Aaron Billard is a father to two and a mentor to many as the voice behind Unvirtuous Abbey. He’s also a United Church minister in Moncton. This is his story, in honour of National Adoption Awareness Month.
I was adopted when I was about three months old. My birth mother wasn’t in a position to care for me; the home support wasn’t there to encourage parents to keep children. That being said, it was her choice to make. I was placed for adoption and, as it was told to me, I was living in the care of an older woman who made notes and observations about my likes, dislikes, and behaviours when my parents entered the story. They were very excited to have a child; my birth name was legally changed to reflect that I was now their legally adopted son.
I remember snooping and finding adoption records where I learned my birth name and found a picture of myself as a baby. This began a lot of conversations with my mother about my own adoption. I had always been told that I was special, and that my mother didn’t give birth to me. I was “chosen.” I understood the basics. Yet, despite feeling secure in the knowledge that I was with my parents, family gatherings were spent talking about who looked like whom, and soon I felt very self-conscious of not looking like anybody – an insecurity that would follow me for the rest of my life, until I became a dad.
As an adult, I approached a lawyer about finding out what I could about my adoption, as the provincial records were (and still are) sealed. To be honest, I never suspected that adoptive children/parent reunions were Hallmark movies where everything was wonderful. I was quite protective of my life and I didn’t want to upset any balance by introducing a new set of people into it. However, the lawyer told me that we could find out any ‘non-identifying’ information surrounding my adoption and my birth family. There was no harm in trying.
The social worker assigned to my case said that I could place my name on a list, and if my birth mother did the same, we could be put in contact with one another. To be honest, the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt her life, too. What if her partner didn’t know that she had given up a child? But as part of my own journey with all of this, I sat down and wrote a letter to my birth mother. It was one page, concise, and I expressed my thankfulness for the big decision she had to make. I assured her that I had, indeed, had a good life.
The social worker made a “gentle” contact with my birth mother to let her know that I had been inquiring. She told her the process. Apparently, the interest wasn’t there. All she wanted to know was if I was married. There was no Hallmark story, as I had expected, and that did create a certain sadness in me that I didn’t expect to feel.
But, I learned some beautiful details. My parents were youth group leaders. My birth father had no part in my birth mother’s life (except for the obvious). My birth mother wanted me to have the best life I could have, and she couldn’t provide that. I learned lots about family health history, too.
I always have, at the back of my mind, the sense that I am adopted. It has shaped who I am more than I may care to admit. From kids calling me a Cabbage Patch Kid, to my own questions and wondering about my origins. But I have enjoyed the mystery. Some adopted people have made it their main sense of identification. I’ve met such adopted persons. But I have walked beside this part of my identity quite peacefully over the years. And I believe that it has made my life a richer experience. I have known families who have been destroyed by their adopted child; I had a work supervisor who, when he found out I was adopted, treated me differently because an adopted child in his family brought only chaos. There is that, and we can’t hide the fact that genes often trump environment.
As a parent, I am aware that my children are who they are in large part because of the genes that they carry. That will never change. I wasn’t a sleeper as a child, and neither are they. My kids are who they are. And as an adopted person, I appreciate that fact a little more than I may normally would have.
When I first saw my daughter, I was overwhelmed with how much she looks like me. She still does. I look into her eyes, and see a part of my own. I fell in love watching my parents get excited about how much she looked like me as a baby. And finally, finally, I was part of that story from which I had been excluded for so long.