She waited 23 years.
When Suzanne Eaton gave birth as a teen mother in Calgary, her newborn child was taken away before she could see her. It was considered a kindness. But for the next two decades she couldn’t stop wondering about the daughter who was out there somewhere.
The thing is, she was adopted herself, so she knew firsthand how it feels to wonder about who brought you into this world. She’d grown up creating fantasy parents in her mind, despite the fact she was part of a loving and supportive home.
And now everything has come full circle, but not in the way you might expect.
“I’ve been reunited both with the child I gave up for adoption, and my biological family. Neither reunion worked out well,” Eaton told the Star, as part of last Saturday’s Human Library project.
“I’m kind of the anti-Oprah story. On TV you always see people reunited and saying, ‘We’re going to be friends forever,’ but it doesn’t always work like that. And it didn’t for me.”
During the Human Library project, participants were invited to spend 20 minutes having a conversation with a “Human Book.”
Eaton’s title for the occasion was Full Circle: Adoption from All Sides, and she wanted to share the story of both her adoption and the child she gave up for adoption.
And though there are negative elements to the story, there are also positive ones.
“I was adopted at the age of three days, and my parents were always very honest about me being adopted. They put a positive spin on it, saying they’d chosen me, but at the same time you live with the concept that someone’s given you up.”
These days Eaton is married — her husband’s name is Gary — and she’s created an idiosyncratic “family of friends and lovers and other people’s children” in Kaslo, where she moved after working as a social worker for 25 years in Calgary.
“That’s my tribe.”
But she still carries around a lot of sadness, and a lot of that has to do with her daughter.
“I was 14 when I turned up pregnant, and this was 46 years ago. The father was a boy I had been dating for five or six months, who was 19, and I thought I was in love.”
But when she told the father, he said, “Keep my name out of it.”
“I promptly went into denial about being pregnant and I certainly told nobody else. This was 1970. I continued along the path not having anyone to talk to about this, and then one day when I had just started Grade 8 my principal and my English teacher came up to me in the hallway.”
They wanted to talk. At that point she was about six and a half months along, and she realized she couldn’t deny it any longer.
“I did a fair amount of crying and said, ‘Yeah, I’m pregnant. I don’t know what to do.’”
They informed her mother, who came by the office, and then together the pair went home to face Eaton’s stepfather. She remembers him being furious and calling her names, but at first he agreed she could live at home and stay in high school.
“Back then you didn’t stay in school, you got sent away, but my principal said he would break every rule to keep me in school. He was a real support system to me. If anybody had a problem with me, they could go to him.”
But her stepfather became more abusive and alcoholic over the course of the coming weeks, and ultimately she ended up at the Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. She quickly learned that nobody there had last names.
“You weren’t allowed to share personal information with each other. You were there to give birth and leave. And you weren’t taking your child home with you.”
The nurses were cruel to her, scandalized by her age, and wouldn’t let her see her daughter. And that was the last she heard until her daughter contacted a close friend of Eaton 23 years later.
“I got the call at work and she just said the words, ‘Your daughter is here.’ People heard me scream and they assumed someone had died. I got sucked into what I called the emotional time tunnel. I was suddenly 14 years old again.”
She felt the grief and anger and loss all at once.
“I took a couple of days to think. There’s no way you can be prepared for it, the same way you can’t be prepared for death. And two weeks later she came to my home, and I saw my daughter for the first time.”
Eaton took a visual inventory: “She had my eyes, she had her father’s nose and lips, she’s a brunette much like I was at the time, and she had a great laugh.”
“But there was no immediate connection. I didn’t want to be the mother that smothered. That’s a lot to put on a stranger, even though it’s your child.”
She wasn’t feeling the “oh my God, I love you thing.”
“I was questioning myself. I had wanted this for 23 years, what is wrong with me that I’m not feeling this immediate bond with this person I gave birth to?”
As it turned out, their relationship was short.
“We met two or three times after that, and she was in the process of moving. This was before you took phone numbers with you. I told her, ‘Make sure when you get your new number, let me know.’ And her last words to me were, ‘I waited 23 years of my life to find you, I’m not going to lose you now.’”
But something inside Eaton told her that wasn’t true.
“That was the last time I saw her.”
She struggles with feelings of inadequacy, and she still longs to see her daughter again.
“I think I’m a find. I’m kind, I’m fun, if I was looking for a mother I’d hope to find someone like me. But apparently it wasn’t the right time for her. So I sent her one more letter after that, saying, ‘I hoped we could take this journey together’ and telling her I would always be there, but I never heard back.”
Coincidentally, it’s been another 23 years — her daughter is now 46.
“People wonder if I regret doing it, and no. It didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, but I did get to see a face I’m connected to and I did get to see my daughter for the first time. I thought she was beautiful.”