Rosie O'Donnell on the Moment Daughter Dakota Asked to Speak to Her Birth Mother: 'I Was in Tears'

In this week's issue of PEOPLE, Rosie O'Donnell opens up in an emotional essay about her 9½-year-old daughter Dakota, who was diagnosed with autism in 2016

Rosie O'Donnell is opening up about the time her daughter Dakota requested to speak with her birth mother, whom she called "the lady whose tummy I was in."

The TV personality, 60, recounts the moving moment in an emotional essay written in this week's issue of PEOPLE, out Friday. In the essay, O'Donnell shares her journey in raising her daughter Dakota, 9½, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2½ in 2016.

O'Donnell, who describes her daughter as "endlessly curious," says Dakota asked to speak to her birth mother when she was 5 years old.

"We're in contact, so Dakota gets on FaceTime and says, 'Are you the lady whose tummy I was in? I just wanted you to know I'm the kid that was in there, and when I got born, my mommy held me and I squeezed her pinkie, and I am with her. So I just want to let you know that's what happened to me. Bye,'" the actress recalls.

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Chloe Aftel

"I was in tears as was her birth mom," O'Donnell writes. "That's a pretty intense, complex, emotional thing for a little girl to put together."

O'Donnell, who is also mom to Parker, 27, Chelsea, 25, Blake, 22, and Vivienne, 19, notes, "I think about the birth mothers every day."

Chloe Aftel

"I think about the generosity of human spirit that allows someone who knows they're not able at the moment to be a mom to this baby, give that baby all [they] deserve," she shares. "To place that child in the loving arms of a stranger."

"It's the biggest act of generosity I think that humans can do. And I've been the benefactor of their selflessness and it made my life worth everything," says O'Donnell. "Nothing in my life ever compares to the five kids and nothing, no reward you ever win, no amount of money you ever get, can replace the love of family, and of a parent and a child."

courtesy of Rosie O'Donnell

O'Donnell, now starring in the Showtime series American Gigolo, explains that her daughter's autism has enriched her life in unexpected ways and "forces me to see the world from a completely different place."

"She's a gift from another dimension. The things she knows — about sea anemones and tide pools. I got to 60 not knowing about the Mariana Trench," she continues. "Now I know all about it! Her ability to absorb information is unparalleled. I can imagine her winning on Jeopardy! someday."

"She teaches me," O'Donnell concludes. "To be able to see the world as she does — for me, it's been a wonderfully magical experience. I'm so glad we have each other."

For more on Rosie O'Donnell, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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