Yesterday I went with a friend to see the Judi Dench movie, Philomena. It is the story of Philomena Lee who went searching for her son 50 years after he had been taken away from her in a convent in Ireland. Like any good movie should, it followed me out of the theatre. Initially, the movie inspired me to examine what kind of secret would I keep secret for 50 years? But twenty-four hours later I’m pondering other questions it raises about faith, religion (of ANY flavour), love, mother child bond and adoption.
My sister and I, adopted from different families five and half years apart, were polar opposites on the birth-mother-search issue. I always wondered what my birth mother was like, who she was, and what had happened to her? My sister, on the other hand, had no need or desire to discover who her birth mother was.
It was not until my visit to Winnipeg in 2000 that I decided to register for the Manitoba Post-Adoption Registry. For a nominal fee, I filled out the form, which in addition to becoming an official registrant, entitled me to a basic birth family search. I was instructed to be prepared for no names or identifying specifics as required by provincial law – if I wanted to proceed with more comprehensive searches, there would now be additional charges for each search (i.e. birth mother, birth father, siblings of my birth mother, etc.).
A few weeks after my return to Vancouver, an envelope from Manitoba Family Services and Housing arrived. When I read the information provided (my birth mother was tall, my birth father could play seven musical instruments, my birth mother described herself as a “worrier” and my birth father as “having a bit of a temper”), it was enough to satisfy my thirst for knowledge about my birth parents. The details, although not as detailed as I would have liked, were enough to transform them from paper into flesh. I decided not to proceed with the more detailed searches.
Over the years, I have shared the results with my sister and various friends. But what I have never shared before was one little item included in the confirmation of registry letter sent to me before I received the results of the initial background history search. I was informed that no one had been looking for me – of course, the letter hadn’t put it in those words at all, but that’s what it meant. It was like a punch in the gut. My birth mother had made no contact with any of the agencies that would eventually lead her to me. Which for some reason made me equate that with her never giving me another thought.
Maybe I miscalculated. In one scene, Philomena tells Martin Sixsmith, that she didn’t abandon her baby; that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about her son. I’m willing to bet that a lot of birth mothers, mine included, feel that way.