Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This is so sad

A mother's plea draws nothing but decades of silence

A small ad leads to a tale of teenage pregnancy and adoption in the 1950s

Pete McMartin
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Last week, on page C12 of the Aug. 4 edition of The Vancouver Sun, on the back page of the Review section, this tiny message sat buried in the very bottom right-hand corner of the "Celebrating" announcements:

To My Strawberry Blonde Birth Daughter
AUG. 6, 1958
How Are You?
Phyllis 403-273-4523

It was poignant as it was enigmatic. The touching detail of a baby's hair colour, an indelible memory after 49 years. The short, questioning plea, an arrow hoping to find its mark.

No one reading it at the time could have known it, of course, but that very same message had run in The Sun every August for the last seven or eight years.

Maybe -- as one caller who had spotted the message suggested -- there was a story there somewhere.

So I phoned the number given in the ad.

There was no answer.

But seconds later, my phone rang, and at the other end of the line was a woman. She sounded expectant, as if she had been hoping for the call. She said, someone at your number had just phoned her line, and she had seen the Vancouver area code on her call display, so she had phoned back right away.

It was "Phyllis" of the message. Her full name was Phyllis Fix. She was 69. She was retired and lived in Calgary.

She was trying to find her daughter, she said, the one she had given up for adoption 49 years ago. She had been in her late teens when she gave birth to her, she said.

"I had come to Vancouver to live with my aunt and uncle in 1956, when I turned 18, because I had never been anywhere. I was from London, England, and I wanted to get out and see a bit of the world.

"I was not used to being on my own. I had a pretty solid family background."

Maybe that naivete led to her predicament. She had been in Canada for about a year and a half, she said, when she found she was pregnant. She never told her parents, she said.

It was 1958, when it was common for girls in her delicate condition to disappear for a time. The father, it seems, was not in the picture.

"I ended up going to a home run by the Salvation Army for unwed mothers," Phyllis said.

"I had her at Grace Hospital, Aug. 6. I saw her the first day she was born, and I had spoken to a social worker and we decided that the best thing to do was give her up for adoption. I guess back then I was pretty ashamed of what happened."

Shame was soon replaced by remorse.

"Every time I would see a baby afterwards, I would cry. But I didn't know what else to do, and I really didn't have any emotional support from anyone."

She stayed on in Vancouver for another nine years. She worked as a stenographer. She married, but it ended badly, luckily without children.

She decided she would get away from Vancouver as far as she could, which, on a steno's salary, was Banff. She lived and worked there for a year, then moved to Calgary. She worked in a lawyer's office, met a man, married, had two children, a girl and a boy, now in their 30s. They know, she said, of their half-sister.

Over the years, Phyllis said, she had tried to contact the girl, and through the efforts of an adoption reunification agency in Calgary, a woman from B.C. once answered the agency's queries, though she didn't leave a name. And once, she said, using a B.C. government agency (the name of which Phyllis couldn't recall but was probably the Adoption Reunion Registry at the Ministry of Children and Family Development), she was given a last name of the adopting parents, though no address was given. To her dismay. she lost or misplaced the papers, she said, and can't remember the name, so will have to reapply to the registry.

In the meantime, she places the annual message in The Sun.

"Put it this way," she said. "Because it's been so long, and this year she's 49, deep down I just want to know that she's happy, and just let her know that I'm thinking about her.

"I just hope her life's been good and her parents who adopted her were loving and cared for her.

"I hope in her heart she can forgive me for doing this."

I asked her if she had had any other calls.

"No," she said, sighing. "Just you."

4 complaints from ingrates:

Anonymous,  August 14, 2007 at 9:37 AM  

My heart is breaking for her.

Anonymous,  August 14, 2007 at 10:17 AM  

Mine too.

Anonymous,  August 14, 2007 at 5:25 PM  

From a different anonymous -

I did the same thing for years.

I would place an ad in a newspaper wishing my son a happy birthday.

The sad thing is that he never saw them - the adoptive parents moved very far away from the area so that he never would.

However, unlike Phyllis, I did reunite with my son - I know how lucky I am.

My heart goes out to her.

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