Eva Malley. Nathalie Sturgeon photo.

LOST AND FOUND

By NATHALIE STURGEON

I became a “child in care” when I was six. That was when my biological mother turned me over to the government.

I remember gripping my backpack and feeling more than lost, as if I was stumbling through a dense forest at night without a flashlight.

I stayed lost for five years.

Then I was found, and fell into the arms of a new family. I was adopted. My life’s story has been determined by decisions made by others. The losses are hard to articulate because they are so large. It’s losing a sense of self, a childhood, a sense of belonging.

According to the New Brunswick Department of Social Development, there are now about 400 lost children in the province who need a family.

I remember being one of those children. I had unclean hair, and tattered clothes twice my size. I have a memory of standing in a dimly lit kitchen of a stranger’s house, not knowing what might happen next.

For years I asked, Why am I here? Why am I the way that I am? Why doesn’t anyone love me?

I recently started seeking out adoption stories. I met a woman named Eva Malley.

She’s of average height, her hair long and blonde. She held a long cigarette in her hand, flicking it compulsively as we talked, the ashes falling to the ground. Malley has a habit she can’t quit, and that has a connection to her past.

Malley is 22-years-old and she lives in Fredericton, N.B. She’s a manager at a local fast food restaurant and attends the University of New Brunswick where she is pursuing a business degree.

When she was baby her mother surrendered her into government care. For many years she knew nothing about her past or biological mother.

“I recently found out that I was, excuse my language, a crack baby,” she said. Her mother ingested crack cocaine while Eva grew in the womb. “I was taken away from her at birth and given the name Eva.”

As child she never gave much thought to her biological family. She was adopted when she was four by Nancy and David Malley, who live in Campbellton in northern New Brunswick.

Malley said her adoptive mother knew it was meant to be. When Malley and Nancy met, Malley reached out her hand and proclaimed, “You must be my new Mom.”

It was an instant connection and felt natural from the very beginning.

But Malley faced challenges as she grew, developing habits and behaviours that didn’t make sense.

Malley developed a biting habit. She had a constant need to touch her face and mouth. She would bite her nails until they were sore. Malley also had underdeveloped lungs and now suffers from asthma. She suffers from permanent hearing damage. The question was always why?

“I was going through a really rough time. I was really tired, I wasn’t able to concentrate,” she said. The inability to concentrate drove Malley to question her past. For Malley, finding out she was troubled because she was a “crack baby” was almost too much to comprehend.

For many adopted children, there are questions that can’t be answered, holes in the stories that can’t be filled. There is a continual quest to be found.

Before I was adopted, I lived with a small family in a home not far from where I grew up. They had their own little girl. The house was large.

The first few months were fine. Seemed simple. But as the months went by and I became more difficult to manage so did affairs in my home. I became an inconvenience to people who were being paid to care for me.

Andrew Blair, 22, is a tall bulk of a man, his hair curly and light brown with a smile so wide it’s contagious. He recently graduated from New Brunswick Community College in Miramichi, N.B. as an electrician.

Blair was adopted at birth by Debora and Robert. He lived his life on their farm but his biological parents were never too far from home.

“When I was really young my birth mother used to come and visit me,” he said. “She never told me she was my mother, she just told me she was a friend of Debbie’s [Debora], and then when I was 10, she contacted my Mom and told her she wanted to tell me about who she was.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Both he and his parents were happy to have his biological mother in their lives. When Blair was 12-year-old he met his biological father.

Blair’s biological father works and lives in Alberta but hails from Miramichi, New Brunswick.

“I was confused at first. I didn’t really understand. I was confused, scared and angry. I stayed very bitter for many years until I got older and realized they did it because it was what was best for me,” said Blair.

Blair’s parents had a turbulent relationship. Blair’s mother had another child and was unable to support two children and his father wasn’t really prepared to look after Blair either so his parents settled on a private adoption.

“Then I felt like I was unwanted. Why did my mother keep my sister and not me? Why didn’t my father take me instead? I felt unwanted and unloved I suppose,” he said. “But after spending so much time with them I realize they regret giving me up, they felt it was the right thing. They’re proud of who I’ve become.”

I’ve also met both my biological parents and I was able to get some answers to my questions. My mother lives in Moncton, N.B., and runs her own home security business. My father lives in Saint John, N.B., and has since re-married and he has two other children.

I know both of them. Do I love them? No. Do I hate them? Maybe. Will I ever forgive them? No. Is the statement, “I just wanted to do what was best for you” enough? I don’t think so. But I have a different life, and for that, I’m thankful.

My life could have been so different. I asked Malley what she thinks about her life now.

“If I had been with my mother I would have been with someone who cares more about herself than me,” she said. “I sometimes say, ‘I’m so lucky,’ because it could have been so much worse.”

Malley has never met her biological mother and doesn’t know what would happen if she did. She has no knowledge of her father. She often wonders if she could be walking past a brother or sister she knows nothing about.

“There is always going to be that underlying anger that I’m in this situation and how I had no choice in the matter,” she said.

Malley is thankful for the life she has now. For her parents and her home. And she wants people to know how wonderful adoption can be.

“You’re going to have your own host of issues with your own children,” she said. “When you adopt a child, they are your child. It is who cares and nurtures for the child that are their parents. My biological parents are inconsequential.”

I feel the same way as Eva. My parents, Valerie and Rodney adopted me at a late age. They gave me a roof over my head, food to eat, toys to play with, proper clothes, but more than anything they gave me a home. My Mom and Dad gave me a sense of belonging; these people loved me, wanted me, and wanted to care for me. This was about me. You can’t understand this feeling if you’ve ever felt like you didn’t belong. It’s a minute or a second and you know this is where you’re meant to be.

For Blair the feeling is similar. He has a healthy and warm relationship with his biological parents. I asked Blair what his feelings were about where he is now.

“It’s never an easy choice for a parent to give their children up because that’s part of them. The child is part of them,” said Blair. “You should never be angry toward them until you’ve heard their side of the story.”

There are no easy answers. I’ve discovered that through my years of searching that there is closure in the happy endings.

I’m the person I am today because I went through the system as a “child in care.” I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the in between. I’m grateful to have been found.

I often think of the many who are still out there, waiting.

This is one of the few early photos of me.