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Recently, while stuck in traffic, to pass the time I asked myself assorted questions. One was, “What was the best day of your life?”
I’m 41, have two children and have lived a pretty decent life filled with love and adventure, so was surprised by my own answer when there are really a multitude of options other than the one that first came to mind.
“The day I met my birthmother.”
I was surprised because since the day I met her, things have gone off the rails and we are no longer in contact. I felt a lot of pain about my abandonment prior to meeting her, and a lot of pain since. So why did the day I met my birthmother immediately come to mind?
I found out I was adopted in a less-than-ideal way. My older brother, also adopted, relayed the information. At 6, my parents thought he was of the age to have the talk about being adopted. Although he wasn’t supposed to tell me, what sibling could possibly resist leaking “Our parents are not actually our parents!” to their sibling? And so, without warning, context, soothing words or the storybook Why was I Adopted?, I was suddenly trying to understand. If my parents were not my parents, how could my actual parents have given me away? Where were they? What did it all mean? It was a lot for a 3-year-old to digest.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom and I saw more of her than my father, so she received the brunt of my anger and confusion. I didn’t handle the news well. I was mean at times, and said “Well, you aren’t my real mom anyway!” more often than I would like to admit. I know I hurt her. None of us really knew how to handle adoption back in the 1970s and eighties, or feelings in general, it seems. We certainly never sat down and had talks that explored why one was upset, what can change to make it easier, what lessons we have learned, how we can better support each other and so on. The heavy weight of the word adoption was one we did not share as a family, but silently struggled with in our own pained ways. I resented my mom for not being my mom and thought on some level she too resented me for not being her daughter.
My “real” mom became my fantasy. In my perfect imaginary world, I was a ballerina with a unicorn and the most wonderful, beautiful mother ever. Over the years, I gave up on the unicorn and becoming a ballerina, but never at any point did I stop having the most wonderful and beautiful mother ever, somewhere out there, missing me as much as I missed her. I spent years researching and reading everything I could get my hands on about adoption reunions, preparing myself for the journey I knew I would have to take, to finally meet the most wonderful and beautiful mother ever.
As soon as I was old enough, I put my name in to the Catholic Children’s Aid Society to be on their Disclosure Registry. That meant I was willing to have my information released by the CCAS to a family member who also put their name on the registry. I spent my spare time conducting my own private detective searches with a dear friend who patiently and lovingly drove me around on these excursions. I even hired a private detective. Looking back, I was obsessed. Many people asked me, “Why did it matter so much? What did I hope to get out of it?” I don’t know if I ever had a good answer – all I knew was I had to find her and meet her in person.
I will never forget the day, sitting at my desk at work, I got the call I’d been waiting for: “We have a match on your file …” I wasn’t sure if my heart was going to stop, burst out of chest or get lodged in my throat. “… with your birth father.”
To be honest, I hadn’t thought much on my birth father. I certainly didn’t think he thought much on me on all these years. I regret this now, as I couldn’t have hoped for a finer man to be a constant in my life as he has since become, but at the time, I was simply shocked by the unexpected news.
In the end, thanks to him, my dream of meeting my birth mother came true. After a few months of letters, which led to phone calls, the time came to meet in person. It was a surreal day.
She travelled to Toronto and booked a room in the Rogers Centre hotel. I don’t think being surrounded by sports memorabilia overlooking a baseball diamond was part of any of my reunion fantasies. I find it funny now that in my mind’s eye I can still picture that hotel room so clearly, but I can no longer remember her so clearly or what we talked about, how long we embraced, how we got to where we went for dinner or what we ate, if we were even able to eat anything. It’s a blur.
And yet, this moment is still what first comes to mind as the best day of my life.
Why? Because while I gave up on unicorns and being a ballerina, I didn’t ever give up on this dream, this fantasy, of meeting her, the woman of my dreams, my birth mother. On that day, what came before, or whatever was to come after didn’t matter. On that day, she was the most beautiful and wonderful mother ever. The hole I felt in my heart was filled by her physical presence, and that was enough.
When things eventually went south with our relationship, that same friend who helped me relentlessly pursue my birth mother the years before bluntly told me, “You got what you wanted, so let it go now.”
Maybe my birth mother and the unicorn weren’t fantasies too far disconnected. While one might hope to encounter a unicorn, you can’t really expect to keep it. It would ruin the magic. But, boy oh boy, putting your arms around the unicorn would forever be remembered as the best day of your life.
Kristine Quan lives in Toronto.