Adoption Laws

Adult adoptees in nine states have unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates (OBC). Kansas, for example, has always had unrestricted access–adoptees who want their OBC need only to follow the regular procedures for obtaining a state vital record. In 1995, British Columbia, Canada became the first province to unseal adoption records. Family members can obtain the identifying information of a family member they have lost to adoption; adoptees can obtain a copy of their original birth registration. Today, most states and provinces are updating their laws to allow adult adoptees and natural parents access to birth records.

I live in New York State. Sadly, “New York law denies adult adoptees access to their own original birth certificates, except by court order. Based on how judges have handled adoptee requests to unseal records, New York may be one of the most restrictive states in the U.S. on the issue of access to an original birth certificate.” https://adopteerightslaw.com/new-york-obc 

Well, my friends, today may be the day! New York State Assembly Bill A5494 has passed in the State Senate and we await results from the State Assembly.  This bill establishes the right of adoptees to receive a certified copy of their birth certificate upon reaching the age of 18.

“The legislation restores important civil rights to adult adoptees such as their right to access information that non-adopted persons have a legal right to obtain.” “Access to your personal information – who you are and where you come from – is a human right,” said Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, Assembly Health Committee Chair. “New Yorkers need their own medical histories in order to make better health care choices. And connecting adoptees and birth parents works; in the overwhelming majority of cases, these reunions are cherished by both parties.  https://www.qgazette.com/articles/weprin-and-adoptee-advocates-push-for-vote-on-adoptee-rights-bill 

Restricted and unrestricted, sealed and unsealed, closed and open! If only it was as easy as an on/off switch for adoptee rights. I was adopted in Quebec, Canada and I live in New York State. For almost 40 years I have repeatedly applied for information, searched with and without the internet, and defended my search to friends. How different my life would have been if I’d been born in British Columbia or Kansas! This is no small deal–it is life-changing. I pray for the New York State Assembly to pass Bill A5494 for New York adoptees today and in the future.

Over the years, I have explained my search for my birthparents using different analogies–I never wanted to cause sadness or pain to anyone. Adoptees are known to worry about hurting others’ feelings or causing family conflict. My favorite reassuring analogy is that of a candelabra. After one candle is used to light another and another, it glows as brightly. When I learned the identity of my birthmother, my love for my mom and dad was as strong as ever. Finding a new love or friend does not diminish our love for the most precious people in our lives.

Candle Light!

Sunday is Father’s Day

Dad and I had our differences, but we also had a lot in common. For example, we shared a love for challenging projects. Dad was an avid fisherman. Doesn’t every fly fisherman tie his own flies? I would have thought so as I watched him create delicate fly lures in a vise with pliers and tweezers. In retirement, Dad immersed himself in woodworking—starting with inlaid treasure chests and moving on to gorgeous furniture. He made a roll top desk and a beautiful cherry corner cabinet. It was the precision in each fine detail that gave him the greatest satisfaction.

Dad took on at least three writing projects in his retirement. (Writing came easily after his career as a scientist in which publishing was expected.) First, he compiled a set of albums with photographs for Mom. It covered their 50+ years together. He lined 5×8 index cards vertically in pencil and hand wrote each page. The second writing project tells the story of his family’s summer cottage on Danford Lake near   Kazabazua, Quebec, less than two hours from their home in Ottawa. Dad applied the same level of detail to writing as he did to woodworking. What a wonderful memoir for the entire family.

I loved it so that I asked Dad to write about our cottage–Curran’s Lake. In April 1998, I typed his manuscript. Dad was in his 80s and Mom was not feeling well. I believe he had more to say but the opportunity slipped away. I am also sure he would have included photos. Here is a link to the first eleven pages—an unfinished memoir of our cottage. Curran’s Lake

Having spent his summers at Danford Lake, Dad was keen on finding a cottage for us. Eventually, he and Mom saw an ad in the Montreal Star for a lakefront property.  They checked it out and loved it.  From 1952-1962, we drove up to Curran’s Lake as soon as school let out and returned to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on Labor Day. Dad had to work Monday through Friday. He came to the cottage every Friday evening for the weekend. I was just 3 years old during our first summer. When I was 13, my parents had to sell the cottage because we were moving south to Amherst, Massachusetts! But for those childhood years, summer meant going to the cottage on Curran’s Lake.

The drive to the cottage was not at all boring. We crossed the Ottawa River by car ferry and soon hit gravel roads. Our laneway was so overgrown, the trees surrounded the car. Excitement grew as we slowly made our way downhill, eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of the bright red roof of our cottage. And then we started pleading to go swimming. Planning and packing always included indoor games and library books, but all we really wanted to do was play outside and go swimming.

Here is a scene very similar to ours on Curran’s Lake.

For the first couple of years, Dad installed chicken netting around the shallow water, fencing us in. Safety first! However, it didn’t take long for the fence to be removed.  I have no doubt, we would have all agreed, Dad’s best cottage project was a white raft he built by himself. The wooden top rested on four steel drums and an anchor held it in place. He painted the steel ladder silver. It was a masterpiece and we loved it! But, cottage life still had rules and routines—we swam an hour mid-morning and an hour in mid-afternoon. We were not allowed in the water until an adult was seated on shore, only a few feet from the water. In ten years, we never had a swimming mishap.

My parents owned two more cottages. In Johnson, Vermont, they built a cabin on the Lamoille River, perfect for fly fishing in chest waders! And then, north of Kingston, Ontario, they purchased a furnished cottage. It was their first cottage on a lake that allowed motorboats, perfect for a small pontoon boat. Paul and I loved it!

Dad, in your memory, Happy Father’s Day!

I also want to wish a Happy Father’s Day to my husband, my son, and my son-in-law! Wonderful dads!

Memorable Encounters!

My newest search angel and my last Batshaw Youth and Family Centre caseworker retired Friday. We both feel grateful for our time together–heartfelt phone conversations and emails that kept our communication open. For me, our friendship is a very pleasant and welcome closure to my 36-year search for my birthparents and original identity. I want to share a few edited highlights from our emails. My search angel is SA and I am BP. Then I will tie things up with a nod to my Canadian childhood.

May 22– BP:  Thank you for reading my blog! I really appreciate it. I’m busy reviewing my memoir and editing… There will be a couple more rounds of back and forth before it’s off to the presses. I told the publishing company the other day that I need to include an epilogue. My memoir readers will be interested to know that I heard from Batshaw about previously undisclosed identifying information in my file. It’s really quite a unique and quirky story. To end my search with you has been a joy and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will be in touch once more I am sure!! 

SA: Thanks Bonnie.  I look forward to your email.

May 27–At her request, I was pleased to share my blog, particularly the Mother’s Day post: Sunday is Mother’s Day.

SA: I want to thank you for sharing your blog. Part of you stays with us now at Batshaw as your Mother’s Day post will be used for sensitization training for future adoptive parents. 

I sent my search angel the epilogue to my memoir in which I acknowledge her thoughtfulness and support at the end of my long search.

SA: Thank you Bonnie!  I am very touched.  I have printed it and will keep it as an inspiration of perseverance… Very kind of you to share this. 

May 30–SA:  Connections are important, as are planned goodbyes, and this I believe is even more true for adoptees whose lives revolve around their involuntary disconnections and putting the pieces together again.  This afternoon, I invited my team to have cake I made last night as a way to put closure to my time with them, to thank each and every one of them and to hang on to that connection a little bit more before my last official day.  I’m saving a piece for you…you have been a very nice part of my last moments at Batshaw and your epilogue was an unexpected and heartwarming gift!

BP: I accept your invitation (wink emoji)! You will be in my thoughts this afternoon. I’m sure the cake is yummy and will be appreciated, along with your kind words, by your colleagues. Surely you know that normally, they provide a cake and speeches for you!!  As always, your thoughtfulness is front and center. 

May 31—My search angel’s last official day before her retirement.

SA: I will be staying at my country house which has no TV, no internet, just woods, fields and rivers…but I will connect one day and will seek out your blog.  In the interim, my colleague would like to continue reading your blog threads.  She enjoyed the Mother’s Day one and kept it for the future sensitization groups. Farewell and I hope to reconnect with you in the future. Thank you for your kind words in your epilogue. Take good care of yourself!

A different kind of memorable encounter: Queen Elizabeth II is in the news a lot this week. I won’t be shy, I love the Queen. In October 1957, she visited Canada for the Opening of Parliament in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. She also visited Montreal! I was in Brownies at the time, around 8 years old, as in my class photo below. It was our duty to show our respect for the Queen and welcome her to Canada. My Brownie troop arrived at the parade route in Montreal and got settled in our spot to greet the Queen. I was very excited! I had often imagined a trip to the Queen’s palace in London. Princess Anne was about my age and we could be friends.

Anyway, on this fall day, I clearly remember that the wait for the royal motorcade was painfully long. Finally, cheers rang out, “Here she comes!” She was on my side in the convertible, smiling and waving. I couldn’t believe it. I know our eyes met! But then she was gone, so quickly, gone. “Wait, come back,” I cried to myself. “I want to meet you! What about my playdate with Princess Anne?”

I soon recovered, and I have a wonderful memory of that moment when Queen Elizabeth smiled my way.

Grade 2: Class of 35 students!
I’m in the center of the first row.

Angels Among Us

A Handmade 5th Birthday Card for
My Granddaughter Elizabeth

I began my search in 1983 by writing to Ville Marie Social Services of Montreal. In 1993, Ville Marie merged with other social services to become Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, named in honor of Manuel Batshaw. Mr. Batshaw’s mission and the cornerstone of his professional career was to improve and develop social services for communities, families, and most especially for children. He was a native of Montreal and a graduate of McGill University. Manuel Batshaw, a better angel among those in need, died in 2016 at the age of 101.  batshawcentreshistory.ca/manuel_batshaw.html

I have been assigned countless caseworkers over the years as I continued my search for my birthparents and my original identity. How many times has my adoption file been retrieved from the basement archives at Batshaw Centres in Montreal? Who knows if it is in the basement. That is just the way I always envision it—old, dusty, and a little thicker that most files due to all my inquiries! There were struggles and setbacks: refusals to search for my birthfather, long waits and delays, errors, and rules, too many rules! Occasionally someone appeared to be on my side. For example, a caseworker once said, “You are looking for your own story.” She also talked about how common synchronicity or unexplainable coincidences are in adoption stories. I love that!

A couple of weeks ago, a Batshaw caseworker contacted me with the final two pieces of information I had requested a year ago. I immediately noticed a different tone in her voice. I could sense her cooperation and respect—she genuinely supported my curiosity and perseverance. She had even read my file! We talked and wrote back and forth. Interestingly, she told me that she was retiring at the end of the month. We are both at pivotal points in our lives. It became clear to me that she was  my newest search angel. Wow! I wrote an epilogue for my memoir—a Batshaw search angel led me to the finish line. I feel grateful and very blessed. Manuel Batshaw would be proud of my angel! http://www.batshaw.qc.ca/en

Batshaw Youth and Family Centres




Connections That Bring Joy!

Recently, I told my son that when I packed up my things after my freshman year at UMass Amherst, the elevator in my dorm was out of order. My room was on the 7th floor of Emily Dickinson in the Orchard Hill complex. My parents had loaned me their car, but the ‘packing up’ was my responsibility. So I carried my things down, trip after trip. I had a relatively heavy portable sewing machine my parents gave me for Christmas a few years prior. Fortunately, I found a pair of winter gloves and carried my treasured sewing machine down 7 flights and put it in the car. At this point in my story, my son looked confused and said, “Why did you have a sewing machine in your dorm room?”

I know it never occurred to me to not have it with me at school. I think I was always  either sewing or planning the next sewing project. Yes, it was much like my passion for my piano! I sewed lots of clothes—many of my friends made their own clothes too. I sewed for family and friends and friends’ kids—clothes, toys, Christmas decorations, table linens, you name it. I made my wedding gown and a complicated winter coat. I still have both!

My winter wedding gown

 How did this passion begin? And where did it come from? As I mentioned in my Mother’s Day post two weeks ago, my mom taught me how to sew. I was an elementary teacher for years, but I have often wondered how my mom learned the “best practices,” as we say in education, to teach my friend and me how to sew and use a sewing machine—I believe we were in grade 4. She instructed Mary and me to go downtown to D’Aoust’s general store in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and buy fabric and matching thread to make our own skirts. Mary chose a mauve fabric and I chose light blue. Step by step, Mom had us spread out our fabric on the living room rug: measure, cut, gather, sew, and hem. We sewed hooks and eyes on the waistbands—no need to fuss with buttonholes at this stage in our development! She had won us over! That skirt was the first thing I made using a sewing machine.

After I identified my birthmother, I was excited to learn that one of my maternal ancestors was a seamstress for the British royal family. Then a year ago, after I finally identified my birthfather, I learned about an even closer relative who sewed for a living. I admit, I love finding connections between my life with my parents and the birth family I never knew. My long search has truly enriched my life.

Emily’s Katie Lee–1990
A handmade Victorian doll for my daughter.

An Ever-Important Attitude of Gratitude

One wintry day in February 1960, an unmarried young woman named Rose gave birth to a healthy, handsome baby boy. She named him Louis. Rose and her family lived in Verdun, Quebec, Canada on the Island of Montreal. Rose could not provide for her son. She had no choice but to relinquish her parental rights. The infant was adopted by a French-speaking couple who gave him the name, Marc . They raised Marc in a French-speaking community in Welland, Ontario. Welland is located on the Niagara Peninsula between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, barely 26 miles from Buffalo, New York.

Marc at 10 months with his Mom

Marc had a happy childhood. He lived with his parents and his brother and had a close extended family. In his career, he specialized in Information Technology (IT) and worked for a major company in Ottawa, Ontario. Over time, Marc’s curiosity about his birth family grew and he decided to get his DNA tested. FamilyTreeDNA posted his results sometime around 2010, I believe. Unfortunately, he did not receive a high match for years and stopped checking regularly. 

I had tested only with AncestryDNA until a friend recommended I branch out and test with other companies, especially because AncestryDNA was not yet available in Canada. Having been born in Montreal, I realized she had a great point. In 2016, I tested with FamilyTreeDNA, Marc’s company. My results came back with our high DNA match!  I was elated, shocked, and mystified—who was this person? While I waited for Marc’s response to my email, I asked folks in Facebook’s DNA Detectives and Free Canada Adoption/Family Search and Reunion about our match. Everyone agreed that Marc’s birthfather and my birthfather were brothers—we were first cousins! 

It was a Hallelujah moment! We were both very excited. We’d found the needle in the haystack—our shared DNA. Marc lives in Ottawa, I was living on Long Island, NY at the time and through DNA, we learned that our fathers grew up together in Verdun, Quebec. It was magical! I was also thrilled that Marc speaks both French and English.

However, even better than finding our DNA link was finding Marc—friendly and funny, down-to-earth, kind, and smart. Everything that intimidated me in our search became a simple to-do task for Marc. I keep telling him to this day, we’d be back at the beginning if he hadn’t followed the leads the way he did. Today, we message, text, FaceTime, and talk on the phone for hours. He has visited us here in Western New York and we got together last summer in Montreal to meet new biological family. We became partners in the search for our identities, determined to unlock the secrets in our closed adoption files. Now, we have become cousins. Thank you, Marc.

Sunday is Mother’s Day

If I can ever write purely from my heart, I pray it is today. My thoughts are on motherhood. After all, this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I am the mother of two children, a son and a daughter. My son’s wife, Kim, is the mother of our three amazing grandkids. My daughter, Emily, has a beautiful baby daughter, our fourth grandchild. We will all celebrate this weekend and wish each other, Happy Mother’s Day! My family will not be surprised when I admit that I am already a bit teary-eyed. Ahhh, family!

My mom was a wonderful mom. For many reasons, life was not smooth-sailing for her. But when I was almost eight months old, I became her daughter and we were very close. I have many memories of her creative project ideas. I was about seven when she suggested my friend and I could go door to door in our little neighborhood and ask for old, empty perfume bottles.  We stirred up a lavender/water  concoction and refilled the bottles. That’s all I remember—I sure hope we didn’t charge anything for our eau de lavender! Mom taught me how to sew—another activity I loved, as much as playing the piano. Close to the end of her life, my mom continued to do crossword puzzles. She died from breast cancer at the age of eighty. I know she is still with me. 

The adoption triangle consists of the baby, adoptive parents, and the birthmother. Without the birthmother, there would be no infant, no triangle. Unwed women in our culture, especially in the last century, were criticized by their families and communities, sent away to give birth without support, told to get on with their lives, and to forget about their child, and to never search—“You gave up your parental rights!”  As you can imagine, this is not possible for most women who carry a child for nine months and give birth. The trauma stays with them. Many think about their baby and stress about losing the baby for the rest of their lives. 

An unexpected pregnancy caused serious difficulties when my birthmother was pregnant with me. Her parents came up with an adoption plan. I have had years to search for peace and understanding about my birthmother and my adoption. She was successful at work, generous, and always lent a helping hand to her family. I refuse to judge her and think ill of her! Over time, I came to believe that she did her best at nineteen in overwhelmingly difficult circumstances with no support. 

And so, I open my heart to women who lose a baby to adoption. Let’s not forget that an adoption triangle starts with them. This Sunday, I will think of all the wonderful mothers in my life, including my birth mother.

Handmade Mother’s Day Greeting Card