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.

A Jigsaw Puzzle!

Believe me, I was absolutely thrilled to receive non-identifying information about my birthmother and family for the first time back in 1983. I think I soon had it all memorized.  She liked to knit and read and ice skate and roller skate. She was 19 when I was born. She carried me to full term and I was “a normal healthy baby.” Having had no information, this was a dream come true. It was stunning to know the file existed—I had actually been born! It’s true that adoptees have strange thoughts compared to everyone else. 

It wasn’t long before I wanted more. They had piqued my curiosity and there was no turning back! Parent Finders of Montreal guided me. With every letter from the adoption agency, I wrote back with more questions. Interestingly, the agency kept sending me small bits of non-identifying information. I always wondered why I didn’t receive it all in the first place. This is when I formed the image—the agency folks had the lid from the jigsaw puzzle box! They had all the answers, both identifying and non-identifying. They were also sworn to obey the Quebec laws and never divulge identifying information to an adoptee. Maybe they suspected I would keep coming back for more. And not wanting to run out, they chose to give me small bits and pieces over time. I do believe they had strategies!

I had strategies too. On top of being curious, I was usually patient and almost always grateful for everything they were doing for me. I learned early on that they made mistakes. For example, she had a sister named Frances. The agency confused Frances with Francis and told me she had another brother. I was offended when they referred to my mom and dad as my adoptive parents. They were, in fact, my only parents. The agency apologized and said they were happy for me. (And, yes, I do understand why they said adoptive.) As my search continued, I examined each and every puzzle piece they sent. I was on the case—hoping for a mistake that might be a valuable clue to my birthmother’s identity.

My St. Patrick’s Day Greeting Card

That was Then…This is Now

We all know how dramatically technology has changed our lives. Was anyone smart enough to predict the present day, widespread use of smart phones? Many people actually prefer text messaging to talking on the phone. In 1983, I began my search for my birthmother. We had one home phone and one television. I sent handwritten letters to the adoption agency, government offices, newspaper, and search angels. I checked out adoption books from our neighborhood public library. Long distance phone calls were very important, but also expensive back then. Eventually, I had an Apple IIe computer—definitely an improvement over our old typewriter. We lived in Buffalo, NY. When I finally had unlocked a few crucial clues to my birthmother’s identity, my husband and I drove up to the Toronto Reference Library to read microfilms for final answers. That was then…

This is now! The Apple IIe has been replaced with various computers and laptops over the years. We still have a landline, but texting on my smart phone and relying on its GPS and camera are now a part of everyday life. I have newspaper archives at my fingertips, messaging on Facebook, I can share old and current photos, and create family trees online. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, My Heritage, and FamilyTreeDNA are just a few of the DNA testing companies today! AncestryDNA began selling test kits in 2012–a little saliva mailed back the old fashioned way and six-eight weeks later, your genetic identity pops up in your electronic mail—email! Mind boggling! My first close DNA match was with a first cousin, Marc. Our match was a turning point for both of us—two adoptees from Verdun, Montreal! The DNA results indicated our birthfathers were brothers. We became search angels for each other—friends for life.

There are a couple of variables in searching that have not changed over the decades. In many states and Canadian provinces, adoptee files remain sealed. Where it is lawful to learn your birthparents’ name(s), the adoption agency or government wait times can be painfully frustrating. Another unchanged variable is that the adoption agencies or government still make mistakes. Some mistakes provide excellent clues for which we are grateful! Other errors contain misinformation and can take a long time to unravel. The last unchanged variable is curiosity. Adoptees may experience disappointments in their searches, but curiosity brings us back to the search until we have our answers.

My grandfather was an amateur photographer. He’s caught me here curiously eyeing something!

An Elephant in the Room!

My closed adoption welcomed an elephant into the room! When an adoption is closed, the identities of the mother and baby are sealed away from each other and from the parents who adopt the baby. My mom and dad knew nothing about my mother nor the circumstances of my birth. They knew nothing about my father. I was told that my mother and father were not married and therefore they could not keep me.

Cue the elephant! (I truly love elephants—I am only using this metaphor because it helps to explain the consequences of a closed adoption.) In my closed adoption, the elephant in the room was the secrecy of all identities. No one in the adoption triangle, not the infant, birthparents, nor adoptive parents had the right to each others’ identifying information.

As an adult, I was told by the adoption agency that my records were sealed, I had a new life, and I should accept the fact that the files would never be opened. In fact, it was against the law for the agency to give me identifying  information from my file. I was an adult adoptee, no longer a relinquished infant, and I was asking for my original identity. This was against the law!

The elephant in the room caused great anguish. In addition to my original identity, my parents and I never talked about genetic traits. We pretended that my adoption did not exist. If the adoption had been open, who knows? I might have known my birthparents before I reached adulthood. Imagine, I might not have had to search at all!

In my early 30s, I decided it was time—time to confront the forces of the closed adoption laws and learn about my birthparents and my heritage. I discovered my fierce determination and curiosity to find answers. My search was off and on over the years, but I never gave up!

One of my handmade greeting cards.