Curiosity played a major role in my 35-year search for my original identity. Last year, in my second blog post, I wrote, Was My Curiosity Wrong? I always struggled with conflicting issues: hurting my parents’ feelings and the frustration with closed adoption laws that withheld all identifying information.
I was surprised to see I wrote that post on January 22, 2019! One year ago, I wanted you to know that a book was in the works. Now, I am so pleased to share an excerpt from the Introduction of my memoir–it’s all about curiosity!
“As I left childhood behind, curiosity about my birthparents seeped into my conscience. I felt frustrated for the first time—Why doesn’t my story start at the beginning? But I also felt that, perhaps, I should be fine without the whole story. Maybe I didn’t need to know everything. Maybe curiosity is overrated. I shuddered at the thought of hurting my parents by asking for the name of the adoption agency. After all, they had provided me with love, security, and an education.
Worry and frustration are very personal feelings experienced by many adoptees. We worry about disappointing loved ones. Dad drove me to piano lessons at night in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in the bitter cold and was concerned about keeping my hands warm before my lesson. Mom and I had tea after school and shared a deep bond of love and trust. How could I not believe that searching for my birthparents would upset them? However, we are often frustrated by sealed records that, if they could only be opened, would unveil identifying information and lead us to birth families, medical histories, and our heritage.”
Curiosity is a special interest–often nudging us to new places of discovery and problem solving. For me, curiosity was the gift that kept on giving!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
In “Mary Poppins Returns,” Mary sings this soulful ballad as a lullaby to the children who are grieving the loss of their mother. The lyrics help them keep her memory alive. I heard this song on the Oscars the other night while I was planning to write about early memories.
Throughout my memoir, I question my ability to remember my birthmother. There is a sense of loss experienced in an adoption. A mother and infant are separated, seemingly forever. As an infant, I was too young to use language. So I wonder, Where are my memories? How are they stored without words?
Infants remember sounds from before they were born. They can identify their mother’s scent. Heather Turgeon, a psychotherapist who writes about child development and parenting, calls it “our emotional memory.” Early memories are coded by our feelings and relationships around us. She further states, “This is why early childhood has such a powerful effect on us, even though we remember so little of it. Our first years are when we build our emotional blueprint of the world, and we take that understanding with us through the rest of our lives.”
Heather Turgeon, “Kids and Memory: What Do Babies Remember?” Daily Beast, November 9, 2010.
Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you. I am confident now that I have an emotional memory of my earliest experiences with my birthmother. I describe in the book times when I felt her presence. Searching has led to so much more than simply finding my birthparents’ names!
Learning about emotional memory has brought me back to my toddler years. Some favorite memories are bolstered by family stories and old photos. My mom loved to tell the story of my 2nd birthday party. My brother invited all the neighborhood kids—Mom found out when they all arrived! My daughter has a wonderful memory—people, colors, events! She remembers many things from around the age of 3—playing in our backyard, family holiday dinners, and her purple jelly shoes. Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that count!
I can’t imagine searching for my birthparents without the help of search angels. Their personal experiences motivate them to help others. They volunteer their time and knowledge! In 1983, before I had even heard the term, search angels, I asked for help from a group in Montreal called Parent Finders. I remember saying they were my adoption angels.
Following our initial phone chat, the president of the Montreal Branch sent me a letter describing the mission of Parent Finders:
“CONGRATULATIONS. By contacting an organization like Parent Finders, you’ve made the first step in a very difficult situation. Parent Finders has two main functions. The first is to try and reunite you with the one you are looking for, and second, to give you lots of moral support, whether through phone calls or personal contact.
I will teach you everything I know about searching, and if I don’t know the answer to a question, I will do my best to find you the answer as soon as possible.
I am sincerely looking forward to working with you. I was able to find my mother and hopefully I can help you to find your family.”
Years later, I was trying to add my name to a list of people searching for family. Maybe a birthmother or birthfather was looking for me! Within minutes, a search angel was assigned to help me. That was in 2014. Now, Vicki is still there for me—always helpful and kind and supportive. Vicki was adopted in Ontario and she lives in Michigan. Annie is a search angel with a closed Canadian Facebook group. Annie, like Vicki, is there for me any time, on any day. She has a wealth of experience and knows where to find answers. Vanessa is a genealogist in Montreal who volunteered countless hours filling in the blanks on my heritage family tree. Another closed Facebook group, DNA Detectives, has search angels and members supporting people all over the world, 24/7. I have received support more times than I can count. These are just a coupIe of examples of search angels who helped me in my search.
I joined DNA Detectives five years ago and there were about 30,000 members. Today it has 107,359 members! I believe it is important to note that the Facebook groups I belong to are closed groups. We can’t overemphasize the importance of confidentiality in searches. Both Facebook groups clearly define their roles and have administrators monitoring conversations, or threads, as the internet calls them. One-on-one support is available in private messaging. Search angels and administrators are all volunteers looking to help others.
Young Love, An Adoptee’s Memoir is dedicated to all searchers and search angels. Identity is sacred—never give up! I hope this blog post expresses my gratitude for the years of assistance and support I have received from search angels.