they could never see or speak to each other again, and they obeyed. On Nov. 5, 1968, Donna headed to the hospital to give birth to her daughter — an especially cruel day to have her child because it also was Joe’s 17th birthday, and Donna was still in love with him.
Since she was putting the baby up for adoption, Donna had decided not to see or hold her baby after giving birth. But, as she later said, “There was some mistake.”
The baby — who came to be Laura Mabry — was brought to Donna, and for a half-hour, the two bonded, a fact Donna said has always haunted her.
Wayne and Darline Montgomery adopted the child, and Laura grew up. She even went to the same high school her parents had gone to, though she didn’t know it.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, when Laura had two children of her own, that she took an interest in tracking down her biological parents, but the information she had access to was limited, and she set the project aside.
In 2019, though, she took a DNA test, which led her to connecting with her mother 51 years after Donna had given up the love of her life and their baby.
“We started communicating by text and email,” Laura said, according to ABC News. “She said, ‘Are you interested in knowing who your father is?’ I was like, ‘Of course I am!'”
She sent her dad a text message that stopped him in his tracks.
“Hi Joe, I got your name from Donna,” she wrote, according to the South Bend Tribune. “I don’t know how to lob this to you, but I think you’re my biological father. I don’t want anything from you. I just want to find out where I came from.”
“My freaking head just dropped onto the desk, going, ‘What?'” Joe recalled. “Obviously, Donna and I spent two years together in high school. Obviously, we knew she got pregnant.”
But that’s all Joe knew because the two had broken contact. That didn’t mean he’d forgotten Donna or the child, though — he thought about them often.
“Her feelings and the things she went through were 100 times more magnified than mine,” Joe said of Donna and their situation all those years ago.
“And I thought, ‘Do I have a son? Do I have a daughter?’ I can’t tell you over the years how many times I had wondered.”
In all those years, Joe had married and divorced twice and had spent time as a teacher, coach and business owner. He also became the father of two children.
Donna, likewise, had married twice — but her second husband had since passed away. She’d also had three children, worked at a finance center and beaten breast cancer.
In 2019, they were both single, and it was Laura who brought them back together.
“I gave him her phone number, and they started to talk immediately, and they just immediately bonded because, you know, he was divorced and her husband had passed away,” Laura told ABC News. “So they were both single. And they immediately started talking, and I mean that was just that.”
When they met in person, it was a done deal.
“We saw each other and we hugged each other and we cried,” Joe told the South Bend Tribune. “We knew. We knew. You know what I mean?”
The two got married in May, and Laura gets peace knowing where she came from — and knowing she helped a love story pick up where it left off all those decades ago.
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