My Adoption Story

The first picture of me at six months taken the day I came home.

 The meaning of the word adoption is as follows: the action or fact of legally taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own, or the fact of being adopted.  I was adopted when I was 6 months old.  Child and family services removed me from my birth mother’s care when I was 2 months old at which time I was placed in foster care.

My foster home was located in Selkirk, Manitoba.  My parents received a letter from a social worker at the Department of Health and Public Welfare Winnipeg dated September 18, 1948.  The letter stated that they had found a baby girl that might be suitable for them to adopt.  My parents were asked to come to Winnipeg the following Wednesday so they could accompany the social worker on a ride out to the foster home in Selkirk to see the baby.  This was a mistake on the part of the social worker.  I should have been brought into Winnipeg to the Department of Health and Public Welfare office.  The foster mom, who called me Lynn, told my parents that I needed to be removed from her care since I was getting too big to sleep in the baby carriage.   She told my parents that “my people” came from Vita, Manitoba, a small town not that far from Steinbach.  (A good reason for my parents not to meet at the foster home; to easy to make a connection.  The social worker introduced my parents and told the foster mother that they came from Steinbach).  The foster mom told them that family members had given me gifts and that one such gift was a locket.  However, she refused to give the dresses and locket to my mom.  She insisted that she was going to need them for future foster kids.  She told my father not to come to close to me because I was afraid of men.  My dad held out his arms and I immediately went to him without shedding a tear.  I asked my mom if I had cried when they left with me.  She said no, I had not cried but that I had stared at them throughout the trip to Steinbach.

I could not have asked for more loving and caring parents.  They loved me unconditionally and I never doubted that love.  My dad would tell me a wonderful bedtime story.  The story went like this.  He and my mom were invited to come to Winnipeg and view a room full of babies.  They could then pick out the baby they wanted to take home.  According to my dad, they spent hours walking from crib to crib until they finally came to my crib.  They knew immediately that I was the baby they wanted.  Because of this story, there never was this earth-shattering moment when I was told that I was adopted.  I was however very curious about who my “other mother” was.  Finally, when I was three years old my mother who had no answers to my question told me that maybe my “other mother” had died.  I was quiet for a little while and then told her in these exact words, “Well you could have at least let me gone to her funeral.”

My dad took me with him in his truck whenever possible.  I would stand behind him and jabber in his ear.  Poor man but he had the patience of Job.  I remember the day my mom dressed me in a special dress, new ribbons in my hair and Mary Janes and my dad and I made a trip to Winnipeg.  The purpose of the trip was to go to Eaton’s Toyland to buy me a beautiful red tricycle.

My mom was a talented seamstress and made most of my clothing.  She loved to smock and therefore I had beautiful smocked dresses.  She also enjoyed knitting.  When I was older I was told many times that my mother had dressed me in lovely dresses with matching ribbons in my hair.  My mother also instilled in me the love of reading.  She made sure that I had all the classic children’s books that were popular at the time and every night would read me a bedtime story.

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My babysitter and me. I was four years old.

When I was nearly four years old my parents told me that I was going to get a baby sister.  Apparently, I had been overjoyed at the news.  My baby sister was born on July 16, 1951, and I remember the day we went to pick her up.  We had to go to the Women’s Pavilion at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.  My mom and dad and I went up to the nursery where my 10-day old sister was waiting for us.  One of the nurses asked me if I would like to see my new sister.  She took me to the baby’s bassinet but before I had a chance to take a good look, the Head Nurse came barreling down the aisle to inform us that children were not allowed in the nursery.  I remember her as this huge creature with a very loud voice.  My dad took me to a park across the street from the hospital and I got to play on a structure I had never seen before.   It was a wooden wheel-like structure that you had to run alongside until you got enough speed at which point you would jump on it.

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My mom and I. I was two on this picture.

However, even before I went to school it became apparent that there was a stigma attached to being adopted. At the age of four, I clearly remember walking along Main Street in Steinbach with my mom.  A woman approached us and asked my mom if I was the adopted kid.  My mom would never answer that question regardless of who asked it.  The woman then went on to tell my mom that she had read an article in the newspaper about an adopted kid who had burnt down his adoptive parents’ house.  She went on to tell my mom to be very careful and remain vigilant because I might burn down their house.  After this woman walked away I turned to my mom and told her that I did not want to burn down our house and that I would never do that.  This memory remains as vivid as it when the incident occurred. Even at that young age, I felt incredibly guilty that people would think that I might be capable of burning down the only home I had.

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My dad and I. I was two and a half on this picture.

Growing up in a small community most everyone knew which children had been adopted.  When I started school the kids would ask me if I really was adopted.  Obviously, I had been the topic of conversation at their supper table.  They then would go on to tell me that I must have had a Catholic mother because Mennonites did not give their babies away.  Sadly these children and their parents were badly disillusioned since many Mennonites have given their children up for adoption.  Mennonites are just as capable of indulging in so-called “sexual sins” as any other group of people.

Aunts, uncles and cousins could be cruel.  I was the oldest grandchild on my mom’s side of the family.  This was a terrible faux pas on my part.  I was born a year before the “real granddaughter”.  My grandmother would shake her head, tell me that she loved me but wasn’t it too bad that I had been born first.  Not knowing any better and because I loved her I would agree that it was too bad.  The father of this “real granddaughter” made sure I understood just how much he disliked me.  Apparently, when I was too young to know to stay far away from him, this uncle left black and blue marks on my body.

As I got older the cousins on my dad’s side of the family blamed me whenever they were consumed with guilt over their transgressions.  My grandfather on that side of the family was a demanding father who tried to instill in his children an unhealthy fear of going against his demands and a terrible guilt complex.  My father’s saving grace was that he married my mom who came from a completely different background and did not allow her father-in-law to intimidate her.

Several male cousins on my dad’s side of the family thought it was their right to come to my home on a Sunday afternoon when I was about 11 years old and talk to me about their sexual urges.  They offered to show me their “equipment” while giggling like a bunch of idiots.  I was the only female cousin this happened to.  After all, I was adopted and who knew where I came from and what horrible tendencies I had inherited.  If I had told my dad about this encounter all hell would have broken loose.  However, instead of telling my parents, I blamed myself for what happened.  I felt tremendous guilt and wondered what I had done to make these boys think they could do this to me.  In later years these boys prided themselves on their Christianity.  Family reunions were filled with their pontification on how holy and God-like they were. Their prayers were more like a mini-sermon.  Quite frankly after listening to them, I became convinced that they believed they deserved a seat on the right hand of God.

Adopted children tend to be pleasers.  They do whatever they can so that they will be liked.  When that does not work out they feel a terrible betrayal.  They are very afraid of rejection and sadly they are often rejected.  Their inferiority complex makes them feel like the rejection must be because of something they have done.

David Kirschner coined the term “Adopted Child Syndrome.  According to Wikipedia, Adopted child syndrome is a controversial term that has been used to explain behaviours in adopted children that are claimed to be related to their adoptive status.  Specifically, these include problems in bonding, attachment disorders, lying, stealing, defiance of authority, and acts of violence. The term has never achieved acceptance in the professional community.  The term is not found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition, TR.  Sadly I met quite a number of people who by their words and actions must have taken this theory to heart.  I often wondered what term would describe natural-born children who exhibited anti-social behaviours?

I am an adopted child who found her birth mother and her birth father’s family.  My dad was the one who initiated contact with my birth mom.  I should add here that when I talk about my dad or mom I am talking about the couple who adopted me.  After my dad’s retirement, one of the ways he kept busy was collecting antiques and going to auction and estate sales.  One Saturday in the spring of 1986 he attended an auction sale in Vita, Manitoba.  While at the sale he noticed a little elderly lady trying to pull a wagon full of plants across the street.  He went to help her.  During the course of their conversation, he mentioned that he was Mr. Z from Steinbach, Manitoba.  The lady answered that she was Mrs. Anna X.  I have no idea what made my dad tell this woman that he and his wife had adopted a baby with the same last name 38 years ago and that the baby’s family came from Vita.  He then asked the lady if she knew anything about this.   She assured my dad that she knew nothing.  They continued their conversation a few minutes longer at which time my dad told her that he had better get back to the auction sale.  As he turned to leave the lady pulled his arm and said, “I am having an estate sale in three weeks.  You bring her to me.  I want to see her again.”  With that, she walked away.

The next day was Sunday and we were having a birthday supper at my house for my mom.  My dad asked me to follow him into the living room.  He told me that he had been at an auction sale the previous day and had something to tell me.   I said, “Oh great what did you buy me this time”?  He proceeded to tell me that he had made no purchases at the sale but went on to tell me about the elderly lady he had met.  You can imagine my shock.  Truthfully, I did not know whether to laugh or cry.  Of course, I had always been curious about where I came from but I had never expected to meet anyone from my birth family.

It took my dad the whole three weeks prior to this upcoming estate sale to talk me into going with him.  In the end, he went ahead in his truck and my mom and I followed later in her car.  The sale was well underway by the time we got there.  As my mom and I walked through the gate into the yard everyone turned their heads in our direction to see who had arrived and then there was complete silence.  Shortly after this, a group of older ladies including Anna X began to cry.  A younger woman, Mary, came up to my mom and me and asked us to follow her to a shed on the property.  As it turned out Mary was a first cousin to my birth mom.  Once in the privacy of the shed, Mary introduced us to the older women who were still crying.  This experience was so incredibly bizarre.  I felt totally lost and had no idea how to relate to these people.  Even though the older ladies had been introduced I could not remember their names.   They hugged my mom and thanked her for adopting me.  They told me a bit about my birth mom and her family.  The ride home was very quiet.  Both my mom and I needed to process what had just occurred.

On the following Monday just after supper, I received a phone call from my maternal half-sister.  She told me that my birth mom who lived in Winnipeg wanted to meet me.  She asked if they could drop by later that evening.  The news of my “arrival” had spread from Vita to Winnipeg in the course of a weekend.  Meeting my birth mom was both wonderful and sad.  My emotions were all over the place.  In retrospect, I think that my birth mom was traumatized by this meeting.  She had chosen to keep my adoption private and expected it to remain private.  Was it fair to her to divulge this secret to her family and friends?  Was it my right to intrude into her life?  According to Wikipedia, the effects of adoption on the birth mother include stigma and other psychological effects a woman experiences when she places her child for adoption.[1]  Sadly my birth mom passed away in January 1988 of a Coronary aneurysm.

My maternal half-sister is a lovely woman.  At the first meeting, it was obvious that she loved her mother unconditionally.  It was wonderful to meet her and to eventually establish a relationship with her.  Through her, I was able to meet another half-sister and a half brother.  My relationship with these siblings is ongoing.  Even though we do not often meet in person we stay in touch via Messenger and Facebook.

My search for my birth father began when my son began experiencing seizure-like episodes.  These usually happened at night and he would wake up unable to move his body.  We were living in Richmond, British Columbia at the time.  Through hours of phone research, I managed to get in touch with my birth father’s widow who lived in Lillooet, British Columbia.  She informed me that he had passed away accidentally in January 1981.  Later that day I had a phone call from my paternal half brother.  We decided to meet in a few weeks’ time in Chilliwack, British Columbia at the home of his daughter.  She graciously opened her home so we had a central place to meet.  At that meeting, I met my two paternal half brothers and two nieces.  We spent a lovely afternoon sharing life experiences.  Later that fall my husband and I decided to take a drive to enjoy fall in the mountains.  We ended up in Lillooet, British Columbia and spent an afternoon at the home of one of my paternal half brothers.

My son bought us an Ancestry.ca DNA kit for Christmas 2018.  My paternal half-sister appeared as my first match.  We have not met in person but have developed a relationship through Messenger and Facebook.  She is an amazing woman who owns a ranch in the mountains of British Columbia.  I marvel at her ability to successfully operate a ranch and to ride a horse.  I have to admit I would be terrified to get on a horse and would probably fall off and break my neck.  We do however have an interest in genealogy in common.  She has built two family trees which include information dating back to the early 1800s.

During the search for my paternal half-siblings, I connected with my paternal Aunt Mary who lived in Kenora, Ontario.  She was an amazing woman who taught elementary school and fostered several children.  She enjoyed the outdoors and would often be out prospecting in the hills around Kenora.  Aunt Mary introduced me to her sister, Aunt Elsie who lived in Toronto.  Thanks to Aunt Mary’s son who provided the transportation, I had the privilege of having both sisters visit me at my home in Steinbach. We spent a lovely afternoon and they shared many family stories with me. 

My Ancestry.ca DNA matched me up with a paternal niece who lives in Northern British Columbia.  She is the daughter of one of my paternal half brothers.  I was really quite thrilled when I received a message from her saying, “Hello, I guess you are my aunt.”  She contacted me at a time when I really needed to hear that a niece was willing to be in touch. We keep in touch through Facebook and Messenger.  This niece is incredibly talented and creative.  Her quilts are gorgeous.  She owns a fabric/quilting shop. 

Through Ancestry.ca I have met several cousins from my birth mother’s side of the family.  We four cousins, namely Janice, Cynthia, Adie and I, met for brunch on a Sunday in September of 2019.  The four of us had an interesting and entertaining time sharing stories and pictures. 

It is sad when one member of what was once a close family unit decides it is his goal in life to cause problems.  This person began his campaign by declaring to my parents that his child would be their first real grandchild since the other four were adopted.  I don’t think he realized how deeply that comment hurt my parents.  His small-mindedness continued and he thought that causing a rift between my parents and me would be a great idea.  He tried to blackmail me and when that did not work he banned my family and me from his home.  Quite frankly I have no idea why he was so negative about adoption.  He refused to participate in any family activities that took place at my home.  Sadly he together with his wife and another sister who apparently agreed with his tactics managed to split the family apart after the death of my parents.  When I realized how much they despised me I could hardly breathe.  I shed bitter tears when I realized how much this had hurt my two children and my grandson.  My children were adults by this time but my grandson was still a kid.  He grew up believing these people cared about him.  When he realized how little these family members cared about him he was heartbroken.

 My mom passed away in 2006 and my dad passed away in 2010.  When my parents passed away I carried an enormous amount of grief and guilt.  I was grieving the death of my parents but I was also grieving the fact that my family had shattered.  It took time to accept this fracture of my family.  The only way I was able to accept it and deal with it was to distance myself from the people who caused this grief.   Of course at the back of my mind, that evil voice would torment me and whisper, “It must be your fault.”  I knew this was not true but guilt has been a constant battle in my life.

The US National Library of Medicine states and I quote, “During infancy and early childhood, a child attaches to and bonds with the primary care-giver.  Prenatal issues may, ultimately, affect a child’s ability to adjust. The temperament of everyone involved also plays a role.  As a child approaches preschool age, he or she develops magical thinking, that is, the world of fantasy is used to explain that which he or she cannot comprehend.”  When I was a kid and other children would ask me where I came from the story I told them usually had them mesmerized by the time I was done.  My favourite story was that my birth father was a prince in Spain and lived in a beautiful castle by the sea.  I described this castle in great detail including the 100 stairs that led down to an amazing beach and the ocean.  There were terrible people who lived close to my father and his castle and they had threatened to kidnap me.  To save me my father had found a family far away from Spain to adopt me.  To get to my new parents I had to sail across the ocean in a huge ship and then travel on a special train all the way to Winnipeg.  At times a vivid imagination was a great asset.

According to the US National Library of Medicine and the US National Institutes of Health and I quote, “Adoption may make normal childhood issues of attachment, loss and self-image even more complex. Adopted children must come to terms with and integrate both their birth and adoptive families.”  I found the following statement rather interesting and again I quote, “Children who were adopted as infants are affected by the adoption throughout their lives.”  Apparently all adopted children, even infants grieve to some extent the loss of their biological family, their heritage and their culture.  As an adopted child I needed to feel part of the larger family unit.  I needed to claim the heritage and culture of my extended family.  One of my greatest fears was rejection.  If and when I felt rejection I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.  After all, the rejection must have been the result of negative behaviour on my part.  In the late 1980s while living in Alberta my parents came to visit.  During their visit, we travelled to Southern Alberta to visit my first cousin and my mom’s niece.  I had begun tracing my Grandpa G’s ancestors and descendants a few years prior to this visit.  During the course of the visit, my cousin asked me why I was tracing my Grandpa G’s ancestors when this was not my “real” family.  My mother was shocked by this statement and asked her niece, “What family should my daughter be tracing?  This is the only family she knows.”  Quite frankly I too was shocked to realize that there were still members of my extended family who considered me to be an “outsider” and that I was not a “real” member of my Grandpa G’s family.  

Thankfully my Grandpa G. accepted me as his first grandchild.  I was very fortunate to be able to spend many an afternoon with him listening to the stories of his childhood in Russia.  He encouraged me to continue with my genealogy project and was a great help in locating members of his extended family who had remained in the former Soviet Union and members who had immigrated to Paraguay, South America. 

 

[1] Wikipedia, Effects of adoption on the birth mother.

 

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