Benson’s career was blossoming in the early 80s when she suddenly and unexpectedly found herself pregnant with her first child.
“I was with someone who didn’t want to deal with the baby,” Benson said. “In the end, going through all my options, I was alone in the big city with a busy job and working around the clock. I ultimately decided on adoption.”
It was 1981 and though the times were becoming more progressive, Benson couldn’t imagine keeping her job and building her career as a single parent. She gave birth to a daughter on November 8, 1981 but the night before leaving the hospital, Donahue called her to let her know that he and his wife, Marlo Thomas, supported her keeping the child.
“Phil and Marlo couldn’t stand the thought of my giving the baby up,” Benson said. “They even said I could bring her to work. I didn’t know what to do.”
In the end, Benson felt she had made the best decision to give up her daughter for adoption. She had done a lot of research and used a reputable agency in Chicago.
“When I started wavering they (the agency) told me to take my time,” Benson said. “But I wanted my daughter to start bonding with her new family.”
Open adoptions are more common today, but when Benson had her daughter, they were rare. She requested an exchange of information and wanted to at least be able to write to her daughter, but six months later, she received a letter that there was no more information available.
Benson went on to build her career – winning the first of two Emmy awards for her work in television – and to marry her now husband, Steve and together they had three daughters.
For three long years, Benson heard nothing about her first daughter, until the adoptive parents applied to the same agency to adopt another child.
“It was then we were able to start sending each other letters,” Benson said. “It wasn’t that I wanted to be involved, I just wanted peace of mind about her life.”
It turned out that Benson’s daughter’s (now named Kate,) adoptive parents Anne and Temple, were happy to oblige and Benson ended up developing a close relationship with Anne.
“Kate cannot remember a time when she didn’t know she was adopted,” Benson said. “They kept all my letters to her in a drawer and when she was 12, they said if she wanted to read them, it was her choice.”
Kate realized she had half sisters and when she was 13, she wrote to her birth mother, Benson, looking for some connection.
“She never once asked why I didn’t want her,” Benson said. “I did enclose a letter when I gave her up, explaining why I made the decision.”
Though Benson said her life was full and happy, she was reassured knowing her oldest daughter had a better life because she gave her up. And when Kate was 16, they decided to meet in person. Kate and her mother, Anne, came to spend the weekend with the Benson family.
“It was an amazing weekend,” Benson said. “It was like our families were meant to be together,” We have a real connection.”
This connection and the subsequent meetings they have had over the years inspired Benson to write a book “To Have and Not to Hold: The Bonding of Two Mothers Through Adoption,” about her experience.
“Anne never felt threatened by me,” Benson said. “This is how this story was supposed to unfold. Her philosophy is the more love the better.”
Today the two families remain close, though Kate’s adoptive father passed away in 2006. The Bensons live in California and Kate and her mother are in Dallas and they continue to visit often.
“The message of the book is for people that think they could never give their child away,” Benson said. “But it can have a happy ending. I want to inspire adoptive parents to be as inclusive as they can be.”
Benson’s book is available on Amazon.com. She also writes a blog www.featheringMyEmptyNest.tumblr.com