Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 4 2015, Page 76

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 4, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE D8 Janice Knight says each adoption is like a pebble dropped in a pond. It ripples out beyond the child to touch many kinds of parents, siblings and grandparents, down through decades and tinged by nearly every human emotion. Knight, manager of adoption and post- adoption programs for the Manitoba government, is standing amid row after row of metal shelves crammed with roughly 50,000 individual files that date back to 1923. That’s a lot of pebbles, and the ripples are about to turn into waves. Until now, those adoption records were sealed. Adoptees could ask social workers for non- identifying information about their biological parents — a social history that often included ethnic origins and medical details but with all the important stuff, names and towns and addresses, omitted. Birth parents could get similar information about where their child ended up, with all the vital parts, such as an adopted name, blacked out. Provincial social workers would facilitate reunions when they could, when both parties agreed. But thousands of Manitobans were left mired in mystery about their origins and identity, or the fate of the child they gave up years ago. New legislation, long in the works and made official three weeks ago, changes all that. It unseals decades of records, allowing birth parents and adoptees to see everything — original birth certificates, home studies on adoptive families, hospital files, formal adoption forms and a host of other documents. Already, more than 1,000 people, children and birth parents, have asked for their files, which gives them a name to Google, then a phone number to call, then — maybe — a parent or child to finally meet. Every adoption story is different. Here are a few. Patti Landreville, who stayed at a home for unwed mothers in 1986 while pregnant, feels she was railroaded into allowing her son to be adopted. family secrets D8 cover SATURDAY, JULY 4,2015 1 W INKLER — For a week after she gave birth, from her window at the Salvation Army home for unwed mothers, Patti Landreville could see the Grace Hospital where her son was waiting. During that week in the spring of 1986, the small- town girl often walked across the parking lot and into the Grace to admire her baby, whom she’d carefully named Christopher. “ I felt like I wasn’t wanted there. I looked at him through the window. No one talked to me. No one said, ‘ Look at your beautiful baby. Shall I go get him for you?’ ” remembered Landreville, now a happily married small- business owner and mother of two more boys. “ I remember standing there, my heart wanting, my head saying ‘ no.’ And nobody talking to me.” More than 20 years later, with the help of provincial social workers, Landreville was reunited with her son. For their first meeting, she picked Christopher up from an apartment tower right next to the Grace, a tower she could also see from her window at the maternity home. When he jumped in Landreville’s car, they both stared at each other for a few seconds, then burst out laughing. If that sounds like a Hallmark movie, a tidy, uplifting television ending to a heartbreaking tale, just wait. For Landreville, as joyful as her reunion was — and still is — with her first- born son, it’s not quite that straightforward. Nor will it be for the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Manitobans who are about to be reunited with their own Patti or their own Christopher. Roughly 50,000 Manitobans have been placed for adoption since 1923. Their records were unsealed less than a month ago by long- awaited provincial legislation. Now that the province can share names of birth parents and adopted children, reunions such as Patti and Christopher’s will be spreading all over the province and beyond. For adopted children, those could raise hard questions and unearth resentments and confusion. For Landreville, feelings she’d tried to stifle for nearly 30 years bubbled up. “ It brings you right back to that time in your life, and all kinds of emotions — fear, anger, hurt, pain, happiness,” said Landreville. “ The social worker said it would be emotional. I thought: happiness. It wasn’t just happiness. It was all this stuff finally working its way out.” She saves her tears for when she’s working, grooming dogs in her basement alone. Otherwise, she is deliberate and matter- of- fact when she tells her story from her bungalow’s sunny living room, nursing an iced capp, her little dogs barking at cars outside. Landreville remembers another living room, that of her parents in Winkler nearly 30 years ago, during an even more conservative time. She’d just told them she was pregnant. “ This had taken the cake,” she recalled. “ This was not good.” Christopher’s father was a high school friend — they are still friendly — but they weren’t in love and had no plans to get married. On hand at this living- room summit was a local social worker, who described a maternity home in Winnipeg where unwed mothers could go to school and get counselling as they prepared to give birth and, in most cases, give their babies up for adoption. Landreville packed and left almost immediately and spent the next seven months in the maternity home. Now, 30 years later, she says her time there amounted to a kind of brainwashing, particularly effective on a naive, unworldly young woman who’d never left Winkler and who felt she’d done something shameful. Placing her baby for adoption was sold as a form of redemption, a selfless gesture, a way to erase the sin. “ From the time you set foot in there, the only thing they talked about to you was adoption, how wonderful it was,” she said. “ They said, ‘ It’s selfish to keep your baby. If you love your baby, you’ll do this.’ We were asked to draw up lists. On one side it was what can the adoptive parents give your child and on this side, what can you give your child.” As a single woman with no job, her side of the page was pretty short. But looking back, Landreville says she was perfectly capable of raising her son. She was an adult. She came from a good family. She had no addictions or mental- health issues. She was just unmarried. With a little help and encouragement, she would have done fine. But when she broached the idea of keeping her son with a social worker, she was dismissed. Instead, even when Christopher was born, no one called the child “ her” baby. It was always “ the” baby. “ They laid him beside me for two or three seconds. I looked over, I saw his face and they took him away,” she said. “ After that moment, the hospital stay is like a haze.” She didn’t know whether to ask for her baby, whether to feed him or change him, where to go in the hospital to see him. No one said much to her. After a day or two, Landreville was discharged and sent back to the maternity home, while arrangements were made with the adoptive couple and the paperwork was completed. A COMPLICATED JOURNEY THE REUNION BY MARY AGNES WELCH PHOTOS BY MELISSA TAIT WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ‘ It brings you right back to that time in your life, and all kinds of emotions — fear, anger, hurt, pain, happiness’ CONTINUED ON D9 Documents unsealed Janice Knight, Manitoba’s manager of adoption and post- adoption programs, among the thousands of records. See videos of four of our adoption stories at wfp. to/ adoptions ¥ D_ 08_ Jul- 04- 15_ FF_ 01. indd D8 7/ 2/ 15 7: 40: 37 PM

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