By Marianne Curtis
Adoption reunion stories are always a hit on shows like Oprah or Dr. Phil, but as an Ile des Chenes woman recently learned they are even better when they happen close to home.
Marianne Curtis found out she was adopted when she was around eleven years old and it was not a pleasant surprise.
“There are things that happened and were said as I was growing up that made me really believe that being adopted was the worst thing that could ever happen to a child,” explained Marianne. “I grew up believing that I rejected by two mothers.”
The conditions eventually became unbearable and at fifteen years old, Marianne packed a pillowcase and fled the little farm south of Steinbach. A few years later, her adoptive mother handed over her adoption papers and encouraged her to look for her birth family.
“I remember her telling me that maybe by looking for my family I would find the answers that I always sought but out of respect, and my love for her I didn’t do anything with them at the time,” Marianne added.
Eventually when her third child was born with a heart defect, Marianne changed her mind and signed the Alberta Adoption Registry. At the time adoption files were closed and only non-identifying information was released. Her search ended abruptly until the province changed their laws in 1995 and files were opened. Soon she was sent a very detailed package in the mail, including her real name– Gloria Jean Kanda and the name of her mother, Caroline Kanda.
“I did several half hearted searches on the internet over the years but found nothing – eventually I believed that finding anyone in my family would never happen,” Marianne noted.
That all changed in the middle of March, a few weeks after her adoptive mother passed away.
“My dog went missing days after my mother died and I wasn’t handling it very well – I posted ads, posters, anything that would help me find him faster,” Marianne explained. “On an impulse I figured since I was already in “looking” I would try one more time – I had nothing to lose.”
A quick search on Facebook revealed three possible family members in Edmonton, so she quickly fired of a note to each. A few days later she received a note from her birth mother’s brother.
“His note floored me – what caught me was how he told me that every year on my birthday for forty years, my mother has remembered me in some way – she’d never forgotten me and wanted to talk to me immediately,” she recalled.
Two weeks to the hour of her adoptive mom’s viewing, Marianne spoke to her birth mother Caroline (Kanda) Walsh for the first time.
“The first thing I asked her was if the decision to give me up was the right one for her,” Marianne shared. “She told me that yes, she finished school and had made a good life – she’s been a grade 3 teacher for 30 years – that meant a lot to me.”
Over the next few weeks, Marianne and her newfound family spend hours on the phone getting to know each other. She also has a sixteen year old sister and a stepfather.
“It is like we have lived parallel lives, yet two provinces apart – I am definitely my mother’s daughter,” laughed Marianne. “There are so many crazy similarities – I’d even met my step-dad before without even knowing it when he used to drive for Big Freight.”
Right from the start things just “fit” and Marianne joked about it would be nice meet everyone for the first time for her birthday and that is exactly what happened, thanks to her maternal grandmother.
On May 1, two days before her 41’st birthday, Marianne got off the plane in Edmonton and was embraced by her birth mom for the first time.
“It was very emotional, and yet, so comfortable – I felt like I was coming home for the first time in my entire life,” recalled Marianne. “I fit right in.”
Along with meeting her family, came the answers to many questions and healing.
“I wanted to keep her so much, and kissing her goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life – but I never ever forgot her,” explained Carol. “Unfortunately at the time, with circumstances being as they were, there was no way that I could have kept her without us ending up on the streets – I did what I thought was the best for her because I loved her and always have.”
Carol admits that it was difficult to hear that things did not turn out as well as she had hoped for her daughter, but she is excited to have another chance.
“All these years there has been a huge hole in my heart but it is not longer empty,” Carol shared. “I never thought this would happen – I lost Marianne once, and I am not going to lose her again.”
Unlike many reunion stories, this one has a happy ending. Marianne is currently excitedly planning a reunion at the end of July, when her mother, step-dad and sister will travel to Manitoba to meet her four children and two grand-children.
“I can’t believe I am a great-grandma,” Carol laughs. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
A few random notes on Facebook helped Marianne Curtis find her birth family, including her mother Carol Walsh and her maternal grandmother Denelda Kanda of Edmonton.