Reflections on my birthday

I am struggling with my upcoming birthday. It’s not for the usual reasons of increasing age and facing one’s mortality. It goes much, much deeper than that. My actual day of birth set a course for my life that would see me never fitting in and perpetually on the outside looking in. I don’t mean to come off as overly dramatic and those of you who know me in real life know that my feet are generally firmly planted on terra firma.

My birth day, the first day of my life, I was rejected because powerful forces in my mother’s life dictated that I was to be given away. I then languished at the Grace Hospital in Calgary until the end of October when I was finally adopted. My birth mother was not from Calgary. She was from the lower mainland of BC as was my father. When my maternal grandmother found out that my mother was pregnant she made an appointment with an illegal abortion provider for my mother. My birth mother went, but decided she could not do what her mother was asking of her. Instead, she was sent away as ‘respectable church-going people’ didn’t have babies out of wedlock in 1965.

My birth mother was 21 when I was born. She had suffered some bizarre things in pregnancy like nasal hemorrhaging. She told me she was scared and she wished that her mother was there with her. After my birth, she stayed in Calgary for a couple of days and then went home. When we met, she related to me that she had been depressed all through her 20s. She married but it only lasted 6 weeks and she never had another relationship. She hated her mother and resenting helping her as she aged. But this story is not really about her.

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Me trying to keep my hands clean in a gardening family.

The family I was adopted by seemed to be the complete opposite of me. They were tall, I am not. I am fat, they were not (except for my mother). They were blonde, I was not. I looked nothing like them. Fundamentally, we dealt with the world in very different ways. They would get angry and begin to yell and I retreated into my head to come up with intellectual coping mechanisms. This meant that as soon as they went emotional, I cried. I couldn’t cope with the constant onslaught of unregulated emotional outbursts. So, I walked on egg shells, being very careful not to set anyone off. Of course, I failed miserably at this endeavour. I am sure this is the root of my anxiety.

My grandmother, sister and me

I stand out like a sore thumb.

As soon as I was old enough to understand how newspapers worked, I would search in vain on my birthday to see if she remembered and had sent a message through the personal ads. I would conjure up no end of fantasy in which, she would reach out to me, tell me it had all been a mistake and she would take me away.

It has now been 5 years since I found my biological family. I am now surrounded by them. My mother is in Vancouver, father in Richmond, a ½ brother in Surrey, another in Fort St. John, and more extended family in Port Coquitlam.

I have made contact with my mother. It didn’t go well. She doesn’t want a relationship. She even disconnected her phone. I am assuming she did this so that I didn’t call her once a year. My father is in a care home. His wife doesn’t respond to emails anymore, so I can take that hint. One of my ½ brothers reached out to me but then dropped off the face of earth as far as communication with me goes. The other one, I have no idea about. I know he has 2 kids (thank you Facebook). I often think about reaching out but I am so weary of rejection.

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My grandfather and me. I have been told that I put the basket on his head and he loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really believe that my mother’s rejection of me at birth set off some immutable facts in my life. Spending the first 4 months of my life in a hospital meant that I didn’t really attach to anyone until much later in childhood. I am not sure that I ever really did attach properly. Even the story of my adoption, as told by my parents is not one of cuddly love. Apparently, both of my parents thought I was the ugliest baby there but each thought the other wanted to adopt me. So, they adopted me. I am told though that as soon as my maternal grandfather saw me, he thought I was the most beautiful baby he’d ever seen. Sadly, he died when I was 2.

It’s really not difficult to understand why I have never felt like I fit in or that people like me. My whole origin story is one of rejection and negative thoughts about my physical appearance. Sometimes, I am not really sure who adoption serves. I recognized that it is a necessary think in our society as long as people have children for whom they cannot care. I am reminded of something I heard in a First Nations workshop last year. In those cultures, children can be raised by other members in the family for many reasons. They never lose touch with their biological parents, culture and tradition. Perhaps there is something to learn there.

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Published in: on June 9, 2017 at 2:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Kayla Bourque redux

There has been a lot interesting comment on Kayla Bourque’s situation. Some of the comments I have received show a great deal of anger and misunderstanding of how our legal system works and the role personality disorders play in mental health. There are no easy answers in this type of situation however we must be mindful that fear and emotion do not drive the discussion.

Personality disorders fall on Axis II of the DSM. Wikipedia defines personality disorders as: “are a class of personality types and enduring behaviors associated with significant distress or disability, which appear to deviate from social expectations particularly in relating to other humans” (emphasis mine). I find it quite interesting that personality disorders are defined as behaviors that deviate from social expectations. It makes sense though when you realize that some behaviors, which may well be maladaptive in our society, may be extremely adaptive in other cultures.[1] Bourque has been diagnosed as having anti-social and sociopathic personality disorder. Human beings turn out as social creatures because our parents or caregivers nurture us and meet our needs. When a child fails to attach in a meaningful way they can, like dogs and cats, become feral. This may well be part of what happened to Bourque in a Romanian orphanage. When Canadians adopted children from these places many experts warned that these children may well be quite damaged and struggle in our society. I am sure there are far more successes than Kayla Bourques who came out of those places. I suspect that there is a necessary set of conditions that causes someone to become an animal killer. If Bourque had attached as an infant she may well have still struggled to some extent.

Personality disorders differ from mental illnesses, as they are innate. Mental illness is something that, in many cases, can be transient either through treatment or time. Personality disorders are with people for life. Sometimes the debilitating effects can be mitigated through intensive counselling and education however the prognosis is quite poor. Bourque really does not understand that what she has done is wrong. She is a predator. Given the opportunity she will likely kill someone as research has shown where the path she is on will lead. Will counselling help Bourque? I don’t think it is likely. She lacks compassion and empathy.

Our legal system is pretty clear on how this will play out. Canadian citizens have rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Amongst those rights is the right ‘not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.’ Our legal system is a reactionary; a crime is committed, a person arrested and charged. There are no provisions to lock someone up because they might commit a crime. So as much as our knee-jerk reaction is to want to lock her up forever we simply cannot justify it.

I commend the judge in this case who is taking the time to craft a set of parole conditions that will keep the public safe. In all likelihood Bourque will not be able to abide by these strict conditions and will end up back in jail. Once her parole is over she will no longer have restrictions on her liberty. It will then be up to the police to track her movements and hopefully keep society safe. I am sure this will come at significant cost to taxpayers. Personally, I think it will be money well spent.


[1] Now before anyone assumes that I think it is adaptive to kill and torture animals, I am not saying that in any way.

Published in: on December 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Adoption – Who does it really serve? (Part 1)

I have been thinking a great deal about adoption in 2012. This was the year that I took the bold step of actually finding my biological parents. I had a great deal wrapped up in this process although if you asked me at the time I would have said I was prepared for any eventuality.  During my childhood, I did not think about what my biological father would be like. I was fairly convinced that he didn’t know or wasn’t interested. After all I was a pretty smart kid, questioning the existence of God at age 6, so I got the lay of the land young. It was clear to me that it was women who bore the responsibility for raising children. Husbands and fathers may be there for a time but they don’t always live up to their responsibilities in a meaningful way. My adoptive family was female-centered with very few male role models. It is no wonder I came to the conclusion I did.

I did think about her a lot. I imagined that she had been forced to give me up and that she would be desperate to find me at some point. The only point of reference I had for what she may be like was myself. I knew that I could never give up a baby of mine so how could she? I would dream at night of her showing up to rescue me from the years of abuse physical, emotional and sexual; the perfect trifecta of harm. She would kiss me and hold me and tell me how sorry she was and that it would all be ok now that we had been reunited. She would tell me how some nefarious person had ripped me from her arms. As soon as I was old enough to know what personal ads were and when I knew my first and middle names, I would look through the for the days preceding my birthday and those after. I was hoping against hope that there would be some kind of message there for me from her. No such message ever appeared.

At 18 years of age, age of majority in Alberta, I registered with the Post-Adoption registry. This registry is referred to as a ‘passive’ registry where adopted children and birth parents can register and if both parties agree to a reunion then they are given contact information. I was so excited to do this as I was sure she had to be looking for me because that was what I would do. I registered and she had not. She never did register. I checked in every couple of years; I kept my address updated; I waited. Every once in a while, they would inform of some small change to the laws. One year I learned my birth last name but not her first name. Armed with that little bit of information I hoped I would be able to find her. Then in 2005 the archives of adoption records in Alberta creaked open and I was given all of the identifying information. I then did absolutely nothing with it for 7 years except for the odd Google search.

Over the 7 years I had the information, I knew I could hire someone to search and they would be able to find my biological family. Yet I did nothing. I was never really sure why I didn’t act on the information, I guess I just was not ready. Facing mounting health issues, I made the decision in January that I was finally ready. I told myself I was ok with the outcome and that all I really wanted was health information. I was lying to myself and everyone else. I wanted the mother I never had. I wanted her to embrace me. I thought she would want to learn as much about me as I wanted to learn about her. I should have known from the beginning that things were not going to go as I had hoped when her first response to me was: “I knew I would have to account for this one day.” I was shocked. I was so relieved to have found her that I assured her that there was nothing to account for and that I was not angry at all. I told her I understood and that it must have been a very difficult decision for her. I just wanted to have a relationship with her and to get to know the rest of my biological family.

Our first meeting was good. Looking back, I think it went well only because she was jet lagged and her guard was down. She seemed genuinely happy that I had found her. She told me the situation she was in that made her give me up. She relayed how she had been depressed for all of her 20s due to grief at losing her baby. The first meeting was really positive. Both Deb and I prepared to welcome her into our family. She was alone, she has no siblings and her parents were dead. She was married once for 6 weeks. Her only connection to humanity seemed to be one good friend.

After the  first meeting she became very cold and quite difficult to deal with. She only wanted to meet in restaurants. Apparently she does not allow people to come to her house as she says it is a mess. We are pretty sure she is a hoarder at this point. She came out once to see me at my house, her main comment was how long it took her to drive. After that we went to a few more restaurants but that seemed so superficial to me. I wanted to hang out with her, cook with her. I wanted to get to know my mother.

Must board the plane now! Check back for Part 2 next week.

Published in: on November 16, 2012 at 4:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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Conundrum

I have been suffering a little bit of a blog block the last couple of days. I can’t seem to blog about anything until I purge this out of my system – so here goes.

I am pissed off. I seem to have managed to end up with 2 mothers, neither of whom is very interested in me. This is not news with my adoptive mother. She is much more interested in my sister. She wants her approval and she wants to spend time with her. When I am around, Deb is definitely her favourite daughter. I have come to terms with this as it has always been like this in our family. It doesn’t matter what I accomplish because I am not my sister. This is not news. I have dealt with this my entire life.

Being adopted, I had a vision of what my birth mother would be like. I envisioned her being smart, witty and interested in what I had to say. I thought she would be relieved to finally have contact with me and that we would be able to spend some serious time together. I want to get to know her. Going out for dinner[1] was fine in the beginning but it is superficial and getting old. No one really relaxes and you have wait staff interrupting at inopportune moments. We have had several dinners out and nothing really moves forward. Our best visit was when she came out for lunch one afternoon.

Communication from her is sporadic at best. I haven’t seen her since the end of March. She does not initiate contact nor does she respond to emails in a timely manner. She does not want to drive to Maple Ridge, as she doesn’t like to drive at night. We have offered to pick her up and take her home but she doesn’t want to do that either. We have offered our guest room but she says no. I invited her to watch the Survivor finale last weekend which would have had her on her way by 7pm but she wouldn’t do that either.

So I find myself in a place where I still don’t have a mother type that meets my needs in any way. However, I am strong and can deal with this but that is not really the issue here. I feel like I have lost my fantasy and gained absolutely nothing. I have been patient, understanding that she needed time to come to terms with being found. I know she has a lot of shame around getting pregnant and I know she has never really dealt with this in any concrete way. I am clear that though that the current situation is not tenable for me.

 


[1] Which is pretty much all she wants to do.

Struggling

I am sure it is no big surprise that I have been struggling with my adoption. Having met both of my biological parents in January, I have come away with some understanding. However, now I have different questions.

As adopted child, I had many fantasies growing up about my biological mother.[1] I used to dream that she would come and rescue me from the hell that was my childhood. She would be so nice and understanding as she took me away apologizing. I would be very understanding and we would live happily ever after. Except it never happened. Instead I grew up in a family where I felt like an alien. They spoke and emotional language I just didn’t get. I have struggled with anxiety issues my whole life and I wonder now if this was the reason. I also never felt like I fit in. I still feel like that a lot of the time. The only place I really feel like I belong and I am understood is at home. Not fitting in with your family as a child must have a profound effect on a child.

The theme of fitting in has been very present in my life. Whether I am feeling frustrated because I never really developed the ability to blend with other people or I change and bend me to try to fit in. Regardless, I have never been successful at it. I could always get along with other people but I always felt like I was on the periphery never quite getting it. At times this has caused me no end of heartache when I have been in situations where I have compromised what I know to be true and right for me to gain the approval of others. Missing out on that fundamental experience has profoundly affected my life.

I never had fantasies about meeting my biological father. In fact, I never even really thought about him until I received my identifying information and I had his name. I did not have any preconceived notions about what he would be like when I talked to him and when we subsequently met. While I definitely see a physical resemblance, personality-wise we are night and day. I have only seen him once so maybe, once I get to know him a little better, maybe I will see glimpses of myself.

Meeting my biological mother certainly gave me more answers. I could see where some of my personality came from. I used to think I acquired my work ethic watching my mother go to work every day. Now I see that while this might have had an effect, there may have been a larger genetic hard wiring.[2] Like me, she approaches life from a very linear place. Needless to say, our meeting did not even come close to my fantasy. I was very emotional when I first spoke to her on the phone. I was in tears. She said, of me locating her, “I’m not unhappy to have been found.” She is having a lot of difficulty dealing with the emotions the reunion has brought up for her. Having never told anyone that she had a baby she relinquished for adoption, she really has no skills to handle this trauma. I don’t think she has ever dealt with the trauma she experienced. Literally no one in her life knows this about her. It also seems that she never had a long-term intimate relationship. I believe that intimate relationships are key to out adult development. Experiencing love and intimacy helps us learn who we are and what we need. She has never done this and it shows. She is extremely set in her ways and does not seem to see the potential of a familial relationship with me as a positive thing. I hope this changes over time.

I used to see adoption as a rosy outcome to a bad situation. A woman needing to give up a child and that child going to parents who really want it. While this situation works well for the adults involved, I am not sure it is a great thing for the baby. I recently learned that I was over 4 months old before I was finally placed in my adoptive home. I really wonder what I lost in that 4 months of not having my mother or my adoptive mother.

 


[1] For some reason, I never really thought about my biological father.

[2] My adoptive sister and brother did not inherit my adoptive mother’s work ethic.

Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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What a week!

I made a decision in December to become a more active agent of change in my life. I wanted to stop being passive and reacting to things happening to me. Instead, I wanted to have a say in how things in my life happen. This decision has many implications some for my life. I really want to get some control over my health. Being adopted, I know nothing really about my medical history.[1] I had all my information from the Alberta adoption records.[2] I had done some research and thought I found my biological mother but I wasn’t really sure. Then I received a little more information and something didn’t sit well with me so I stopped just short of emailing her. I then decided to spend the money and hire a researcher.

On Monday, I received an email from the researcher that she had located my biological father. I was stunned. I had always anticipated finding my birth mother first and never really gave my biological father any thought. He lived in Richmond with his wife and he had 2 sons. I immediately looked the sons up on Facebook and found them. I then phoned my biological father. At first, he said it was not possible that he was my father but as I gave him more information he then remembered my birth mother.

We met him and his wife at White Spot in Richmond a couple of days later. It was so surreal. I bear a striking resemblance to him and one of my brothers. Unfortunately, it was very hard to hear him so I did not learn much about him. However, we will see each other again. He was not at all what I anticipated so I am taking some time to process this information. They are going to tell their sons. I am looking forward to meeting them at some point.

I did learn that my biological father had Graves disease at around the same time as I did. We both had to have surgery to correct our eyes from its ravages. We both also have a lazy eye. His sons have not had any thyroid issues to date.

As an adopted child you dream about who your biological parents will be based on who you are. It is quite a reality check when you meet one of them and realize that they are, in fact, nothing like you – or so it seems. I am hoping that as I get to know my biological father and his sons a bit that I will see glimpses of myself there beyond the obvious physical resemblance.


[1] Ok, I knew a couple of things: my father had a hyperthyroid and my mother was born with a hole in her heart. Obesity ran on both sides of the family.

[2] I received it in 2005.