we conduct a similar service. She agreed, and the service was
held in June. The speakers were encouraged to invite anyone
they thought might like to attend.
Like many congregations, we have families that have
adopted children, adoptees, and members who have lost children to adoption. We wanted to be inclusive, but we didn’t
want to offend anyone. We were a little nervous.
Wendy Rowney, an adult adoptee, talked about the sense
of loss she’d felt her entire life. “When an adoptee forms a
new relationship by joining a new family, the loss of the
original family is usually ignored or belittled,” she said. “It is
as if the earlier relationship never existed, and the adoptee is
expected never to mourn and never to look back.”
Karen Lynn told her story of being a pregnant teen. “There
are no words to describe the agony of a mother who walks
out of a hospital empty handed not because her child has
died, but because she lost her child to adoption,” she said.
“There was no closure, and you know that you must not talk
about it. It is a wound that never heals.”
Ana Pearce shared her perspective as an adolescent adop-
tee. She was two and a half years old when she was adopted
from Guatemala. Ana said that while it was scary, it might
have saved her life. But adoption still had challenges. She was
bullied at school because she didn’t look like her parents. “I
Next time you look up on a clear night, find the bright- est star. That’s what the United Church is trying to do by creating a new narrative around adoption,
one where the child is the central focus, or the brightest star.
In 2010, I created a documentary called The 40 Year Secret
that told the story of one couple’s search for a daughter they
lost to adoption. I started to wonder what it must feel like to
sit in church during a baptism if you were adopted and had
no knowledge of the first chapter of your life, or if you were
a parent who’d lost a child to adoption.
While filming I met a group of amazing women who for
decades have been advocates for open adoption records.
Together we approached The United Church of Canada to see
if there was any interest in starting a new conversation that
would allow families to talk about adoption in a different
way, and those who have suffered loss to start healing. Partly
in response the United Church held a service of lamentation
at its head office in May 2015 to acknowledge the trauma
experienced by mothers and children separated by adoption
as a result of historical practices in maternity homes operated
by the church.
In my congregation at Beach United Church in Toronto,
we are always trying to look at issues in a new way. So I
approached our minister, the Rev. Karen Dale, and proposed
The Many Sides of Adoption
A service of lamentation brings healing by Mary Anne Alton Lemm
Participants from left: Rev. Karen Dale, Lee Muirhead, Mary Anne Alton Lemm, Wendy Rowney, and Karen Lynn.