It’s time for a short blog break–a pause in the action. My memoir will be published sometime in September–you’ll be the first to know! Thanks, everyone, for reading and keeping up with my adoption search and childhood memories. For me, each week was more fun than the last. I have truly enjoyed sharing my stories with you and always love reading your comments.
Young Love: An Adoptee’s Memoir tells the story of my 35 year search for my original identity. It is in the final stage before publishing and I am very excited. I am forever grateful to you, my readers, and can’t wait to share the book with you.
As I pondered topics for my blog this week, I realized that I’ve been writing for years. Yes, I am amazed that I never gave it much thought before. For example, when our school staff took a field trip to a local nursing home for our school-business partnership, I wrote about our magical school bus ride and the possibility we would never return. Ha! Or, when Paul and I took care of Ron and Kim’s goldendoodle for a week and I wrote a story for our grandchildren, Max’s Riverhead Vacation with lots of cute photos.
Another example is dear to my heart. Twelve years ago, I was just home from the hospital and I was learning about the need to rest after surgery. Paul went off to work and I found myself feeling a little upset remembering waking up in recovery… But I pieced together the details and decided to write about it to combat the bad memory. For some reason I do not recall, I submitted my story to the Buffalo News for a My View article. It was published May 2, 2007.
Nurse’s Kindness Was the Best Medicine of All
“I heard that,” I said softly. My recovery room nurse had sighed, not a big sigh and probably not meant to be heard. I’d regained consciousness fighting the pain in my back. It had nothing to do with the surgery, but I clearly remember my last thought before going under: “My back is going to kill me when this is over.”
I squirmed and struggled to get on my side to ease the pain in my back, causing the blood pressure cuff to become loose and who knows what other damage.
The IV brought pain relief and I began to calm down. As the team moved away, my nurse put final touches on all she could do to make me comfortable and began recording everything that had happened. Without looking up, she replied, “It’s my birthday.”
March 29—I’d known for months that on this day, I would have laparoscopic abdominal surgery at Buffalo General Hospital. At least, I prayed it would be laparoscopic. “Three Band-Aids, I want to wake up with 3 Band-Aids. I don’t care if the 6-inch abdominal incision is called a smile. I still want 3 Band-Aids.”
My need for reassurance and TLC began in the weeks way before March 29. Anticipating surgery is no fun. Thankfully, my son and his wife chose medical careers, and they provided me with information and assurances that everything would be OK. Paul and Emily would be allowed in the recovery room when I was ready for visitors.
My daughter-in-law had worked with my surgeon at Buffalo Medical School and they remembered each other. I would soon find out the immeasurable value of the connections we make when things are the most precarious in life.
I welcomed the news that it was my nurse’s birthday. March 29 now had a new meaning. She was in a reflective mood, pensive, no big plans. It had been a long day without a birthday reprieve. “But if they’d shortened your day, we wouldn’t have met,” I stated immediately. She smiled, and we continued to chat about life.
In my vulnerable state, our connection assured me I wasn’t just a name on her list. Her sweetness and kindness made me stronger in an otherwise foreign and frightening situation. It was her knowledge, skill and experience that initially calmed me down. Now it was her kindness that lifted me up.
Throughout my short stay at Buffalo General—another benefit of laparoscopic surgery—the extra caring ways of the staff made me appreciate their choice to work in a hospital, to help us during our most challenging times. I wonder if they know the importance of their every act of kindness, or are kind acts intuitive on the part of hospital people?
One of the nurses was having a tough time removing my IV syringe and all the clear sticky tape. “I’m really sorry if I’m hurting you,” she said repeatedly.
I got a kick out of the doctors’ measure of success. Everything is relative. For me, I never felt worse, but for them, the surgery was successful, and everyone agreed I was doing so well. In retrospect, I’m grateful. Their optimism pointed me forward. I would get better. They knew my prognosis better than I did, and gave me hope.
My recovery room nurse decided that she would take me to my room. Always the caregiver, she reminded me at every turn to keep my arms in. When we finally reached my room, she wished me well and gave me a hug. I thanked her for everything. Happy Birthday! March 29 was our day.
My biggest writing project ever, Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir is in its final editing round. I hope to have news for you soon about a publishing date.
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!
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!
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
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!
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.
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 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.