The Only Available Option
By Tammy Scott-Wallace
The pain still runs so deep it hurts.
“I didn’t have a choice,” says Lily, who asked to use a false name for this interview. “I was only 16, my father was well known in the church community and it was seen as a complete disgrace for me to be in the position I was in.” Certainly Lily has regrets about some of the decisions she made as a rebellious teenager, but none more than giving her baby girl up for adoption.
“I used to feel that I deserved to be lonely the rest of my life,” she admits. “I soon carried on and I have had a good life, but I will never forget her little doll face.” The family who adopted Lily’s newborn was an acquaintance of her family’s. She learned that when the baby was less than two years old, she passed away from an unknown illness.
Lily was later married and had three sons.
“I guess I had my chance for a little girl,” the Moncton area woman says.
Lily’s story of the struggle that follows adoption is not uncommon. And while no one would argue that at times adoption is the best decision for the future of the baby, the memories that come for moms who felt the baby grow inside her for nine months aren’t easily forgotten.
Marie Crouse is the executive director of Parent Finders New Brunswick, a non-profit organization for adult adoptee, birth parents and birth relatives in search of their roots.
Her crusade to help birth families reconnect began about 20 years ago as she worked with the organization to find the daughter she placed for adoption in the 1960s.
“For me, it was the ’60s and I was 15 and unmarried. If I didn’t sign the papers I couldn’t go home,” Marie explains.
For two weeks after giving birth in Saint John’s Evangeline Maternity Home, Marie was required to stay and care for her newborn daughter for what she believes was to “teach a lesson” to the young women. Then she was sent back home while her daughter was handed over to her new parents.
“Back then we had no choice,” Marie says. “In my case, it was the best thing. At 15 I wouldn’t have been a good mother.”
That baby girl was the only child Marie ever gave birth to. She and her husband were unable to have children but over the years they welcomed more than 100 foster kids into their home. They adopted two of the children.
But for years she looked for the daughter she gave up. She registered with the province’s Post-Adoption Disclosure Services and called for updates monthly but there was never any news. Then after hearing of Parent Finders she contacted the organization and pursued tirelessly.
“We turned over every rock and hard place but we could not find her,” she says. Marie finally learned her daughter had moved to the United States many years earlier with her adopted family.
Then in 1993, fate played its cards, Marie believes.
Her birth daughter was living in Vermont and out of work. When she went to the unemployment office there a staff person started to make enquiries about her family for which her birth daughter had no answer.
“I would never try to make up for the 34 years we were apart,” Marie says. “I understand that I gave her life but I’m not her mom.
“But for me, I describe my heart as a pie. Until I found that missing piece, my heart wouldn’t have been complete.”
The birth mother and daughter (Carolynee Getchell) stay connected by phone and email between their long distance homes.
“I think the typical relationship people can expect when they find their birth relative is friendship. The typical isn’t seeing each other every week or calling each other every week, but staying connected. At first there are a lot of conversations or meetings because there are so many questions to be answered, but once that’s done, you can relax.
“For me, now I know she is alright. When her birthday rolls around I don’t have to wonder if she’s alive, or if she’s married, or if she’s happy.” Little ironies often creep up between adoptees and their birth families when they meet. Both Marie and her birth daughter work as executive assistants, for example.
With more than 200 family connections to Marie’s credit, she says most of her searches have happy endings.
“I have only met a handful of birth mothers who said they don’t want anything to do with it,” Marie says. “I would say close to 90 per cent of reconnections work out well. Most people want nothing more than to say they looked their birth parent or the child they gave birth to in the eye.”
The first step birth relatives should take in their search is to contact the government office of Post Adoption Disclosure Services to request non- identifying information.
Sometimes the wait is long, usually in the three to nine month period, but when that document is received, for birth parents or birth siblings, this non- identifying information usually reveals information on the adoptive parents such as their age and educational level, the length of their marriage, whether they had other children, their motivation to adopt, their religion and interests as well as other information considered non-identifying.
That information is taken at the time of the adoption and therefore is not current.
After the non-identifying information is received, there is a part on the correspondence that asks the birth relative if they are interested in being placed in the provincial post-adoption registry.
After approval is given, staff with the registry can cross reference their data base and if the adoptee or adoptive parent is also searching, a call will be made to both parties involved to ask if they are interested in their identifying information, such as name, address and phone number, being passed on to the other person.
If the answer is no on either end the search discontinues at the provincial level.
If both parties are not registered with this service, then the request remains in the provincial system for years to come in the possible event that a match is eventually made.
The Parent Finders registry is another route worth exploring.
Currently there are 3,500 names registered and placed online.
There is no charge to be placed on this registry, however, an active search can be requested for a fee of $50, which sends volunteers with Parents Finders on a search through documents such newspaper stories and obituaries in an attempt to make a connection.
If a match is made between the adoptee and a birth relative then Parent Finders contacts each party to ask if they are interested in their information being shared, and for the first several meetings or correspondence, a volunteer with Parent Finders can act as the facilitator to ensure both parties feel secure before their personal information is shared.
Since Marie took over as volunteer executive director in 1998, she and her team of volunteers have connected about 200 families.
Post-Adoption Disclosure Services can provide the non-identifying information, but only if the adoption was done legally.
More and more stories of illegal adoptions are shared from decades ago when young women, faced with the shame of having a child out of wedlock, chose speedy, and sometimes illegal adoption of their baby, often outside the province, and sometimes outside of the country.
If you are a birth relative looking for a child given up for adoption, forms and information can be obtained by contacting Post Adoption Disclosure Services at 506-453-2949, email firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the department’s website at http://www.gnb.ca/0017/index-e.asp Parent Finders New Brunswick can also help with this search by contacting www.geocities.com/pfnbca, emailing Marie Crouse at email@example.com or calling her at 1-506-375- 6660.
Tammy Scott-Wallace is a staff writer for the Moncton Times-Transcript.
Originally published in the Times-Transcript, October 2006. Reprinted with the author’s permission.