Former teen mom feels ‘betrayed’ by the system.

The year was 1979 and Sandra Hawryluk found herself in an unpleasantly tricky situation. She was 16 years old and pregnant. At the time, her options were limited and the decision as to what to do with her baby was made quickly and with little discussion: she would put the baby up for adoption.

Prior to 1989, all adoptions were processed through the government and, once completed, the records were sealed. For Hawryluk, the emotionally draining process of giving up her child was compounded by the little support that was given to her by either her family or the system in the wake of the adoption.

“There was no safe place to go to,” she said. “Of course I wasn’t going to go and try to go to court and reverse things; I just wanted someone to know that my heart was broken.”

The government still handles some adoptions, although most adoptions are now handled through agencies. With a closed adoption, there is no communication or information exchanged between the birth mother and the adoptive family prior to or after the placement of the child.

Looking back, Hawryluk said that she would have been more comfortable with an open adoption, which would have given her the opportunity to meet and exchange information with the adoptive family.

Wendy Robinson, executive director for Christian Adoption Services, agreed that open adoptions are easier for everyone involved. She said that an open adoption allows a mother to grieve the loss of the baby left in the hospital, while building a relationship with a child that is happy with the family they were placed with. She said that open adoptions help mothers to acknowledge that they were a part of helping a family come together. Sandra Hawryluk (left) stands with her birth daughter, Rebecca Kaut (right), and their own sons after being meeting for the first time in 2002.
Photo courtesy of: Sandra Hawryluk

Hawryluk never knew what had happened to the baby she had given up at 16. As the years passed, she grew further from her adolescence and the baby she had given up. She got an education, got married and had her own family. However, Hawryluk said that despite the path her life had taken, there had not been a single day that she had not thought about the child she gave up.

Finally, after nearly 20 years, Hawryluk went looking for her baby. She registered her name on a passive post-adoption website and waited.

In 2002, Hawryluk received the notice that her baby had been found. By this point, her baby – Rebecca Kaut – was a grown woman living with her husband and young baby in Grande Prairie.

Hawryluk said that for her own sake, she had always imagined that her baby had a perfect childhood. Hawryluk said she liked to dream that her baby was living with her parents in a house with a white-picket fence, was a cheerleader, on the honour roll, and went on family vacations in the summer to theme parks.

However, as the two began to slowly rekindle their relationship, it became evident that Kaut’s life had been far from the fairy-tale that Hawryluk had imagined.

“I definitely don’t have a fairy-tale story,” Kaut said. “I was adopted into an abusive home. My parents split up when I was three and I was kind of bounced around a bit, so there was a lot of instability in my life growing up.”

Hawryluk said that hearing about the instability in Kaut’s childhood was extremely difficult to deal with. “I’m still angry about it,” she said. “I just feel really betrayed. I feel like I gave up a huge sacrifice – I gave part of me to someone else – and they did not appreciate that. They didn’t take care of that the way I wanted them to.”

Hawryluk said that she feels betrayed by the system and the government’s failure to tell her what had happened to her baby. Hawryluk said that her family might have made a different decision if they had known what was going on. She said that she is now strongly opposed to closed adoptions, and Kaut agrees. For Kaut, a deep curiosity about her birthmother permeated her decision to go looking for her.

“I had wondered about it my whole life. I had wondered who she was and where she was,” Kaut said. “I was starting my own family and I really wanted to find out what the whole story was. Being adopted, I had my family, but I always wondered who I looked like and who had the same character traits as me. “

Through the years, Kaut and Hawryluk have slowly begun to develop a connection. Both of them agree that their bond is more akin to that of a close aunt with a niece, rather than a mother-daughter relationship. However, their bond is strong.

Despite the distance between them, Kaut still comes down to visit Hawryluk in Calgary at Christmas and in the summer. Both of their families have gotten to know one another, and Kaut’s kids have sleepovers with their other cousins.

Hawryluk said there is now an ease to their relationship. She said that Kaut coming down to visit is no different than any of her other married children coming to visit.

Kaut said that her life has changed profoundly since meeting Sandra. “It is like that one area of my life is now full,” she said. “Where I had these pieces missing, they’re now filled. I can now put the puzzle together, so-to-speak.”

 dsemrau@cjournal.ca