In 2005 and 2006, I watched many performances of Doctor Barnardo’s Children. And I was fascinated by the production and the story of the children who were sent to Canada as a part of Dr. Barnardo’s scheme — to save poor children from their lives on the streets of London by giving them better homes in the colonies. Interestingly, the show didn’t particularly land on me in any substantive emotional way; I didn’t have any family members who were Barnardo children and so the story didn’t seem to apply to me. I could see the effect it was having on others in the audience and what a cathartic experience the show appeared to be for former Barnardo children and their descendents.
Fast forward to 2014 and it seems that, suddenly, this show has the ability to make me a weepy mess when I even just think about it. What’s different this time around, you may ask. Well there are two major things that have radically changed in my life since 2005. First I have a child of my own now, an eight-year-old daughter. And whenever I think of the story of the Barnardo children, I cannot help thinking of the fact that children as young as seven were sent to Canada alone to face unknown futures and to never see their families in England again. I look at my daughter, Maude Rose, and cannot imagine what it would be like for her to be all alone in a strange land, without me and my husband and all the other people in the world who love and protect her. I think about those little children and my heart breaks for them. I know many of them were lucky and were adopted by loving families. But to never know the details of your birth and birth family, it’s so sad.
Which brings me to the second major change in my life since 2005, the discovery of my birth families in late 2012. My parents adopted me in November 1966, and until 18 months ago I knew almost nothing about my birth family. Then in 2012, I requested, from the Province of Ontario, all available identifying information on my birth parents. And through the amazing power of Google, I found my birth mother and then my birth father. It has been an amazing journey since then, with many ups than downs, but definitely more ups than downs overall. But what has struck me, as I watch Doctor Barnardo’s Children come to life, is this notion: The earliest event in my life was that my birth parents gave me up, that I was not wanted. I was a mistake. And lately, I have been wondering what part that has had in forming me into the person I am today. I certainly know, on an intellectual level, that my birth parents were young, they were not married, and that adoption afforded them the ability to deal with a mistake, without paying for it the rest of their lives.
But as the person who is the ‘mistake,’ I am left pondering what part of me is affected by the removal of my parents’ love almost from the start. And do not misunderstand, I had amazing parents who raised me with love and security and were quick to tell my sister and me that unlike most parents who did not get to choose their children, my parents got to pick us and we were special. It’s a wonderful sentiment and I think it helped a lot growing up. Still, I feel very lucky that after almost 50 years, I have had the chance to meet my birth parents and see myself reflected in their faces; to understand the decision to give me up; and to find a place in my life for this extended birth family. And so, I cannot help thinking about all those Barnardo children, who came here and never, ever got the opportunity to know who they were or to learn the circumstances by which they were given up. I am sad, because knowing your story and your history is important to understanding who you are. And that basic knowledge of who you are and where you come from should never be discounted as a vital piece of you.
Managing Artistic Producer
Photo by: Lindy Powell