Using Knowledge to Teach Others

The tragedies and joys in adoption.

Sonia Billadeau April 09, 2014
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It was the late 60s—the era of love, peace, and the free-spirited—when my birth parents met. Exactly how they met is still unknown to me. Perhaps she heard him read his poetry and got all starry-eyed. Or perhaps he heard her singing Joan Baez and fell head over heels in love. Who knows? But I know they did meet, and I was conceived in a commune and born to Garrison (Gary actually, he listed himself as Garrison on my birth certificate—perhaps a fan of Garrison Keillor?) Marrius and Mary Elizabeth (Beth to all who knew her) Reilly on May 18, 1969, at Boston Lying Inn Hospital.

When I obtained my hospital records, I was shocked to find that my mother was listed as “Elizabeth Marius”—could that mean she and my birth father had married? I have yet to find out. It’s very possible they could have married in the “hippie” way, the way of the times, and jumped over a broom. It is still one of the many mysteries I am spending my life trying to unravel. In any case, I was a preemie baby, and although I have my hospital records, not much is known about my birth or the circumstances surrounding it.

I was adopted at age three. From various sources, I have learned that my birth mother had left me in the care of her mother and her three sisters. My grandfather was on the road constantly because of work, and my grandmother had fallen in love with someone else. My mother was a bit of an embarrassment to the family because not only had she given birth out of wedlock, she had given birth to a black man’s baby.

My birth mother’s family was rather “blue-blood”, so to speak, and from what I understand, my grandmother told this new man that she had three daughters and not four. She shipped my mother off somehow, somewhere, and I was placed for adoption with the next door neighbors, the Morrises. I was adopted by the Morrises, and raised as their own along with their three sons.

Being raised in a small town in a transracial family was . . . interesting. I had a good upbringing—very loving, and very caring, for the most part. When I say for the most part, I mean that knowledge has been discovered in recent years that was not available to people back then about biracial children.

While growing up in Keyport, NJ, I never had the opportunity to be exposed in the “other” side of my culture, the black side. I had, for the most part, considered myself “white” but never realized that until later in life. I had spent the first three years of my life, which are said to be the most crucial years of a child’s development, with my birth family.

My birth parents were the opposite of my adoptive parents. My adoptive parents were sort of like “Ward & June Cleaver,” whereas my birth parents were free-spirited ex-bluebloods. This caused much conflict, and many issues in my life, which weren’t really realized or discovered until later on. But, as I said, for the most part, I had a happy childhood.

I had grown up always wondering what my birth mother was like, since I had no memory of her. Four days after my twelfth birthday, I got somewhat of an answer. It was a time in my life where I dreamed of finding my birth mother and reuniting with her. Those dreams were shattered when my adoptive mother sat down and told me that my birth mother had died of heart failure.

Later on in my years, I found that to be partially true. She had, for a few days prior, been seriously depressed, and had been beating herself up about placing me. She was grieving for days . . . then she died. Four days after my twelfth birthday, my world crumbled around me. Then when I turned 18, I received a letter from my birth aunt, who lived in Miami, asking me if I’d like to come and live there. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The honeymoon was short-lived. My birth mother’s family (who lived in Miami) and I soon parted (not so amicably) because it seemed the Morrises hadn’t “removed” the bad seed that my mother had planted in me. My birth mother seemed to be a bit of an embarrassment, and the black sheep had gone through her into my blood. I guess my birth family had expected me, as my adoptive family did, to be raised and to grow up as a Morris, rather than be who I was born to be. The reunion wasn’t as most reunions are portrayed—happy and joyful—but I’m not bitter. I’m glad I found out, and glad I at least got some closure on that part of my life.

My story doesn’t end there, though. Six or seven years later, I was going through a hellacious and vicious custody battle with the state over my two daughters (I was a single mother), and I discovered I was pregnant. I was terrified the state would also take this child, so out of pure fear, I decided, very hesitantly, on adoption in order to protect my child. I chose an adoptive couple in Orlando with an older biracial son who was adopted, so my son, being biracial, would not feel the same isolation that I felt growing up.

On July 3, 1997, I gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy son, and placed him in a semi-open adoption with that family. I have since educated myself extensively on every area of adoption in order to benefit myself, my birth son, my daughters, and everyone else. It was the hardest decision I had to make, and I can’t say I don’t regret it. Sometimes I do.

It’s not easy, nor does it get easier, as the wounds I have are still fresh. I love my birth son, and wanted the very best for him, and at that time in my life, there was too much of a threat to gamble with his life. I did what I felt I needed to do to protect him. I now know what it must have been like for my birth mother, and it most certainly is one of the hardest things to have to deal with. But unlike my birth mother, in these recent times, we are armed with education and research, and no longer have to hang our heads in shame.

What birth mothers do is a wonderful thing, and something to be proud of. They thought of their child before themselves, and gave them a wonderful life that they knew they could not provide. I have the advantage of knowing where my birth son is, and also get pictures, and letters, and hopefully, continued contact. I won’t have to endure the pain, guilt, and suffering that eventually led to my birth mother’s demise. And because of that tragedy, I am determined to educate as many people as I can about the effects of adoption, and the advantages of open adoption.

There is a happy ending to this story, though. I had made a decision to seek out my birth father, and after a long search, I made contact with my birth grandfather in Fresno in the middle of last year. I then made contact with my father’s sister and mother soon after.

Unfortunately, my birth father had passed on in 1985, when I was 16, and it’s an issue I’m still dealing with, but I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it was to be welcomed with open arms to my new family. For the first time in my life, I felt complete and unconditional love, and also began to explore what it is to be biracial, which I never had an opportunity to experience before.

There has been so much joy in reuniting with my family, and our relationship has been growing incredibly. I don’t know what I’d do without them. I visited with them for the first time in July 1998 (one year after my birth son’s birth) and came face-to-face with my heritage, with people from whom I derived my looks. It was, for lack of a better word, incredible.

My only regret is that I hadn’t met them sooner. I am anxious to share my children with my family, as well as my birth son, when he is old enough.

It has been a slow healing process, but as they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” My life has been full of tragedies and joys untold, and each of them has been a learning experience that I have been able to turn into a lesson that I can teach others. My only hope is that my story can somehow inspire or educate others about the effects of adoption, and how we can educate others on preventing the same mistakes made in the past with the knowledge we are now armed with.

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Sonia Billadeau


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