Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Adoption Experience: The Teenaged-Angst Years

Shortly after my 16th birthday, I began to seriously consider searching for my birth mother. By "seriously consider", I mean, obsess. It was like a switch - as soon as I turned the same age that she was when she gave me up for adoption, I became obsessed with thoughts of the girl she had been.

The girl I now was.

That Spring, I took a job at a Muskokan resort, where I met and  fell hopelessly, recklessly, headlong into love with sensitive, dark-eyed, irresistible Sam. It was a magical time, the way love is at 16 - our hearts connected and childish innocence slipped blissfully away. Throughout the hot and heady days of Summer we played at being grown-up, played with fire, the way that young lovers have since forever.

Even then - perhaps especially then - I thought about her. I wondered if she felt the same way about the boy she'd loved enough that they created life together. Did she love him? Did he love her? Was it like THIS, for her?

I wondered how she felt - how scared she must have been - finding herself pregnant while still a child herself. How did she tell her parents, what did they say, what did her boyfriend - my father - say? Was she happy, in the afterward? Did she regret her choice? Did she ever think of me?

That Fall, I peppered my parents with all of these questions and more, but they couldn't give me a single, satisfying response. The non-identifying information supplied by the Children's Aid was vague and spawned more questions than answers which was the point really, but didn't diminish my sudden, burning need to know her.

And so one night, I wrote a letter, intending to submit it to the Toronto Star's "Have Your Say" section of the weekend newspaper. In it, I stressed that I had no desire to bring back painful memories or to destroy the life she'd built for herself. Nor was I seeking, my "real" parents - I loved my chosen parents very much and was happy with my life. Mostly, I wanted only to see her, meet her....thank her.

I offered what few details I had from Children's Aid, hoping that it might jog some memory,elicit some spark of recognition in the minds of the newspaper's readers.Then, almost as an afterthought, I added my birth name:

"Amanda Ellen B."

Carefully, I copied the letter out using my best handwriting (no keyboard for this girl - it was 1990, after all) and handed it over to my parents to proofread. They were supportive and gentle, as always, and could find little fault with the letter, except for one, tiny detail:

My name.

They knew that my birth mother had named me Amanda Ellen, but had no idea what her last name might have been. Of course they had, I insisted. Otherwise, why would I think that my birth surname began with a "B?" Shrugs. Confusion mixed with absolute certainty: they did not know, had never known and urged me to strike it from the letter.

But in my deepest heart, I was certain and so the initial stayed and the letter got mailed and then, we waited.

And waited and waited and waited.

Into the mailbox, every day it seemed, tumbled letters from strangers, replying to mine. Most expressed their best wishes, some wanted money and a few were downright crazy. But none were from her and as the months passed, my dejection and uncertainty grew. So did my obsession.

Perhaps she hadn't read the letter. Maybe she needed to tell her husband first and was holding out until the Christmas holidays had passed. What if she was travelling out of country on some wild and crazy adventure and her neighbour was collecting her papers all of which she'd read sometime in March....

Obsessed. As Winter and my 17th birthday approached, I was now obsessed with two things:

1. Checking the mailbox, hoping for a letter from my mother, who lived God knew where and whose face I was desperately trying to find, despite the years that separated us.

2. Checking the mailbox, waiting for a letter from Sam, who lived five hours away by train and whose love I was desperately trying to keep, despite the distance that separated us.

When the snow began to fly in earnest, the stream of letters slowed to a trickle and then one day, only silence fell. I was forced to admit that perhaps I had not found her simply because she didn't want to be found. My need to know her was overshadowed by her need NOT to know me.

It was hard. I hadn't realized how very much I'd been banking on her wanting me. Again. Still. It stung my pride, too. Why didn't she want to know me, the daughter she'd borne and selflessly given up? Perhaps her thoughts of me - if she thought of me at all - were that I would only be, had only been, a burden.

I drove myself and my parents crazy with all my theories and ponderings - broke all of our hearts with my disappointment and suddenly shaky sense of self. To escape, I hopped on a train and headed to Sam's for the holidays. Dove into his arms and stayed there - forgetting, basking, healing - until the day before New Year's Eve.

My parents were delighted to have me home. They listened with rapt attention as I spun tale after tale of my time away - where we'd gone, who we'd seen, how much we loved each other...and on and on I went, their chatty, happy, slightly-crazy daughter, returned.

Finally winding down from the long trip home and even longer update, I sat on the stairs, ready to say goodnight and haul myself off to bed. And then, casually, oh so casually, my Mum fixed me with a look I'd never seen before. Sensing a secret, I tossed a quizzical glance at my Dad, whose eyes were suddenly dancing.

"By the way, Elizabeth, " she said, drawing the words out slowly, through her Mona Lisa smile, " We're having some special guests this week."

"Oh, yeah?" I smiled tiredly through a yawn.

"We received a very interesting phone call yesterday, " my Dad began, gazing idly at the amber liquid in his glass, letting the moment build as I waited for the rest of the story.

I waited. And waited. And waited...

"A man called Jerry rang, asking if we had a daughter named Elizabeth..."

"Your mother," blurted my Mum, unable to contain her excitement any longer, "She's coming for lunch on Tuesday!"

I blinked.

And just like that, the wait was over and life as we knew it would never, ever be the same.


  1. I LOVE this story. Love love love it. My favorite part? About the quizzical look you shot your dad, and his eyes dancing. LOVE it. <3

  2. Can't you just SEE his eyes dancing, in your mind's eye? How they sat through my babbling, when they were holding onto to such an awesome secret, I'll never know.

    Thanks for loving it as much as I do!

  3. You're an amazing writer! I had to take a quick peek at your blog before work this morning and now that my eyes are glazed over, I feel I should have waited! lol

  4. So glad to "see" you here, Tracy! Drink coffee FIRST, Grasshopper - that will guide you through your days with clear eyes!

  5. I just read this...and cried. You are a beautiful writer, with an even more amazing story to tell.
    Hugs, my friend for your Aunt. <3 <3