I have an adoption story to tell which is unique and I believe can help others. In my lifetime I have met two others like me: a kid in grade six named Terry who bullied me took my lunch money whenever I tried to talk to him,and Jack Nicholson, who went a little (more) nuts when he was told at age 50. We all have in common that we are children of inter-family adoptions.
Inter-family adoptions were very common of course in French-Catholic Canada in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Abortions only happened in dark secret corners and basements because of the strength and power of the Catholic Church. Women had sneak into backrooms or basements where dirty illegal abortions were performed often making them incapable of having any other children after surviving these barbaric procedures. We have come a long way since then, but when I was born, the world was different. So, girls who became pregnant “out of wedlock” were relegated silent punitive convents, like my own mother was. And when things became more obvious, they were kept until the baby was born. Of course there was great family shame in the pregnancy (marinating in a toxic womb much??) and the community around the child was kept unaware. Usually adopted people feel a little different from the rest of their kinsfolk.
I was adopted when I was four days old. The story I was originally told goes something like this…
My parents went to an orphanage, and amongst the many babies in the room, they spotted me with my little Beatle’s mop-top hair cut wrapped in a pink blanket fell in love and took me home. My mother always said she grew me “in her heart and not her stomach”. The “label” of adoption felt like an honour to me. It made me “different but special”, and I carried it with me like a banner. It was a major part of “who I knew myself to be”.
My family was big. I was the seventh of seven; one of five girls and two boys. and like many families we had some pretty serious secrets, but the biggest one was ME. My brothers and sisters all knew I was adopted, and really I was never made to feel separate or apart from them. They were much older when I was brought in, the closest sisters to me were 12 and 13 years older. The ones who had moved out I really didn’t get to know very well until recently. My sisters took me under their wing; one was an artist and one a musician, and for the first thirteen years I grew up learning outlets for creativity. Only a very few knew who my biological mother was and when the news came out, it hit the family like a truck.
My parents were older and loved me very much but had their own issues after 30-something years of an uncompromising and unhappy marriage. My father was a prominent Canadian politician and was the leader of the non-succession movement in Quebec. Our lives were very public. My mother was an unhappy alcoholic and a politician’s wife. Our entire world revolved around “what the neighbours would think” and so we kept many deep secrets within our walls, never to be discussed openly.
Until one day, in October 1979 when I was 13 my mother having gone a little far on the bloody Caesars that day decided to “tell me” who my biological mother was. I remember being in the kitchen, badgering her to tell me and finally looked at me and said very seriously, locking eyes…
“Do you really want to know?”
The MINUTE the words were out of her mouth my inner brain screamed “NO!” because I immediately read her and before she said anything I knew who it was for the first time.
I hesitated before and spoke before she did…
I said my favourite sister’s name in a small voice. Intuition between a mother and daughter is strong.
She began to cry.
That night, we raced over to my now sister-mother’s apartment. She was one of my two eldest sisters, identical twins born twenty minutes apart. Her twin and I had always been very close and have always maintained a sisterly relationship. But my mother was my favourite person in the world. She was adventurous, living in Africa and beautiful and lively. She reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore. This was going to change everything and at 13 nothing was going to process easily in my mind or heart.
As it is with any shocking situation I remember the scene in vivid Technicolor. I was wearing my new light blue bell bottom jeans and a red shirt. I sat in my now sister/mother’s living room and watched The Day of the Dolphins with George C Scott on television while the mothers plied me with hot chocolate chip cookies they made in the kitchen while they drank and cried. The apartment was near downtown Montreal, it was wet and rainy out. The carpet was blue. There was a split leafed Philodendron to the left of the TV, the curtains were made of velvet. Periodically one or both would run out of the kitchen to cry and hug me. I felt like I had done something very wrong.
My reaction and unconscious decision regarding how this information would affect my life was to ignore it for thirty years. I would maintain my brothers and sisters as who they were to me, my parents would stay my parents, and I didn’t have the first clue how to relate to Paulette who had been formerly my “favourite sister”, and the one who of course understood me at a deep level.
The family reaction was to then send me to West Africa to live with her. This was a monumental trip for me. I always had a very very close attachment to all things African, like a pull of attraction. I have actually journeyed many times since and discovered that I had previous experiences there, although in this life I am a Caucasian Canadian – my feet were happiest when they landed on African soil. I was HOME. I got to spend months there, but my father forced me home and put me in a special international boarding school afterwards sending me to university at 15 to start preparing me for becoming a member of Canadian government. If you ever meet me, you will fully understand the irony of this move. And life went on….for many years. No need for resolution or for understanding – I went into ignore mode. When anyone would question our relationship (am I your cousin or your nephew??) I would get annoyed and snappish. I insisted on EVERYONE ELSE ignoring it too.
Then my grandmother/mother died two years after the big news when I was 15 of cancer. My father died when I was 30 and now, my biological mother has brain cancer and it is time to move forward with this part of my life.
I am interested to know if anyone else has a similar or any adoption story they would like to share. Tell me how it was for you? Did you feel different? How was the experience, positive or negative?
I am great friends with my bio-mom today after many years of struggle. I believe this is an act of Grace. I hope that my experiences can bring others some peace in some way.