I always knew I was adopted at the age of three months. I knew that my adoptive dad and mom were terrific parents, who raised me and my three sisters, one also adopted. But when it came to the circumstances of my birth, I knew little. A single mom. Three months in foster care. My adoptive homecoming. Somewhere in the world was a woman, my birth mother, who I also didn’t know.
I didn’t search for a very long time, because I didn’t want my adoptive parents to think they had failed in any way. But when Dad was gone, and Mom was quite elderly (she’s since passed away), I applied to the province of Ontario for my birth records. The keys to my personal history arrived in a plain brown envelope. The name of my birth mother. My name, at birth – Robert.
That led to a lot of search engine time, and the eventual discovery of a brother and then six more siblings – three brothers, three sisters – all of whom I have now met digitally; one in person. A major road trip is planned post-pandemic.
My birth mother died in 2014, several years before I launched my search. If she had questions, they remained unanswered.
But through my newfound siblings – who have been incredibly generous in opening their hearts to me – I have been able to find answers to some of my own questions, such as, what was it like for her? Did she think about me? Did my existence play a role in her life?
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I now believe that I had a big, if secret, place in her life, the life I am told she lived with verve and commitment in the years following her marriage.
She never tried to find me. My siblings suspect that she may not have even told their dad about me. They married four years after my birth and moved west, from Ontario to Manitoba. Their first three children were boys. I don’t know how my birth mother would have reacted when she bore the first child she could acknowledge. I suspect it was more emotionally complicated than she could share with anyone.
But however she felt when the sons were born, there is no doubt that her first daughter’s birth was charged with drama because she arrived on Nov. 29 — my birthday.
Did that have an impact on my birth mother? I have discussed this with the sister who shares my birthday, and we agree that it must have been a silent, personal, internal earthquake.
And it clearly wrought a change in her heart. Because her next child was again a boy, and his middle name is Robert, the name she had given me, and the one I bore for my first three months.
And finally, after six children were born to my birth mom and her husband, they added one more. They adopted a girl, a woman with whom I now have a warm friendship. Although we share no DNA, we revel in the odd reality of this inverse adoption scenario.
My birth mother gave me up for reasons that seemed unassailable to her. She was an 18-year-old single woman whose own mother was divorced at the time. There is no father’s name on my adoption records. I was a secret scandal, and she took the only option open to her. I now know that only one close friend knew that she “went away” to have the baby.
But she didn’t forget. Then, she had the life-changing experience of giving birth to a daughter on my birthday. She commemorated me by naming a son after me and she adopted a child. I believe that I was there all along in her heart.
Today, she is also in my heart, more real and more important than in all the earlier decades of my life. I begin to understand something of what my mom would have experienced – the emotional trauma of giving up a baby for adoption, the continual reminders, through all her life, that someone – that I – was out there, unknown but remembered. But more, I connect. I learned, from one dear, new sister, that her — our — mom and I share a passion for gardening. So when I’m in my garden, I carry with me warm thoughts of the mother I never knew… but who I am getting to know better, even now.
Paul Knowles is a feature and travel writer, editor and author who lives in Baden, Ont.; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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