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.

Music in the Berkshires and Blueberry Pie!

Here in Western New York, there are buds on the trees and the spring flowers will bloom any day. When I was in high school in Amherst, Massachusetts, we also welcomed the warmth of spring and the chance to be outdoors. In the summer, my parents loved to drive to the Tanglewood music festival in the Berkshires. On Saturday mornings, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed open rehearsals. As I recall, there were folding chairs on a lawn under a huge tent. The music was beautiful. I was fascinated by the conductor as he paused the orchestra and spoke to his musicians. 

Dad loved classical music. He bought the best turntable and needle he could find, and even built the record player console himself. Dad also played the clarinet and my mom played piano. We were all very familiar with classical music. However, during one summer rehearsal at Tanglewood, I didn’t recognize a contemporary piece at all. Eventually, I turned to my dad and asked when they were going to stop warming up and play something. I can still see his smile.

On the way home, we traditionally stopped at a blueberry farm. Pick your own—so much a quart! I can’t say I loved picking blueberries, but the reward was delicious. My mom made the best blueberry pie. She made her own pie crust from years of experience—without a recipe. “You have to get the feel of it so that the crust will be light and flaky. Adjust the flour if it’s a humid day.” Oh sure, I thought. Easier said than done!

Over the years, I received various non-identifying information about my birthfamilies. I learned that I had English and Scottish roots, similar to my parents. And I learned that my birthmother and birthfather also came from musical families. It is clear to me that my parents and I were a good match—one’s DNA is only part of the story.

Mom and Dad at Our Wedding, 1970

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