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

Happy Birthday!

My Handmade Greeting Card

Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! We smile when I tell the story of her birth–again. The doctor had agreed to follow the Leboyer method of childbirth to minimize trauma for my newborn. I was looking forward to minimal trauma, too! The room would be warm and dimly lit with gentle music playing in the background. My baby would be placed in warm water immediately to ease the transition from the womb.

A couple of minutes before her birth, I clearly recall the doctor coming into the delivery room with a cassette tape recorder and hanging it crookedly on the wall. For me, the ambience quickly slipped away! Our not-so-gentle background music was coming from a cheap shoebox recorder! Furthermore, the room was freezing and I didn’t see a tub of warm water anywhere! The lights were dim—I was grateful for that! He held up my precious baby girl and said, “About eight and a half pounds.” They put her on the scale and magically, she weighed exactly eight and a half pounds! I guess our doctor had plenty of experience. Whatever part of the Leboyer method was lacking, there was no trauma and we were thrilled with our adorable baby daughter.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my excitement when I learned that there was an adoption file on me—proof! “I had actually been born!” I am sure fellow adoptees would agree with me that anything having to do with birth can conjure strange and irrational thoughts. It took me quite a while after my children were born to truly realize that they were my biological children. I felt that they were my husband’s kids. In fact, I also thought that his parents were their real grandparents and my parents were not. In all fairness to adoptees, I believe that it does make sense to feel a disconnect from biological relatives in a closed adoption and have those thoughts follow us into adulthood. It also makes sense to move on from irrational thoughts!

Today, I am delighted—we have two wonderful children and four amazing grandchildren.

My Search for a Foundling’s Identity

There’s searching and there’s researching. Searching may require a lot of research, unless you ‘win the lottery’ when your DNA and your birthmother’s DNA match  immediately, as one lucky gal recently shared on Facebook.  I remember the day I decided to research my maternal great-grandfather, James Thurnall. On my family tree, he appeared to have no generations before him. I needed to search for James to learn his family history.

Ancestry found him, and I quickly discovered how our lives were similar. James’s name appeared on a class list when he was ten years old, living in the London Foundling Hospital (LFH) in 1880. A foundling is a child who has been abandoned or relinquished. The LFH was actually a children’s home for foundlings. Now I was on a mission to find out why James Thurnall was a foundling. All the records from the hospital are kept at the London Metropolitan Archives. For a reasonable fee, they located James’s records in the archives and mailed copies of everything to me! 

James’s mother, Mary Anne Wingfield, was seventeen when he was born. One of eleven children in a very poor family, she was employed as a housemaid. James’s father, Charles Davis, worked at the same estate. Having promised to marry Mary Anne, Charles fled to Australia soon after James’s birth. Mary Anne had no way to support her baby. She turned to the Foundling Hospital for help.

The large envelope I received from the London Metropolitan Archives included INSTRUCTIONS and a complete copy of Mary Anne Wingfield’s PETITION to relinquish her baby to the LFH. There were handwritten references from her employer, parish minister, and family doctor.  James Twiddy, a Governor at the LFH, wrote a detailed statement of support. The cover letter to my packet explained what the committee was looking for. “The Foundling Hospital would only care for illegitimate children when their mother made a sufficiently strong case for her ability to make a new start in life.” Mary Anne succeeded—her PETITION was accepted. At three months, baby Charles Davis, named after his father, entered the LFH. He was baptized and renamed James Thurnall. At the age of fourteen,  James left the LFH and was apprenticed to a “hairdresser to be instructed in his business.”

James’s mother and my birthmother were unwed and without the means to support themselves and their infants. Mary Anne relinquished James to the LFH. I was relinquished to foster care and then adopted by my family. Both of us received an education, got married, and had children of our own! Similar paths in so many ways.

With the addition of James’s family, my family tree has grown. And when I search my AncestryDNA for the surnames Wingfield and Davis, I get many matches. Identity is both complex and sacred!

Domine Nos Dirige
 “Lord, direct (guide) us”

London Metropolitan Archives
(logo on my cover letter)

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