Mothers: Adoption Looking for mom
There's help out there, somewhere

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (OCT 07/96) - As far back as Teresa Burnham can remember, she's known she was adopted.

And for just as long, she's wondered who her biological mother is, where she comes from and what her heritage is.

"Now that I have my own son, I don't want him to go through the same thing I have - wondering who he is and where his background lies," said the 25-year-old Courtenay, B.C., woman.

Burnham's search for her mother began nearly 15 years ago, following her adoptive mother's death.

"My dad gave me some information he had about the adoption - some non-identifying information about my biological mom and dad," she said.

It described Burnham's mother as an 18-year-old Metis woman from the Northwest Territories who gave birth in November 1970, at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

She knows her mother had two younger sisters, one older sister and one younger brother.

She also knows she was placed with Barbara and Morely Burnham - her adoptive parents - in February 1972.

"My real father didn't know my mother was pregnant," she added.

Burnham's first step along the journey to find her mother took place in 1982, when she wrote a letter to the Alberta Department of Social Services, asking for any updated information.

After she received what amounted to a carbon copy of what she already had, she let the matter rest.

"I guess I just wasn't really ready to deal with it then," she said.

Searching for clues
But recently Burnham began a letter-writing campaign. She wrote to the media and first nations and Metis local offices across the North, hoping that someone can help her find her mother.

"I was the first child born to her. I have an undying need to meet her or at least find out if she's still living and possibly have a chance to speak with her," she said in a letter that appeared in the XXDeh Cho Drum newspaper two months ago.

She also wrote to Mary Beauchamp, a territorial government's adoptions consultant who helps Northerners searching for biological family members.

Burnham has received some leads over the last two months that have pointed her in the direction of Inuvik, but she has yet to make contact with her mother.

"It's frustrating, that's for sure. It's sort of like missing a piece of a puzzle, but you just can't find it and you feel a little empty because of it," she said.

Within the last few weeks, Teresa received another letter from the Alberta government that has provided her with a key piece of information that might help find that missing puzzle piece.

"They sent me a letter that has my mother's last name on it: Harris."

Beauchamp, who has been in contact with Burnham, said knowing the mother's last name will make her search easier, although there's still some detective work to sort through before a definite match can be made, if ever.

"Quite often it's just one small piece of information that helps pull the puzzle together," she said.

Experienced detective
Beauchamp should know. For the last 15 years, she's been helping people like Burnham. But it's only been in the last two that this tiny part of her job description has become so popular.

"When I started this, I'd only get two or three inquiries a year, now it's starting to look more and more like a full-time job," she said.

Twenty years ago, adoptions were a secretive process that often involved only the mother and a government worker, and mothers routinely figured they'd never see their children again, said Beauchamp.

"It's quite sad, really, because these people have a right to know their heritage, at least.

"I'm not saying that the information should be wide open, but I'm saying the process shouldn't be this hard."

Each province and territory has different laws governing adoptions and related information. Some, such as Alberta's, have been quite rigid about releasing information.

Beauchamp said one of the difficulties in a case like Burnham's is that her mother had her baby in the another jurisdiction and the adoption took place there.

"We would have no records attached to that adoption because it's really no business of the territories," she said.

Beauchamp, who began working in the department as a front-line worker 30 years ago, has seen attitudes toward adoption change.

Over the years she has also developed background knowledge and inter-provincial contacts needed to help people conduct successful searches.

"It's not something that we advertise, or something that I have a lot of time for, but it is one part of my job that I find extremely satisfying, especially when I make a connection," said Beauchamp.

It's that knowledge and background that Burnham is counting on in her search to find her mom.

"If I found her tomorrow, I'd do anything in my power to get up there to meet her. It's very important to me," she said.