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American man stolen as a baby in Chile meets mother at 42

Jimmy Lippert Thyden says he always knew he was adopted. He also knew that he had been born not in the United States, but in Chile. Raised in Virginia by very loving and committed adoptive parents, he says he never lacked anything. The 42-year-old who served in the US Marines is now an attorney who is married and has two young daughters.

“I was told that I was given up for adoption out of love,” Thyden said. “Given by a mother who loved me and wanted the best for me: a life full of opportunity, education and meaning.”

That all started to change in 2012 when his adoptive mother gave him his adoption paperwork as he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Thyden says that when he started looking closely at the adoption files, he found out that there were many discrepancies and inconsistencies.

There was one document that said he had no known father or mother. Another provided the name of a biological mother and her address. A third document specified the baby had no living relatives, and a fourth stated that he had been given up for adoption days after birth. Yet another document said he had been given up for adoption when he was two years old.

For years, Thyden wondered about his origins. He wanted to know more but didn’t know where to begin or who to reach out to in Chile.

Thyden says it was not until a few months ago, when his wife read about the case of Scott Lieberman, that he became actively engaged in uncovering the truth about his adoption.

During the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, from 1973 to 1990, many babies were funneled to adoption agencies. Some of the children came from rich families, who in many cases gave up babies born out of wedlock. Other babies from poorer backgrounds were simply stolen.

Chilean officials say the number of stolen babies could be in the thousands, but the country’s investigation into the controversial adoptions has languished. Some who took part in the illegal adoptions have died. Many clinics or hospitals where the babies were allegedly stolen no longer exist.

After reaching out to “Nos Buscamos,” Thyden says he got an email the next day from its director, Constanza del Río, who told him to call her right away. She suggested a DNA test, which he did on April 17. With the help of MyHeritage, an online genealogy company, Thyden got a match within a few weeks. When the match came back, del Río says she knew the next step was making a phone call to María Angélica González, 69, a woman who had believed for decades her son had died shortly after being born.

“She could not believe it. She thought it was a joke in poor taste because she had been told her premature baby boy had died,” del Río said. Del Río says González had been told the baby’s body had been disposed of in the trash. During the Pinochet dictatorship, when several thousand people were killed and disappeared, asking too many questions or protesting in a loud way could be dangerous. (Chile will mark the 50th anniversary of the coup that brought Pinochet to power on September 11.)

Learning the truth has been bittersweet for Thyden. He’s happy to finally know his true origins but sad about what his biological mother went through.

“She didn’t know about me because I was taken from her at birth, and she was told that I was dead and when she asked for my body, they told her that they had disposed of it. And so, we’ve never held each other, we’ve never hugged,” Thyden said.

After three agonizing months, he was finally able to travel to Chile to give his biological mother the hug that had to wait for 42 years. When they met in the southern city of Valdivia in mid-August, he was finally able to utter the words he had been rehearsing for weeks. “Hola, mamá!,” he said when they finally embraced.

“I’m 42 years old and I’m meeting her and hugging her and holding her for the very first time. That’s so unnatural!” Thyden said later, reflecting on the moment. “It kind of brought me to grips with the wrong that had been done. And then, to know her is to love her. She is a sweet, caring, loving woman of faith and, to know that someone would harm her […] who could hurt such a little, sweet, innocent woman.”

Once in Valdivia, and after also meeting his extended family, there was a very special birthday party that had been organized for him in advance. There were 42 balloons symbolizing the 42 years that he could not celebrate a birthday party with his biological family. As he popped one by one, the family he never knew he had shouted out the number: uno, dos, tres…

“I felt like a lost puzzle piece, a piece that had been lost for 42 years and, in that moment, I felt like I was where I was meant to be, and it felt very much normal, almost as if no time had passed once we got connected,” Thyden said later.

Thyden says that learning the truth has also been painful because his adoptive parents were also lied to and victimized. He says his adoptive parents first contacted an adoption agency in Virginia and specifically asked to adopt a child the right way, through a reputable agency, something that they put in writing.

“They never believed for one second that they were buying a child. They never would have done that,” he said.

Asked about what might have been, Thyden says it’s impossible to know.

“My life came to a T intersection, where I could go either left or right. And instead of going right, it went left. But instead of being the person behind the steering wheel, instead of being a passenger in that car, aware of what was happening, I was the baby in the trunk,” Thyden said.

“It’s not wasted on me that I recognize that I’m blessed in the fact that I have loving families on both sides of the equator. But I don’t know that I wouldn’t have been a lawyer. I don’t know that I wouldn’t have served in the military. Are those things that I did because of where I was or are those things that I did because they are at the core of who I am?,” said Thyden, who pointed out that he says “mom” or “mother” when he’s speaking about his American adoptive mother and “mamá” when he refers to his Chilean, biological mother.

In the end, he says, the wisdom about what happened to him came from his five-year-old daughter, who told him if a bad thing hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t be here. And her father, she told him, has not one but two families who love him deeply.

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