In my quest for information about my birth family, one of the first things everybody said to do was to contact the adoption agency. If you read yesterday’s blog, you already know about St. Andre’s. Lots and lots of babies were adopted through this place starting around 1940 – and it still operates today.
I called St. Andre’s, ironically, while I was pregnant with my younger son, who’s now 16, so this was a while ago. I was having some difficulties with the pregnancy, and my doctor really urged me to see what I could find out about my medical history. I spoke to a very pleasant woman, probably a nun, who told me that she couldn’t tell me anything. Don’t you love it when that happens?
She did, however, connect me to another person, a man, who told me that they did have ‘some post-adoption services.’ He then proceeded to spend several minutes lecturing me about why looking up your birth parents was a bad idea. He concluded with the instruction to “take some time, think about whether this is what you really want, and then, if you still want to, send us a letter asking for the documents you need.” Okay, I will come right out and admit it: he pissed me off. But I kept my cool and told him I would reflect on what he’d said.
However, since I had been ‘reflecting’ on this subject since I was old enough to reflect, I hung up the phone and typed out a letter requesting assistance. Three weeks, and two more phone calls later, I got the precious documents. There were a lot of them. Basically, there was a letter which told me that I must register for the state’s Reunion Registry, which serves to match consenting blood-related adults separated by adoption. I was already registered, so I moved on to the other requirements: completed St. Andre’s release form (notarized), a written request for the desired information, and $25 fee.
So, what would I receive after all that? Non-identifying information. This is the term they used to describe the tiny tidbits of info about my birth mother – facts that would make it impossible for me to identify her. They warned that there might not be much there, as birth moms were allowed to fill out as much or as little of the forms as they chose, and if they didn’t want to name or describe the father, they didn’t have to.
But – there might be. There might be all kinds of pertinent details in there – physical descriptions, medical histories, even stuff like her education, her hobbies and talents. And one other thing: the Reason for Surrender, a statement she was required to write in her own handwriting explaining why she wanted to relinquish her baby. Finally I would know why she gave me up. I can’t describe my feelings other than to say I could hardly breathe just thinking about it. Good thing they warned me not to get my hopes up!
Oh, and they told me that I would have to pay $50 per hour for them to go look for the stuff in my file. This irritated me too. As it turned out, it took them 1.75 hours to access the information, including the correspondence to me, so I got a bill for $87.50, which was a pretty good chunk of change to me back then.
A few months and several reminder phone calls later, the envelope arrived. One thin 9x12 manila envelope that would change my life. I’ll never forget walking back from the mailbox that day. It was hot and humid, and I was almost 8 months pregnant. I kept turning the envelope over and over in my hands, looking at it with emotions somewhere between excitement and terror.
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