September 2008. Just a normal morning. Wake up, take a shower, get ready for work. Face that mirror again. This time the voice inside my head is different. I will never forget that moment when I was looking at my reflection and instead of hearing questions coming from that inner voice, it just said: “it’s time, you’re ready”. And just like that, I decided to dig into my past and find my origin. I was ready to accept the truth no matter how ugly it may be. My birth-mother could be dead by now, perhaps she totally disappeared or changed country. Maybe I’m the child of a rape, an incest or paid sex. No matter what is the truth, I am strong enough to face it.
On my 20th birthday, my mother offered me a special gift: a journal she started to write the day her and my dad received a call from a social worker saying “good news, we have a baby boy waiting for you”. From that day she wrote all her emotions, some anecdotes and all kinds of stories about me. The first months my mother was writing very regularly, almost daily. And little by little, the dates on the top corner of the pages started to be more remote. She was using the journal only to put some random thoughts as I was growing up or wrote about some important life events: communions, school accomplishments (the rare ones) or sports success.
So here I am, ready to dive into the unknown and embark into an adventure. Obviously I went to dig some information in that journal. I remembered that in the first chapters (prior to the day of my adoption) my mother wrote about the association that accompanied them for their adoption project, “Les Nids de Paris” (Paris’ Nests). She also mentions the name of the two ladies from that organisation that my parents dealt with for many months prior to my adoption, Mrs Marin and Mrs Chasles. So very simply I googled Les Nids de Paris and found the address and phone number immediately. So I called. A woman picks up and I asked “Hi, I’d like to speak with either Mrs Marin or Mrs Chasles”. “Oh i’m sorry sir but Mrs Chasles past away a long time ago and Mrs Marin has retired. I’m Mrs Debois, the new director. How can I help you?”. I explained to her that I’ve been adopted through her association back in 1981 and I have decided to find my birth-mother; I phoned in the hope someone could help me. She was very touched by my approach and reminded me that legally her hands are tied. Indeed, the french system is very protective for the birth-mothers as it guarantees them full anonymity. In only some rare cases the birth-mother approves her identity to appear on the official file. That law has sparked many debates and regular protests from adoptees who want to access their origin and claim it (rightfully) as a basic right. The only answer from the government so far was the creation of an agency called CNAOP*. It’s notoriously inefficient and useless since its creation in 2002.
So the conversation ended on Mrs Debois promising she’ll help me personally but I shouldn’t be too hopeful; they’ve moved their office a couple of times since 1981 and their archives are in a storage facility. She advised that I filed a request with the CNAOP to make sure I optimize my chances. I gave her the very few details I had: birthday, birthplace, day of adoption and place of adoption.
A few days after that call I went for a family lunch at my parents’, with the intention to tell them about my new project. Everyone was here: dad, mom, sister and brother. I was relaxed about it as I was sure there wouldn’t be any resistance… I was a bit too optimistic! While my parents took it very well, were happy and supportive, my brother literally exploded in a sudden wrath. “Why are you doing this to us? You have no respect for you family and parents!” I’ve never seen him like this. He left the table and went to his room. My parents were as destabilized as I was by what just happened. My mother, in her usual compassionate attitude, said to me “he must be afraid to loose you”. She was probably right. But I was clear about not seeking for a second family, I just wanted to know where I was from. As an adoptee (he was born in Colombia), my brother should have been able to understand that. At least that’s what I thought. After this, my brother and I didn’t speak for weeks. He wasn’t accepting what I was doing. And I wasn’t going to give up on my research.
Weeks have passed. It’s end October 2008. I was driving, listening to Ben Harper’s blues/gospel album “There Will Be A Light” he recorded with The Blind Boys of Alabama. My phone rings, and like many people with bad habits I pick up while driving… it was Mrs Debois. “Hi Thomas…. are you driving?” she said. “Yes but I’m careful, so don’t worry” I confidently replied. She then said something that made me immediately understand that it was one of the most important phone call of my life: “I think you need to pull over to hear what I’m about to tell you”. I immediately parked my car, took a breath, and said: “I’m all ears”. “I just spoke to your birth-mother on the phone”. That sentence was extraordinary to hear. Time stopped for me. Indeed, a few weeks back (and years actually) I was anticipating that she might be dead or impossible to find. But no, she was alive, located, reachable. This was very real. The rest of the conversation, felt totally unreal; Mrs Debois said “She was very shaken by this call. She said she’s been expecting it for 27 years. She’s happy you reached and she wants to meet with you”.
I was speechless. This is too easy! All those years of questioning, wondering, soul searching and she was just one phone call away? I felt the luckiest man on earth at this very moment. I asked Mrs Debois “What do you think I should do now? – You should write to her a letter first, where you explain what are your intentions, Thomas. Send it to my office and I’ll make sure I personally bring it to her.” Mrs Debois reaction was perfect. I wasn’t able to think straight and her words totally reassured me. I’m eternally grateful to her.
That same day I wrote and posted the letter. The next few days, I was floating. Is that happiness? I just knew that from now, my life will never be the same again. And soon, I’ll meet my birth-mother and finally know why I came into the world.
The next day, I called back Mrs Debois because there was one question I forgot to ask: “How did you find her details so quickly?” Mrs Debois was silent for a few seconds. And she said with emotion in her voice “She’s been sending birthday cards addressed to you for many years; we found them in the archives, and I just called the phone number she left on the last card. As simple as that”.
*Centre National d’Accès aux Origines Personnelles (National council for access of personal origin).