DNA Detective Delivers a Prayer With Paula Wichterman

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If there is a door, walk through it. Otherwise it is just a wall.

This bit of encouragement comes from a life coach I interviewed on my podcast. She encourages people to embrace change and push past their fear of the unknown. In other words, walk through the door.

Valley mom Paula Wichterman walked through the door and it changed her life.

Wichterman is well-known in philanthropy circles. She is on the Phoenix Heart Ball committee and takes part in many other charitable causes. Formerly a bank executive, Wichterman left her full-time career to spend more time with her husband and children and explore entrepreneurial endeavors (including a jewelry line called Sugar Mama Jewels). She had a full life. A successful life. A life she was able to control.

But a door was about to open for her in a most unexpected way.

Forty-four years ago, Wichterman was born in South Carolina but given up for adoption as an infant. Hers was a closed adoption, so no details about her biological parents were known. She was adopted by a loving couple in Greenville, South Carolina. Her father was a minister and her mother was a nurse. Wichterman had a great childhood.

Fast-forward to last year, when Wichterman and her children were watching TV and saw a commercial for ancestry.com. Her boys encouraged her to take a chance and find out more about her roots. She had no idea that this simple test would open a door to finding her biological parents. “This was like careening down a highway with no steering wheel,” Wichterman said. “It’s like being out of control, and I don’t like that feeling.”

The test at ancestry.com provided a piece of a puzzle about her DNA, and the opportunity to see if any others were a match. She posted in a closed Facebook group called “DNA Detectives” and received a message from a so-called search angel named Maria who was willing to help. Maria, by the way, does all of this in her spare time — for free.

Apparently she is good at what she does. Maria quickly narrowed down the search and found Wichterman’s biological parents.

As this story took several emotional twists and turns, Wichterman would find out that her biological father, Terry, never knew she existed. He had no idea that his girlfriend from so many years ago had been pregnant. And that the baby — their baby — was given up for adoption.

All of this came as a shock. Still, he welcomed a meeting with open arms.

Wichterman and her husband traveled to South Carolina to meet her biological father. As they anxiously rode down the escalator in the airport, not knowing what to expect, they got a glimpse of something truly special. Terry and his big extended family stood there waiting with a bundle of pink balloons and signs that read, “It’s a Girl!”

The moment was captured on a video that later went viral.

Wichterman who is, in her words, “not much of a crier,” broke down in tears. The reception was one of true acceptance and love. Quickly she would learn a lot about the father she never knew. He builds custom Harleys. And he had no children — that is, until this moment.

At 62, Terry is celebrating Father’s Day for the first time. Not only did he find out that he’s a father, but he is also a grandfather. (Paula has two boys, and there is a striking resemblance.) In one of their many long phone conversations, he shared with his daughter, “I feel like a piece of me was broken off and I’ve just gotten it back.”

Her journey would not have happened without the love and encouragement of her adoptive parents, without help from Maria, the selfless search angel, and without the willingness to walk through an open door.

I invited Wichterman on my podcast, Carey Peña Reports, to share the story, because to me it represents all that can happen when we overcome our fears and take chances. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to explore possibilities, life can become so much more rewarding.

For Paula Wichterman, this was a journey to find out more about her life. She opened up — on our podcast and on social media — to share the hope and courage that her story represents.

“Raising kids is hard, marriage is great and hard. There were so many opportunities for me to quit, and I really, sometimes, wanted to,” she said of her search for answers. “Sometimes you don’t get the story you want. Sometimes you don’t get the pink balloons. But you can get that inner peace.”