Early Memories

“The Place Where Lost Things Go” Mary Poppins Returns                      favorite verses:

Memories you’ve shed, Gone for good you feared, They’re all around you still, Though they’ve disappeared, Nothing’s really left, Or lost without a trace, Nothing’s gone forever, Only out of place

Time to close your eyes, So sleep can come around, For when you dream you’ll find, All that’s lost is found, Maybe on the moon, Or maybe somewhere new, Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you

Songwriters: Scott Wittman / Marc Shaiman,“The Place Where Lost Things Go” lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company  

In “Mary Poppins Returns,” Mary sings this soulful ballad as a lullaby to the children who are grieving the loss of their mother. The lyrics help them keep her memory alive. I heard this song on the Oscars the other night while I was planning to write about early memories.

Throughout my memoir, I question my ability to remember my birthmother. There is a sense of loss experienced in an adoption. A mother and infant are separated, seemingly forever. As an infant, I was too young to use language. So I wonder, Where are my memories? How are they stored without words?

Infants remember sounds from before they were born. They can identify their mother’s scent. Heather Turgeon, a psychotherapist who writes about child development and parenting,  calls it “our emotional memory.” Early memories are coded by our feelings and relationships around us. She further states, “This is why early childhood has such a powerful effect on us, even though we remember so little of it. Our first years are when we build our emotional blueprint of the world, and we take that understanding with us through the rest of our lives.” 

Heather Turgeon, “Kids and Memory: What Do Babies Remember?” Daily Beast, November 9, 2010.

Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you. I am confident now that I have an emotional memory of my earliest experiences with my birthmother. I describe in the book times when I felt her presence. Searching has led to so much more than simply finding my birthparents’ names!

Learning about emotional memory has brought me back to my toddler years. Some favorite memories are bolstered by family stories and old photos. My mom loved to tell the story of my 2nd birthday party. My brother invited all the neighborhood kids—Mom found out when they all arrived! My daughter has a wonderful memory—people, colors, events! She remembers many things from around the age of 3—playing in our backyard, family holiday dinners, and her purple jelly shoes. Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that count!

Baby Congratulatory / Baptism Card

Original Birth Certificate, Please!

Most people have a birth certificate, and it shows their birthparents’ names. Proof of age is very important in so many circumstances. Our children were often required to give a copy of their birth certificate to sport teams, schools, and the DMV!

In adoption, birth certificates are an even bigger deal. When an adoption is legally finalized, the original birth certificate is replaced with a new one. In a closed adoption, like mine, my original birth certificate was sealed away in a vault—by law, it was sealed forever. The new, or amended, birth certificate had the names of my parents who adopted me, my mom and dad.

In my memoir, I reserve the names, mom and dad, for my parents. My birthparents are my birthmother and birthfather, or mother and father. So, at a glance, the reader knows who’s who!

Once I knew my birthmother’s name, I decided to ask for my original birth certificate. It was a tricky process, but thankfully, I succeeded. What a joy to hold that simple document, a lawful and legitimate record of my illegitimate birth!

When I showed it to my son, he said he was surprised it wasn’t framed and on display—he knew how important an original birth certificate was to me. It is the only record I have that includes my birthmother’s name, her signature, my name, and my date of birth. That is who I was until my parents took me home at eight months. In fact, legally, my first name was my name until my adoption was finalized. I was almost two years old. That’s a long time to have a different legal identity! 

Adopted at 8 months!

Search Angels

I can’t imagine searching for my birthparents without the help of search angels. Their personal experiences motivate them to help others. They volunteer their time and knowledge!  In 1983, before I had even heard the term, search angels, I asked for help from a group in Montreal called Parent Finders. I remember saying they were my adoption angels.

Following our initial phone chat, the president of the Montreal Branch sent me a letter describing the mission of Parent Finders:

“CONGRATULATIONS. By contacting an organization like Parent Finders, you’ve made the first step in a very difficult situation. Parent Finders has two main functions. The first is to try and reunite you with the one you are looking for, and second, to give you lots of moral support, whether through phone calls or personal contact.

I will teach you everything I know about searching, and if I don’t know the answer to a question, I will do my best to find you the answer as soon as possible. 

I am sincerely looking forward to working with you. I was able to find my mother and hopefully I can help you to find your family.”

Years later, I was trying to add my name to a list of people searching for family. Maybe a birthmother or birthfather was looking for me! Within minutes, a search angel was assigned to help me. That was in 2014. Now, Vicki is still there for me—always helpful and kind and supportive. Vicki was adopted in Ontario and she lives in Michigan. Annie is a search angel with a closed Canadian Facebook group. Annie, like Vicki, is there for me any time, on any day. She has a wealth of experience and knows where to find answers. Vanessa is a genealogist in Montreal who volunteered countless hours filling in the blanks on my heritage family tree. Another closed Facebook group, DNA Detectives, has search angels and members supporting people all over the world, 24/7. I have received support more times than I can count. These are just a coupIe of examples of search angels who helped me in my search. 

I joined DNA Detectives five years ago and there were about 30,000 members. Today it has 107,359 members! I believe it is important to note that the Facebook groups I belong to are closed groups. We can’t overemphasize the importance of confidentiality in searches. Both Facebook groups clearly define their roles and have administrators monitoring conversations, or threads, as the internet calls them. One-on-one support is available in private messaging. Search angels and administrators are all volunteers looking to help others.

Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir is dedicated to all searchers and search angels. Identity is sacred—never give up! I hope this blog post expresses my gratitude for the years of assistance and support I have received from search angels.

From My Card Collection

Appreciating Our Ancestry

I am entranced by the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Perhaps you are watching, too. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. takes his guests back in time, and all over the world. He traces their heritage and develops for them the human stories of their ancestors. Some guests know little about their families and the searches look very familiar to me! My memoir has a couple of examples of treasured old records.

Here’s one, thanks to my Grandpa!

Another example from my memoir:

My Dad’s older brother, my Uncle Harold, was the keeper of the family tree as well as fascinating stories passed down from one generation to another. It wasn’t my biological family tree, but I truly enjoyed studying Uncle Harold’s work and discussing it with family members over the years.

My favorite story was recorded by my Dad’s Great Aunt Eliza. Aunt Eliza was born August 10, 1824 in Edinburgh, Scotland. She died January 7, 1909 in Carleton, Ontario, Canada. Aunt Eliza was the sixth out of eight children born to Elspeth (Betty) and Thomas (Tom).

According to Uncle Harold, sometime between 1875 and 1895, Aunt Eliza wrote Recollections of Miss Eliza Fairbairn. I cherish my copy of Aunt Eliza’s 26-page, hand-written memoir. In 1828, Eliza and her family departed from Edinburgh for Montreal, as Eliza said, … leaving the old country.

It wasn’t long before the ship encountered ice barges. Eliza wrote: I remember Father coming down from the deck where he had been looking at the ice barges that were all around. His face was as white as a sheet. His hands shook as he came to Mother. “Oh, Betty, Betty, The Captain says there is no hope. The field of ice is the most he has ever seen. The ship must go down.”

Father went up again to the deck but soon returned, saying, “Betty, the Captain says he may save the grown up people by their getting on to a long boat or raft. They are trying to do something about it now. But you and I will go down with the children. What do you say?” “Oh, Tom, we’ll not part. We will go together.” With that, the ship gave another lurch, and someone said, “We are sinking.”

I had been standing by mother holding on to her to keep me from falling about. Seeing everyone alarmed, I too became alarmed and begged mother to put down the baby and take me on her knee. Oh, I remember that well, “Put down the baby mama and take me on your knee.” Oh, I was sure of safety on mother’s knee.

Aunt Eliza’s Diary Entree

Eliza continued to describe how her father convinced the ship’s captain to have the sailors and men on board each hold a spar and line them up along the side of the ship to break the force of the ice as it approached. God blessed the effort … at last they sailed into open sea.

Eliza’s father was praised by the captain for saving the ship from disaster. Peter, my dad’s grandfather and Eliza’s younger brother, was two years old during the voyage. I am grateful to my dad’s great-grandfather, Thomas Fairbairn. His ingenuity and leadership saved many lives that have since given us six generations of Fairbairns!