By John Cooper
For The Catholic Messenger
Two-year-old Anna Cheyenne left home for daycare in Seattle on Oct. 31, 2002. Her siblings, Michael, Ashley and Sarah, would not see her again for 18 years.
“I was taken by Child Protective Services from my daycare and was never able to say goodbye to my family. I was taken into custody of the state due to the daycare finding a severe diaper rash and what looked like small bug bites or cigarette burns on my legs,” Anna said.
Child Protective Services had inspected her home and found it a mess. They also found prescription pads that her biological mother was using to get drugs. Her siblings never gave up hope of finding their baby sister. They had been taking care of her, filling in where their mother could not care for her. Big brother Michael held onto Anna’s Pooh Bear stuffed animal, along with 35 letters he wrote to her but was never able to deliver because he did not know her whereabouts.
Anna was being raised just an hour away by her adoptive parents, Mark and Sue Griswold. They were temporary foster parents who had already raised two children of their own and were looking forward to retirement when Anna Cheyenne was placed with them.
“They did not at first want to adopt me; they were overwhelmed at having to raise another child through to adulthood at such an old age, but my Dad pushed my Mom to give in and go through with the adoption, and to this day they claim that God had put our family together for a reason.”
Anna does not remember much about her early childhood. What she does remember is the love and support that her adoptive parents and siblings (Matt and Erin) showered on her.
She and her parents moved to the Quad Cities in 2014. “Both of my parents are from near the Quad Cities, and most of their family is from the Midwest, and mostly in the state of Iowa,” Anna said. They live in Riverdale near her grandma and an aunt in the same neighborhood where Anna’s dad and siblings grew up. After high school, Anna enrolled at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, majoring in history, art history and museum studies.
Last year, Anna got a job waiting tables at Café d’ Marie in Davenport, operated by Deanna Rogers, a parishioner at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport. Anna became acquainted with Deanna’s sister Tonia and their mother, O’Delia. Anna says she had been active in her Lutheran faith but had stopped going to church. Being around Deanna, O’Delia and Tonia helped re-connect her to her faith.
She recalls a time last fall when she was feeling low. “I was walking across campus and not feeling good about myself. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose to be on this earth.” She looked up and saw O’Delia and Tonia, who invited her to come into the chapel at St. Ambrose to pray in front of the tabernacle. Tonia encouraged Anna to walk up and touch the tabernacle.
“I felt a rush of energy flow through my body, my spirits were boosted. That little boost meant more to me than anything,” Anna said. She began participating in eucharistic adoration.
This past August Anna, now a senior, was sitting in U.S. history class when she felt the need to check her phone, something she tries to avoid during class. She discovered several messages on Facebook, including one “from someone who I would come to find out was my older sister, Ashley.”
The message read, in part, “Alright everyone I need your help in finding my baby sister! I figured since I was able to find my brother through social media why not give it a shot with my sister. Her name is Cheyenne Michelle Swartz. She was born August 2nd, 2000 so she will be 20 years old now.”
A photo of Anna as a young child appeared in the message. Within 12 hours of Ashley’s post, a former classmate of Anna who lives in Washington thought the picture looked familiar. The classmate checked Anna’s Facebook page for a photo to compare and noticed a resemblance. That hunch led to the long-lost sisters connecting.
Anna also made connections with other siblings with Ashley’s help. “It was easy to find my sister Sarah because Sarah and Ashley have constantly stayed in touch. However, my older brother Michael had disconnected with the family due to the pain of them searching for me almost 12 years and having no luck.”
The searching “just reminded him of the day I was taken away. Never being able to say goodbye to me, hurt him.” She learned that her biological father lives in the Seattle area. Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband and their five children. Anna has not had contact with her biological mother.
Anna is grateful for her adoptive parents’ response to her reuniting with members of her biological family. “They expected this day would come soon. The adoption was legally an open adoption from the start. They wanted me to stay connected to my roots. My biological mother’s abuse of drugs put a halt on visitations after four months. All connection was lost after that, but my adoptive parents have been nothing but supportive, even understanding the need for having my siblings visit here in early October and offering up their house as a place to stay.”
She plans to spend December in Seattle where she will meet her father and her mother’s side the family. “I told my adoptive parents that I would stay home for Christmas, if they preferred, but they said that they have had me for 17 Christmases and that I should have time to bond with my ever-growing family.”
Connecting with her biological family members gives Anna a sense of having “roots in soil, of being grounded in something to support me.” She believes God has been at the heart of it. That is why she appreciates eucharistic adoration at St. Anthony. “The silence allows God to speak to you. He wants to help your whole well-being …. You’re giving it all to God in adoration.”
During eucharistic adoration one Friday evening, “I looked up at Jesus and, crying, I said, ‘thank you.’”