In case you are just reading this story for the first time or you would like a non-continuing version of the entire journey - here it is. There are also some pictures at the bottom of the post. Thank you to all that have encouraged me through out the process of getting it down on paper.
* * * * *
I have a hard time believing that I am 50 years old. I have a harder time believing that she is 30.
I met her in the summer of 1981. I realized her existence from a white stick with a little red + sign in my tiny little bathroom in my tiny little basement suite. Joy was not the outcome of that meeting. I would say it was more like panic.
What am I going to do?
Much of that time is a blur in my memory, however a few things stick out pretty clearly. I remember feeling very alone. I told "him" but rather than getting the emotional support that I so craved, I was given the phone number of a place that could "fix" it. At the time it did feel like my only option, but I remember thinking that rather than take one life, it would be better to just take two. I wanted to die. It could look like an accident and no one would know about the other life that was also ended.
I told only 2 people - my little brother and my best friend. They understood the pain and offered the only thing that I really needed.
They could see so much further than I could and through their vision I made a step toward life, instead of death.
As she grew inside, life didn't get much easier. I had decided that it would be best for all concerned that this remained a tightly guarded secret. Tell no one. Live in seclusion for part of a year then move on with real life.
I had no question in my mind that I was not going to parent this child, but believing that did not make it any easier to process through letting go. Files of strangers were laid out in front of me and I was told to pick one.
How does one choose a mother and a father from a brief description? How does one know with any certainty how this woman's or man's personality will mesh with this child's - all of whom you have no clue as to what those personalities are.
Lists of descriptions...
Generalized characteristics that tell me nothing. But that's all there was. I went through the lists and qualified and disqualified the candidates.
- short - no
- tall - yes...I'm tall, he was tall - she will be tall - don't send her to live with the seven dwarfs
- government job - yes - financial security is a good thing
- baker - no! a baker can't support a family very well
- blonde/fair - yes - again, she will a blonde - she has to be
- redhead - no! Everyone knows that redheads have bad tempers and are mean
After many hours of pouring over the tiny bits of information given, parents were chosen and the surrendering began.
1. To relinquish possession or control of to another because of demand or compulsion
2. To give up in favour of another
3. To give up, or back something that has been granted
4. To give up or abandon
5. To give over or to resign oneself.
My definition: To cut out a piece of your heart and hand it to a stranger to look after.
April 4, 1982
The rest of the world met her.
Amanda (she who must be loved) Joy
Her family all met her. Her Grandfather held her in his arms and blessed her,
giving her - surrendering her to God for the rest
of her life.
Walking away from that hospital was excruciating and the days ahead were even worse. In B.C. the adoption laws allow for the birth mother to revoke her consent to adopt for 30 days - no questions asked. Those 30 days were riddled with questions of doubt and despair as the decision was waging war in my heart. In the end I feel that I did the "right thing". At least that is what I was told many times. It took me a few years to be able to really believe that.
Life post-surrender looked completely normal to the outside world. I re-entered civilization as if nothing had ever happened. I believed that the surrendering part was over.
It was just beginning...
* * * * *
When the ache is a secret one, living a normal life is difficult. Although no fault of theirs, I felt that I couldn't ask for that support from my family. They were grieving too. We had never been through a situation like this before. We didn't even know anyone else that had, so there was no step by step guide on "how to heal after surrendering a child for adoption". I believed that I had hurt my parents and family enough, so to add on the necessity for constant grief support was just more than I should ask for.
That fall I decided to go back to Prairie to finish off my degree, switching my program so that it would only take one more year. I entered back into a very full academic year with a very empty heart.
It was here that I started to find my way back to healing. I found out that I was broken long before Amanda's existence. I was lost. Over the next two years, and with some amazing people that came along side me, I started to find me. They pointed me to grace. They pointed me back to hope and a future. God became real in my life. He went from being the Sunday School Jesus to being so much more.
As I tried to resume "normal" life, dating again was catastrophic. Honesty about my past resulted in either rejection or being used. I had strong doubts that I would ever find someone that could accept me and all the stuff.
I was wrong.
He drove a gold Camero Berlinetta. The first time I saw him, he had a car full of girls hanging out the windows.
"Danny Adkins", my friend replied.
Later that night we were roller skating at Lloyds with a big group from Prairie when a red streak of hair flew past me - crazy crossovers and mock hops - all in perfect time to the music.
"Danny Adkins...stay away Sheila - he's just a kid", my friend again replied this time with a warning.
Well, I wanted to meet Danny Adkins. Anyone that drove a car and roller skated like that was definitely worth looking into.
Over the next few weeks he became part of my life. My first impression of him was completely accurate. He loved life and lived it in color. It didn't take long to realize that he was my forever.
I was so afraid to tell him about Amanda. I was sure that he would decide that I wasn't good enough for him. When I finally did, he just said, "That was yesterday. I love you today"
and he still does
He not only loves me but he respects me. He respected my story and never told one single person about it. Both of his parents passed into eternity without ever hearing about it. That kind of integrity is a gift - one that I so desperately needed.
To say that our married life was a picnic would be a great fallacy. You can't come into a marriage with that much baggage and not expect to have to deal with the mess from time to time. We had our share of struggles and full on war, but the assurance that we would never walk away, by God's grace, kept us together.
Finding myself pregnant was so exciting. I remember feeling like finally everything was going to be perfect. But the perfect dream ended in a miscarriage
and then another
I was sure that this was my punishment. I told myself that because I gave away one baby, I wasn't fit to keep any others. Those were very dark days. All of the assurances given by Dan and others around me were drowned out by my own fear. I had to surrender this over to Him - for His timing, His plan, His will. I thought I was finished with surrendering my children, but I found out that He needed me to be willing to release my dreams and plans.
I am so grateful for the gift of Alyssa and Riley. I think that because I felt the loss of 3 before them - one in adoption and two in miscarriage - I understood more the magnitude of the gift that they were to me. They have always been my best accomplishment as a human.
So life took on a normal look to it. From the outside looking in - all was well. But on the inside, I carried the knowledge that someday things could all change.
- someone could discover my secret and expose it all
- my children would know that I gave away their sister
- there could be a knock on the door, a voice on a phone - saying "hey, remember me?"
- the past would have to be relived all over again. A past that I had tried so hard to erase.
But that day did come - gradually.
* * * * *
I believe that God transplants newness into our lives to lessen the impact of the old. That is what He did for me. He gave me a full and busy life with kids, a husband, a job, and good friends. I remember once feeling guilty for almost forgetting Amanda. But Dan one day gently told me that it was a gift from God. It was He that was helping me to release Amanda - not just physically, but emotionally as well. If you can't do that, then she really wouldn't be completely surrendered.
As Alyssa and Riley grew up, I knew that there would come a day they would have to be told about their "sister". I wasn't looking forward to it, but still, being the planner that I am, I tried to rehearse scenarios in my head what that reveal would look like. I think I had figured out what to say - it was the when to say it that had me baffled.
But God had other ideas for my plans
News of my niece's unplanned pregnancy caused some serious conversations in and around our home. Lys was in Junior High, so she was starting to figure out some of these things. As the topic of what was going to be done about this new baby came up, so did the talk of adoption.
One night, during a horrific electrical storm, our power was knocked out and Lys and I found ourselves home alone, in the dark. We sat in the living room together watching the bolts of lightning and started to talk. The topic of her dear cousin came up and she said, "I don't think she should give the baby up for adoption. I don't know how anyone with a heart could ever do that."
"Well, Lys...let me tell you a story"
My rehearsed plan of what to say was shattered, and instead I poured out a tale of brokenness, grace, forgiveness and redemption. She was completely silent for the entire time. In the darkness I wasn't able to read her expression, but at the end and after what seemed to be a LONG silence, I asked, "Lys, are you okay?"
Her teary cheek pressed against mine as she wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "Mom, I've never been so proud of you in all my life"
so much better than my scenario
What an amazing answer to my prayers. I could have never imagined that it would have worked out that way. Not only did she 'get it', but she was proud of me?
Alyssa is like her Dad in her ability to keep a confidence. I knew that she would never tell anyone, and being that Riley was still pretty young, I didn't want him to know quite yet. She promised her silence, and we didn't speak of it again...
until THAT day.
A frantic call. "Mom, come get me right now! I'm at the gym." I had no idea what had happened, but hurried down to pick her up. She jumped into the car and burst into tears.
"They know, Mom, they know!"
Who knows and what do they know?
"My friends, they know about Amanda!"
What? How did junior high girls know about my secret? This is impossible. As the story came out I learned that during basketball practice, one of Lys' friends was talking about adoption, since she was adopted, she casually mentioned that Alyssa's mom gave up a baby for adoption too. Alyssa was horrified. I was horrified.
As I tried to calm her down, I needed calming as well. Who all knows about this, and now that it was exposed to a group of junior high girls, EVERYONE would soon know that didn't already.
I quickly went into recon mode. I decided that if this was going to get out, then I wanted to be in control of how it happened. I started contacting some of my close friends and poured out the story to them. The responses were that of surprise but also of support. I felt that I was gathering up a team that would be able to stand around me when the gossip started to spread.
My plans were working.
Then my dear friend took me aside and said...slow down....do you really think that God lead you all this way just to drop you on your head now? How about we let Him take this the rest of the way.
That was a difficult thing to do...but the right thing.
I reluctantly stopped the frantic damage control and watched the chips fall. My world didn't come crashing down. Everything stayed quite normal in fact. I had gone a whole 2 weeks after the junior high gossip incident and all seemed to be well.
My dear friend was visiting in my house and we were in the kitchen, talking about the recent events - actually whispering, because I still hadn't told Riley yet.
The phone rang.
"Hi this is_______ from Lost Angels Registry"
My thoughts raced through my brain trying to figure out what exactly that was when I remembered that I had registered my contact information on an adoption website dedicated to helping find birth parents/children given in adoption.
"We have had a hard time reaching you. It looks like you didn't update your information for a while"
Yes, it had been a number of years, but this is weird to be getting a call in the evening to update my file.
"We think we have a match"
A match...what is a match? I'm confused... "Excuse me?"
"A match - you gave a baby up for adoption on April 4th, 1982, correct?"
Why can't I breathe? What is that sound of ringing in my ears? Am I sleeping? Is this a dream? "I'm sorry, I don't understand." I grab my friend and run with her into my bedroom and close the door behind us. She is wondering what in the world is happening as my face tells a story that she isn't able to read.
"If you are in agreement, I have someone that would like to make contact with you. She is really excited and is waiting for your call. However, this is up to you. If you don't want to make contact, we will respect that"
Still no air. Breathing is supposed to be a reflex but one that I'm not able to do right now. "No, I mean, yes, it's fine - I can do that" I can? No I can't!
"Alright, her name is Amy. This is her number...."
I'm not sure how I was able to write down the number much less even hold a pen in my shaking hands. As I hung up the phone, I just said to my friend, "It's her - she found me". We both were in shock and sat for a few minutes taking in all that had just happened. Then I dialed.
"Hello, is this Amy?" But your name is Amanda...who is Amy?
Then what are you supposed to say? I can't even remember that conversation from that point on. It was the moment that I always looked forward to/dreaded happening, but for the life of me I can't recall - other than the emotions...joy, fear, regret, peace, thankfulness, wonder, more fear...every emotion that one can experience went into those few moments on the telephone.
I told her that I wanted to meet her and that we would make that happen soon, and that was the end of the conversation...
The next few days were a blur of calling my family and telling them the story, making plans for a reunion, and telling Riley...
Riley, my dear boy...never saw the negative side of it - ever. He had another sister. It was just cool. Never judged - only loved.
We made arrangements for Amy to make a visit to Three Hills. She was going to fly in and meet my family. In my head I had always pictured what that would look like. I watched so many episodes of Oprah's adoption reunion shows, that I had convinced myself that this is exactly what it would be like.
Of course, again, I was wrong.
* * * * *
I'm not exactly sure what I thought was going to happen as I waited in the airport for Amy's flight to arrive. I mean, after all, this is a stranger, joined by a few dna strands, but otherwise...
The last time I had seen this child was 3 days after she was born. Although I had received a couple of pictures and a sweet letter from her new family just shortly after her arrival into their home, there had been no updates on
how she was
where she was
who she was
It was left to my imagination to come up with those details. It was easy to pick her out of the crowd exiting the gate. She was the one with the look of sheer terror on her face - the face that had some very common characteristics of our genetic makeup. We hugged, cried and then hugged some more. I can't really remember what it was that we said. I am pretty sure it was nothing - because I don't think anyone really knew what to say.
Her 3 days in Three Hills were full of meeting our large family, many friends and other on-lookers that had heard the long kept secret story. I can't imagine what was going through her mind.
We began to tell our stories - hers and mine - and in the process began to connect so many of the fragments of our separate lives into one that tied us together.
like - her grandparents knowing my Dad from the church that I grew up in at New Westminster
like - her family attending the Johnston Heights Free Church, pastored by Dan Nicholson - my youth pastor from Calgary
like - her parents going to a Bible Study led by my dear friends, Ed & Dianna Wallan
The stories helped us start to fully realize that God had a plan in it all. Keeping us tied through common bonds, even though they were so unknown to us at the time.
A few weeks later it was my turn to travel west to meet her family - her parents, brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. All of the people that I had handed her over to love. It kind of felt like I was watching this non-stop movie of someone else's life. So surreal. Amy drove me past all of her places - homes, schools, churches.
As we drove past one of the houses I recognized the neighborhood and tried to figure out why it looked so familiar. As we rounded the corner, I realized why.
"Did your house have a tall fence around it that met in the corner with 2 other yards?"
"Did you have a trampoline in the back yard?"
"When you played on the trampoline - did you sometimes throw a ball into one of those other yards?"
"Where there 3 little blonde girls that lived in one of those yards?"
That was Dan's sister's house.
Where we were for Easter vacation one year.
Where a ball kept flying over the fence.
Where I threw it back to a girl on the other side.
That girl was Amy.
so very close...so connected...but not yet
I met Amy's best friend, Tiffany. They had been bff's since they were in grade school - with some special bonds. Born less than one week apart. Both adopted.
Tiffany's mom started to tell me the story of how amazing their connections went even further. The 2 families lived in separate areas of the lower mainland, but both moved to the Surrey area around the same time. The girls became good friends and discovered the close birthdays, so decided that they would have a combined birthday party together.
As the Moms watched the party carry on, they began to tell their stories of how Tiffany and Amy had joined each of their families. Imagine their astonishment as they discovered that both had been adopted, just days apart, with the assistance of a common adoption agency...Burden Bearers... with the same adoption worker...Lorna.
I am pretty sure the room started to spin at that point.
This was my adoption agency - that was my case worker.
I started to look around the room where we were sitting. For the first time I noticed the antiques decorating the walls.
a rolling pin
a pie press
a verse or something about "Bread of life"
"Was your husband a baker?"
"Did he have red hair?"
"I didn't choose you"
It was a final decision between a tall BC Hydro worker and a red-head baker. I chose the first one. But here I was, standing in the home that I didn't choose - talking to a mother that I didn't pick - who ended up being given Amy's best friend forever.
It was in that moment that I realized how incredibly significant my life is in the grand scheme of God's plan.
Not an accident.
Not a coincidence.
It was a master plan - The Master's Plan
For I know the plans I have for you
(declares the Lord) ..plans to prosper you and not to harm you...plans to give you a
HOPE and a FUTURE...
Amy at 6 weeks old and 6 months old
These are the only things I had connecting me to "Amanda" for 20 years
Meeting Grandma & Grandpa Hanson
The two "Moms"
Amy & Alyssa at the Guzoo
Tiffany's "Baker" Family
Amy & Nate - Marred March 11, 2006
Isaac - Born November 9, 2007
Silas (born November 9, 2009)