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104 – You’re Obviously One Of Us

Karen is from Stratford, Ontario, Canada. She shares her story of growing up a woman of color who stood out in her family and community.

Locating her birth mother she found little connection and a bit of tension, but ultimately she wants to keep the relationship going. That’s partially because her paternal reunion, while fulfilling in the most heartwarming ways, was sadly too brief. This is Karen’s journey.


Karen (00:04): I was so sad at the time. I wish that that had been possible just because of everything I had been through as a kid and never feeling like I belonged and realizing that there had been a possibility that I could have been raised by him that he wanted to, but wasn’t given an option.

Damon (00:32): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon (00:44): Who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members? I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Karen. I spoke with her from Stratford, Ontario, Canada. She shares her story of growing up a woman of color who stood out in her family and community locating her birth mother. She found little connection and a bit of tension, but ultimately she wants to keep the relationship going. That’s partially because her paternal reunion while fulfilling in the most heartwarming ways was sadly too brief. This is Karen’s journey. Karen opened by saying how helpful the show has been for understanding how other adoptees feel, because it’s not often that the subject of our own adoptions comes up. So sometimes the people who are closest to us don’t even know we’re adoptees. The night before our interview, she was sitting around a campfire on the beach where she told someone she’s known for 10 years, that she was going to be interviewed the next day about her adoption, her friend, remarked, that she didn’t even know that fact about Karen. I hope you’ll forgive the raspiness of Karen’s voice. Apparently it was a great time around the campfire that night. Karen shared that she was born in Toronto, Canada and adopted as an infant after spending time with two different foster families in the Toronto newspaper. In the 1960s and seventies, there was a column called today’s child, which listed children for adoption, who were considered less desirable for adoption to use Karen’s words. These children were older, were not white, or maybe had some sort of disability.

Karen (02:30): I was one of those children. And, um, I have a copy of that, that article. So there’s picture of me when I’m nine months old and then they write a description about me. And it’s funny, I just went over it again this morning. And the description that they wrote about me then is still the same for me now,

Damon (02:51): Really it was an accurate depiction of who your personality is, and isn’t that fascinating to read that it really is.

Karen (03:00): It really is. And I mean, I’ve read this, but I’ll call her a million times. But each time I think I’m seeing it from different eyes, depending where I am in my own life experience.

Damon (03:15): She was adopted by parents who had three children of their own, but her adopted mother was told not to have any more children. Her youngest naturally born child had medical issues that required a complete blood transfusion, but the family wanted more kids. Karen was adopted into a white family whom Karen said, didn’t really know any other black people. And there really weren’t any people of color in her community. She was the only one

Karen (03:42): Growing up in my family was it was a good experience, except for always feeling like I didn’t really belong anywhere. I was a pretty strong kid, as far as just making things work. I ended up probably becoming the class clown because of that. And I ended up excelling in sports, I think because of that, because I needed a place to fit. Right. So when I think back on it, I think that’s how I found my place was just by excelling or being funny.

Damon (04:17): It’s interesting. It almost sounds to me like you were already out there, there was a spotlight on you regardless. So it sounds like you just embraced it and said, I’m going all in. You’re already looking at me

Karen (04:33): Exactly. Right? Yeah. I’m glad that that’s, that was my personality to be able to do that because otherwise it would have been really difficult. But even from, from being a little kid, some of my first memories are feeling like people are staring at me because I’m walking in with this white family and me and, and I, I stood out because there weren’t any other black kids around, you know? So, um, when I was really little, um, maybe three years old, I think anyways, uh, my mom said we were walking past a window full of mannequins and it was mannequins of different nationalities maybe. And, uh, um, I looked at my mom and I said, she was like my Brown. So I was always aware of being different. People often say that kids don’t know that there, that there’s any difference between children. You know, children are just children and people don’t kids don’t see any difference. But I knew I was different

Damon (05:46): Thinking about growing up in a homogenous environment where she was the kid that stood out. I wondered what it was like for Karen. When she and her friends started dating, she recalled one dance where the girls are supposed to ask the boys to be their dates. A Sadie Hawkins dance was what came to mind for me. But I had to admit to myself, I had no idea what that really meant. Wikipedia says the Sadie Hawkins dance was created from a comic strip called Lil Abner that ran for 43 years from 1934 to 1977. It was about some fictional hillbillies who lived in some Podunk town called Dogpatch USA in the comic strip. An influential man in town is concerned that his not so attractive daughter, Sadie Hawkins will never get a date, get married and move out. So he flips the script and declares Sadie Hawkins day, where the women are to chase after the town’s bachelors with the intent to get married. Now, imagine for a moment that you’re a young woman of color in a town full of high school students who don’t look like you and it’s time for the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Karen (06:58): I can remember one of the dances in high school where the girls asked the boys and there was one other black family in town, but by high school, there was one other black family at my high school. And I just assumed that I was supposed to ask that boy, I didn’t even know him, but he was the boy I asked for this dance because I thought that’s the way it was supposed to be. I didn’t really think I had any other options. And that would be super uncomfortable experience because we didn’t need to know each other. So, you know, me telling me yep. Yep. He accepted gladly and you know, I’ve never really had a conversation with him about that since I should. He was probably glad to be asked to

Damon (07:51): When I asked Karen about when she decided to search for her birth family, she recounted a story from when she was about 12 years old. She’s sitting at the dinner table one day alone with her father. He was the strong, silent type. But on this day he broke the silence

Karen (08:07): And out of the blue, he just asked me, do you ever want to find your birth mother? And I think I was so stunned. I don’t remember what I said.

Damon (08:17): It wasn’t until Karen finished university that she actually started searching. She signed up for a reunification registry through the ministry of community and social services. And she sent away for her non identifying information in the early 1990s, Karen joined a parent finder group to learn how to search. She called it gum shoe, detective work, going to libraries, searching through microfiche for phone book entries and other clues before she got too far talking about all of that. Karen revealed something interesting.

Karen (08:50): I knew my first mother’s name because at some point my parents had a meeting with the social worker. The social worker left her office, but left all the paperwork on the desk. And my mom, thank goodness she’s nosy because she just kind of took a little peak, turned the paperwork around, noted the name and her address, and then just filed that away for, for later information. So I always knew my birth mother’s name, and I always knew where she lived at the time that I was born.

Damon (09:30): That is fascinating.

Karen (09:31): She wasn’t supposed to have that information, but I often think the social worker did that on purpose.

Damon (09:37): Having those pieces of information were massively helpful in Karen’s search, when she went to the library in London, Ontario, she would look at directories that told you who lived at any specific address and their occupation that allowed Karen to track how long her birth mother lived at any given home. She was able to find her birth mother living at the address, her adopted mother memorized and shared with her. She lived there from 1966 to 1969 with a roommate tracing her steps. Karen lost track of her birth mother in 1969, but she was able to follow the roommate’s movements. And she traced her for many more years. Fortunately, the roommate retained her same phone number for decades in the 1990s. Karen was in her early twenties, too terrified to make the call herself. Karen had a friend, the leader of the parent finder’s group call the roommate, but listen to what her friend said before making the call

Karen (10:39): Because in those directories, my birth mother was living with a woman, the guys on parents’ finders, joked, wouldn’t it be funny if they were lesbians? And they were like, lepers, this was in the early nineties when nobody talked about that sort of thing, it was not right. It was all under cover at that point. And I just kind of looked at him and went like, who says stuff like that. Like that’s not even funny.

Damon (11:08): That’s kind of inappropriate.

Karen (11:11): Right? So, and I mean, I’m used to inappropriate. I’m the only black kid around. So I get a phone call from him telling me that he’s contacted the roommate. And guess what? Your birth mother is dead. That was the first thing he told me about her.

Damon (11:30): And what did you think when he’s coming off of this inappropriate joke and comment, but then two, he turns out to be right? What did you think?

Karen (11:38): I was devastated because I grew up in a Baptist family. I grew up in a really conservative area and I had known people who, you know, suspected were gay, but nobody talked about it and it was very taboo still. So I didn’t know what that meant. I thought, Oh my God, does that mean I’m gay? Does that mean like, what does that mean? How is that even possible? She had me, so like there was, and there was nobody I can talk to about it. And I’ve really just kind of went crazy. Like I just, I didn’t know how to handle that information. I received information like that today. You’d be like, yeah. So

Damon (12:30): Karen clearly pointed out that it was a different era and she was a different person with different beliefs and values than the woman she is today. She says she went with her sister to meet the roommate, but she doesn’t recall anything about that visit except sitting in the woman’s living room and receiving some pictures of her birth mother that the woman had kept. The roommate shared that she and Karen’s birth mother maintained correspondence for a while after her birth mother returned to her native Holland. Apparently she had only been in Canada for a few years to answer the country’s call for certain skilled professionals. It was during her time in Canada, that she got pregnant. The roommate shared with Karen that about 10 years after her birth mother returned to Holland, she receives a letter from her revealing her sexuality correspondence stopped after that each woman Karen’s birth mother and the roommate misunderstood how the other would react to the news. So their relationship fell apart. As she talked about her birth mother’s experience, Karen revealed the whole reason she was relinquished in the first place.

Karen (13:40): I was always searching. And I also knew that I had from my non identifying information, I knew that there was a half sister out there. The reason my birth mother went home is because I was born in February. My birth mother went to Caribana, which is a huge festival in Toronto. Every August. She saw my birth father there with another woman and the baby who looked exactly like me. So she found out that he had a baby with another woman a month after I was born. And that baby look just like me. So she’s traumatized at this point. Like, I mean, she’s already traumatized. She’s given up a child. And the reason she gave up the child me was because she knew she couldn’t take a black baby back home. So I’m always looking, because I know that I have a half sister that is right there, who looks just like me. So I was always looking over my shoulder.

Damon (14:44): Karen didn’t do any more formal searches until the early two thousands. At that time, a woman Karen was friends with at her job was of Dutch descent and was returning to Holland. Since her friend was making a trip to her home country. Karen asked if the woman would look in the phone book for her birth, mother’s name Halena. When her friend returned from Holland, she had three phone numbers.

Karen (15:09): So she comes back a couple of weeks later and she gives me three phone numbers. And she’s like, I don’t know if maybe these are the numbers, but so my birth mother’s name was Halena, but she went by Laney. So in the phone book, she didn’t longer went by eight Bergman’s. She was going by L Bergman. So the phone number that my friend brought back from Holland was L Bergman, not H. So I just filed it away and went, Oh, well, that’s probably not it.

Damon (15:47): With the advent of Facebook, you could look at other countries. And the social networks contained therein Karen changed her settings to make it appear that she was from the Netherlands that allowed her to search for every woman with Halena his name. And there were hundreds of them. Karen said she copied and pasted the same letter to all of the women, hundreds of messages. She got hundreds of apologies from women who didn’t know what Karen was talking about. She said it was a time in her life when she was trying to make ends meet as a single mother. So right after sending all of those notes, her internet connectivity got cut off.

Karen (16:28): I lost my internet connection for a month. Finally able to pay the bill, went back online and there’s like, tons of messages, loads of messages saying, sorry, we don’t know who you’re talking about. And in the middle of all those messages, there was one that says, I’m not sure, but I think this might be my father’s sister. Let me check. And so like, you know, that feeling like you’re about to black out, it’s been 22 years since I started searching. And it’s just like that feeling like you’re just all of a sudden, completely overwhelmed. And so I’m scrolling through all the rest of the messages, cause I’ve got a month worth of messages to catch up on and I’m scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and two weeks later she wrote, I can confirm this is who you’re looking for.

Damon (17:28): Wow.

Karen (17:30): Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (17:33): So what did you feel? I mean, what did you, how did you even think about this at that moment?

Karen (17:39): I was so overwhelmed. I saw it and then I had to rush out quickly. I had an appointment for a massage, so that was kind of, that was kind of perfect, but I’m riding my bike over to the massage and bawling my eyes out. Like I can’t even see to ride my bike. Like I’m crying so hard. I mean, I was overwhelmed. I was relieved. I was in disbelief. I was in shock. Like, you know, like how does, I don’t even know how to put words to that really? Because it’s something you’ve wanted for so long

Damon (18:20): And seems unattainable. And then suddenly it’s still clear and verified.

Karen (18:26): It’s like that. And then I’m like, Oh my God, like, what am I, what do I do with that information? Like what do I do?

Damon (18:32): Karen ends up having an email conversation with her first cousin who confirmed everything after she spoke with Karen’s maternal uncle who told Halena that Karen was looking for her, her birth mother was shocked. Karen was able to find her, but receptive to talking, they emailed back and forth introducing each other through written words. Then Karen sent Helena the book, the girls who went away, you’re probably familiar with the work by Ann Fessler, which Chronicles the stories of first mothers who were forced and tricked into leaving home to give birth to their children and send them off into adoption and often told never to speak of the situation again.

Karen (19:13): And I sent her that book and, and let her know that I felt for her situation, that I didn’t blame her for, for her choices. Um, and mostly that I was concerned about her wellbeing because I knew at that time you had the baby and then nothing was ever said again. And you were just left to deal with it on your own.

Damon (19:38): That was kind of you to do

Karen (19:40): Well. I just could imagine being in her shoes you know. And at that time I had my own child too, and I couldn’t even imagine giving up my child, but I just couldn’t imagine. I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like

Damon (19:56): After some back and forth correspondence Halena and Karen agreed, they should meet Halena. And her partner flew from the Netherlands to Canada for a two week visit. They stayed in a hotel. Karen said the partner’s presence caused anxiety and drama. The partner didn’t speak English and was livid that Halena had kept this secret from her for so long. The partner made the trip because she wouldn’t let Halena travel alone. She thought she had enough secrets. And from then on, she wanted to know everything. The partner brought a narcissism to their reunion that Karen didn’t appreciate.

Karen (20:36): I’m thinking, you know what? I just spent 22 years looking for this woman. It has nothing to do with you. But during that whole two weeks, she never left our side. And so the, our last possible day for visiting, but the night before I said to my birth mother, listen, like we haven’t had a chance to even talk about anything. Like it’s all been superficial because the partner is always there. So I can’t ask you any personal questions. I need your time and you’re leaving soon. So the partner said, well, well fine I’ll just go shopping downtown for two hours. And you guys can talk two hours to get everything out of her. You know, as much as I could, she brought with her pictures of herself and her family. She was not super forthcoming. She’s very quiet and introverted. So she wasn’t somebody who just shared, you know, I really had to drag information out of her. But the one thing that she did was saved two pictures of my birth father. She hated him, but she saved these pictures for 40 years.

Damon (21:53): Whoa, what’d you think when you saw him?

Karen (21:57): Well, I wanted to find him immediately. Like as soon as I saw the pictures of him, I wanted to find him immediately because remember my birth mother is also white and I don’t think we look alike at all. And our personalities are nothing alike. So as much as I was happy to meet her and we connected, but I didn’t feel like I’m home. I felt there had to be something more

Damon (22:26): Emotional reunion was a lot for Karen. She decided she needed a break. So she took a step back from everything. Karen filed the photos away for a while. Watching the news late one night, scrolling across the bottom of the screen is a message suggesting that viewers could write letters to the editor, knowing that her birth father lived in the Toronto area and figuring she had nothing to lose. Karen crafted her letter to the editor at midnight, hoping the news station could help her find her birth father. In her letter she included everything that she knew about her father and implored the station to help her in her search. Now earlier, Karen told me there are a lot of amazing coincidences in her story, and I’m going to forewarn you. That one is coming at you right now.

Karen (23:15): So the next morning before work, I checked my email seven o’clock in the morning. There’s a message from an editor that said, um, I’ll have a report, a contact, you, but I have down the street from a guy named Elvis and he was Jamaican and his dad worked for the via rail and so on and so on. And so on all the details that I had written in my letter. Wow. Now, remember I said, Toronto has over a million people at that time. Now probably closer to two. This guy grew up down the street from my birth father and my siblings and went to high school with them.

Damon (24:05): Unbelievable that you took it on a whim to write into this news channel and they write back and say, Oh, I might know who you’re talking about. That’s unbelievable.

Karen (24:17): Yeah. Even more unbelievable to me is the fact that he wasn’t the only editor. There were seven editors and he just so happened to be the one to open my message. That’s incredible.

Damon (24:31): So did he connect you with these people?

Karen (24:33): So he said, yeah. He’s like, yeah, you can just find them on Facebook. You said you can see a picture of your brother on Facebook. And I said, well, I can’t. Because at that time you couldn’t see pictures of people you weren’t friends with. Somehow. I don’t know how, cause he wasn’t Facebook friends with him, but he was able to, um, take a screenshot of my birth brother’s, uh, pictures. And he sent me a picture of a man, an older woman and the little girl, the little girl looked identical to my daughter. So I knew at that point I’d found them. I knew like this was my family,

Damon (25:20): Karen sent a letter to her brother. She said, you don’t know me, but I think we share the same father in the letter. She included the pictures of their father and pictures of herself with her own daughter so that her brother could see that Karen’s daughter looks just like his own. Her brother was in shock when he received the letter. So he forwarded it to his sister

Karen (25:45): And then they went and spoke to their father. The father broke down in tears in relief because he knew I was out there, but he didn’t know how to find me. He worked for via rail, which was the train service that went across Canada. He was a porter on the train. And he said that when he knew that I was college university age, he would look for me and every biracial girl that came on the train. So he knew I was out there. He just didn’t. He had no means of finding me because back then birth fathers were just cut out of the equation.

Damon (26:27): Karen’s birth father Elvis lived in Ajax, outside of Toronto for decades. She said that when she first spoke with her paternal sister, they connected immediately, especially over their children.

Karen (26:40): We both had children who had learning disorders for me, my daughter’s learning disorders fairly rare. And at the time of diagnosis, nobody knew what it was and knew how to handle it. So I was doing tons of research and trying to figure it out and, and learning and teaching teachers how to manage because they didn’t know. So my sister was going through the same thing. So we connected on that level, we had a lot talk about it, you know? And honestly I’d never met anybody else who understood me and understood what we were dealing with here because it was very rare. We, um, we followed a Facebook group. Um, so I met parents that way, but I’d never actually met another person who understood what I was talking about

Damon (27:36): In November of 2008, Karen and her daughter drive to Ajax, stopping at her sister’s house. First from there, her sister took Karen to meet Elvis at his apartment. When she got to her birth father’s door, seeing him face to face was way more than she could take.

Karen (27:55): When my birth father opened the door immediately, my hands flew up. I had to cover his face with my hand. Like, like I couldn’t look at his face. I had to like just lower my hand gradually and reveal his face because it was like, I was looking in a mirror.

Damon (28:16): Oh my gosh.

Karen (28:18): Yeah. It was the first time I’d ever seen anybody. Apart from my daughter that looked like me. It was, it was almost like looking into the sun. Like it was just like, how’s this? Yeah. I’ve never seen this before any see yourself in the mirror, but you don’t really see yourself. That’s really fascinating. Right? Like I recognize those eyes. I recognize that file those hands. I, I recognize those hands, even though I’ve never seen them before.

Damon (28:53): It’s a cute image to imagine you standing there before your father and, and, and having this overwhelming feeling of looking like him, that you had to cover your own face and his like, to just try to take it in more slowly because it was so stark. That’s really, it’s pretty cute. Actually. Karen said she didn’t remember a whole lot about that visit. She remembered him telling her that he searched for her on his trains.

Karen (29:21): I remember him telling me that he wished he could have raised me.

Damon (29:25): What did you think when you heard him say that?

Karen (29:30): I was so sad at the time. I wished that that had been possible just because of everything I had been through as a kid and never feeling like I belonged and realizing that there had been a possibility that I could have been raised by him that he wanted to, but wasn’t given the option. He raised other children. I don’t want to say on his own, but he had children with other women who ended up leaving him and leaving the children with him and he raised them.

Damon (30:07): So that makes you wonder. Yeah, exactly.

Karen (30:11): Yeah. So during that visit, he said he wanted to take me to meet his brother. His brother had leukemia and he had been in the hospital for, for a long time. Um, he was about to be moved to palliative care. The brother, my uncle Stenard had said, I need to go home today. I need to be home today. He couldn’t explain why he needed to go home. He just wanted to go home. One more time. The day he went home was the same day. I met my birth father and my birth father took me to meet him. So there was tons of family at my uncle’s house. And my uncle is in a lazy boy chair. He’s thin to the point of almost death he’s wrapped in. I just remember him wrapped in white sheets to keep him warm and the families all around him and my birth father walked me into the room and introduces me to him. And my uncle looks at me and says, now I know why I need to come home he didn’t know I was coming. He had no idea.

Damon (31:44): They can feel you.

Karen (31:47): Yeah, I got to meet him. And then he gave this speech to this huge Jamaican family telling them about how we shouldn’t be so free with our, our, um, love and sexuality. And you know, you should be careful not to nucleating babies that you can’t look after. And, um, because this is what happens. You know, we ended up losing our family member and um, the whole room was crying and he died two weeks later. So yeah, it was pretty, it was pretty overwhelming. I know I’ve said that word a bunch of times, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Yeah. If anything just kind of fell into place. And it was obviously a higher power who had a hand in making that happen. After that, I went out for dinner, my daughter and I went out for dinner with my birth family, my immediate birth family. So it turns out that I had four sisters and two brothers and we all went out for dinner. It was the first time in my life that I went to a restaurant and felt like nobody was looking at me because I didn’t stand out. We looked just like everybody else.

Damon (33:22): That’s really funny because you’re right. If you walk into a restaurant and you can feel everybody looking at you, you can really feel it.

Karen (33:29): Well, heads just turned right.

Damon (33:31): But you’re having the opposite effect. You’ve always had that feeling. And now you walk into a restaurant and nobody looks, and you can feel that too. That’s fascinating

Karen (33:42): And it felt amazing like, Oh my God, nobody is, nobody is looking like, I’m looking around and nobody’s looking,

Damon (33:51): You must have been like, Oh, this is what that feels like.

Karen (33:56): Yeah. I like, Oh, so yeah, that’s exactly it. I was like, Oh, well this is what other people feel or don’t feel like they don’t, there’s nothing to feel because you’re just there with your family. There’s nothing more to it than that. This is what it feels to fit in.

Damon (34:15): I always liked to know post reunion, how things are going in the aftermath. I asked what happened next with Karen’s biological father.

Karen (34:23): So with my biological father, he passed away 10 months later. Yeah. So I had 10 months to get to know him, uh, which doesn’t, it wasn’t enough time. Um, that was really devastating to lose him. Um, everybody said I was just like him. And, um, I think his funeral was the most crushed and devastated I’ve ever been in my life. Number one for losing him. And number two, because there was a slideshow during the funeral and showed multiple pictures of him and my siblings growing up, doing fun things, you know, at family functions, all sorts of pictures. And I just remember feeling like, you know, that the term heavy hearted.

Karen (35:35): It just felt like there was a rock crushing my chest to see those pictures of him and my siblings and I wasn’t in the picture. So I got to see like everything that I missed out on and I wasn’t ready to see that. But I also, I knew what I missed and gone all those years. So that was, that was really hard losing him. But at the same time, because I found him when I did, you know, if I had, if I hadn’t found him until the following year, I wouldn’t have my birth family and my siblings and I are close sitting around the table with them. It’s like, my oldest brother says to me, it’s like, you just were always part of the family. Like you’re obviously one of us. Wow. And it’s so true. It’s changed everything for me. I no longer feel like I have to try and fit in anywhere. Even with my adoptive family, I don’t have to try to be like them or be accepted by them anymore because I know there’s somewhere I can go where I’m just myself.

Damon (37:00): Karen has kept contact with most of her siblings. There are six of them and there are always sibling dynamics to be cautious of in any family. But what’s sometimes challenging for an adoptee is if they were the first born, they’re suddenly the oldest of the siblings dethroning whomever grew up in that position before their return. Karen had that concern as she joined the sibling group. Remember Karen said, Halena saw Elvis at Caribana with another woman and a baby slightly younger than Karen, that younger sister has severe mental health issues such that she’s not coherent enough to fully understand the situation surrounding Karen’s emergence. She knows that Karen is part of the family now. And that’s enough. Karen said, it’s a funny feeling because she was always the youngest in her adopted family, but she always wanted to be an older sister. She loves that role in her paternal family. Switching gears. I wanted to hear about how Karen’s adoptive family reacted to her journey.

Karen (38:04): They were great. They were receptive. They were very receptive. And I know my birth or my adopted mom was always a little bit reluctant. I think she was always a little bit nervous about what I was going to find, or maybe that I was going to reject them or whatever it is you feel as an adoptive parent, my adoptive father was always supportive. Um, they ended up meeting my birth mother when she came that first time I took her to dinner to their place. Her and her partner, I don’t remember a whole lot about that. I, I remember it being super surreal to have both sets of parents sitting at a table together. My birth mother was super thankful to them. Um, and she was able to thank them. I think again, I’m just sitting there in awe that this is actually happening

Damon (39:03): A year after her maternal reunion. Karen’s birth mother Halena returned to Canada alone and stayed with Karen for two weeks. They took a road trip to Northern Ontario to Karen’s niece’s wedding Karen’s daughter in tow. But the whole trip was just too difficult.

Karen (39:21): That was really strange. That visit. It was just too much. It was just, she initiated that visit by saying, I really want to spend time getting to know you and your daughter. We took a two week road trip, my daughter and I kind of slide by the seat of our pants when we’re on holidays, we just do whatever comes to us. We don’t play. We’re not playing. My birth mother is an extreme planner to the point where she wanted to see a two week itinerary before she would agree to come. Yeah. So that’s, for me, it was super stressful because I’m not a planner. Like I can’t, I don’t even know what I’m doing for the rest of today. Nevermind. Two weeks out. You know what I mean? So I’m like doing all this research about what can we do for everyday, for two weeks?

Karen (40:21): I don’t know. I have no idea. First of all, I’ve never traveled this route, so I don’t really know what they are. So I to research everything and figure all of that is so there’s that I sent her an itinerary, she approved it and decided she was coming. So we drove 10 hours to my brother’s town of Timmins in Northern Ontario. And the drive up was okay. We had things to talk about, but once we got there, things started to get sprain. She was trying to, parent that didn’t go over well. And then during my niece’s wedding reception, she complained to my adoptive mom that I was too lax with my daughter. I was letting her stay up too late. I wasn’t disciplining her, et cetera, et cetera, that upset my, my adoptive mom. She told my brother and my brother told me that didn’t sit well with me.

Karen (41:25): My birth mother never had any other children. She never was a parent. And I thought, how dare you judge me as a parent? And judge my adopted mom as a parent that put a strain on the relationship, we then had like the rest of that 10 days to spend together. And remember she wanted this visit to get to know me and my daughter better. Not once. During that 10 days, did she initiate a conversation with my daughter? She didn’t pay attention to her at all. And my daughter is very perceptive and she kept saying to me, I don’t think she likes me. So then of course, you know, the mama bears coming out in me and I’m protecting my daughter, I’m choosing my daughter. So it was super strange.

Damon (42:23): Halena also decided on that trip that she wasn’t consuming any alcohol, a break from her glass of wine, with a meal, more relaxed approach to life. Karen suspected that Halena’s inability to chill and let her hair down a little bit, may have been part of the problem. She was too stressed the whole time. Finally, on the last stop of the road trip, Halena had a glass of wine at dinner, their conversation uncovered everyone’s frustration, Halena admitted. She was upset that things weren’t going well. Karen had a few things to say too,

Karen (43:00): And she finally let her hair down. And we ended up having a conversation because I was really frustrated with her and she was upset that things weren’t going well. And during that conversation, I let her know what I found out about what she said to my adopted mom and that I, I was really upset by it. And I also let her know that I felt like she was trying to be my parent and I wasn’t looking for a parent. I just wanted to get to know her as the, of human being, but I didn’t need another mother and I didn’t know how to be around her. So that was our last visit.

Damon (43:46): That was 2010. Karen says they’ve kept in touch sporadically over the years, never fully losing contact. They send birthday cards and the occasional long email message laying out everything and really catching up

Karen (44:01): Until recently where I felt like I need to, I need to start a relationship up again because I’m afraid I’m going to lose her. You know,

Damon (44:12): There’s also an interesting tension there of, I know exactly what you’re talking about because when I, I had identified the wrong guy, my biological mother accidentally identified the wrong individual. And I sought this guy out in a, I had no connection to him whatsoever zero. And I said, you know what? I’ve got, I’ve got a life. I don’t need another person. And I let the relationship die. And then I began to think, yeah, shoot. I will never come face to face with my biological father. And I’ve found him thinking it was him. And so I resurrected the relationship very, very reluctantly. And I could see how challenging it is to know that this, every one of us is going to depart this earth one day. But to know that the person that brought you into this life is going to leave and that you will have not been maybe as close to them or even that let the relationship die.

Damon (45:10): Like you feel this sense of pending regret. So you try to bring it back, but you also, haven’t known each other for 30, 40, 50 years. So it’s not like you’re the best of friends. You don’t have this deep, deep bond. Um, and so it’s a, it’s a really interesting, challenging tension of trying to, to try to find where the bond lies and, and, and appropriately, yes, find the boundaries so that you don’t force yourself on them or try to pull them too close to you. And you guys can sort of, you know, for lack of better words end things appropriately, well, I’m glad for you that you’ve not lost touch with her because I could see how that is going to be not equally, but very emotional as well. You know, you found her first, she identified him to you, which enabled you to find him for all intents and purposes, just in the Nick of time, mean you’ve got to meet your uncle and you spent, it sounds like a little bit of time with him and got to hear some really poignant words for him before you lost him. So I’m really glad that you were able to do that, but it sounds like it’s been a, a little bit of a rough road, but this is, this is why we do this, this show to try to uncover the truth about what it is that happens in adoption and in reunion. So thank you for sharing.

Karen (46:35): Thank you. Yeah, it was pretty special for sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (46:39): All right. Take care all the best. Thank you so much for the call, Karen.

Karen (46:42): Thanks for speaking to me and thanks for doing this podcast.

Damon (46:46): Of course. It’s my pleasure. Take care. All the best.

Karen (46:48): Thanks. Bye bye. Hey, it’s me.

Damon (46:56): Karen’s story touched on some really tough subjects in adoption. She grew up as an outsider of color in a homogenous community. Thankfully reunion helped her find a place where she could feel comfortable as part of her paternal birth family with Elvis. Karen mentioned meeting her birth mother, but not feeling a connection like she was home still

Damon (47:19): After losing Elvis. She refuses to let their relationship with Halena die completely. They are mother and daughter, and despite their differences in the, that

Damon (47:30): Connection is really important. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Karen’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, you can find the show at or follow me on Twitter at waieally You can subscribe to the show through, where you can sign up for emails to learn more about some of the things that I’m brainstorming. I hope you’ll leave a rating for who am I really, wherever you get your podcasts so that others can find the podcast too. Oh, and one more thing. I just wanted to let you know that my own adoption memoir, who am I really is now available on I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.

Who Am I Really?

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