When Brandon Ordóñez and Jennifer Milian first met, they noticed subtle similarities, like the way they fidgeted while sitting, the shape of their eyes and their dark, coarse hair.
The two half-siblings had grown up just miles from each other on Long Island, not knowing the other existed for more than three decades.
Jennifer Milian, 37, was adopted from Colombia at just 3 weeks old and grew up in Bellport. In the fall, she began searching for her biological parents.
Instead, she found five half-siblings who had been adopted, including Ordóñez, 40, who grew up as an only child in Valley Stream and now lives in Plainview.
“I wasn’t expecting to meet brothers and sisters and was a little apprehensive at first,” Milian said. “But it was exciting. I had found a significant piece of myself.”
In January, Ordóñez made the short drive to Bellport to meet Milian at her parents’ house. The two embraced, and Milian cried as they endeavored to find out what they’d missed over the past 37 years.
“I’m just overjoyed to be able to have a sibling that is blood,” Milian said.
Milian was adopted from La Casa de la Madre y el Niño in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1980. Her adoptive mother, Trudi Milian, still remembers the phone call on a Thursday night, when the orphanage told her she would be a mother.
She understood little of what she was told in rapid Spanish, but one line stood out: “Tenemos un niño.”
“We have a child,” Trudi Milian recalled.
The next day, she quit her job as a teacher in the Sachem school district and set off with her husband to Colombia.
“I had Jennifer in my arms that weekend,” Trudi Milian said. “It was love, instantly.”
Though Jennifer was raised as the oldest of three children by adoring parents, she still felt a need to search, she said.
With Trudi seated next to her, Milian began by searching for her birth mother’s name on Google, and she found a Facebook page and Twitter account Ordóñez had created to find other children their birth mother had placed for adoption.
Through the Facebook group, Milian connected with Ordóñez, who said he had the same birth mother. After taking a DNA test that confirmed they were half-siblings and comparing the signatures on their birth certificates, Milian said her “jaw just dropped.”
Ordóñez, 40, had been searching for his parents since he turned 18, when he traveled to Colombia to visit the orphanage, but wasn’t able to obtain much information from officials at the agency. A spokeswoman for the orphanage said only government officials can disclose information about their birth families to an adoptee.
After tracking down his birth mother’s name, Ordóñez created the social media accounts to look for family members. He has spent years comparing records with other Colombian adoptees and scouring online adoption forums, and continues to search.
Over the past two decades, he has tracked down four siblings besides Milian — a brother in Colorado, a half-brother in France, and two half-sisters, including one who currently living in Hightstown, New Jersey.
Ordóñez, who works as a consultant in Manhattan, said learning about Milian was bittersweet.
“I was happy, of course, but it’s also kind of upsetting to find out that your family is right there, just a 35-minute drive away from where you grew up,” Ordóñez said. “Imagine if instead we had been able to grow up together.”
Milian also recently met her half-sister in New Jersey, an experience she called “surreal.”
“I had never seen anyone who looked so much like me,” Milian said. She hopes to meet her half-brother in Colorado soon.
For now, she and Ordóñez are working on knitting their two families together.
Ordóñez said he’s grateful his twins, born in December, and older son will grow up with an aunt nearby. Milian said she believes the timing of their meeting was no coincidence.
“It’s funny. I have no children, but had always wanted twins,” Milian said. “I think it was God’s timing, that I found Brandon right after he had his boys. I just feel very blessed.”