Who Was I?…Who Am I?

It’s odd to imagine receiving an infant from a foster parent without any background information on the baby. We always got our pets from the Erie County SPCA and they came with medical histories, special needs, perhaps even pedigree documents! An infant can’t yet talk, but s/he does have a medical history, and biological parents and relatives who know their family background. In 1949, in a closed adoption in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, my parents knew almost nothing. A couple of tidbits of information they were given were actually untrue. (Thankfully, adoptive parents today are more informed.)

Here is an excerpt from Young Love ~ An Adoptee’s Memoir

“I have a large ring binder with all my documents and notes on my adoption story. My search began in 1983. Ron was 5 and Emily was 3. We visited my parents in Morrisville, Vermont for Easter, which fell on April 3rd that year. I am sure of these details because the first document in my binder is a letter from my dad written on my birthday, April 7, 1983. During our Easter visit, I finally pulled myself together and asked my parents if they knew the name of the agency that handled my adoption. I explained that I felt it was important to get my medical history—for myself and the children.

“This request marked a milestone moment in my life. It was Easter, after all, and for me, it was a new beginning and a new endeavor. My parents responded with compassion and acceptance. I sensed a little unease from my mother―a slight pause. However, Dad took the lead and immediately assured me that they would get the address for me.

“I asked them what information they remembered. Dad described how, when they picked me up at the agency, they were so thrilled to receive me from my foster mother that they never thought to inquire about my birth family.

“Our conversation was going well. Then suddenly, I heard myself ask if they knew my name. I hadn’t planned on asking for my name, and so it was shocking to hear my mother’s quick reply: “Betty Jean.” She had never once mentioned this during the after-dinner chats so many years before.” (I later learned my birthmother named me Betty, not Betty Jean.)

“My parents had given me family names, Eleanor Mary, but called me “Bonnie” because Dad had always wanted a daughter named Bonnie. Dad knew all about his Scottish heritage. I wonder if they had actually wanted to give me a name somewhat similar to Betty. I was almost 8 months old when they took me home, old enough to know my name.”

One piece of information Mom and Dad received was absolutely correct–my birthday! It was confirmed for me when I received my Original Birth Certificate. On the first page of Young Love ~ An Adoptee’s Memoir, I write about a special birthday tradition: “Mom would wrap nickels in wax paper and hide a few of them in the cake. Such excitement!”

But back to today’s title, Who Was I?…Who Am I? I searched until I had answers. I now have the information my parents should have been given. I know a lot about my biological families today–I’ve even met many of them! With help from search angels, social media, and DNA, I was able to complete my jigsaw puzzle. I now know who I was and who I am!

Our eldest granddaughter celebrated her 13th birthday this week–here is the card I made for her. Happy Birthday, sweetheart!

Handmade Birthday card

You can find my memoir in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MyAdopteeMemoir Each order includes a matching handmade bookmark and free domestic shipping! You can also order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.

Memorable Encounters!

My newest search angel and my last Batshaw Youth and Family Centre caseworker retired Friday. We both feel grateful for our time together–heartfelt phone conversations and emails that kept our communication open. For me, our friendship is a very pleasant and welcome closure to my 36-year search for my birthparents and original identity. I want to share a few edited highlights from our emails. My search angel is SA and I am BP. Then I will tie things up with a nod to my Canadian childhood.

May 22– BP:  Thank you for reading my blog! I really appreciate it. I’m busy reviewing my memoir and editing… There will be a couple more rounds of back and forth before it’s off to the presses. I told the publishing company the other day that I need to include an epilogue. My memoir readers will be interested to know that I heard from Batshaw about previously undisclosed identifying information in my file. It’s really quite a unique and quirky story. To end my search with you has been a joy and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will be in touch once more I am sure!! 

SA: Thanks Bonnie.  I look forward to your email.

May 27–At her request, I was pleased to share my blog, particularly the Mother’s Day post: Sunday is Mother’s Day.

SA: I want to thank you for sharing your blog. Part of you stays with us now at Batshaw as your Mother’s Day post will be used for sensitization training for future adoptive parents. 

I sent my search angel the epilogue to my memoir in which I acknowledge her thoughtfulness and support at the end of my long search.

SA: Thank you Bonnie!  I am very touched.  I have printed it and will keep it as an inspiration of perseverance… Very kind of you to share this. 

May 30–SA:  Connections are important, as are planned goodbyes, and this I believe is even more true for adoptees whose lives revolve around their involuntary disconnections and putting the pieces together again.  This afternoon, I invited my team to have cake I made last night as a way to put closure to my time with them, to thank each and every one of them and to hang on to that connection a little bit more before my last official day.  I’m saving a piece for you…you have been a very nice part of my last moments at Batshaw and your epilogue was an unexpected and heartwarming gift!

BP: I accept your invitation (wink emoji)! You will be in my thoughts this afternoon. I’m sure the cake is yummy and will be appreciated, along with your kind words, by your colleagues. Surely you know that normally, they provide a cake and speeches for you!!  As always, your thoughtfulness is front and center. 

May 31—My search angel’s last official day before her retirement.

SA: I will be staying at my country house which has no TV, no internet, just woods, fields and rivers…but I will connect one day and will seek out your blog.  In the interim, my colleague would like to continue reading your blog threads.  She enjoyed the Mother’s Day one and kept it for the future sensitization groups. Farewell and I hope to reconnect with you in the future. Thank you for your kind words in your epilogue. Take good care of yourself!

A different kind of memorable encounter: Queen Elizabeth II is in the news a lot this week. I won’t be shy, I love the Queen. In October 1957, she visited Canada for the Opening of Parliament in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. She also visited Montreal! I was in Brownies at the time, around 8 years old, as in my class photo below. It was our duty to show our respect for the Queen and welcome her to Canada. My Brownie troop arrived at the parade route in Montreal and got settled in our spot to greet the Queen. I was very excited! I had often imagined a trip to the Queen’s palace in London. Princess Anne was about my age and we could be friends.

Anyway, on this fall day, I clearly remember that the wait for the royal motorcade was painfully long. Finally, cheers rang out, “Here she comes!” She was on my side in the convertible, smiling and waving. I couldn’t believe it. I know our eyes met! But then she was gone, so quickly, gone. “Wait, come back,” I cried to myself. “I want to meet you! What about my playdate with Princess Anne?”

I soon recovered, and I have a wonderful memory of that moment when Queen Elizabeth smiled my way.

Grade 2: Class of 35 students!
I’m in the center of the first row.

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




Search Angels

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.

From My Card Collection