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.”
“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 is now 44, 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.”
Nine 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.