If Everything is Fine, Why Search?

Every day I read accounts of searches and reunions in Facebook closed groups: DNA Detectives and DD Social. I am particularly drawn to stories that are similar to my own. For example, many adoptees accept their adoption—their parents provided them with love and stability. They have careers and harbor no regrets about being adopted. However, they may also have a curiosity about their original identity that won’t leave them alone!

My parents were my mom and dad. They were the ones who took care of me through high fevers and two bouts of the mumps, happy times and sad times. Mom and I chatted every day–I always knew she was there for me. My search for my birthparents didn’t even begin until well after I had moved out of my parents’ home, gotten married, and had children. As I have often said, I am not searching for another family.

Well then, if everything is fine, why search? During my search, I was determined to find my birth parents and learn about my heritage. AncestryDNA provided me with an “ethnicity estimate.” By searching, I learned the details behind their estimate.

Names and the words we use to identify people can be confusing, especially for folks who are not familiar with adoption. In this blog and in my memoir, I reserve mom and dad for the parents who raised me. Birthmother or mother, birthfather or father refer to my biological parents. Furthermore, in the first draft of the memoir, I capitalized my Mom and my Dad until the editor said, “When mom and dad follow ‘my,’ they should not be capitalized.” I felt Mom and Dad deserved to be capitalized all the time! But eventually, I decided to obey the rule.

Mom and Dad were my parents. My birthparents and I, had we met, would have been complete strangers. I like to think we would have gotten along well and developed close relationships. After all, without them, I would not exist. Therefore, they mean a lot to me. However, we still would have had to get acquainted with one another. It might have felt like we were related, but not as parent and child–I believe that in time, I would have called them by their first names. Unfortunately, closed adoption laws kept us apart for so long that those opportunities slipped away.

I found a photo of my mom and dad that I want to share with you. It was taken at our wedding reception in January 1970. I love their smiles!

Mom and Dad
January 1970

My Story

Initially, I wanted to log the events that occurred in my search for the identity of my birthparents. I saved all my notes and correspondences. My search began in 1983–five years later, I learned the identity of my birthmother. A dear cousin asked if I would write about my search because she was doing a school project on adoption. With my notes and all, I wrote a diary for her–I call it my First Memoir.

During my long search for my birthfather, I resumed writing. But this time, I started at the very beginning. Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir describes the circumstances leading up to my adoption. It covers my childhood and young adulthood prior to the search for my original identity. As I began to recognize patterns of cause and effect, I knew that my early years were an important part of the story. I am reminded of an adoption agent in Montreal who said to me one day, “You are looking for your story.” And my search angel, Vicki, who said, “Tell your story, Bonnie.”

Last week, I wrote about becoming a United States citizen. Twice in my childhood, we moved from Canada to the United States. We spent a year in Baltimore when my dad was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University. Two years later, we moved permanently to Amherst, Massachusetts, again for Dad’s work. Without a doubt, the effect of these moves was significant for each of us.

Are you ready for a challenge? As a result of the moves, I never went to 5th grade, I went to 6th grade twice, I never went to 8th grade, and I graduated at 17. My sister never went to 6th grade, went to 7th grade twice…you get the idea! I will try to explain with the underlying premise. Each time we moved, we were placed in the grade that was the number of years from graduation in Quebec. High school graduation in Quebec is after 11th grade, not 12th grade, as in the United States.

When we moved to Baltimore for a year, I went from 4th grade, which is 7 years from graduation in Quebec, to 6th grade which still put me 7 years from graduation. I joined my friends back in Quebec for 6th grade and 7th grade. The same thing happened in Massachusetts. I was placed in 9th grade. Our move was permanent and so I graduated at 17.

I understand the premise; however, I disagree with it. In my opinion, we should have stayed with our age groups. My 4th grade was delightful—I turned 10 in April. I think I was still climbing trees! Sixth grade in Baltimore was a culture shock! Then from 7th to 9th grade 2 years later was another shocker. My 7th grade had been self-contained. In Amherst, 9th grade was the last year of junior high. My classmates had been there for 2 years already. Suddenly I was trying not to get lost all day long. I remember, I kept leaving my purse in the last class and having to run back for it. Who knew I’d have to carry a purse?

Our adjustments were just that—we adjusted our ways and in the end, we had no regrets. In Baltimore, I met my friend, Katie. We became great buddies. When it was time to line up for lunch, one of us would sneak into the coatroom and then cut in line when the other went by. We were scolded a couple of times! Katie came to visit me for a week in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue the following summer. We kept up for years.

I have written a few times in this blog about my Amherst years—9th grade through college. I am thrilled that a number of my friends read my blog each week. We have reconnected and it is wonderful! I have long believed that even though one might say I should have been placed in 8th grade, I can’t imagine my life without my Amherst friends and all the fun we had. And so, the various causes and effects throughout my life shape my story. Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir starts in the beginning and ends–this year!

Grade 7
I’m second from the left.

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!

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




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