In 1978 I was surrendered at the Heart of Mary Villa, ten days old and adopted into an Australian family, along with my adoptive brother who was only four months younger than I.
In 2004 brother and I were living in the same share house in Melbourne. Our adoptive mother phoned us to tell us that a Sister from Heart of Mary Villa was visiting the local children’s farm to spend time with the children. Our mum wanted to know if we would like to meet the Sister. We jumped at the opportunity; the farm was only two minutes walk from our house.
At the farm we met Sister Lilia. She was generous, sharing her time with us and asked us “Do you want to find your birth family?” Without hesitation my brother said yes, and I went along with it. Although it may occur to most people, it did not occur to us that we could actually search for our biological family. We were aware that adoptions in the Philippines were closed. Also, we had such a great upbringing in Australia and received unconditional love from our adoptive families. They treated us as their own. But we were curious to know the story that preceded our lives. Where did we come from? Are our birth mothers living in squalor? Do we have lots of siblings? Who do we look like?
When Sister Lilia returned to the Philippines she embarked on a search. We emailed regularly to see if there were updates, but alas there were none. My brother, mum and I concluded that in one year’s time, we should do as a family what we could never afford to do: go to the Philippines. We did travel to the Philippines to learn more about the country we came from. We went to Tagaytay, Cebu, Bohol, and Malabon where Heart of Mary Villa was. The information about us was scant at best. We were told the first names of our birth mothers but since HMV could not make contact with our birth mothers they were not in a position to provide any further information than what we already had.
Impatience got the better of me. When we returned to Australia I embarked on an independent search. I sought my original birth certificate, I researched alumni associations, I tried directories, Facebook, web searches, you name it, I tried it. Nothing came back positive. One day I did something very sneaky and underhanded. Using the information sheet, and the first name of my biological mother, I contacted the University where my birth mother and father both attended and pleaded to the administrator to please provide me with all the names of the students who studied Economics between 1978-1980 who shared the same first name as my birth mother. I told them I had urgent information about their daughter and was unable to get in touch with them. I was surprised that I received a reply from the university, doubly surprised they gave me a list of women who had that name and their addresses.
Three months later I summoned the courage to write Christmas cards to all the women on the list. Replies were slow but they came. One by one, I was told that I had the wrong person. But then one day I got a response from a lady who said that the person I was looking for no longer lived there, but she provided me with an address and phone number. My heart was racing. What should I do? Should I phone her and say I thought I was her daughter? No! What if she rejects me? What if I got it wrong? Many thoughts filled my head.
I phoned my adoptive mum and asked her what to do. She made a call and the advice was to pass the phone number on to HMV and ask them to follow it up. Sister Lilia was on a Sabbatical, so Sr. Lorenz had taken over the post. In a matter of days, I heard back from Sister Lorenz to say the lady whose number I had was not my birth mother. But she had found my actual biological aunt and she advised she would reply as soon as she had news.
Oh my goodness! After 26 years could this really be happening? Is it possible that I could really learn the story about my biological family? Could I really meet my birth mother?
Only a couple of days later I received an email from the Philippines from Sr. Lorenz. She had found the whereabouts of my birth mother; she was not in the Philippine but on the west coast of America. She was ready to make contact. However there were conditions. One was that she could not connect me with my birth father. I was happy to accept that; I was glad to have contact after all these years.
Then the emails started. I had so many questions, we swapped photos, compared features, I learned about her American life with her child and husband. She learned about my Australian life. Then something funny happened: family patterns and coincidences started to emerge. At age 26, I was studying media and did not know what to do with my degree. My birth mother felt that I should know my birth father, a journalist. Her desire to help me find my birth father was based on her losing her father when she was only four. She believed it would save me ten years of my life trying to find myself.
After conducting a Google search she found a piece that my father had written. She summoned the courage to contact the company he worked for, only to be disconnected. So she tried again, and the call came through. Twenty six years after the birth of the illegitimate child, here she was calling the father of the child. They chatted and communication with my birth father commenced via email. I found out that he and his family migrated to the United States in the early 80’s too and they settled on the east coast.
The following year I went to Manila, with my brother. Sister Lorenz found his birth mother through a string of coincidences. My birth parents, the birth mother of my brother and our adoptive mum had a gigantic reunion in Heart of Mary Villa.
The most confronting moment was not meeting my birth parents, but seeing the other side: seeing the young women – the mothers to be. My mum, my birth mum and I had the option to talk to the group of expectant mothers. There I was 26, and there were girls 10 years younger [even more] than I about to give birth. I have always admired the decision of my birth mother. It was bold to give birth to a child and surrender me for adoption. It would have been one of the most difficult sacrifices a person could ever make, but it was the right decision for her and me, and the outcome has been fortunate.
I know I’m lucky because my biological family accepted me and I am so welcome that I have visited them annually (ever since I found out about them). I have met aunties, uncles, cousins and it has all been special. Extra special moments included meeting my half-sister, her baby that was given my namesake, and it’s always a pleasure to meet with Lola Mary who was born in 1918, and has so many wonderful family stories to tell.
But I know not everyone gets to have that, and it’s nowhere more visible than on a Facebook Group called “From The Heart of Mary Villa”. There stories are shared – from biological parents, adoptive parents, children, care givers, and many others involved at HMV.
I am so grateful to the Heart of Mary Villa for so many reasons: providing a safe place for birth mothers to go and providing counsel and care, care for the children and ensuring surrendered children are placed with good parents. And also for the assistance in helping my brother and I find out where we actually came from and helping us fill the identity gap. Thank you to Sister Lilia and Sr. Lorenz for devoting so much time to us, and thought into the search to find our birth parents, facilitating three reunions and all the required follow up and care. Thank you for helping us find out our story.