Last week's Focus piece by writer Richard Wright on his hope, after Ontario law changes on Monday, to reunite with a son given up long ago moved many to share their ideas and experiences, often deeply personal and intimate. Here are a some responses we received.
'Who I might be'
I am a 70-year-old Canadian woman who knows neither her birth name nor her nationality. An agency in Montreal holds the key to my identity. Funded by the provincial government to assist adoptees in reconnecting with birth parents, the social worker would "lose her job" were she to divulge the missing link to my origins.
So, like Richard Wright, I look for matching eyebrows in the composite features my mind creates to image my forbearers. I find comfort in my grandchildren, the second generation of my lost heritage. They remind me of who I am or, at least, who I might be.
Doctors become wary as my aging body expresses what might be genetic predispositions to disease. This patient cannot confirm any assumptions with factual assistance to aid the diagnosis without my medical history. This necessitates extra testing and alternative medical treatment.
Now that Ontario is making its records available to those who are seeking the discover their stories, will Quebec follow in this redemption of outdated mores?
The necessity of having one's birthright may seem insignificant to some. But for the adoptee, having a birth name is a link to the eternal flame of love which was snuffed out by the conventions of an earlier time. Like people in Ontario, I too would like to be "facing a future with a new relationship to the past."
Seeking a secret
When I found out about the existence of the Adoption Disclosure Registry in Toronto, my son was already 40 years old. He has not, to my knowledge, registered with the passive registry. I have been able to pass on some hereditary health information, through an ADR worker, who knows his name, where he lives and what his occupation is - all of the things I would love to know about him. I have recent health information that he should know about, information relevant to him and to any family he may have.
Thus, after being "sent away in shame" to give birth to my son, the only information I have from the Children's Aid Society is very vague, with no clues as to my son's whereabouts or name. So here I sit, just eight days away from June 1, hoping and praying with all my heart that I may be one of the fortunate who learns something about his or her lost child (now adult). This will be the only way I will be able to live through the disenfranchised grief as a 68-year-old woman who gave birth in my late teens and was never allowed to hold or feed my child.
Thank you Richard Wright for looking at the positives in adoption secrets that may finally be disclosed. May you be one of the lucky ones who is able to have contact.
Sharon A. Doerr Langley, BC
I read Richard Wright's piece on his role as a birth parent. I too, have an adult-child "missing in adoption." The system in place when my daughter was born in 1963 was a cruel and vindictive one: I was disowned by my own parents, fired from my job for being unmarried and pregnant, denied help from social services and so was forced to put my child up for adoption. These measures seem draconian in 2009, but they were actually commonplace.
When I registered for "unidentified" information, it took nine years to be placed on the list and another 10 years before I received what turned out to be only misinformation. Eleven years ago I found my now-adult child with the help and support of Parentfinders. She is thriving with two children of her own. After a few emotional months, without meeting her, she cut off all contact. I sent her all of her medical information, knowledge of two full sisters and the location of her birth father. The fear of upsetting her adoptive mother was so great that she could not see any resolution.
Adoption during that period left birth parents feeling that their children were taken from them, the emotions any parent would feel if their child had been kidnapped, except that we had no support to find them, which is why I call our adult children "missing in adoption."
Bless Marilyn Churley for her efforts to bring us peace.
Dorothy Higgins Mississauga, Ont.
We adopted our son when he was six weeks old in January, 1965. His name is Eric. We had a 21/2 year old daughter then (born to us) and they grew up happily together. He always knew that he was adopted. We lived in suburban Kitchener where my husband taught school and for a time I was a part time physiotherapist. When Eric was 18 we told him that we would not stand in his way if he wanted to find his birth mother. His reply was, "If they didn't want me, why should I care about them?" I tried to explain to him that she was 17 at the time and was not able to look after a baby.
Eric got married at 29 to a lovely lady. They have two boys. The youngest, now 8, has Tourettes disease and is bipolar. The doctors suggested that Eric make inquiries about his birth family, so they put his name into the Ontario registry. I have worked with unwed mothers and have always felt for them and what a difficult thing it has been and continues to be for them.
Three years later (they had pretty well given up the thought that they would get a response) we got a message from Eric that he had a "big envelope" from the Ontario Registry. He was quite upset. "I'm afraid to open it," he said. I replied, "Eric, she needs to know that you are all right."
Eric sent her an e-mail (she now lives in B.C.) and she returned with a most rapturous reply. She had been trying to find him for some time. When Eric was born in 1964 she was told by her parents not to tell anyone. Eric's father knew, however. He was enjoying a sports scholarship in Michigan. A few years later they got married and had two children. About a decade after that they were divorced. My feeling is that Linda could not forget the beautiful boy that she gave up and her husband did not show much sympathy.
A few months later Eric and Andrea flew to B.C, to meet Linda, her daughter and her second husband. The reunion was very emotional, particularly on Linda's part as she told us that she never forgot him, and so much wanted to know where he was and whether he had a good upbringing. Her own mother, who lived in Cambridge, was overjoyed to hear that he was alive and well.
Lastly, for now at least, Eric heard from his birth brother Greg who is a golf pro in Orlando, Fla. Greg contacted him immediately with much excitement and within weeks flew up to Toronto (where Eric lives) and together they drove to Cambridge to see Grandma. Again, a tearful and very meaningful reunion. Now Eric and Greg are best friends, exchanging visits and particularly messages frequently. It is fun to see them together, they are so much alike, and have such respect for one another.
Dede Boulden, Kitchener, Ont. The saddest day
After reading the article in the Saturday Globe written by Richard Wright, I would like to thank him: This is the very first time that I have ever heard a male speak on this issue and how he feels about having had to give a child up for adoption.
In March of 1965, I was a 16-year-old young girl that had given birth to my son. The father was not interested and denied being involved - however, his mother was very supportive. As I look back it must have been difficult for her to visit with me and also lose her grandchild. Today I would thank her for her support.
The social mores of that time were of shame and secrecy, and adoption was the only recourse. I was sent to a home for unwed mothers called Homewood. It was not a bad place: it was run by the Anglican Church and it was located in downtown Toronto. However, once a week the priest visited and reinforced what everyone else thought, and said that we were bad girls. There were many young women from all different walks of life, and none of us were bad, only victims of the time and circumstance - parents that only wanted it all to be swept under the carpet and for us girls to get on with our lives in education or wherever our path was to lead us. There were no choices, only adoption.
I did see my son for at least three months prior to his adoption. This is unusual but that is what I wanted and I exercised my right - the only one I seemed to have at that time. Fortunately I have baby pictures of him that I look at on his birthday and the other special occasions that we celebrate throughout the year. He is never far from my thoughts and my heart.
The saddest day of my life was attending court with my social worker and being made to say that I abandon my child to the court of Ontario. When I think now on those words and how difficult it was to speak them when it was never my intention to abandon my child - again, there were no choices.
My life has been blessed and I am the mother of another child who is now 39 years old. I have a wonderful husband and we are all ready to meet the boy that was taken from my life 44 years ago.
June 1 is yet another step in finding my first-born son. I know it will take a long time because of all the paperwork and waiting lists. I have been on the Adoption Disclosure Register for years and whether my son does not know he is adopted or whether he has never had the interest to find me because that is often the way with young men or so I am told, it only furthers my belief that he has had a happy life.
To date it took two years just to receive non-identifying information that I treasure. It is just a small piece of him that I am left with, a few words about the wonderful people that adopted him and I truly believe they are.
I am not sure what will happen or if I will in fact ever meet my son, I know it maybe a very painful time for all the men and woman that find themselves discovering the adopted names of their children. Like Richard Wright, we do not know how the information that we receive from the adoption records will all turn out.
My only hope is that in giving my son up for adoption he has had a happy life with all the care and love he deserved and that is really all I need to know anything more would be an unbelievable plus in my life and that of my husband and his brother who is also waiting to meet him.
Jayne Duncan, Cobourg, Ont.
A messy reunion
As people impacted by adoption await the June 1 opening of Ontario records, I hold my breath. I was adopted in New Jersey 1967. In many ways, I had the idyllic childhood; unconditional parental love and devotion and significant wealth which brought access to limitless educational and recreational activities.
As a teen, I often wondered about my birth parents. I was a rebellious teen - not prone to drugs or drink, but I felt disconnected from my parents, who were 40 years older than me. I imagined that my birth parents would be hipper - that I would have more in common with them.
As a university student, I contacted the agency that arranged my adoption and, to my surprise, so had my birth mother. They arranged a reunion, to which my parents drove me. What I discovered was surprising. After putting me up for adoption, my birth parents married and had four more children, all boys. They had also moved to Ottawa, evading the Vietnam War draft. Ultimately, my birth parents divorced.
I kept in touch with my birth parents and my brothers for a few years, off and on. I came to Ottawa twice to visit. Abruptly and rather immaturely, I cut off communications in my early 20s. My teenage rebellion against my parents had ended with a deep appreciation for their love and had been replaced with an undying respect and gratitude that made it impossible for me to maintain a relationship with my biological family.
In 2004, my own family - husband and two daughters - moved to Ontario for my husband's work. My father had died of Huntington's Disease in 2000 and my mother passed away from cancer in 2006. I felt an overwhelming desire to reconnect with my birth family shortly thereafter and I was welcomed back with open arms.
So the question is, as an adoptee who has had the opportunity to meet her birth family, how do I feel about the opening of records in Ontario? I'm against it.
Adoption family reunions are not easy. While the stories have a lot of Oprah appeal, they're messy and uncomfortable and sometimes downright unpleasant.
I have so little in common with my birth family, it's often hard to find a way to fit at all. There's no history of shared experiences to keep us sewn together. I have adopted friends who have no desire to meet their biological parents and I believe their wishes should be protected. The system in which I was adopted - where a reunion is arranged when both parties want to meet - though not perfect, is more respective of privacy than the law that was passed in Ontario.
I initiated the recent reunion with my birth family and, quite honestly, there are many days I question the soundness of that decision. What if I was contacted by biological relatives that I had no desire to meet? I believe I would feel very violated.
My parents - the people that raised me - were amazing people. They had their issues, as we all do, but they gave me a wonderful life and nurtured me through scarlet fever, recurrent ear infections and the terrible teens. They are my heroes. While I try to develop a relationship with my biological family, I often struggle to like them as people. Is that fair to them? Who does this new law serve?
Wendy Myers, Oakville, Ont. I was not abandoned
I did not go looking for my birth parents at 18, on the cusp of adulthood, as is so commonly portrayed in made-for-TV movies. In fact I mostly found the relentless fictional quests of TV teenagers to find their birth parents quite puzzling. I had known from the beginning I was adopted - although it was not a daily topic of conversation, it was not a secret my family kept from anyone - and so I was frequently asked while growing up whether I wanted to find my birth parents.
I usually replied with a number of ideas I had about the subject: that I was raised in a completely loving family, which included immediate and extended family who never for a minute considered me as anything but part and parcel of the larger whole; that finding a birth parent was like opening Pandora's box - once done it could never be undone; and of course, the reason I am sure many adoptees can relate to, that enormous fear of being rejected yet again.
Just after I turned 40, for the first time in my life, I became acquainted through work with a number of other adult adoptees. A few of these men and women had sent for their non-identifying information. I'd talked about health issues with my doctor, about tests in absence of any genetic history, and it seemed more necessary and also harmless to apply for non-identifying information than it ever had. My brother, who was also adopted in infancy, had applied for his information years before.
I always say that finding my birth mother was accidental, but of course it wasn't, completely. The thought that the metaphorical Pandora's box would open had always made me reluctant to apply for information and, as it turned out, in effect it did.
My information had strings attached, in the form of a letter in my file written by my birth mother only five or six years previously, which was then sent to me. Of course I could have said no at any point in this process, but what is more tempting, more compelling to one who has lived a life which started with an act of abandonment than the knowledge they were in fact wanted, that some regret had been felt?
What did my partner say, with the uncanny wisdom he brings to my life? "You are not the kind of person who will let this woman go to her grave without meeting you - it's more a question of when you will choose to meet her."
Two quite profound changes took place for me - the first, that I felt as if my real family had been hijacked - from the great-grandfather whom I had never known but whose actions defined my childhood as I spent my summers in New Brunswick in the cottage he had purchased, to my cousins and Aunts and Uncles. None of these people had ever treated me as anything less and mostly considerably more than what most people would consider real family, and yet all of a sudden all that history, heritage and sentiment, down to the objects in my life inherited from these people, felt counterfeit. I felt adrift.
After interviews with the case worker assigned to us, exchanging emails and seeking advice from my father and very sage advice from a confidant of my mother's, I drove to the first meeting with my birth mother with my partner's sympathetic ear listening to me rattle on about how I did not want a new mother or an old one depending how you viewed it, I just wanted my mother, who had died five years previously. I wanted more family, but children, not new aunts, uncles or cousins.
The second profound change, and indeed really the thing that defines the value of the experience far and away above the people I've met, although they are wonderful and welcome and loving, is that I have been able to let go of one of the founding precepts of an adopted child.
Quite early in our communication my birth mother wrote to me that she hoped I did not ever feel that I was abandoned because I was not. I think for many reasons which may be entirely personal to her, that she is unable to face the idea that a great number of adopted children feel abandoned to a greater or lesser extent. But in having come to know her better over the past few years I came to realize that I was in fact not abandoned.
My birth mother will always have given up a child, but that child was not me. I have come to realize that giving me up had nothing whatsoever to do with me, and never will. I was determined not to look at the past when I went into the relationship with her and start with a clean slate, but she has not.
One of the very first things she did, without any prompting on my part, was to take me to a local high school and show me yearbook pictures of my birth father who had been a teacher there at the time of my birth.
Although I hadn't expected to find my birth mother I think I was ready. And although my birth mother had been searching for me for a number of years, and has often asked me why I had not looked for her earlier, she was not ready to find me. She still has difficulty acknowledging who I am in her world, while at the same time I think it would be impossible for her to recognize that this can feel like another rejection, a disownment, to me.
I would in no way seek to pass judgment on the unique and personal circumstances surrounding every adoptive situation, but emphasize only that the value I received from the experience of meeting my birth mother was being able to let go absolutely of the thought that I had been abandoned.
When I came back to myself after this realization, I also came back to my family - my real family. Despite the fact that I am genetically half-Slovak/half-British, my real heritage is Scots/Acadian/United Empire Loyalist/Irish/English - everything about my family is mine, after all.
I have learned a few startling things about the absoluteness of genetics (like Richard Wright's children I also share the eyebrows of my birth father, coincidentally also a Richard). I have journeyed to a place where finally someone looks like me. But the people who don't are my family.
Name withheld by request Seeing with one's heart
At this time of year, my Grade 9 students and I read the chapter in which the Little Prince meets the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince . The Prince is afraid to have a relationship with the fox for fear his heart will be broken when he leaves on his journey; perceptively, he sees no reason to enter into a relationship that is doomed to hurt. The fox then tells the Prince a secret: On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur; l'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux . ("One can only truly see with one's heart; what is essential is invisible to the eye.") And so, the Prince befriends the fox and then goes on his way. Although sad, the two are fuller beings because of their bond.
The message is clear: Relationships and the risks involved are the essence of the human condition.
With both of my fathers prematurely deceased, Father's Day, as it approaches, has been a tender time for me. I feel loss, abandonment and sadness. It is also about undeveloped relationships. My adoptive father died when I was 14; my biological father, when I was 40. However, my birthfather died without knowing me at all. Perhaps he would have, if he had lived; perhaps he couldn't have. But what I live with now is the missed opportunity to create any kind of bond with him. Because there was no relationship, the essence of my being remains fragmented. Perhaps, with his other children, there is a hope of finding the glue that will hold these bits together.
The passing of Ontario's Adoption Information Disclosure Act, or Bill 183, stirs up a mix of feelings each Father's Day. I lived for 34 years trying to fill the void with a few pieces of "non-identifying information" about my birth parents. I conjured up the shapes of faces that were pure invention. The mirror reflected only the surface of my face, but not the "me" I was searching for. I finally obtained a photo of my biological father. I imagined him to be a kind, eager soul whose love would be kindled on meeting me.
This imagined meeting never happened. My birth mother, with whom I had reunited in 1992, disclosed his identity. After three years of waiting to be sure of my motives, I wrote him a letter, double-enveloped for secrecy. His response was a short phone call saying he could not meet me at that time. He said, "God bless you." Before I could utter two words, he had hung up. He died four years later.
He died knowing more about me than I realized. The irony is that he and my adoptive father had worked together on a volunteer board; our family homes are still in the same neighbourhood; and my biological grandmother respected my adoptive father for his work in the arts.
One of my dearest friends, who became a surrogate father to me over 15 years (now also deceased), was a friend and colleague of my birthfather and had offered to take him out for lunch to tell him what a "great gal" I was. I always said, "Thank you, but no." I was afraid to break into his private space, to wreck his life, to shatter any chance that he would re-consider. Respecting his "secret" was more important to me than insisting on my right to know him. This choice was wrenching, knowing what a huge miracle it was that this man was so close to me, yet so far.
I waited a couple of years after his death to write his children, to give them time to grieve. With the events of September 11, 2001, a sense of urgency pushed me to contact them. After a few months, their written response was open, respectful and caring. They had never known their father's secret and they were in shock. And although we have not yet met (I await their invitation), I have a better sense of who he was, who they are and, more, who I am.
When I first saw his photo in 1995, when I hesitantly pulled the black and white image from the envelope, it was as if my father was being born. First, his kinky black hair, the lines of his forehead, his eyes, "my" eyes - finally, I could see the watermark.
In the early 1990s, British Columbia changed its passive adoption registry to an active, open one. I had been on the list for years, but unless my birth parents also registered, I had no chance of finding them. With the new legislation, I was able to pro-actively search out my birth mother and I found her. In light of the changes looming large for many in Ontario, I feel lucky to have had 17 years to know my birth mother and to learn more about my birth father.
Despite arguments against opening the adoption registry - the rules and expectations of yesteryear, the promise of secrecy - as an adoptee, I believe we have a right to have access to our original identity. I honoured my birth father's secret while he was alive, respecting his privacy and never contacting him again. Even now, I protect his identity and continue to respect the private suffering that kept him from wanting to know me. There is a fine line between the right to privacy and the right to discover one's identity; there seems to be no easy answer.
When I started my search, I had to choose one birth parent. I chose the right one. My birth mother was more than eager to meet me. Waiting for that phone call from Connecticut, the angst, excitement, fear crystallized - the anxious questions of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood culminated in a ring. I picked up. A soft, quiet British voice: "Hello, Laura, how are you?"
A giggle, silence, tears. Thirty-four years of waiting for that voice, that heart, that buried memory of birth provoked a torrent of loss, feelings of abandonment, forgiveness, desire, love. I was glad I was alone.
The inner tumult has calmed somewhat now that I have met my birth mother and her children and developed a relationship with them over the years. Also having been a secret to her children, my existence was a shock to them, but a welcome one; my presence answered questions.
What I realized after the reunion was what so many take for granted: My adoptive family was my "real" mom and dad, sister and brother. As a child, especially when I was having a tantrum, I would scream "I'm going to find my 'real' parents." Little did I realize then that my real family had been with me all those years. Yes, we were all different, none of us siblings connected by blood, but this family and my huge extended family are part of who I am now: my values, my experiences, my choices - my essence. I was blessed to be adopted.
The "adoption triangle" connects my two families. Ontario has finally made this connection easier. As adult adoptees, birthparents and adoptive families, we can begin to heal the "primal wound."
As of June 1, Ontarians will be able to take that risk. Like the Little Prince and the fox, adoptees and birth families can create new bonds, new relationships and start "seeing with the heart." Laura McNairn, Chelsea, Quebec Opening up
When I finished Richard Wright's story, I burst into tears. It took a few minutes for the tears to subside. I cried for your sorrow and for your lost time.
I am an adoptive parent and my story is so very different. I have a 16-year-old daughter and was fortunate enough to have the experience of an open adoption. This afternoon I will sit with her birth mother and listen to our daughter's half-sister and half-brother perform at their annual piano recital.
I can do this because, in 1993, open adoption was in its infancy and my husband and I took the leap. Slowly, slowly, over the years our relationships with the birth parents changed and grew, always with a view to what was best for our daughter. It's not always been easy. But it has always been worthwhile. Our daughter is comfortable with having two sets of parents. One set is in the background, but she knows they are there. She's never known anything else.
When she was six months old, Global TV interviewed my husband and me, as well as her birth parents, as part of a mini-documentary on this new form of adoption. At the end of the taping I told the interviewer to check back with us in 20 years to see how it all went. We are almost there, but I think it is the kind of story that never truly ends. I sincerely hope you find your son.
Heather Row 'So, where's the baby?'
For some reason my adopted parents handed me my birth name certificate two days before I married in 1971. I was stunned at that time to see my real identity in print. I was 21 years old.
I wrote to the Department of Social Services in New Brunswick seeking information on my biological parents. They located my file from the Archives at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in St. John. They sent a summary of what they called "non-identifying information." At that time they did not have permission to provide the service of contacting my natural parents for permission to release identifying information.
However, the Adoption & Child Care Supervisor sent enough details - like the fact that my parents married two years after my birth. They had seven children - six boys, then finally another girl - hoping to replace the one they had given up together. I wrote back to the Department of Social Services and they sent more information regarding my biological grandfather which enabled me to write to him before contacting my birth parents.
When I travelled to meet the family in New Brunswick the first thing my mother told me when I stepped from the plane was how she had believed she would be able to keep me. However after the delivery, she was forced to sign papers, not realizing she was releasing me for adoption. My father called her after the birth and the first question he asked was, "So, where's the baby?"
My parents were too young to understand that with no help from their immediate families, the Catholic Church would intervene and make the decision for my future.
My biological parents believed for years that I must be somewhere in St. John. But alas I lived everywhere but St. John - France, Labrador, Ottawa, Quebec and Vancouver. Imagine how we all felt meeting for the first time at the age of 27.
It took my mother several years to talk about her birth experience. When she did it seemed at least for me, to be more appropriate to express her story through poetry. When life is altered at the beginning - why not?
My natural parents and siblings have embraced me as one of the family. I'm grateful to the Regional Supervisor of the Adoption & Child Care Services in New Brunswick who took the time to relate as many details as she was legally allowed to in the 70's. I'm also grateful for my adoptive parents who loved me as their own and who made the decision to release my true identity.
Thank you for the invitation to share our adoption experiences.
Thanks also to Richard Wright for reminding adoptees and birth parents how overwhelming the experience can be when we look into the face of another human being for the first time and recognize our true selves.
Deborah Phillips, aka Anne Marie Whipple (birth name)
A girl, not a woman, she's sixteen, stands at the corner of a street outside a home, unlike ordinary ones, this place hides castaways.
This girl, not a woman, in the course of one week enters, delivers, and signs her baby away.
Then, suitcase in hand, she stands outside the home on Princess Street.
Outside the home On the corner of this street She stands, alone, shut out from the world And from her own identity, and asks "will someone come for me?"
Alone, shut out from the world, she stands, outside the home until wonder turns to real.
This girl, not a woman, she's sixteen, must leave this corner of the street.
I have found considerable hypocrisy in the English-speaking world; the handling of adoption is just one example. Perhaps it derives from Puritanical roots, perhaps more. And it permeates through other areas. I encountered an example when I recently applied for a passport for my 15-year-old daughter. After filling in her names, there is an item "surname at birth."
Presumably adopted children would have their surnames and given names changed. Sometimes stepchildren would have their names changed also.
My daughter and only child was born when I was 58. Before that I steadfastly refused adopting a child. I was willing to bring up a child in my family, as a foster parent; but I would want the child to keep his/her roots. Adoption is a fake.
R.S. Tse A turn for the worse
I used the Adoption Disclosure Agency to have a successful match with my birth mother. It only took one year. All went well with the meeting and over time a relationship occurred. Things took a turn for the worse on my side when I realized that I no longer felt comfortable with how the relationship was changing. I guess in time I realized that my adopted parents were my parents and I felt very awkward having my birth mother consider me her daughter. She was basically a stranger and as time went on I might have considered her a friend at best.
The article in Saturday's Focus hit a nerve with me at the start with the tag - "Adoption: A Father and Child Reunion." I want Richard Wright to know that even though he might have been the original father by birth, someone else has been doing a lot of hard work raising his son Graham. Whatever Graham has become today is through his upbringing and Mr. Wright can meet him and enjoy him but to call himself the father seems wrong to me.
Of all my adult friends who are adopted and have had reunions with birth parents, none have ended in a positive way. I think we all have some fantasy idea of how it will all go and it never seems to end like we think it will. I hope Richard Wright has a more successful meeting.
Symantha Rush Heart grown 10 sizes
I have a dream of speaking to a room full of pregnant women who are struggling with what to do about their growing tummies. I would love to tell them how beautiful adoption can be.
I was raised in a small town in the B.C. interior, but that wasn't where I started. I was conceived in Juneau, Alaska, where my biological parents met dancing because, I'm told, that was the only really fun thing to do during the winter in Alaska. My biological mother was doing missionary work for a church in Juneau with two teenage children who were living with their father. My biological father was recovering from a difficult past and needed a new scene. He travelled from his hometown in California to stay with family and work in Juneau. Both in their mid 30s, they shared a love of life and, of course, dancing.
When my biological mother became pregnant, she didn't quite know what to do. She already had two children of her own. My biological father didn't want children at the time. Confused, she returned to the B.C. interior town where she'd been living to be with her sisters and consult friends. This brings us to the fateful night in which she went out for dinner with what happened to be a mutual friend of my soon-to-be parents, in my future hometown.
My parents were out for dinner at the same restaurant, saw their mutual friend having dinner, and slid into the booth to say hello. The women got to talking. Here is what my biological mother would have learned about my mother: My mother had always wanted children. She wanted to become pregnant with a fierceness I believe only women who have difficulty getting pregnant can understand. She had been through every operation you could possibly have, and learned that the time I was conceived was the same time she had been sick in the hospital from complications of yet another hopeful operation.
She had wanted to consider adoption, but my father was reluctant. He hoped for a child that looked like they did, that didn't remind others that the baby wasn't theirs. It was a sore point, for both of them. The two women liked each other immediately. From this conversation, a new thought was blooming in my biological mother's mind.
I was the first open adoption at the hospital in my community. I'm told it was quite mind-expanding at the time. Two women, close in age, hand in hand, Lamaze partners, both discussing the future of the unborn child that linked them. I'm told they were always together for the months leading up to my birth. The papers were signed before I was even born. When the day finally came, my mother was there for every breath and moment, and she caught me as I finally became hers.
My story isn't perfect. Like all parents, my parents have shortcomings. I've often wondered if my mother doesn't hold a little too tightly to me due to all those years of longing. But my story is a beautiful one. I love my parents who raised me, who are so wholly my parents we are as close as we can possibly be. People never believed me growing up if I told them I was adopted. The answer was a standard sincere declaration of "What? No way." Not only do I look like my parents, I belong to them. That's something people can see and feel, and us most of all.
The best thing is, I know my biological family now. As an adult, I causally found them one by one. I was lucky that my parents were always honest with me, growing up, about a history that started before I did. I now have this whole network of people who love me. A family in California, a biological mother in Saudi Arabia, half-siblings and nieces and nephews. It's lovely, all these people to know and seek similarities to. It doesn't touch what my parents and I have - it's just a nice bonus.
I feel like my heart has grown 10 sizes bigger to contain the love I feel for this family that just keeps growing the more people I meet.
I hope one day I get to talk to that room full of women. I know not all adoption stories are sunshine and rainbows, but I think it's important for people to know it can be really great. Maybe the idea of that grand gesture, the thought that you are giving someone something that they can't possibly create themselves, will be a chance for someone else's life to blossom into something wonderful.
Joy Simpson The day of the Letter
For me, Tuesday, June 14, 2005, has now become the day of 'the Letter.' When one gets a response to correspondence sent 20 years ago, needless to say it gets one's attention. Yes, this registered letter required a signature and it was about to set up a process of discovery that would open emotional doors that had long been closed, for time had eroded hope that this letter would ever be answered.
Yet here it was on this ordinary Tuesday in the middle of our retired lives - a letter that required my signature and it had the heading "Ontario Adoption Disclosure Registry." Quickly my protective mind rushed to soothe the rising wave of excitement that this could indeed be it, that my search for my baby brother, last seen 48 years ago when he was 4 and I was 6, would be headed to a reunion.
My mind reminded me that I had many of these letters in the past and they involved that hurtful thud of the heart as I would read, "We regret to inform you that no one has responded to your search at the present time." However this time the letter was registered, and this was a first.
All this scrambled through my being as I scratched my signature on the postal carrier's card. The emotions then rose to a high pitch as I tore it open, as if my heart was feeling the emotional puncture of the letter opener as well. My heart set into racing mode as my eyes deciphered, "Your birth brother has also submitted an application indicating his interest to be reunited with you ... " The remainder of the letter was a blur.
I ran to hug my husband, Brian. We both stared at the piece of paper as if to verify its contents. And then a new hug was needed, as I stated, "Now, I'm afraid." It was simply a fear of "what now?" Another reassuring hug from my husband reminded me to enjoy the moment and then tackle the future when it became the present.
[…]Contact with the social worker the following day set the wheels in motion. I was asked to formulate a "non-identifying information" letter of myself and my brother would be asked to do the same. Once both parties had received the information, one or both could decide to drop the process. Fortunately we moved on to the next step which involved a phone call and then plans for the reunion. I had been warned that this process could take months and in some cases years. In our case the reunion came to be in a month's time from the delivery of the registered letter! For that I am grateful.
Our first phone call was surprisingly easy flowing. It had a humorous beginning in that his name had been changed and his present-day name is the same as his second-oldest brother. Two brothers with the same name. To me however his original name is etched in my heart and that is what I address him with today. It also saves on the confusion of two siblings with the same name!
We then conversed about the makeup of his biological family. He was saddened to hear that both parents were now deceased. I went on to inform him that he was the baby of the family of four. (Ironically he was the oldest in his adopted family of four.) The conversation then shifted about the search. Mine was a 20-year saga, whereas my brother had simply decided a few months back, after the urging of a friend, to pursue his roots. Fortunately for him my name was already in the adoption registry.
He did not know he was an Ojibwa and that all three of his siblings were Status Indians. He had been teased as a child for being dark but never did know his heritage. The unknown facts to him were the high incidence of diabetes in the family and addiction issues. He was already insulin-dependent. He was also unaware of the family dynamics that created the separation of the family unit. He was the only one to be adopted for he was the youngest. The very young are sought after in adoption circles.
We then set about planning the reunion day! He lived two provinces away but had vacation time and together we planned the day. It was decided to keep the reunion simple. So the first encounter would be with me and my husband and then we would proceed to a visit with his two older brothers, and finally a few days later, a family barbeque with immediate family only.
That first encounter is etched in my mind. He pulled up in front of our home on the roar of his beloved Harley Bike and upon removing his helmet we flew into a hug for it was the most natural thing to do. It was instant recognition and instant brotherly and sisterly love. We pulled apart and stared into a pair of eyes that were identical to the ones I see in the mirror every day! Our new journey had begun, the 28 absent years long forgotten for what we had now.
In literature that I have read about reunions there is one line that has, and still stays with me: "The reunion is an event - the relationship is a process"
The process is forever ongoing and it is good. My brother continues to live two provinces away and we see one another at least once a year. We are in contact by phone and email and it has been indeed been a loving process as we all let it unfold in a natural way. Recently my brother remarried and we were able to meet his adoptive family and that too was a warm and loving experience. I believe, as in all things, that if we put false expectations and judgments aside and let reality be as it is, all those involved thrive.
As I read now that the adoption registry will be open in June, I can't help but think how anxious I would be for that date, had I not found my brother in 2005. I also struggle with the question of those that would rather not open the door to the searcher. I know in my case it came to be as a result of two adults ready and willing to be reunited and that resulted in a wonderful experience for all members of the family.
My only advice is to remember to distance the event of the reunion and all its emotions to the one-day-at-a-time process of getting familiar with the new (to you) being.
Elaine FieldingA 40-year ache
I lived in Nictaux West in the Annapolis County of Nova Scotia in 1969. My dad was in the air force and he bought a hobby farm in 1963 after moving from Comox, BC. I met Kenny when I was in high school although he did not attend Middleton High. Kenny was tall, dark and handsome and I fell very much in love with him. I use to walk five miles on the weekend to see him with my dog Tinker.
Being an air-force kid and living in the country, I was very young for my age and did not know a whole lot about life. Back in those days parents told you nothing. My life consisted of working on the farm and school work. Not a whole lot of fun! I was nervous as a teenager and had little self esteem. My dad drank at times and was a moody person. My mom was a quiet, English war bride. At home we had a schedule of cooked meals, on time every day. I remember questioning my mom, "Why do we have to have lunch exactly at noon?" I felt like we were in the air force with all the rules.
I was in Grade 12 commercial class when I first suspected I was pregnant. I remember being at the typewriter in class and feeling nauseated. Then I noticed I had missed my period for a few months. I made an appointment to see a doctor without anyone knowing, for I did live in a small town where everyone seems to know your business. He confirmed I was three months along. I know I turned beet red for I never had a doctor examine me like that before and he apologized.
Christmas was coming and I felt confused and alone. I knew I had to tell my parents but how, I did not know. I decided to tell my Mom's best friend whom I babysat for and she could tell Mom. I went to the hospital where Bev worked as a nurse and I told her. She said she was just lucky she had not got pregnant when she was young. Soon after my Mom said at the supper table that Bev wanted to talk to her and wondered why. My hand started shaking. I was scared! I can't remember a lot of details. I know my dad cried in his room, and I felt bad for the trouble I'd caused.
I got mixed messages. My mom was saying, "If you keep the baby, your father will just throw it up to your face." My dad was bad for that - if there was a problem, Mom would hear about it. My mom did not have an easy life with him.
I felt embarrassed to be pregnant and starting to show. The shame was already kicking in. I knew I had to go away and have my baby for I felt so uncomfortable Arrangements were made with the Salvation Army for me to go to the Halifax Home for Unwed Mothers.
When I was telling Bev, my mother's friend, that I was pregnant, I felt happy that I was having a baby. I was going to this place to feel safe - I had not a clue this was where girls' babies were taken from them. I dropped out of school and went to Halifax in early April. The baby was due in July. No one approached me to stay in school.
My Mom was baking bread the morning I was leaving and she hugged me. Hugs were rare in our family. I arrived at this old house in Halifax near a park where I walked with my brother Ted and his girlfriend. I shared a room with another girl. Our meals were cooked with no salt. Once in a while we went to a restaurant or on a walk, but only as a group. My mom called a few times wondering when I was coming home. She worked, and missed me doing the cooking and housework at home.
I never got phone calls from my friends and Kenny said he came to the door and was refused entry. I found this out four months after I had my son. It was isolation for sure. The social worker came to see me, and my sister wrote me a letter encouraging me to give up my baby so that I could come to Vancouver and live with her. I saw girls come and go. It was doing time, like you were in a prison. You had a routine and rules. No one questioned anything back in those days. The adults knew better!
No one came to you and asked about your home life, gave you options or asked how you felt. You were an unwed mother, case closed. One night, lying in bed, feeling the baby kick me with his big foot, I heard shouting outside my window. Male university students were screaming at us, calling us whores. I wonder whatever happened to those educated males?
I went to say goodbye to a friend I had made. She had come back from having her baby. She said very little but was using Noxema on her face and to this day I could never come near using that on my face. I broke down crying in the chapel one Sunday: What happened to my fairy-tale life of a handsome prince and our baby in our arms? Instead I am in prison feeling shamed for having loved.
I went to a class of sorts on giving birth but I was so green, I did not know how the baby would come out. Not one girl talked about buying baby clothes and going home with her baby. There was no joy in pregnancy, just depression and shame .I was brainwashed to believe that my baby would have a wonderful life and home that I could not give him. After all, I did not know what is was like to work.
It was like it was not my baby - I did not deserve to have my baby, but a couple with all the material wealth did. (Step on me some more, sick society.) By being pregnant and staying in that prison I felt like a failure. I had not finished my Grade 12 and I was not married.
I was due in July. I vaguely remember having pain and being driven to the hospital by someone in the early hours of the morning. I was prepped - the nurse apologized but it was part of the procedure. I had no friends and family as I suffered through contractions. I vaguely remember the nurse coming and going. It all seemed like a bad nightmare. Finally, my baby was born around 4 pm . They did not show him to me. They never even asked me if I would like to see him. Why would they want to communicate with an unwed mother?
After being wheeled to my room I felt nauseated and I did feel a lot of fluid flowing but I did not have a clue what was happening to me. The patient beside me called the nurse. The nurse says "Are you nauseated?" I did not know what nauseated meant only I felt very sick and something was very wrong.
The next thing I knew, the doctors were around and I passed out. I remember a stabbing pain in my foot. I woke up in the morning to find myself hooked up to blood and an IV. The nurse was pulling the curtain back and said, "You nearly didn't make it." She did not explain anything to me and I never saw a doctor. Why would they want to waste there time on an unwed mother?
The doctors screwed up delivering my baby for I should never have hemorrhaged. The baby was brought in to me the next morning and I held him for the few days I was in the hospital. When someone said I could name him, it was like, "Oh, I can name him?" It was like he was not my baby.
One visitor saw Scott that I can remember. My brother picked me up to take me home. I had three months to make my decision but I know by then I was brainwashed to believe he would have a better life without me. I looked him in the eyes and said, "We will meet again."
Not for a second did I realize what I was doing. It is like an abused women who keeps coming back to the abuser. There was no support for me keeping my baby or bringing him home. I remember stopping by a restaurant and relatives were there and all I could think was, "Get me the hell out of here."
My anxiety level started rising the closer I got to home. No one sat me down and talked about my experience and leaving my baby. My grandfather said, "Your father will never say anything to you."
I knew my life had changed forever when I walked out of that hospital. Physically I never felt the same and a person who had looked forward to life and living was now a very confused, depressed human being. Life went on as usual at home and I was just existing. My Mom did say, "Why don't you go get him?" I was hurt and angry and told her I would never bring him into that house. My dad drank and I saw too many scary things.
The child was in a foster home for seven months - the doctors thought he may have a heart condition. No one said I could visit him. I went to Montreal to babysit for a few weeks and when I came back, Halifax called my mom about me signing the papers. The caller did not talk to me, though I would soon be 19 years old. I have only realized now that I wasn't actually given three months to sign the papers for in three months I was living in Vancouver wondering what had happened.
Like a walking statue, I was driven into Halifax and walked into the office by myself. I signed the papers. "He will call you when he is 19 years old." I am still waiting for that call and he soon will be 40 years old. I walked away alone and the tears started and would not stop. The other side of my brain said but he will have a wonderful, happy home and he will get the music lessons his father never got - all the things you can't give him.
I went home and soon after flew to Vancouver. I was alone and depressed after my move and I missed my baby. I wrote the social worker for a picture for he was still in foster care. I did not have any money for pictures and I was not sure if that was my right to have his newborn picture. Scott's picture is on my wall today, with his brother and sister.
I find I am the type of person that when something happens to me the effect is much later. Scott was adopted when he was seven months old to a couple who had a business and building a home. When he did not call when he was 19 years old I thought because he was to busy having a fairy-tale life.
After talking to a mom, I think in 2003, I decided to call the searcher in Halifax. I had waited long enough. I waited another year or more before the search came up empty handed. They could not find him. Finally they called the parents - Scott had little contact with them. I did find out information about Scott and his life has not been a fairy tale. My son Carson looked at me one Christmas and said, "Let's make a video."
The search was on and my higher power kept telling me to do this and would not let me give up when I had many a day that I was exhausted. I kept in contact with the social worker or searcher's office. Finally, Scott's doctor wanted his medical history. I sent it via social worker. The doctor asked him if he would like to meet me. He said he was not interested. I hope with time and healing himself, he changes his mind.
I have a Myspace site with videos and a blog, all about my search . The reality of how many other women had their babies taken from them and the fact that adoptees have no right to their birth records is like a bad nightmare. Today I have support all over the world for Scott and I to be reunited. I don't feel alone any more, but my heart will always be empty until I feel my arms around my son Scott. Rhetty Frank Friesen, www.myspace.com/rhetty2006 Discovering Kassie
Immediately after my birth, I had been given up for adoption and so January 11, 2002, marked a very significant day in my life. After a six-year wait, the Adoption Disclosure Unit in Toronto phoned to inform me they had located information about my biological mother.
A letter followed the call, giving me her maiden name Kassie Cameron, her married name, names of family members, her date of death and where she was buried. With that information, I made calls to newspapers, a funeral home and of course Bell Canada, hoping to find the family members who were still alive.
The first call was to Larry, Kassie's son. Larry, my half brother is married and is living in Calgary. He has no children of his own. He thought his only relatives were aunts, uncles and cousins. Now, he has a half-sister and two nieces. (It makes one leery about answering the phone!) I visited Larry and his wife three weeks later.
My second call was to Kassie's brother, Bert. He was not well enough to come to the phone, so I talked to his wife, Sadie. She was flabbergasted. No one in the family knew. A few days later Pam, a cousin, Sadie's daughter, called me to welcome me to the family. I also learned that John Hamm, the Premier of Nova Scotia, is my first cousin.
Last June, Bob and I visited New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where Kassie was born, lived most of her life and died. While in New Glasgow, the Premier hosted a barbecue for us at his summer home and invited many family members to attend. He arranged for a piper to pipe me into the Cameron Clan and also took us on a tour of New Glasgow, showing us where my mother was born, lived, went to school, worked and was buried.
At that time, I also discovered the name of the man whom Sadie and other older family members said must be my biological father. His name was John Kingsley (Kink) MacDonald. He died in 1988. I was given the name of Kink's long time friend, Hughie. We had a wonderful visit with Hughie, listening as he told us many, many stories of his times and adventures with Kink. They had played hockey together for several years.
Many years previous, Hughie had heard a rumour about a baby but, because Kink never confided in him, he'd forgotten all about it until I appeared on the scene. Hughie then gave me the name of a very close and long-time friend of Kassie's, Jean. I was able to locate a very shocked and surprised Jean who related the whole story to me.
On September 15, 1943, Kassie (then 23), Jean and Jean's parents left New Glasgow by train and travelled to St. Catharines, Ont., where Kassie and Jean found jobs working in McKinnon's munitions factory. There, Kassie visited the doctor and was told she was pregnant. She worked (wearing a smock) until March. Then Jean's mother took Kassie to the Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers in Hamilton. Kassie stayed there until I was born in May.
She made two requests: First, she did not want to see me. Second, I was to be adopted out to a Protestant family. Kassie belonged to the Trinity United Church in New Glasgow. Kink, then 25, knew of her pregnancy. The letter from the Adoption Disclosure Agency stated the amount of money he sent to pay for Kassie's stay in Hamilton. Jean told me Kassie was very bitter and ashamed. Kink and Kassie could never marry because he was a strong devout Catholic and Kassie was a member of the Protestant faith. Kassie's family never would have allowed the marriage and Kink never would have crossed the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1940s in New Glasgow, a Protestant and a Catholic marrying was worse than murder.
Later in May, Kassie returned to New Glasgow. She told no one about the baby. Her parents, sister and brothers knew nothing of my existence. Four months later, Kassie entered the School of Nursing at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, started calling herself Kay, and carried on with her life, never to mention me again - not even to Jean.
On January 10, 2003, exactly one year later, I received a call from the same woman at the Adoption Disclosure Agency verifying that John Kingsley MacDonald was indeed my biological father. From his obituary, I discovered the names of his widow and children. Most lived in Saint John, NB. A friend who had access to a phone book from that city provided me with the phone numbers of possible brothers. The first brother I reached was Kevin. He was stunned. After a lengthy conversation, he asked if he could be the one to tell his brothers and sister. He wanted to "lay it on them." He would have them call me.
I have spoken to all of them. In February I visited my one sister, Lynn, in Vancouver. We talked for four hours. I had to leave to get ready for a wedding we were attending while in Vancouver. I talked to her again the next day. Lynn told me Kevin did not tell her about me - her mother, Rita (Kink's widow), did. Rita started the conversation: "Do you remember the sister you always wanted?"
I have spoken to Rita as well. She told me she had had her suspicions about my existence, but Kink denied it. Rita said she was certain Kink loved Kassie, but they could never be together. I have two more brothers. One of them, Alan, lived in Cambridge (a kilometre-and-a-half from where we live) for three years in the late 1980s and now lives in Clarington, Ont. The other, Keith, lives in Saint John. In June of 2003, we went to visit all the Saint John relatives for Father's Day.
One story was told to me by both Hughie and Jean, though neither realized the other one knew it. In the fall of 1988, Kink drove to New Glasgow and waited outside Kassie's church for her to finish choir practice. He asked her to get in the car as he had something to tell her. At first she refused but then agreed. Kink told her he was dying of cancer. They talked and then he asked if he could kiss her. It was a goodbye between two people who shared a baby girl they never knew. I hope that in their hearts they loved me. They never saw each other again.
It was an exciting year. One day I was an only child; 366 days later I had four half-brothers and a half sister. When I was talking to someone I hadn't spoken to for a while and they asked me, "What's new?" I reply - using the phrase Kevin did when he told his brothers about me - "Grab yourself a cold one, and sit down."