Support, sympathy and understanding

Peninsula-based group shines light on complexities of adoption.

Members of the Forget Me Not Family Society gather for their annual workshop in Vancouver in October. Below

When Marnie Tetz began the search for her biological family more than 30 years ago, it was all she could think about.

The former White Rock resident – who now lives in Chilliwack – would come home from work every day and spend hours talking with her husband about the prospect of finding her birth mother and siblings.

Though her husband was always supportive, many others in Tetz’s life couldn’t understand why she was so consumed with the thought of reuniting with her family, specifically her birth mother, who she was separated from when she was just 16 days old to be placed with an adoptive family.

“At first, I was so excited,” Tetz told Peace Arch News. “But then, it wasn’t going the way I thought it would go.”

Upon connecting with her birth mother, Tetz said it took a long time for the two to come to terms with their reunion. In the meantime – though she enjoyed a happy and loving relationship with her adoptive family – she experienced a rollercoaster of excitement, disappointment and confusion.

Unsure of where to turn for help, Tetz was referred to the Forget Me Not Family Society, an organization launched on the Semiahmoo Peninsula in 1991 to offer advocacy, support and education to families affected by adoption.

Upon attending her first support group, Tetz said she immediately felt a sense of relief.

“Unless you’re talking with someone who has gone through this, everyone thinks you’re crazy and obsessive,” Tetz said. “When I walked into that first meeting, I thought ‘these people know exactly what I’m talking about.’”

Fourteen years later, Tetz is now the president of the society, which offers monthly support groups in Cloverdale and New Westminster, as well as annual workshops and for its 70-plus members.

In addition to support, the group has a strong educational component – not just in an effort to aid its members, but to reach out to the greater adoption community and beyond.

Bernadette Rymer, an eight-year member, has led the charge in recent years, organizing annual presentations to students at UBC working towards their masters degree in social work.

The group presents a panel that includes representatives from both adoptive and birth families discussing their first-hand experiences.

“We don’t go to change their mind, or to convince them of a particular point of view,” Rymer said. “We go to present a broad spectrum of issues that we know hasn’t been talked about in their work.”

For Rymer – a birth mother who was 19 when she gave up her daughter to what she calls “coerced adoption” – an emphasis on education is essential, especially at a time when the B.C. government is pushing more families to consider adoption.

A campaign was launched at the start of November, coinciding with Adoption Awareness Month, to shine a light on the more than 1,000 children and teens in government care in B.C. waiting to be adopted.

Events hosted by the Adoptive Families Association of BC have taken place around the province in recent weeks to promote the campaign, and spread awareness about the process of adoption.

And though the experiences of many members of the Forget Me Not Family Society are marred by years of secrecy and dishonesty, Tetz and Rymer know that adoption is necessary under many circumstances.

“There’s always going to be the need for adoption, but not the way that it’s been done,” Tetz said. “Kids should always know who they are and where they came from.”

The group would like to see more transparency and honesty in the process, with adoption records opened completely.

Currently in B.C., there is an option for one side of the adoption to ‘veto’ the sharing of records.

“I’d like to see a removal of the veto,” Rymer said. “It doesn’t mean they have to get together and love each other, but people have the right to know.”

In the meantime, the group will continue to provide support to its membership, which is made up of birth parents, adoptees and adoptive families, offering a unique opportunity for members to gain an understanding of the other sides of a complex situation.

For Rymer, the group has shone some much-needed light on her own daughter – who she was reunited with for 22 years before her daughter became estranged from her.

“It helped me to understand why she was the way she was,” Rymer said. “I never would have been able to come to that place of understanding had I only been in a support group with other moms.”

Tetz agreed that the diverse makeup of the group is paramount to its success.

“We believe that in order to heal and move forward in your journey, we all need to be together,” Tetz said.

To find out more about the Forget Me Not Family Society, visit www.adoptioncircles.net

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