WADSWORTH, Ohio — For years, an Ohio woman has wondered about the son she gave up for adoption more than three decades ago. What does he look like? What does he do for a living? Was he happy?
Well, thanks to the popular DNA genetic testing service 23andMe, she now has those answers and more.
Melanie Pressley was just 18 when she got pregnant with her first child — a boy. Her boyfriend at the time wasn’t supportive and wanted her to get an abortion. Pressley refused and continued on with the pregnancy.
But eventually, she knew she couldn’t keep him.
“I just knew, financially, I wouldn't be able to do it. And the other thing—I wanted him to have a mother and father, so I decided at that point it was best to put him up for adoption,” said Pressley.
With the support of her family, she went through the adoption process with an agency based in Akron.
On June 17, 1988, she gave birth to her son at the then-Timken Mercy Hospital in Canton. She didn’t name him because she wanted his adoptive parents to have that honor.
She said that day, she wasn’t allowed to hold him, but the next day, her sister asked a nurse if they could hold the baby.
“She said, ‘I will take you into a private room so that she can hold him,’ and she said, ‘Take all the time you need.’ And at that point, when I was holding him, my sister took a picture and that was the only picture that I had of him for 33 years. That was the only picture that I had of him,” said Pressley.
Pressley has had three more kids since then and is happily married, but she said every day, and especially every time June 17 rolled around, she thought about the son she gave up for adoption.
“There was still always a little bit of that sadness in me on that day. And that's basically the easiest way to describe it,” said Pressley.
In Winchester, Virginia, 307 miles away from her Wadsworth home, it turns out Pressley’s son was thinking of her, too.
He was adopted by the Vossler family and named Greg. They lived in Stow for about seven years after he was adopted, and then moved to Winchester.
“Maybe nine or 10 or somewhere around that age range, they shared with me the story that I was adopted and that the woman who gave me up for adoption thought I could have a better life elsewhere,” said Vossler, who still lives in Winchester.
Vossler said his curiosity wasn’t immediate.
Some years later, he found descriptions of his birth parents that were provided from accounts from the hospital, but there weren’t any names, birth dates, or ages.
“Never was really curious. I'd always joke, saying, you know, ‘I don't see a celebrity that looks like me,’ or, ‘No one who's a king or queen in some faraway land resembles me.’ And I always said that was just my joke. You know, whenever somebody asked, it was just my way of having that quick response in my back pocket. I'd never really given it some serious thought,” said Vossler.
But he said it was always in the back of his mind through college, getting married, and raising two sons.
“The reason I named my first son Gregory was because he was my first blood relative that I knew. So I wanted to have that bond,” said Vossler.
Then, in 2019, he decided he wanted to know more.
“My wife and I were sitting and talking one night, and I'm like, ‘I don't know any of my medical history, genetics, you know, where I'm from.’ And there was a 23andMe promotion or something going on. And so I took the test,” said Vossler.
That same year, Melanie’s mom died, which pushed her to do what she’s always wanted to.
“It was always my wish that I wanted him to meet my mother, but she passed away. And the night that she passed away, we were all around the table, my nieces, nephews, my sisters, and everybody. And we were going around just kind of saying things and it got to me and I had just started crying and I said, ‘I need to find my son,’” said Pressley.
But that moment didn’t come until May 2021, when one of Melanie's daughters bought her a 23andMe test as a birthday gift.
The results came back in just days, and with them a match to a potential son named Greg Vossler.
“Instantly sent a message, and my first message was, 'I believe we're related,'” said Pressley. “The next message was, 'I believe I am your birth mother.' And from there, it just blew up.”
“One of the very first questions I asked him, which was big for me, was, ‘Are you happy?’ And he came back that he was—oh my gosh—that he's married, he has two boys. I mean, it was just like spilling everything,” said Pressley.
Messages on 23andMe turned into emails and finally texts.
Vossler said they vetted each other thoroughly to make sure the connection was real.
“We were very investigative with each other, you know. The hospital where I was born changed the name. So I said, ‘Well, do you remember the hospital where I was born?’ And she said the name that it was back in 1988. And I was like, ‘OK, alright we got there,’ and there were a few additional things that I had asked and she answered, she passed the test,” said Vossler.
“You're just sitting there and it's not something that you can ever prepare for mentally, and the way I would constantly describe it was just a surreal moment,” said Vossler.
But when Vossler asked if he could call Pressley, she told him she didn’t want to hear his voice until she could see him in person.
So in June, Vossler, his wife, Chelsea, and their sons drove to Wadsworth for a weekend.
Both Vossler and Pressley were worried that the connection wouldn’t happen and that it was somehow all a farce, but they were happily mistaken.
Vossler’s wife took a photo of when the two saw each other for the first time.
“I am so thankful for her for doing that because it was the very first time and it was awesome,” said Pressley.
Vossler said he and Pressley talked for four hours straight that first day. He also met 17 members of his new extended family, including two of his siblings, his aunts, and his grandfather.
“Everyone's emotional, everyone's shaking hands or hugging. And, you know, ‘Hey, I'm your half-brother, your half-sister.’ And her oldest sister, who was instrumental in allowing Melanie to have that first picture, came up and grabbed my face. The first time in 33 years that she's seen me,” said Vossler.
“It's an amazing feeling. And it just goes to show that there's always room for families to grow and always room for more love within each other,” said Vossler.
Pressley and Vossler are continuing to nurture their newfound bond. Pressley and her husband, Tim, plan to travel to Virginia this weekend to meet the Vossler family.
Vossler and his family have also been invited to his half-sister’s wedding this fall and plan to attend.
“I am just excited with the ball moving and I am just going to soak up every moment and just enjoy it. Enjoy the little ones also with every opportunity that we get to see them,” said Pressley.
Now, the picture that Pressley’s sister took of them 33 years ago in the hospital isn’t the only one this mother and son have together.
“Life has a funny way of giving you what you need, not what you want. And I guess life just realized that we needed this connection and our families needed each other,” said Vossler.