Welcome back to Blogville, thanks for joining me. I am sipping on a ginger tea as I find it calming. This blog is really about a question I will never know the answer to, but I’m pretty sure other people have the same question. What if mine had been an open adoption?
Personally, I was not aware of any ‘open’ adoptions when I was growing up. I knew there was a difference between ‘public’ and ‘private’ adoptions but that was the extent of my knowledge of ‘different’ adoptions. Without getting all technical, open adoptions are exactly as the title sounds. There is some openness, or contact, between a child or youth’s new family and their family of origin, or sometimes even contact with a former kinship or foster family. Again, without getting all technical, this openness can range from update letters to phone contact to face to face visits with a million options in between. Ok, not a million, but openness planning has so many facets and possibilities. When I was placed on adoption back in 1960, the rules were quite different. Openness was not typically entertained as an option when adoption was the plan. My parents were essentially told, ‘here is your daughter, raise her as your own and forget about where she came from’. I kid you not.
So, what if there had been openness in my adoption? My thoughts today are not about the technicalities of openness, but rather, of how I think the lack of openness impacted on me when I was growing up. Generally speaking, I feel some openness may have helped me and my parents to manage some challenges that we faced as a new family. For example, I was placed with my parents on the condition that they book a surgery for me to repair an umbilical hernia. The surgery was scheduled to take place a mere 5 days after my arrival into my new family. Not a great step toward bonding/attachment. This plan was an emotional disaster for my new mom and me! In my opinion, the agency should have kept me with my foster family until after the surgery so that I could have been more easily consoled in what must have been a traumatic scenario for an infant. The trauma of my hospital experience followed closely on the heels of other traumatic events already having been experienced in my mere 9 months of life.
My foster parents had had seven months experience in parenting me. My new parents never even got to meet them. Consider the possibilities if my new mom had been able to reach out to my foster mom when I was frantic with pain and fear in the hospital. I believe my new mom and I would both have benefitted from this outreach. Just imagine for a minute, having to cope with a surgery and hospital stay when my new mom and I had only known each other for five days. Through openness, I believe my foster mom could have given my new mom tips on what normally consoled me; such as a favourite way of being held, a special toy, a special song, and so forth. My foster mother might have been able to share that since I had been in hospital for the first 29 days of my life the nursing staff may be better able to calm me as their care was familiar to me. A qualified surgeon was chosen to perform the surgery due to his expertise, yet the expertise of my foster parents was not even considered as it related to my best post-surgical interest.
As an aside, there was a possibility that the surgery could have left me without a ‘belly-button’ and my mother would tell me how the surgeon thought that a little girl should not have to grow up without a belly button. That was a brilliant decision on the surgeon’s part. As an adopted person I cannot imagine the impact of not having birth parents or a belly button might have had on me, perhaps giving credibility to the idea of being dropped off by a stork after all.
Though I don’t remember any of that surgical experience I do recall other times where openness may have benefitted me and my family. When I was young I remember feeling, often in tandem, great fear and great hope at the very idea that my birth mother might find me. I was both afraid she would find me and afraid she wouldn’t bother to look. I think I might have been spared those feelings had I been able to have had some contact with her, or other biological family members through openness.
I may even have been spared thinking that boys were better than girls; thoughts generated by misinformation. My parents were told that my birth family had kept my birth brother who had been born before me. Openness with my birth family, or even my foster parents, would have shed light on the error made when that information was provided to my parents about my birth family. Instead, I was in my thirties, a parent myself, before I learned the truth that my birth mother and her mother had actually given birth to babies in the same year. My birth grandmother had given birth to a son only a few months before my birth mother was sent away to give birth to me. Disclosure file information informed me that the baby actually born to our birth mother three years prior to me was a girl, and she was also placed on adoption. Imagine if our adoptive families had been granted openness for my birth sister and I to get to know each other . . .
Make yourself a nice cup of tea and join me back in Blogville in two weeks for Part II of my thoughts on what openness may have meant to me, and to my sibling(s).
As ever, I would love to hear from you and welcome your comments. If you prefer a private method to reach out please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Welcome back to Blogville, I’m so glad you decided to visit. Won’t you join me in a cup of green tea as I reflect about my 4.5 parents. Put your feet up and travel this journey with me.
So, obviously, I was created by a birth father. I called him my first father, as purely by genetics he was my biological father. What was his role? Well, firstly, to have had a role he would have had to have been notified of the pregnancy. For some reason, known only to my birth mother and her family, he was never told. Perhaps she could not find him as he travelled a great deal in his career, or perhaps she was afraid to look. As I was growing up, an adopted kid, my birth father was relegated to a fantasy role in my young life. He was my knight in shining armour who would have let me ride my bike down the big sixth avenue hill, he would have let me hang out with my friends uptown, I mean, he would have let me do all the things my father would not let me do! I know that my birth father’s other kids are laughing out loud right now because he actually parented them, and they probably disagree with 90-100% of what I just said. Hey, he was my ‘fantasy’ dad ok? Don’t burst my bubble with reality please (ha ha).
I think that birth fathers have a bit of a challenging role in adoption. Often, the birth mother does not, or cannot, identify the birth father. Sometimes men will give false information about themselves to birth mothers. Other times there may have been an issue of consent in terms of the child’s conception. Sometimes birth mothers do not want people to know that they had a relationship with that particular man based on his reputation, not hers. Sometimes birth mothers will refuse to identify the birth father to protect him, or on the other hand, to prevent him from exercising his parental rights and disrupting an adoption plan. These are but a few examples of how birth fathers may be excluded in adoption planning based on the birth mother’s disclosure of information.
In my case, my birth father was not informed of the pregnancy. At first I would think, ‘oh the poor guy, imagine not knowing you have a child out there in the world’. Then I would think, ‘how can I even search for him, perhaps disrupt his life when he does not even know I exist, how fair is that’? But then, I began to think about how there might be medical information I should be aware of. I began to think about the possibility I might be his only child and that he might even be happy to know I exist. Self-doubt began taking over. What if he wasn’t happy to learn I was his child? What if my existence hurt his current relationship, if he was in one? What if he denied that he is my birth father? I remember one day looking at my dad and wondering if my birth father was better than him, or worse than him? Then I realized, they were both just dads, doing the best they could for their children (if he had any others). That is when I decided my birth father had a right to know I existed, for better or for worse.
Speaking of the right to know I existed, my birth mother definitely knew. She not only knew I existed but that my birth half-sister existed as well. Imagine her fear. I really cannot fathom how she went through those two pregnancies unwed, in the 1950s, in a small Northern Ontario community. As I understand it, her pregnancy for my sister went pretty much unnoticed. As it turns out, my birth mother’s mother was pregnant at almost the same time as our birth mother, so I have a birth uncle born around June and my sister was born in September. Oh I am sure there were rumours, as there tended to be in those days. Plus, my birth mother’s family were recent immigrants to Canada and to their community so they already stood out. Imagine their fear of my birth mother’s pregnancy for my sister being discovered in a time when a family name was never supposed to be shamed? My sister was born and whisked away to live out her adoption plan and our birth mother’s life went on. Then, just about two and a quarter years later, my birth mother became pregnant with me. Hiding that first pregnancy successfully would have been nothing short of a miracle, hiding her pregnancy with me? Impossible. So off she went to ‘nursing school’ or some such cover story as was common in the 1950s and this young woman found herself in a home for ‘unwed mothers’ overseen by Catholic nuns. If you have ever done any research on homes for unwed mothers in the 1950s, you know that this would not have been a pleasant experience. However, it would appear that having a second pregnancy in a small northern Ontario community would have been much, much worse.
In between my birth and my move to my adoptive parents, there were foster parents, ergo the .5 in my title of 4.5 parents. Foster parents are a selfless breed of people who only want to help children in need of a family. Well, for the most part anyway. Following my discharge from the hospital, I had an emergency placement with my first foster family. There is no expectation that an emergency placement will last longer than an overnight or a weekend, and I was no exception. A day or two in an emergency foster home and then I was moved to another foster family. After approximately 20 days I was moved to a third foster family. Though my record does not contain specific details, just know that I was moved quickly, and with a horrific diaper rash from my chest to my knees and sores on the back of my head. My third set of foster parents were first-timers but dedicated and devoted parents to their biological children and then, to me. The love and care I received in this family shines through every typed word on the pages of my disclosure documents. In fact, my foster family put in a request to make me a permanent family member but they were told that they could not adopt me because they could have biological children and it was the agency’s practice that, when free for adoption, infants went to families who could not have children ‘of their own’. So, after seven months of love and care in my third foster family, I was moved to my adoptive family; my mom, my dad, and my brother.
My dad was a typical 1950s father. He was a railway man and a volunteer firefighter. I remember watching the volunteer department’s fire practice demonstrations both in awe of what my dad could do and in fear that he might get hurt. I never saw my dad in action at an actual fire as he always told my brother and I that we should stay away because, “Rubberneckers might get in the way of the firefighters or their equipment, and someone might die.” My dad was always just my dad. Its funny how I had accepted that my dad adopted my brother and I as a natural course of events when we each needed a family. I had never questioned how he felt about not having biological children, or how the adoption journey was for him. I think, as a society, we have always done and will always accept that men mostly just accept any children that come with a mother. Or in our case, children who were in need of both a mother and a father. Often, when I was upset with my dad, or felt hard done by, my thoughts would drift to my birth father who, if he had gone ahead and had other kids, I believed must be undoubtedly more understanding, more fair, and well, simply put, a far more lenient (but fantasy) father. (Only my paternal half-siblings can know that truth.)
My mom was anything but typical, but she was also a 1950s parent. She worked part-time and then full-time. She took care of my brother and me with all our homework, supported all of our 1950s gender specific activities; Brownies and figure skating for me, Cubs and hockey for my brother. There she was, sewing on earned badges, or designing and sewing figure skating costumes. You could sometimes find her at the arena, usually knitting while she watched my brother play hockey. She cooked and cleaned but I never saw her pick up a snow shovel or push a lawn mower, and she sure took pride in her flower garden and in the vegetable garden in our backyard. My mom was never afraid of blood and could handle all the cuts and bruises of our childhoods without flinching. Unlike with my dad, I never really fantasized about a mother that would do things differently. I wonder if I just thought that all moms were the same.
So, all that to say that these are the people who shaped me, for better or for worse, and contributed to the person I am today. Perhaps this blog will lead you to look up the “Nature-Nurture Controversy” and consider whether I was more a product of nurturing or of inherited/genetic traits. You might need a stronger cup of tea, or at least a fresh one, as you try to solve that puzzle!
As ever, I would love for you to share your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time, thanks for reading.
Welcome back to Blogville my friend. Today’s tea is a relaxing rose petal raspberry as the frenzied activity begins to abate a little. I am hoping, as promised, this blend of tea will help to calm and soothe me while I write this blog.
I’m sitting here, just thinking, which is never a good thing for me because my mind wanders everywhere, like a plane flown by a student pilot looking for a safe place to land. Suddenly I landed on the idea of what I would do if I had one more day with mom? Imagine? Just one more day. I wondered how I would spend those precious hours with mom.
I thought about the discussions we had of late about adoption. Would I have any ‘last questions’ about that? No, I don’t think I would. I think she and I worked through that in the last few months. You have no idea how grateful I am that once my fear of asking her questions disappeared I was able to learn so much about my adoption from mom’s perspective instead of just my own. Before we had these chats I realize how little I actually knew about her, not just as my mother, but as a person. I had never really spent any time trying to understand what her life, hopes, and dreams were like until we started talking woman to woman, instead of parent to child. It turns out that mom was a pretty fascinating person who had survived some interesting life experiences. If I had one more day, I tell her this, and I would thank her for sharing ‘our’ adoption experience with me.
I believe that, like most children, I had never really spent any time thinking of my parents as a couple. When I was cleaning out her home I found a photograph of my mom and dad in an embrace, kissing in a doorway, hamming it up for the photographer. It made me reflect on them as a young couple, meeting, marrying, and planning to start a family. On the promise of steady work and a better life, they had followed the railway and moved from Barry’s Bay to Cochrane, Ontario where my dad’s sister had already settled and was raising her family. My dad enjoyed a long career with the Ontario Northland Railway (ONR) until his retirement when he was around 55 years old. I reflected about their excitement and nervousness as mom and dad started their new Northern Ontario adventure. I remember the wistfulness on my mother’s face when she talked about her and dad deciding to start a family. I remember mom talking about my tiny lost siblings and the heartbreak of those miscarriages. I always known about it, but honestly never really thought much about it. I was a kid after all. I remember wondering, as a young teen, what would have become of me if my parents had been able to give birth to children. But, I never thought about the impact on my mother, and on my parents as a couple, of having those miscarriages. If I had one more day, I would tell mom I was sorry she had to experience all of that, especially while living so far away from her mom.
Mom would sometimes talk about her early life, living with her parents and younger siblings. She reminisced about being the one to rock her youngest brother in his cradle while her mother did all the other things a wife and mother of five young children had to get done in a day. In addition to her family, my granny cared for a garden, some animals, and a two storey, wood heated home, all without running water or plumbing. When she was young, my mother had significant spinal issues and missed a lot of school, making her more of a help around the home than she would have liked. Mom talked about growing their own food, canning and preserving, as well as raising chickens, pigs, and turkeys for . . . well, you know what for. In fact, as I was looking through papers related to selling the house I saw that the property had historically been zoned,’residential-farm’. If I had one more day, I would pay better attention when mom talked about “in them days”.
When one of my uncles came for a final walk around of his childhood home before its sale I gifted him some pictures that I had found. He was genuinely thrilled to receive them and he quickly flipped though the photos while identifying aunt after uncle after great aunts and uncles. It turns out that it was I who actually received the gift as my uncle walked me through picture after picture on a journey of his and my mother’s childhood. He showed me a photo of the property when it was more of a small farm than I had ever truly realized. I would have had no idea that was a photo of the property I had up for sale to be honest. Unknowingly, my uncle gave me a whole new lens on their childhood. I had grown up with some of the stories but the visual brought home what life had really been like. If I had one more day, I would look through those pictures with mom.
When I was a kid my mom used to bake buns that my brother and I could have used as hockey pucks. My father would tease her constantly about that. My mom was a great cook and baker, but could never bake buns or bread. Her excuse was that she had had eczema when she was young and her mother would not let her touch the dough to help knead it. She also said her eczema got her out of washing dishes, much to my aunt’s dismay. But I digress. When my parents retired (early, due to my dad’s health) they moved back to Barry’s Bay where my maternal grandmother was still living. They moved into my paternal grandmother’s house that then belonged to some of dad’s relatives. There were only about three blocks between the two homes. Personally, I believe my mother secretly got lessons from my granny because suddenly mom became the best bun baker in Barry’s Bay. Her buns quickly became legendary and were sought after by many of my relatives and my parents’ friends. Mom’s buns were now happily eaten by hockey players instead of using them as pucks! When my mother was basking in her bun fame I was busy raising my own young family and so, when I would visit, I simply enjoyed eating them more than learning how to bake those buns. If I had one more day, I would ask her to show me her secret to kneading that dough.
My mother was a patient teacher when it came to cards. She would teach you the game rules, and then walk you through all the tricks and how to best play your hand in an effort to win the game. However, once you learned the game, such as euchre or cribbage, she was merciless. I think I have mentioned before that we bought mom an iPad for her 90th birthday and when she began playing cribbage on that, sadly she lost her ability to count as the virtual game counts for you. So, instead of playing cribbage, a dear friend taught mom a card game called Golf that she came to love (almost as much as cribbage). She picked up that game in no time and, though her memory was failing, she never forgot what card she needed in order to win, or more importantly, what card she needed to keep to prevent you from winning! She might not have known who she was playing the game with but she’d be damned before she would let you win a game! If I had one more day, I’d happily lose another card game to mom.
Those of you who knew her are aware of what a great seamstress mom was and the wonderful projects she would knit or crochet, she could even tat! Some of you might need to look up what tatting is, and it is an art form that may be lost in the next generation in this country, or may have already been lost. People would come to mom to have pants and skirts hemmed, zippers replaced, and all kinds of alterations made, well into her late 60s. My mother could even darn socks, whichu means to fix a hole in socks to make them last longer, essentially you are sewing over the original knitting to mend the sock and get more wear out of it. When people would shockingly realize that I do none of those things, sew, crochet, knit, and for sure, tat, I had something I would always say by way of explanation. I would flippantly say, “Mom was a very talented seamstress, knitter, etc. but she was not a great teacher. She would lose her patience with me and just take over the project.” Suddenly I realize that instead of expecting mom to be a more patient teacher, if I had one more day, I would be a more patient student.
I knew and will remember my mother as my mom, my model, and my teacher, with all her flaws and strengths, and her undying love for me. If I had one more day, though that would still not be long enough, I would pay closer attention so I could better get to know the woman that other people knew and learn more about my mother as the sister, aunt, cousin, colleague, and friend that people described to me at her wake, at the lunch after her funeral, in their beautiful cards, or in conversations since she left us. My mother made a difference in her time here. This was even more evident as people talked about, or wrote about, mom’s kindness, her generosity, her gratefulness, and of course, her smile. If only I had one more day.
As ever, I would love for you to share your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so please feel free to email me at email@example.com. See you next time, thanks for reading.