Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Lives Collide: Meeting My Birth Mother

January 1st, 1991.

At 8:00 a.m. I was up, dressed and staring out the front windows, waiting for an unfamiliar car to pull into the drive.

My birth mother and her husband were due at noon and to say that I was giddy with anticipation would be the understatement of the century. Giddy, I was. I was also scared to death but trying hard not to show it.

But my Dad knew better. He handed me a cup of tea before settling down next to me, more appropriately dressed in his well-loved, suddenly achingly-familiar housecoat.

"What do you  think my father's name is?" I blurted out, my voice too loud in the morning quiet. "I think it's Gus. Short for Augustus."

"I don't know. We never knew that, Elizabeth, " he answered quietly. "How about Biff?"

And then we burst out laughing because really, when the only life you know is about to be forever altered and rearranged, what else is there to do?

* * *

Noon. A stranger's car turned into the lane and up the driveway while I began a slow panic:

"What do I do? What am I doing? What do I say? What do I do?" I turned in circles, flapping and fussing, trying not to cry. Failing miserably. When one's most fervent wish is about to come true, it's a bit overwhelming. Trust me.

"Elizabeth!" My Mum used her "teacher voice", effectively bringing my meltdown to a swift halt. "First, calm down. You're going to freak her out and she's likely already feeling nervous. Go upstairs. Wash your face. Wait in your room until I call."

And so I did.

Downstairs, my Dad guided M.E. into the house, while my Mum chattered happily away, as if her daughter's mother showed up on the doorstep every day. I have never been prouder of her, actually. She was a superstar.

And then, finally - all too soon - Mum called up and I came down and tumbled blindly into M.E.'s arms where we rocked and cooed to one another, surrounded by my parents and her husband, all of whom were crying.

Finally, I pulled back to look at her face - MY face, only older  - and grinned: "So, how've you been?"

* * *

We spent the day trading photos and stories and discovering the serendipitious nature of the universe:

M.E. recognized my Mum as the Choir Mistress from church and my Dad thought her husband looked familiar, which in the end, he was: Throughout my whole childhood, a farmer's field separated our two families - neither of which started out in Bowmanville, but both of which called it "home."

I learned that I bore an uncanny resemblance to an auntie's sons and that they too, lived in Bowmanville. In fact, it was Auntie N's high school best friend who read my letter to the Star and called Auntie N in a  happy dither, exclaiming, "I know where The Baby is. I've found The Baby!"

(Incidentally, P, whose sharp eye caught the "Amanda Ellen B" part of my letter? Went blind a year later. P. remains a warm and cherished part of the family - and one the most miraculous parts of our story.)

N. waited until Christmas Eve, when she pulled M.E. aside and handed her an unmarked envelope, containing a miraculous secret. M.E. and her husband spent the Christmas holidays working out how best to approach me and how to tell their two daughters that I existed.

Jerry made the intitial call, after Christmas, ending his planned introduction with this: "I believe that my wife is your daughter's mother."

Years later, M.E. told me that there was a full minute of silence before my Dad politely replied: "Would you hold the line an moment, please? I'll just go and get my wife..."

A minute later, my Mum came on the line, excited and congratulatory asking when were they coming to visit and wouldn't Elizabeth ,who wasn't home at the moment, what a pity, be happy? In the background, my Dad was frantically holding up hastily-written notes, asking for proof, which Jerry and M.E. eagerly offered:

A tiny white bible from my Mum to my mother, forwarded by the Children's Aid. And a hand-written, unsigned letter saying, "Thank you."

* * *

Some other things I discovered the day my mother came for lunch:

I share her laugh, the way she clasps her hands, crosses her legs and tells a story.
Her daughters were shocked to learn that their mother had given birth to another child, but were looking forward to meeting me, just as soon as I could wrap my head around their existence. Sisters!
Every year on my birthday, my aunties would secretly light a candle and send up a prayer and wishes for happiness.
The gap between my two front teeth is entirely hereditary.
Ditto the need for eyeglasses, the love of words, laughter, wine and family.

And most interestingly:

My surname began with "B"
Bio-father's name is Gus. Short for Augustus.
Like the fairy princess mother of my childhood fantasies,  M.E. did indeed have long red hair.

What's YOUR story? Do you remember the day you were SO proud of your parent(s)?


  1. When is your book deal!!!!


  2. Great story. Sounds like an amazing experience.

  3. Ohhhh, Liz! How I love this moment, put down on paper! <3

  4. Thanks for loving the story - it's one I never tire of telling, yet have never written down, until now.

    Am now waiting for the parental reactions - so far, they've all be oddly quiet.

  5. I love this story. My mother was adopted and has very much struggled her whole life with feeling "unwanted." I am glad to see a happy adoption experience. And such supportive and loving parents!

  6. My parents are truly amazing. I don't think that my story is the norm, sadly. It's more of the exception, as a LOT of adoptees struggle with feeling unloved or unwanted - at birth and sometimes, again later in life. I wish your mum peace and acceptance.

  7. Amazing Liz! No wonder you are such an awesome person, all of your parents are incredible.

  8. i shouldn't read your blog when i'm on the run - now i'm teary and emotional. beautiful as always-. I love all that you write but please take this story and let it be your first novel- it is beautiful.

  9. Sarah ....

    How the hell did you know his name is Gus?

    Love your writing, and I agree with those above - you need to get your novel out there!


  10. I dunno, Sarah. It was like a tingle - I just KNEW. Same way I KNEW that that my surname began with "B".

    Weird, but true.

  11. Ok Belly... I have read all of your blogs in the last couple of weeks, and was going to wait until I was finished before commenting... but, I can't wait any longer!!! Beautiful Liz, I have only spent a few fleeting moments with you (weddings, etc), and during those moments I know that I really liked you. Now after reading all of your posts, I must admit that I absolutely adore you! I have soaked up every word of yours, and spent more than one occasion crying at my desk at work. I sincerely wish that our paths could cross again, but sadly I will have to simply enjoy your words on facebook and on your blog - now that our "Bowmanville" connection has been severed. You are a very special woman Bellymonster, and I feel very lucky to have met you.

  12. Aw, Mel.

    I knew from the moment I met you that I liked you, too. Truly.

    Thanks for your kind words and for reading. I LOVE knowing that I make you cry. Erm...well, you know what I mean. It tells me that I chose the right words.

    Our paths will always overlap, sweet girl. Our combined awesomeness is not so easily torn asunder. And if you were to invite me to a wedding? I'd be there. With little bells. And killer heels. And a speech to make you cry.

    Just sayin'.


  13. This is an amazig story. I am floored by your compassion, and love for the mother that you never knew. My younger brother and sister are adopted (they are twins, and only 7). I wonder how they will feel as they grow... any advice on how to raise them into adults with as much grace as you? Wow.

  14. Thanks for reading, You Mum!

    I cannot take credit for the compassion - I have two mothers who made it so. Mostly, I credit my mum - she is truly, truly one-of-a-kind - for believing that it was always my right to seek my own story and her privilege to help me do so.

    I also think that adoptive parents should never let their own fear and insecurities affect how they deal with their child's curiosity. My parents were open and loving from the beginning and so I grew up knowing that I was especially loved. Having that foundation was crucial, I think.

    Do your siblings ever ask about their bio-family? How do your parents respond if/when they do?

    Hope you return to answer - am keen to follow their/your journey!

  15. Incredible, amazing, wonderful story, Liz. It must have been such an emotional time. What a life gift! What parents. What a family! Wow..

  16. Thanks so much, Pam! It IS a wonderful story and I am very, very blessed. I'm not sure what I did to deserve all of them, but I am so thankful.

    I do think, however, that my adoption/reunion experiences are both exceptional - most reunions are not held in the adoptive parents' home, with their blessings. Nor do bio/adoptive relationships always grow and blend and thrive the way my relationship with M.E. has.

    That said, we have all worked hard to love one another, through and despite everything.

    'Round here, it's how we roll! :)