Saturday 13 June 2009

Meeting my birth mother

With affection, here we are: my late parents, my three children, and myself in a family visit in the early 90s. My children are all in their 20s now!

I was a mother to these three (see the photo from the time) when I decided to meet my birth mother. At that time, 17 years ago, Ontario had a new registry policy. Both of us had to register, and both of us had to agree to counselling.

As a 'chosen child', who was deeply loved and raised in a loving, caring family, with strong spiritual beliefs and a nurturing, supportive environment, I adored my late birth parents. Genetics made me curious and while I was the product of a seemingly on-eight stand, that was my reality.

I went through the protocol of the time, meeting several times with a Children's Aid Society worker, speaking of why I wanted the meeting. Some adoptees are seeking a parent, or trying to replace a dysfunctional family. Some birth mothers are seeking to pay penance, and forgiveness. I was simply curious.

We exchanged letters, my birth mother (I will call her Enid), and I. In Enid's letters, she spoke of feeling as if she had lost her right arm, an impact, no doubt of the normal bonding that happens after 9 months of togetherness, and hormones, and the normal pregnancy process. She had told me that she had fed me for the few days she was in hospital with me. Afterwards, I went to live with a foster family for 6 months. They called me Cookie, knowing I was going to be put up for adoption. They wrote a lovely letter to my adoptive parents, which I treasure.

My mother worked as a legal secretary (my mother was a secretary, also, for the Rotary Club of Toronto). My birth sisters were undecided about careers, at that point. I was glad I had been adopted, in a functional family. Despite my parents having gr. 10 educations, I was encouraged to go to University. Both their fathers died of alcoholism when they were in their 40s and my parents were 15 years old. Not an uncommon occurrence in those days. They were hardworking, middle class citizens who volunteered and thought family important.

My adoptive parents were ambivalent about the process. I was staying over with them while I was having the meeting, since I did not live in the city where my birth mother and adoptive parents lived. My parents (as I thought of them - for they raised me, changed my diapers, dried my tears and assuaged my fears) were off to a party on this Saturday. I took the subway downtown to the Toronto Children's Aid offices where I met with a worker. Eventually, my birth mother arrived, with her two 20-something daughters in tow.

Enid was about 5' 5", with a hairstyle and hair colour very similar to my own - or should I say mine is similar to hers? My half sisters were much taller than I, which isn't hard at 5' 4", long hair, and about 10 years younger. After speaking with Enid for a few minutes, she suggested, even after having been told not to bring her other children to the meeting, suggested we all go for coffee nearby. What could I say? Being a shy person, I was somewhat uncomfortable. The talk at the table revolved around their individual family lives. I was an outsider, with no knowledge of the things about which they were speaking.

After a time, Enid's children left, and we talked about what to do. Enid did not want to take me back to her house, since she thought that her current boyfriend did not know about me. Even now, 35 years later, stigma remains. My grandparents did not know about me, apparently, as my birth mother went to live with a foster family in Toronto to help out until my birth, which happened on Dec. 26th, 1956.

We decided to go to a movie. I know, when meeting a blind date you should only ever go for coffee just in case things do not turn out well. My birth mother was a strong-willed woman. We agreed upon a movie, Steel Magnolias. We met two of her friends at the theatre, who were seeing another movie. I felt bullied as she tried to talk me into seeing the other show. I stood my ground (nature or nurture?). She told me where we were sitting in the theatre.

At the end, she requested to see my children at some time. I thought not. She was opinionated, and provided unconstructive criticism - I am sure in a bid to remain in control and assuage feelings hidden under the surface. I took the subway 'home' to my parent's house. I found the cooking sherry (couldn't find the good stuff!) and had a drink. Mom and Dad arrived home. Mom dug out the good sherry and I told Mom the saga, while Dad went up to bed.

My Dad had always made popcorn on Sunday nights while we watched Walt Disney world. This was my comfort food - harking back to a golden time of childhood when my parents were perfect and life was good. I had gorged myself on popcorn during the movie, feeling somewhat stressed in this meeting. I told Mom how Enid had looked at my nearly empty, large popcorn container and asked, "Did you eat all that? Are you ever a pig!" I was in shock. The myths around the beautiful meeting, sharing our lives, hearing about the pain and mystery of my conception, were buried in a difficult meeting and opinionated exchanges about a) nutrition, b) lack of cutlery, c) where we were going to sit in the theatre.

a) I had fries with my Swiss Chalet chicken, Enid had a baked potatoe, about which she proceeded to comment on my ill-conceived choice of fries. She poured her gravy over her potatoe.
b) They'd forgotten to include two sets of cutlery - my mother took hers and asked my what I was going to do - I happily used my fingers...
c) Enid paid for my movie ticket. She asked where I wanted to sit. I suggested half-way back. We sat, she was not pleased, She said, "I paid for your ticket, let's move back."

Mom and I had a couple more glasses of sherry, laughed until the tears streamed down our faces: me in relief to be 'home', and she with relief that she would not be replaced. We talked into the night. I knew I was loved and had been blessed.

Enid and I exchanged another letter or two, living in separate cities. She sent me a final letter saying that 'her boyfriend' (who knew about me!) said he thought I should be calling her some derivative of mother. She did not have the courage to ask herself. I had been addressing her by her first name, since I was 35 at the time we had met. Writing back, after discussing the issue with my CAS worker, and friends, I was likely curt and abrupt after some of her belittling comments, and said that I felt that my mother had changed my diaper, and found it difficult as a 35-year-old addressing Enid as Mother. We simply did not have that kind of a relationship. I never heard back from her. Christmas cards were returned 'address unknown'. I have one photo of Enid. That is all.

With both my mother and father passed away in 2006 and 2007 respectively (they adopted me when they were in their 30s), it leaves a hole in my heart. I am now the matriarch. It is an interesting position, one for which I feel unprepared at age 50. I am a happy grandmother, with a darling toddler-granddaughter. My relationships with my adult children are loving, warm, and as adult friends.

My final family photo shows my daughter on the left, men and my father, Jesse with the peace sign! Dad's dog, Sabre, in the forefront.

I hope that sharing my story helps you. Please let me know!


gautami tripathy said...

Thanks for sharing this. You are indeed blessed for having wonderful parents. Blood isn't important, emotional ties are.

Jenn Jilks said...

It is true, is it not?
There are those who have met and bonded with birth families, but it is not a guarantee, nor a promise.

Anonymous said...

When I reunited with my son, I told him that the ball was in his court - whatever he felt comfortable with, that is what we did. I never made him do anything that he was unhappy with.

I never forced him to call me "mother" - I get how he feels towards his adoptive parents. He calls me by my first name and that is fine with me. It is not worth losing someone over that.

Our reunion is now 5 years old and is going well.

I think there has to be a lot of understanding and flexibility for reunions to work.

I am so happy that my son let me into his life again - I would never want to spoil our relationship over petty things.

Jenn Jilks said...

Birth mom ('anonymous'- I understand about protecting privacy!), I laud you on your journey. You have dignity and self-respect.

Your son must be so proud. What a beautiful person you are!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jenn

You are incorrect about privacy for myself.

I never asked for it nor was I given it. I was told that my son would be able to find me. I was told that he would be given my details. I am happy with that.

It is my son who wishes privacy. He wishes privacy from the view of the public, not from me, his father or his siblings (he has reunited with them all now).

Since reuniting, I keep low key for my son's sake. It is his wish, not mine, that I am anonymous here.

Red said...

My adoptive daughter met her birth mother about 15 years ago. They exchanged letters, pictures and even a video. Much was discussed before they met. We met with the grandmother , mother, aunt, cousins and half siblings . It was like a family reunion and was exciting as they knew at that time the relationship would be permanent. It has continued and been positive.

Jenn Jilks said...

Some stories are, indeed, positive, but many are not. I think that children looking for their parents must understand this.
I, too, had counselling, but I guess it didn't 'take' for my birth mother. I imagine she is dead by now, but it sure was painful.

Misty DawnS said...

Mine is a different, yet kind of similar story. I was not adopted, but I was raised by my paternal grandparents (from the age of 2). Oh my, the person I would (or would not) be if they were not the ones to raise me. I owe everything to them and love them more than words can begin to express. Losing my grandparents was very difficult for me, because it was like losing my parents at a young age.
My dad and I now have the greatest relationship ever, and I honestly never would have predicted it.
I have not spoken with my biological mother for about 12 years. This was my choice, as an adult, and realizing that she was never a mother to me and in fact never showed me any love.
Turning my back on 'family' has caused some people to judge me, lecture me, or think I'm a bad person. For a while, this bothered me, but now I realize that I have not turned my back on 'family'. I have chosen to avoid some people who gave me grief and terror, when it should have been love and comfort.
Wow, I better shut up now - I've hijacked your comments section! Sorry about that!

Jenn Jilks said...

No highjacking involved, Misty. You are right that we must choose the people we keep in our lives. Good for you.

Christine said...

Thanks for sharing this, you were lucky to have been adopted by good parents.