Category Archives: Adoptee Stories

Adoption Story: “What If,” 38 Years Following Reunion

I know my birth father never held me before I was given up for adoption because he didn’t come to the hospital the day I was born, but I don’t know if my birth mother ever had the opportunity. I never got to ask her because she died when I was seven years old, long before I learned her identity. I’ve consulted psychics to find out. One said yes but the other said no—she wasn’t prepared to give me up and stood staring out an old hospital room window that day. The nuns and her mother made her do it.

At one point, years ago, I even tried age regression hypnosis. In my session, the hypnotist took me back to my birth. I felt her reach for me, but the hospital staff wouldn’t let her hold me. I was consumed with the most profound grief after that experience, the depths of which I knew must be real.

All the people who could have answered my questions are gone now. I was 23 years old when I found my birth family, and I met my granny only twice. She seemed sweet, but she was also quiet and stoic, and I felt she was holding back. I was so anxious to be accepted that I was afraid to ask too many questions. I didn’t want her to think I was rude, regret my return, and not want to be my granny anymore. She told me that I had lots of dark hair when I was born. This surprised me because I was completely bald and looked like a boy when I was adopted at 3½ months old.

I wish I had asked if she was in the room when I was born or if she had seen my dark hair through the nursery glass. I also wanted to know if my mother had hidden away when she was pregnant with me. Why didn’t she keep me? Did she even want to? Did she love me? But I feared that prying would bring up old wounds; after all, my granny had lost her only daughter to a brain aneurysm when she was just 30 years old. I would have done anything to feel a sense of belonging when I met Granny, even if it meant not fulfilling my deepest wish, which was to learn about my mother.  That was 38 years ago, and I still regret not having enough courage to ask more questions.

A few weeks ago, my birth father passed away. It was unexpected, and I was on a plane to Canada within 11 hours of hearing he had been taken off the ventilator. It took two days to get there with delayed flights and lost bags. I was afraid I’d miss the chance to be with him. He was supposed to pass within three hours but lived an additional three-and-a-half days after my arrival. That was just like him. He didn’t want to put anyone out, was always taking care of everyone, and didn’t want to leave his wife. Who would tie her shoes and bring her food at the Senior Center?  He was a good and honest man, a father I would have loved to grow up with.

When I had asked him about my birth years earlier, he didn’t offer many details other than that he wasn’t there. I wish I had tried to have the conversation a second time. I wanted to know why he didn’t come to see me at the hospital when Granny called him. All he’d ever said was that she wanted him to pay the hospital bill but didn’t want him to have anything to do with me.

I also wonder if Granny didn’t mention that I was being given up for adoption. Maybe my birth father thought he would have a chance to meet me some other day. But that still doesn’t explain why he didn’t want to see me right away when I was born. Wasn’t he curious? Didn’t he think I was worth paying the medical bill for? Had I possessed more courage, I would have asked those questions in hope of receiving a more detailed answer.

I will never understand his actions at the time of my birth, but I do know that he acted differently later on. Because he knew how important it was to me, he went through the red tape of providing my birth mother’s death certificate and giving his permission as my father to release my previously sealed adoption records. He also obtained my original birth certificate, which contained my real name, Gloria Debra Reed, and my birth mother’s real signature, Ida Celina Reed. It was he who told me that I was conceived on Halloween.

It was in 1980 when he stepped off the plane in Sacramento to meet me for the first time. His wife and I didn’t tell him that a camera crew was waiting for him at the airport to interview us for a series on adoption. She told him the secret just as he was standing up to depart the plane. He was already nervous even before that. He wasn’t like me; he was shy, soft-spoken, and humble.

He looked like Elvis in his younger years. Women swooned when they saw him. Some asked to take his picture, which always embarrassed him. Even in his 80s, he still looked youthful and was active. He was always busy fixing things and making sure everyone was taken care of. My siblings were lucky to have him for their father.

While I was with family during my birth father’s final days, I heard many wonderful stories about him—stories about events I hadn’t experienced. Sitting at his bedside with my siblings, holding his hand, praying and crying during those days, I realized that they were crying for all the memories they had with him. I was crying for the ones I’d missed.

I had a lot of time to reflect in that hospital room, and for the first time, I let myself indulge in “what if?” What if my father had gone to the hospital? What if his interest had made my mother want to keep me? What if she had brought me home and I had been her daughter for seven years? Would I have been a different woman, felt less insecure, made better choices? Would I have gone to live with my father after she passed away? Like my siblings, would I have gotten to experience having a dad who taught me to drive and fish? Would we have attended hockey games together and spent weekends at the cabin? Would my father have been a friend to my friends? Bought me my first home? I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t have any of that with Daddy, my adopted father.

At the funeral home, while we were making arrangements for the cremation, gathering death certificates, and collecting other documents, the director asked if my birth father had a will. He did. It had been made nine months earlier, when his dementia worsened and he needed surgery for a pacemaker. I don’t know why, but I asked to see it as it was being passed around. I didn’t expect to receive anything; it wasn’t about that. I just wanted to see his name, touch the last tangible thing belonging to my father. When I glanced at the first paragraph, it listed his name and the full names of all his children. But mine was missing. I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut and quickly handed the will back, pretending not to notice. I sat through the rest of the meeting in a daze. I wasn’t listed as his child in this final document. It crushed me.

All I have of him—besides my straight hair, thin legs, and youthful skin—are some photos, a few videos, the patient wristband he wore in his final days, and the blue file that his wife gave me the day I flew home.“Here, this is yours,” she said as she pushed it toward me. This felt so final, like I was being dismissed, handed the last of my belongings. To soften it, she said, “ I’ve been getting rid of things.” I nodded and flipped through it without seeing the contents. Trying to hide my shock, I said, “Oh, thank you.” In my hand I held the remnants of our life together. On the outside of the folder, he had written in black felt pen, “Monica’s Files.” Inside was a list of all my old addresses and phone numbers, along with my children’s names and birthdates. There were copies of the adoption papers he had obtained for me and all the letters I had sent him over the years, including one where I thanked him for the money I had used to buy a TV when I was a single mother. He even kept copies of the American funds money orders he sent for holidays and my children’s birthdays.

While spending those last days in the hospital with my birth father, I sought out the area where the old nursery wing had been. I wanted to experience the space where I had last been with my mother, hoping to feel some closeness to her. I also wanted to see what my birth father hadn’t. The old hospital had been expanded and modernized, so I didn’t know if the wing would still be there—or, if it were, whether it would be recognizable as a nursery ward. When I crossed the bridge connecting the buildings, I was surprised to find it abandoned and dim though mostly unchanged, illuminated by only a few fluorescent lights at the far end of the hall.

I was hoping to see the window my mother had looked from that day. I wondered what she saw and what she had been thinking. I also wondered if she had wanted my father to be there. I tried the doors to what had been the patient rooms, but they were locked. The nursery wing looked to have been turned into an office. The large baby-viewing window, with its 50s-style wire meshed glass, had since been frosted and was no longer see-through. A single nursery sign still hung above a door where I may have once slept: Nursery 37.

As I looked down the empty hall, I imagined the day my mother left me there, her soft footsteps on the speckled mosaic floor as she passed, blue eyes avoiding the patient rooms with their bright windows and new mothers feeding bundles of joy while the fathers sat at the bedside to admire their new families. I pictured busy nurses rushing by, ogling visitors who stood at the nursery glass, a kaleidoscope of life moving all around my mother, people unaware of her sacrifice as she made her way to the elevator and her life without me. It was both the furthest I’ve ever been from her and the closest I have ever felt to her.

My father and I came full circle at the hospital that week. Even though he wasn’t there at the beginning of my life, I was there at the end of his. It felt complete somehow. I am grateful for those sleep-deprived days because I was able to make peace with my mother, too. I learned that grief is a shapeshifter. It changes based on the circumstances, but never really goes away.

 

 

 

The Missing Piece

Even when I was young, I was compelled to know my biological family, a quality that is absent in many of the adopted people I know. It makes me wonder if my aboriginal Cree ancestry has something to do with my deep need to understand my roots. The Cree were a nomadic people who traveled and lived together and had a deep bond with their extended families—unlike my adopted family. We were isolated and living in Alaska, far away from California, the birthplace of my adopted parents and their limited smattering of relations. I had no link to grandparents, cousins, or the place I called “home.” I loved my adopted family, but I craved a connection to something bigger—something Florence and Howard Hall couldn’t provide.

I was 22 when I joined the Adoptee Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) and began searching for my birth parents. It was a time before the Internet, open adoption records, and open minds. My original birth certificate was sealed and I was incensed to be denied my birthright, the most basic of human rights and the truth of my origin. Still, I knew I had been adopted from a foster home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when I was three-and-a-half months old. That was something. I also had access to my adoption order, which listed my original name—the name my birth mother gave me. The name she spoke with her lips, the name she wrote on that paper with her own hand. I was Gloria Debra Reed.

At the time of my adoption, my parents were given a document containing non-identifying information about my birth parents. That document was the only thing that tethered me to my origin. From it, I learned that my birth mother was a member of a large Catholic family and had six brothers (but no sisters). It stated that her heritage was Irish—something I later found to be untrue—and my birth father was French, also untrue. Since Reed wasn’t a French surname, I concluded that my mother was unmarried at the time of my birth.

After countless dead-ends, I contacted the Edmonton library to obtain the phone book listings. I hoped that one of my birth mother’s brothers might remain in Edmonton. I called each Reed with a made-up story; I didn’t want to cause problems for her family in case my birth and adoption were a secret. I also worried that one of the family members would provide misinformation and block me from finding my birth mother.

“Hello, I’m Monica Hall calling from California. I’m doing genealogy research. My grandfather told me that I have some distant relatives in Edmonton with the last name of Reed. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” All the responses were positive, so I continued. “My grandfather told me that the Reeds are Catholic and there were six boys and one girl in the family. They would be somewhere in their 50s now. Are you from that family? Or do you know of that family?” Without exception, each person I spoke to was welcoming and helpful—but not one of them was related to my birth mother.

I had called all of the Reeds listed in the Edmonton phone book that morning, approximately 60 in all, but some of the calls weren’t answered. In the evening, I once again dialed the numbers. I was standing in my bedroom with the phone pressed to my ear when I heard my uncle’s voice for the first time. “Yah, yah,” he said. “There are six boys and one girl in our family.” My heart raced and my whole body trembled because I knew I was talking to my flesh-and-blood uncle. He had company and needed to cut the conversation short, but he told me to call back in a few days.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Anxiously, I lay awake as every possible scenario crop-dusted my mind. Would my uncle deny my birth? Would I soon hear my mother’s voice? What did she look like? Did I resemble her? Was she happy? Would she cry when she found out I’d contacted her brother? Had she told her family about me?

I called him back the very next evening. After a brief chit-chat, I said, “Pat, I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

“No?”

“Does the name Gloria Debra Reed mean anything to you?”

He paused a moment and then said, “No.”

“Well, I’m Gloria Debra Reed, and with all the information you’ve given me, I have reason to believe that your sister Ida is my natural mother. I was given up for adoption.”

Silence. My heart was in my throat. He said nothing for a few moments, and then, “Hold on.” I later found out that he had set the phone down to ask his wife if she knew anything about my birth. As I waited, questions raced through my mind. Where did he go? What is he doing? Is he running away? Is he thinking of a lie? My birth mother was so close. She couldn’t slip away from me now.

After what seemed like an eternity, he came back to the phone. In a matter-of-fact way, and with a playful rhyming cadence, he said, “Evidently…I’m your uncle.” I had never felt so elated in my whole life. Nothing compared to the feeling of knowing my birth mother was in sight.

For years, I had yearned to talk with her. I had dreamt of meeting her and asking questions—most importantly, why? But my uncle told me it wouldn’t be possible. She had passed away from a brain aneurysm when she was 30, leaving behind my three young siblings.

The first of many visits to Canada quickly ensued, and I discovered a clan of family that had settled around Lac Ste. Anne (first called Manitou Sakhahigan, Lake of the Spirit) in the 1880s. That was a time when the government and province gave aboriginal people a bit of money and land to relinquish their native rights. My great grandparents, Kohkom and Mosom (Cree for “grandmother” and “grandfather”), had settled on 160 acres. The land is still in the family, and there are annual reunions on that property, complete with a tepee.

My birth father’s family had settled on the other side of the same lake, and every year 30 to 40 thousand aboriginal people travel from all across North America to attend the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage for spiritual and cultural rejuvenation, and for the healing contained in the lake’s waters. This event happens to fall on my birthday.

I knew I belonged the instant I met my family and the moment my feet hit the ground where my ancestors had walked. The connection was immediate—I was home. I soon learned that, like me, my birth mother loved fashion. She was also gregarious and generous. And she had wanted desperately to keep me. I also learned that she thought no one would want to adopt me if she revealed my aboriginal heritage because of the intense racism and prejudice during that time. Shortly after she gave me up, she met the man she would marry and then tried to get me back—but I was out of her reach. Her husband told me that she cried herself to sleep every night, pining for me until she died.

When I picture my birth mother grieving for me during those few years before she died, I can feel her pain because I had given my own daughter up for adoption when I was fifteen years old. Before I was reunited with my daughter, I often wondered if she was OK. When she was little, I feared that I would never know if she died or if something bad happened to her. Many times, I saw children playing in a schoolyard and wondered if my daughter was among them. On her birthdays, I always sat in a dark place and concentrated, sending her love, knowing that we could somehow connect through the ether. I knew she would be thinking about her birth mother on her birthday, just like I thought about my birth mother on my own birthdays.

It’s interesting to anylyze the fathers I picked for the two children that I got to keep. Becca’s father has seven siblings and Quin’s father has five. It’s as if I subconsciously picked men with large families so my daughter and son would have the connection that I hungered for. Reunifying with my birth family filled a huge portion of that hole, but it also created a different kind of emptiness. There are no words for the deep ache and longing I feel when I see my birth family’s Facebook posts, photos and text depicting events that I am absent from. That emptiness will never be totally filled; it’s not in my destiny. My home is here in Sacramento with my adopted family, my two children, and my grandson. I could never leave them, and I wouldn’t want to.

I was reunited with Mary Claire, the daughter I gave up for adoption, when she turned 18. During one of her visits, I slipped out of the house for a late-night walk while the kids were asleep. The air was brisk and cool on my cheeks, the moon was bright, and the streets were still. But something felt odd. It was a feeling of warmth and peace, something I had never experienced before. I felt complete, like the last puzzle piece had clicked into place. All my babies were safely under my roof. I hadn’t even recognized that particular emptiness until it was filled. I had lived with that hole for so long it had become normal.Mary Claire, has two daughters, and lives over 2000 miles away from me. She longs for her birth mother just as I do. She called me the other day when she was emotional and needed some advice. She said, “I wish I could just come over for a cup of coffee.”

A number of years ago, we took the trip of a lifetime to the land of my roots. It was a dream come true. I traveled with my three children. Mary Claire was even brought her two-year-old daughter. We were also with my birth mother’s daughter, Sharon, my life-and-blood sister.

We attended the Pilgrimage and met many of my birth father’s relations. Standing out amidst the throngs of pilgrims, I’ll never forget the glow of pride and joy on his face as he guided us into the lake for a blessing. Later, we traveled to the other side of the lake and visited Kohkom and Mosom’s farm, where my siblings had run barefoot, spoken Cree, and spent their early childhoods surrounded by aunties, uncles, and cousins.

I stood in the middle of the meadow that July afternoon, surrounded by birch, alder, and poplar trees, amongst the tall, translucent blades of grass as they waved in the breeze. It was as if my ancestors were welcoming me home. In the middle of the clearing were the old well and the dilapidated home that had once been a place of music, dancing, and laughter. I collected pieces of the flowered linoleum that my ancestors had danced on and scraps of wallpaper that whispered their songs. I also collected pieces of wood from the house and wildflowers from the land. I later pressed them between pages of a book about the area’s history.

That day, in the warm summer breeze, I stood perfectly still while the meadow’s fresh scent kissed my face and enveloped me in the perfect moment. The sound of my children and granddaughter’s laughter as they bounded through the tall grass filled me with peace. All the missing parts were in one place. I knew I was finally at home. I was complete.