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.

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

Nature and Nurture at the Piano

Mother’s Day is May 12th
My Mom’s Favorite–Lily of the Valley

Handmade Greeting Card

First and foremost, parents-to-be look forward to welcoming a healthy baby—ten fingers and ten toes! We also expect to see our baby’s inherited traits along with interests that evolve from our environment—the old nature/nurture balance. My parents received a healthy eight month old baby. However, they had no information about my birthparents and my ancestry—they had to wait to see my inherited traits and interests. My dad was a scientist. He knew about genetics and enjoyed finding out about his daughter as time went along.

I think I was in third grade when my brother begged to stop taking piano lessons and take guitar lessons instead. I immediately jumped in and said I would love to take piano lessons. I remember thinking this would solve their problem because they would still have one of us taking piano! Logical, right? I took lessons through high school. Every day, I practiced because it was what I loved to do. On occasion, mom suggested that perhaps I’d practiced long enough for one day! 

Our piano was a tall upright. While planning our move from Quebec to Massachusetts, my parents took measurements and determined that the upright piano wouldn’t fit around corners and down the hall in our new house. Their solution was to buy a new piano for me! They chose a standard upright in light oak—it was a treasure. When Paul and I moved to Buffalo, we brought my piano with us in a U-Haul truck. Years later, we downsized to a smaller place. I decided to give my piano away. One of the music teachers at my school had inquired about getting an old district piano. I knew she would provide a perfect home for my piano and play beautiful music on it for years to come. She came to see me shortly before I retired—we’d formed a bond with our love for that piano. It was a fond and somewhat emotional farewell.

Playing the piano was just so much fun! I was never competing. I had pieces I loved to play, and I learned a few difficult ones with my teacher’s guidance. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive. The provided me with lessons and music books, a beautiful piano, and then they left me alone.

In 1988, I was thrilled to learn that my grandfather on my birthmother’s side also loved the piano and was the organist at St. Clement’s Anglican Church in Verdun, where the family worshipped every Sunday. My parents never knew that. After all, they didn’t need to—it would have been no surprise to them!

St. Clements Anglican Church
Verdun, Quebec, Canada