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Man Searches for Birth Mother After Being Abandoned at Church

August 28, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ There he was. Cradled in the arms of a nurse named Joan. His tiny face toward the camera. The caption on the aging photo said the abandoned newborn’s name was ``Timmy.″

Bill Swaney knew he was looking at himself.

Swaney, 29, had taken a seat at a microfilm machine at the Boston Public Library in search of the solution to the biggest puzzle of his life: Who is he?

The grainy newspaper photo stopped him cold, ``like the feeling when you go past a state trooper speeding,″ he said. ``That gut-wrenching fear and anxiety.″

On Wednesday, Swaney was reunited with Joan Willard, the nurse who was holding him in that old photo, and now hopes she will provide some clue to the mother who left him behind.

``It’s the only piece I have. Not a doctor, not a police officer, only Joan,″ Swaney said.

Swaney has long known his parents, Joanna and Ross Swaney, adopted him as an infant. He grew up in Leominster, in a ``pretty much normal, very loving″ family. Eventually, after he began pressing for details about his birth mother, his adoptive mother also told him that he had been abandoned at a church.

But that was disappointing news, because with it came the realization that, without social service or adoption agency records, the chances were slim he could find the woman, even if he wanted to. So he went to the library.

It turned out that not only had he been abandoned, he had been front-page news. His photo had made the Boston Sunday Herald Traveler and The Boston Globe.

Willard’s memory of that day is unclear after so many years. She could not tell Swaney much about his first days. Only that he was clean, and had obviously been cared for when he arrived at the former Boston City Hospital soon after being left at what was then the busy Arch Street Shrine.

``I think the most important thing is, she dropped you off at a church, at a place where she knew someone would take care of you,″ said Willard, who called Swaney after learning of his search. She is still a nurse at a Boston hospital.

A news account from 29 years ago said the woman who dropped off the baby told a sexton, ``I hope a priest will take care of this for me.″

``I don’t have any hard feelings,″ said Swaney, now a computer analyst at Lotus Development. ``And whatever happened, chances are 99 percent that it was for the best. ... It’s not something that’s bugged me all my life.″

But he is curious. About his heritage: He’s fair-skinned, blue-eyed and blond. About his health. About whether he has siblings. Was his mother a high school or college student? The girlfriend of a Vietnam soldier?

So far, there have been no records, no people, who have been able to answer his questions.

At the library, something else dawned on him as he read the caption beneath the Aug. 2 photo: The Aug. 2 birthday he had celebrated his whole life probably was off, at least by a day, since the photo probably was taken a day before it appeared. He may never know his true date of birth.

``It really did stink,″ he said. ``That was the biggest bummer of the whole thing.″

Swaney hopes someone who knows something about his past comes forward _ maybe someone who had a friend, neighbor or sister who was pregnant, but was never seen with the baby.

``The social pressures aren’t the same and everything turned out well, so we can talk about it now,″ he said. ``I wasn’t left in a Dumpster for the dogs. I was left at a church, with a person. She was abandoning me but she made sure I was taken care of.″

What will he say if his search is successful?

``I’d want to offer all the information I have about myself because she’s probably curious. And I’d try to reassure her that I have no hard feelings, nothing that I’m mad about,″ he said.

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