Sunday, August 21, 2005

The story of Bryce (long post!)

Dedicated to Lene, who's going to Turkey in 2 weeks, to meet her birth brothers, Tayfun and Turgut.

This story used to be posted on an adoption site on the Internet, but the site doesn't exist any more. So, Lene, as promised, here is a copy of the story...

Good luck in Turkey! I'll be thinking of you.

The story of my brother, Bryce
Why every day counts

It was when I was editor of the student newspaper at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax that I learned the journalists’ saying, “There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.” I learned as a student journalist and editor that you must try to be true to the facts, no matter what and that sometimes, even the facts seem to take on a life of their own, as various versions of “the truth” emerge.

During one of the first conversations I had with my younger brother, I said to him that he would hear as many versions of the circumstances surrounding his adoption as there were people involved in the story. Each person in the story has his or her own perspective, biases and emotional baggage. I told my brother that it would be up to him to take all of the information that he would be given and assimilate it into a story that made sense to him.

This is the story from my perspective. I cannot speak for my mother, my father, or my siblings. I can only speak for myself. It is my intention to share this story with you in the most honest, truthful way I can.

It started unexpectedly one day in 1996. I was at home one afternoon, busily doing chores. I was not often home during the day and I do not really remember why I was home on that particular day. But I was. The TV was on, background noise as I did the dishes. Oprah came on. I was only half-listening as the TV talk show host spoke about the day’s topic: adoption reunions. Her guests that day were families who had been reunited after successful searches and reunions.

Next thing I knew, I was perched on the edge of the couch, dish towel in hand, my eyes glued to the screen. I cried as I watched the reunited families talk about their experiences. I wondered what they must have been feeling. And I thought about Andrew, the brother who had been given up for adoption some 20 years before.

On September 1st of that year, my mother gave birth to Andrew James Eaton. He was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital, the same place I had been born almost six years before. I never saw my baby brother when he was born. He was given up for adoption.

Once in a while, when I would ask Mum about it, she would say that back in those days, adoption was different than it is nowadays. She told me that she never got to hold her baby boy, that she had signed the adoption papers and that directly after the birth, he was taken straight out of the room. They said it was to prevent the birth mothers from getting too attached to the baby after they had already agreed to the adoption.

That day, as I sat watching Oprah in my Calgary apartment, I was moved so deeply that it physically hurt. I felt a choking inside as I tried to contain my tears while watching the program. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to search for Andrew.

Some years prior, our older brother, Aaron, had started his own search. Up to that point, his efforts had proved futile. I thought that perhaps if we both searched, we might have better luck. Now, I think luck and fate has as much to do with it as any kind of research.

My first step was to call my mother. She was sharing a house with my sister in Kitchener, Ontario. I remember feeling awkward, not knowing how to tell her what I was feeling. I told her about watching Oprah and how the show had inspired me to start my own search. I asked her for her blessing to go ahead and do so. My mother’s reserved British manner became slightly flustered at that moment.

“Well... I suppose so...” She said. “You know that Aaron has tried to search and hasn’t found him.”

I knew. But I wanted to do my own search. Would that be OK with her?

“I guess. You won’t do anything drastic will you?”

My mother was gently reminding my of my sometimes over-zealous, exuberant way of doing things that can be like a bull in a china shop who just won’t stop until every dish is broken. We talked about her concerns.

“After all...” she said. “He may not even know that he’s been adopted. I wouldn’t want someone just showing up at his door one day and announcing that he has a biological family when he may not even know.”

She had a good point. We agreed that any methods I used would be “non-invasive”; no private investigators or other search techniques that may be considered unwelcome on his part. I remember Mum saying, “I don’t have a problem with it as long as you are just making yourself available, should he ever want to come and find us.” Twenty years later, my mother still had a strong sense of protection for the well being of her youngest son.

After getting the green flag from my mother, the search was on. First though, I had to figure out how to do an adoption search. I contacted agencies by letter, phone and over the Internet. I gathered as much information as I could about how to conduct a search. I contacted my mother and asked her as many questions as I could think of that might help me. My mother kept every single important paper that ever crossed through her hands. But when I asked her about documentation from the adoption, she confessed that she didn’t have it. “I threw it away. In my mind, I had to let go and I didn’t want to keep anything.” I begged her to wrack her brain for details, anything that could help me.

I joined search organizations, including the Triad Society for Truth in Adoption of Canada. The Calgary chapter of this non-profit volunteer organization held meetings every third Tuesday of the month at the Old Y Community Centre in the Beltline district of central Calgary. I would go and listen to the stories of mothers or children who had been searching for years, sometimes decades, for their birth relative(s). We would discuss search techniques and share resources. Members would discuss adoption laws and debate the usefulness of them. At that time, there were very few other people who were also searching for siblings. I learned a lot about adoption search techniques at Triad. I also learned a great deal about the emotional pain associated with unsuccessful searches and the feelings of loss and abandonment that some searchers felt.

I found my experiences with Triad to be intense. At times, I was deeply inspired. At other times, I left meetings feeling depressed and hopeless. Particularly when I heard birth mothers that were searching for their surrendered children, I became acutely aware of the pain, guilt and frustration that these women felt. The one thing that they had in common was that they all felt that they had no other choice, but to give their children up for adoption.

Listening to the stories of these women gave me a hint about what my own mother must have felt about the choice that she made. Regardless of what happened between her and my father, the fact remained that she had given up a baby that spent nine months growing inside her. I started to try to see things from her point of view, even though it was hard to imagine being in her place. There were even times when she said that the one thing she’d like to do before she died was to know that Andrew was OK and that he had a good life.

As I look back on things now, I realize that because of my close relationship with my mother I was able to try to see things from her point of view, even though it was hard. What was impossible was to see things from my father’s point of view. The baby’s birth – and adoption -- came just at the time our parents were separating. I won’t go into the details – mostly because my memories of what was happening are vague and colored by the perceptions of the five-year old that I was at the time. Needless to say, like many stories of parents and families splitting up, ours was heavily seasoned with pain and heartache. After my parents split up, our family unit dissolved. I had little contact with my father for many years and to this day, he prefers not to discuss the subject much. I do my best to respect that choice.

As part of my search for the brother who was given up at that time, I contacted every volunteer agency that I could find. I wrote letters and I sent e-mails. I reasoned that since my brother was five years younger than I was, chances are that he would also be familiar with the Internet and navigate it with ease. I did not have a computer at home, so I would spend my lunch hours at work searching the Internet, looking for adoption resources and free reunion services run by volunteers, as I nibbled on my lunch. I registered with every volunteer Canadian adoption search / reunion service I could find. The databases are similar to those of the government, except that they are unofficial. The agencies do not guarantee the validity of any matches, since they do not have any adoption records to verify the information. They suggest that searchers also contact the appropriate government, church or other organization that handled the original adoption.

The word “search” sounds like such an active word. I really had no idea when I started what it meant to undertake an “adoption search”. After an initial six months of writing letters and registering with free search agencies there was not much else to do; not if I was going to respect my mother’s wishes of a doing a non-invasive search for my brother. That’s when I learned that the longest part of the adoption search process is the wait.

The following year, in 1998, I returned to Ontario to spend Christmas with my family there. Although I did visit with Dad and his wife, Viv, I spent the majority of the time with my Mum and sister. It was not easy to come back to Calgary, to start work again on Monday, January 4, 1999. I got back to the office and the answering machine was full. When I turned on my computer, there were over 180 e-mail messages waiting for me. I quickly scanned the subject lines, deleting some without even opening them.

Then I stopped dead in my tracks.

The subject line said “Andrew James Eaton.” My heart raced. What was it about? I did not recognize the name of the sender, “Gail”. I opened it right away. The message was brief, saying that she believed she had found my birth brother and to please contact her.

My first reaction was a mix of elation, followed quickly by incredulity and suspicion. Who was this woman? How did she know about my search? It couldn’t really be true, could it? Was this a hoax?

I looked at the date of her message: December 18, 1998. The message had been sent the day after I left Calgary -- and my e-mail account at work -- to go to Ontario for Christmas.

I quickly e-mailed Gail back, asking her for more information and questioning about how she knew about me. Her reply was a quick and gentle, “Sarah, you contacted us, remember? I work with CANADopt Registry, an Internet search organization run by volunteers.” She went on to say that I had registered all my information with them and that they believed that they had matching information from a young man who was searching for his birth family.

I had registered with so many organizations that I had forgotten the names of them all. I was still in disbelief. My next e-mail to Gail expressed this. I asked her, “Are you sure?”

Her response seemed to indicate that my reaction was not unexpected. She gently explained that the organization was run completely by volunteers dedicated to reuniting birth families. She said that their service was “unofficial” in the sense that they do no have official government or other records, other than the information sent in by the searchers themselves. I remember her saying, “I can’t guarantee you anything, but I’ve seen a lot of these searches. I’m 99% sure this is your brother.” She went on to explain that the man had registered that he was born on September 1 in Guelph, Ontario. She reminded me that Guelph is a small city and that it was even smaller at that time. She asked me something like, “What are the chances that more than one baby boy was given up for adoption on that particular day in that hospital?”

I was starting to believe that maybe it was for real. My heart raced.

I remember that the flurry of e-mails continued, with Gail asking for my permission from both of us to send our contact information to the other party. Both sides consented. Suddenly, I knew his name.

Andrew James Eaton was known to the rest of the world as Bryce Kenneth Munn.

“Bryce.” I kept saying his name over to myself. “My brother, Bryce.”

The number and intensity of emotions inside me was inexpressible. I was ecstatic, relieved, surprised, still a little disbelieving and confused, all at once. I wanted to tell the whole world. At the same time, I wanted to be cautious. I wanted to be sure before I told anyone.

Bryce and I exchanged e-mails and confirmed all the facts and data that we had with each other. He stated that he had been born with the name Andrew James Eaton at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Guelph, Ontario on September 1.

It had to be him.

We arranged to speak on the phone and set up a time convenient for both of us. By that point, my doubts had subsided significantly. I wanted to let my mother know. I called her and explained the situation. Her reaction was similar to mine. “Are you sure?” She said. “We want to be sure.”

I told her that all the information was unofficial. That nothing could be confirmed until we got verification from the government agency. I said that the volunteer who had contacted me was “99% sure” and so was I.

My doubt melted away the moment I spoke to Bryce on the phone. I was overwhelmed by the sound of his voice. It sounded so much like my Dad’s and my older brother, Aaron’s, that I was convinced. The tone, pitch and intonation were so much like theirs that I was dumbfounded. I am a language teacher and am well aware that regional influences on speech may affect accent and intonation. I knew that Bryce’s speech patterns may be similar to those of my father’s and my older brother’s simply because of the fact that they had the speech patterns of every other man in that region of Ontario. I didn’t want my emotions to get out of hand.

Intuition won out over logic. The sound of Bryce’s voice was confirmation enough. This was my brother.

We had a long, exhilarating conversation that night. I sat on my bed, ear glued to the phone, wanting to know every detail about Bryce and his life.

He told me that he had planned to wait until he turned 25 before he started his search. For some reason, he had set aside that plan the previous November as one day, while surfing adoption sites on the Internet, he started inputting his information into the various databases he found. My hunch had proved to be right. This man who was five years my junior knew as much, or more, about the Internet than I did.

We had both registered at CANADopt. The volunteers there had matched our files about a month after Bryce registered his information. They sent out the e-mail in December, the day after I left for Christmas vacation. The day that e-mail was sent, I was already in Ontario. Little did I know that I was only a short drive away from where Bryce was living! If I had left for holidays just one day later, the Christmas season of 1998 would have unfolded in a very different way. We could have had a face to face reunion that holiday season.

During our discussion we reasoned that perhaps it had worked out for the best. If it had happened that we received the information before Christmas, we may have felt huge pressure to meet during the holidays. Since the Christmas season brings some stress to most households, a reunion certainly would have compounded that. As things were, we could take our time to figure things out without any pressure.

We began the process of telling the various members of our respective families and at the same time, contacted Child and Welfare Services in Guelph, Ontario, to ask them to confirm that the match was authentic.

We received the official confirmation from the Ministry of Family Services not long after that. It was a real and true match.

After those initial conversations and after we let everyone know what was going on, things began to unfold very quickly. Bryce suddenly found himself with 4 new family members: Mum, Tracy, Aaron and me. (My father chose not to meet Bryce and we respected that choice.) We all experienced intense and varied emotions those first few weeks, including an intense desire to learn more and to get to know each other. As we established a dialogue of discovery, by phone and e-mail, we also began to plan the face to face meetings... the reunion.

I had heard about adoption reunions before. I had seen TV skits and movie clips about reunions. Finally, we had the chance for our own adoption reunion. This is when I learned that there is not just one reunion, at least, not in our case. Separated by several provinces and thousands of miles and each of us with individual and demanding work schedules, we did not have a Hollywood style mega-family reunion. Our meetings took place in stages, each one carefully planned and anticipated with the passionate expectation never before known to any of us.

In February 1999, Bryce met my Mum and sister. As it turned out, he lived not far from where they were living — about half an hour’s drive away. From all accounts, the meeting went well (although everybody said they were trembling with nervousness!)

A few months later, in April, Bryce took a trip to Alberta to meet Aaron, our older brother, and me. It was also his first trip out west to see the Rocky Mountains.

We spent our time looking at family photo albums, telling stories about our respective lives and generally getting to know each other. It was truly a special and precious time. By the time Bryce left, we knew that we were re-united for life.

In May, the big “Meeting of the Mothers” took place. The two mothers, Becky (birth Mum) and Joan (adoptive Mom), met over Mother’s Day brunch and they were joined by Bryce, Tracy and others. I wasn’t there to witness it, but I heard that it was a success on all accounts. I would guess that emotions and nerves ruled the day and that everyone left relieved — and smiling.

The meeting ended with Joan and her husband, Ken, inviting Mum, Tracy, Aaron and me to share Christmas Day with them at their home. We talked about it over the phone and we all agreed. We promised to meet in Ontario for Christmas and for the first time, the four of us kids — along with Bryce’s adoptive sister, Karri, and other family members — would be together in the same place at the same time.

The rest of the summer was fairly quiet, but we kept in touch with Bryce and his family.

In October, just after I returned from a business trip to Mexico, my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The next five weeks in our family were filled with pain and grief, for everyone involved. My older brother and I both flew down to Kitchener to be with our mother and siblings.

During that five weeks, I remembered the words my mother had often said… “Before I die, I just want to know that he is healthy and happy.” When the diagnosis of cancer was made, doctors told us that our mother had probably been sick for years and very likely, she knew it. She hated doctors and resisted seeing them at any cost. We figure that she intuitively knew what was happening to her. She waited until she got her wish to meet the baby she had given up for adoption. Then, she gave up fighting the illness that had been consuming her for longer than any of us knew.

The first time the four of us kids were ever in the same place at the same time was at our mother’s side, as she lay dying. One of her dreams in life was to see us all together and we were able to make that dream come true for her. Sadly, that was the last Christmas gift we would ever give to our Mum. She passed away on December 8, 1999.

That Christmas season was particularly bittersweet. We were simultaneously grieving the loss of our mother and celebrating the reunion with our brother.

It didn’t really feel much like Christmas that year, but in any case, we decided to continue on with plans that had been made months before. The plan was for us to be with Bryce and his family on Christmas Day. That’s what Mum would have wanted and that’s what we did.

Before that though, we attended a special Christmas service at Bryce’s church. We were honoured by his minister, Rev. Kees, when he told us that every year they choose one family in the church to represent the spirit of Christmas. That year, the minister invited the Munn-Eaton family to light the Christmas candle in their church in Christmas Eve. Tracy, Aaron and I do not share the same faith as Bryce and his family, but family unity and love transcended religious denomination. We accepted, in honour of the spirit of Christmas and of family.

Since then, we have stayed in touch with Bryce and his family. In 2001, we were delighted to attend his wedding, officiated by the same Rev. Kees and be present as he married a delightful young lady named Marsha.

They have two wonderful children, Wesley and Katelyn. It somehow seems symbolic and very special that Bryce and Marsha have ushered in the next generation and giving us all an opportunity to embrace the cycle of life once again.

I waited for more than two decades to meet Andrew… Bryce… or as he is known to me, “Kid”, because he’s truly the best kid brother anyone could ever hope for… Definitely worth the wait.

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