'When I saw her, she stood up and gave me a hug. I cried. I looked at her and I was like, 'You're real, like you're in front of me.' It was surreal.'
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 1, 2022. It has since been updated.
A Utah man was reunited with his birth mom after two decades of wondering about her existence and yearning to meet her. Benjamin Hulleberg, a middle school substitute teacher, was aware from a young age that his parents, Angela and Brian Hulleberg, had adopted him as a baby from his biological mother, whom he only knew by her first name, Holly. "It was always a very positive conversation," the 20-year-old told Good Morning America. "It was my parents either expressing gratitude for Holly or me talking about how I'm grateful for her and how I want to meet her one day."
Unbeknown to him, Holly Shearer had also spent years thinking about the baby she had placed for adoption on Thanksgiving Day in 2001. "He was always on my mind. More so on holidays and his birthday, roller coaster of emotions," the 36-year-old shared. "I thought about him all the time." Shearer had been a young teen when she gave birth to Benjamin. For three years after they adopted him, the Hullebergs sent her letters about his well-being and photos documenting his growth. However, when the updates stopped and their adoption agency closed in 2014, Shearer yearned to know more about the boy she'd given up.
After searching extensively online, Shearer landed on Benjamin's social media page. "He was 18 when I found him and I was very hesitant," she recounted. "He had so much going on in his life... The last thing I wanted to do is to throw a wrench in his life. So I just watched from a distance." Little did she know, Benjamin had talked to his parents about trying to find his biological mother for years. He wrote letters, signed up with an adoption registry and even took a DNA test in the hope to find her.
Their paths finally crossed when Shearer sent him a message on Facebook, wishing him a happy birthday. "I can remember the exact place that I was at when I got the message. I was at work. I was a machine operator and I remember I was in machine No. 15," Benjamin recalled. "I was in between our hourly quality checks and I got on my phone and I saw her message and I just replied... When she texted me back and she actually explained who she was, it hit me like a load of bricks. I was crying. It was all very positive emotions. But to me, this is a day I had been waiting for for the past 20 years of my life and to imagine that it was finally happening was outrageous. It was a lot to take in."
Having already waited so long to reconnect with his birth mom, Hulleberg wasted no more time asking Shearer to meet with him. "I was not willing to wait any longer. I'd waited 20 years and that was long enough for me," he explained. Shearer admitted she was stunned when Benjamin asked her to meet him as soon as possible. "He asked to meet, like right away, which I was like, shocked a little bit. I wasn't expecting that, but he wanted to meet right away. And so we planned dinner the next day to meet at Red Robin with both of our families." The pair finally reunited on November 21, 2021, with their families present to share their happiness.
Shearer and her family met with Angela and Brian Hulleberg first. "They looked the same basically as I remembered so it was nice. We just sat there talking until we sat down," she said. "Then, about five minutes after we sat down, Benjamin arrived and he walked up and tapped me on the shoulder and joy just overflowed me, and we just sat hugging for about five minutes and crying and it just, I can't believe that it happened." Looking back at the emotional meeting, Benjamin described it as a surreal experience. "When I saw her, she stood up and she gave me a hug and I cried. I just looked at her and I was like, 'You're real like you're in front of me.' And it was surreal," he said.
"I would definitely say it was a dream come true," Benjamin continued. "I've said that about things in my life, like 'Oh, I'm so glad I graduated. It's a dream come true.' But this? This was the most true time I've ever said it." The reunion between the Shearer and Hulleberg families lasted more than three hours. During this time, Benjamin and Shearer realized they hadn't been too far from each other after all these years, as they had both worked at HCA Healthcare's St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City in the last two years. Shearer worked as a medical assistant at The Heart Center at St. Mark's while Hulleberg volunteers at the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
"Every morning, I would come in through the women's pavilion to come into work. So I passed right by the NICU every single day. We parked in the same garage, could have been on the same floor, had no idea that we were so close," Shearer said. Since reconnecting with his birth mom, Benjamin has also connected with his younger half-brother and half-sister. He now tries to meet with Shearer, who he also calls "mom," at her office at least once a week, too. "Being able to sit down with my biological mom and just have coffee and talk before I go on my shift at the NICU? It's been amazing," he said.
Sharing some words of encouragement for others looking for their biological parents, Benjamin said: "Don't give up hope. For me, I felt like I was at a point where I'd given up just a little. I had tried so many things, and they just hadn't worked. It came when I was least expecting it. It was something that just happened out of the blue. That isn't what happens to everyone. Meeting my biological family and meeting my half-siblings and meeting my biological mom, was very healing for me. There was a little hole in me that I didn't know about and finding them really filled that in. I feel very whole, I feel very complete. I feel like I'm finally ready to continue in my life."