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.

Dressing Up for an Easter Sunrise

Handmade Easter Card

Sunday school, Junior Choir, pageants, holiday services—I loved them all! My sister and I wore blue robes and sang in the Junior Choir at our little church in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, our home town, a suburb of Montreal. One Christmas, my sister, brother, and I put on a pageant for our parents and grandparents. Our brother played Santa. He wore baggy red tights and a sweatshirt. He was a skinny kid and everyone laughed when he appeared in the baggy red tights. He laughed too!

We moved a couple of times in my childhood. With each move, we found a new church. I remember babysitting little ones while their parents attended service. In high school, I really enjoyed the youth group. 

Dad claimed that he didn’t go to church because he couldn’t sing. Mom made sure we went to Sunday school and participated in activities we enjoyed. I don’t recall any coercion. However, I do recall vividly one Easter when I was about 14. Our church announced that there would be a sunrise service early Easter morning. My decision was easy—I had to go! I picked out a favorite flowery, spring dress. I can still see it today! As my family slept, I managed to get up, get ready, put on a light cardigan, and sneak out. It was about a mile walk to First Church Amherst. I was very excited in anticipation of a beautiful service during sunrise on Easter morning.

As I approached the church, I saw families gathering in the parking lot. There wasn’t another pretty Easter dress anywhere! I soon learned that the sunrise service would take place outside on a hilltop outside of town! How did I miss that part of the announcement? I have a vague recollection of someone offering me a warm coat and a ride to our sunrise service. As disappointed as I was in myself, the service on the hilltop as the sun rose on that Easter morning was beautiful and unforgettable to this day.

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Handmade Easter Card

Completing the Triangle

In my childhood, my mom and dad and I rarely mentioned my birthparents. My closed adoption was a non-issue—accepted and understood on the deepest level of our love for one another. There was no adoption triangle—there was a child and her parents. The words adoption and adoptive were not heard because they didn’t really apply to us. As an adult, I was surprised to learn the term, adoption triangle. In my eyes, life essentially began when my parents took me home, almost eight months after my birth. The circumstances of my birth and those first eight months seemed insignificant to me until my late teens. I had some catching up to do!

What used to be insignificant became very significant. As a young mom, I decided to search for the missing side of the triangle. Searching for my birthmother soon expanded beyond a search for her name and character traits and details about her family. I started to think about her pregnancy with me, who supported her during my birth, our time together, and then our separation from each other. The adoption triangle became a new reality for me—my mom and dad, my birthmother, and me.

She and her parents made an adoption plan. It’s one thing to have a plan to hand your baby over to someone else—it’s another thing to follow through with that plan. The more I learned about her, the more difficulty I had understanding how she could give me to someone else and why it had to be that way. I didn’t feel angry or abandoned—I simply didn’t understand. 

My enlightenment evolved over quite a long time. I listened to the voices of birthmothers—in books, film, blogs, online groups, and friends and relatives. I felt the shame, the searing disapproval from family, and a culture that labeled unwed mothers as unfit for motherhood and their babies as illegitimate. Separations were traumatizing! The effects often lasting a lifetime. However, it became clear that my birthmother’s adoption plan for me was her only option. There were no alternatives. I believe that without support from her family and community, she did her best. Eventually, I understood her decision. 

In childhood, my parents and I were solidly linked. Then I learned that my birthmother and I were the first link. The adoption plan completed the triangle.

January 1970 Our Rehearsal Dinner

“I Got You Babe”
Sonny and Cher 
lyrics by Sonny Bono 1965


They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow


Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you
Babe


I got you babe
I got you babe

“I Got You Babe”
Sonny and Cher 
lyrics by Sonny Bono 1965

A Jigsaw Puzzle!

Believe me, I was absolutely thrilled to receive non-identifying information about my birthmother and family for the first time back in 1983. I think I soon had it all memorized.  She liked to knit and read and ice skate and roller skate. She was 19 when I was born. She carried me to full term and I was “a normal healthy baby.” Having had no information, this was a dream come true. It was stunning to know the file existed—I had actually been born! It’s true that adoptees have strange thoughts compared to everyone else. 

It wasn’t long before I wanted more. They had piqued my curiosity and there was no turning back! Parent Finders of Montreal guided me. With every letter from the adoption agency, I wrote back with more questions. Interestingly, the agency kept sending me small bits of non-identifying information. I always wondered why I didn’t receive it all in the first place. This is when I formed the image—the agency folks had the lid from the jigsaw puzzle box! They had all the answers, both identifying and non-identifying. They were also sworn to obey the Quebec laws and never divulge identifying information to an adoptee. Maybe they suspected I would keep coming back for more. And not wanting to run out, they chose to give me small bits and pieces over time. I do believe they had strategies!

I had strategies too. On top of being curious, I was usually patient and almost always grateful for everything they were doing for me. I learned early on that they made mistakes. For example, she had a sister named Frances. The agency confused Frances with Francis and told me she had another brother. I was offended when they referred to my mom and dad as my adoptive parents. They were, in fact, my only parents. The agency apologized and said they were happy for me. (And, yes, I do understand why they said adoptive.) As my search continued, I examined each and every puzzle piece they sent. I was on the case—hoping for a mistake that might be a valuable clue to my birthmother’s identity.

My St. Patrick’s Day Greeting Card

That was Then…This is Now

We all know how dramatically technology has changed our lives. Was anyone smart enough to predict the present day, widespread use of smart phones? Many people actually prefer text messaging to talking on the phone. In 1983, I began my search for my birthmother. We had one home phone and one television. I sent handwritten letters to the adoption agency, government offices, newspaper, and search angels. I checked out adoption books from our neighborhood public library. Long distance phone calls were very important, but also expensive back then. Eventually, I had an Apple IIe computer—definitely an improvement over our old typewriter. We lived in Buffalo, NY. When I finally had unlocked a few crucial clues to my birthmother’s identity, my husband and I drove up to the Toronto Reference Library to read microfilms for final answers. That was then…

This is now! The Apple IIe has been replaced with various computers and laptops over the years. We still have a landline, but texting on my smart phone and relying on its GPS and camera are now a part of everyday life. I have newspaper archives at my fingertips, messaging on Facebook, I can share old and current photos, and create family trees online. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, My Heritage, and FamilyTreeDNA are just a few of the DNA testing companies today! AncestryDNA began selling test kits in 2012–a little saliva mailed back the old fashioned way and six-eight weeks later, your genetic identity pops up in your electronic mail—email! Mind boggling! My first close DNA match was with a first cousin, Marc. Our match was a turning point for both of us—two adoptees from Verdun, Montreal! The DNA results indicated our birthfathers were brothers. We became search angels for each other—friends for life.

There are a couple of variables in searching that have not changed over the decades. In many states and Canadian provinces, adoptee files remain sealed. Where it is lawful to learn your birthparents’ name(s), the adoption agency or government wait times can be painfully frustrating. Another unchanged variable is that the adoption agencies or government still make mistakes. Some mistakes provide excellent clues for which we are grateful! Other errors contain misinformation and can take a long time to unravel. The last unchanged variable is curiosity. Adoptees may experience disappointments in their searches, but curiosity brings us back to the search until we have our answers.

My grandfather was an amateur photographer. He’s caught me here curiously eyeing something!