9/19/2013 9:01:00 AM ADOPTION Finding a birth mother
brought sisters together
MS. WALSH AND MRS. LOUCKS TODAY. “The Pieces Come Together…At Last” is available online at www.thepiecescometogetheratlast.com or by sending a check for $14.67, made out to Arlene Loucks or Patricia Walsh, to Panda Books, c/o Loucks, PO Box 4222, Schenectady, NY 12304. (Angela Cave photo)
ARLENE LOUCKS IN 1958 and Patricia Walsh in 1951, when both were Girl Scouts, decades before they met.
Since New York State seals adoption records, Patricia Walsh always thought it would be impossible to find her birth parents, which was OK with her. But as the Scotia native got older and doctors began asking more questions about her medical history, the curiosity she had as a child grew more practical.
She took the information she always knew about her birth mother, Elizabeth Morris, and started searching on ancestry and census sites in 2007. She discovered that Ms. Morris had died of heart disease in 1977.
But she never could have predicted she had a sibling.
"I really think it was meant to be," said Ms. Walsh, now 74. "It was known [by God] that I needed a sister and it was provided."
Family members pleaded with her to stop searching for fear she would get hurt and because "I had lived for so long without it," said Ms. Walsh, who retired as pastoral associate for faith formation at St. Joseph's parish in Scotia just as her search started.
But the wheels were already in motion: She had connected with another birth relative on a genealogy site and studied six generations of her birth family's history.
That relative confirmed that the Elizabeth Morris in his family had gone to a maternity home for unwed mothers in Troy in the 1930s. Ms. Walsh was born at the same maternity home.
She then learned Ms. Morris had married and had a child, Arlene, 11 years later. Ms. Walsh found her sister's high school yearbook picture, researched the area of Glens Falls where she grew up and used microfilm to view her wedding announcement, where she was referred to as "Arlene Patricia."
"That was the day that had the biggest impact," Ms. Walsh said. She always assumed the nuns had given her the first name of Patricia because she was born near St. Patrick's Day, but discovering that it was also her sister's middle name meant it could have been her birth mother's decision. "All through my life, I always wondered whether she remembered or even thought about [the fact] that she had a child" before her marriage.
In 2008, Ms. Walsh worked up the courage to send a letter to her sister, Arlene Loucks - to whom the information was a complete surprise.
"'This is just crazy,'" Mrs. Loucks remembered thinking. "'It happens on TV. It doesn't happen in real life.'"
But she sent Ms. Walsh an email to set up a meeting: "I figured even if she was wrong, she deserved to know."
In the meantime, she checked with the relative with whom Ms. Walsh had been corresponding and confirmed the information about the maternity home.
Mrs. Loucks was filled with "so many emotions. I was excited. I was maybe a little upset, but I think I was mostly upset for [my mother], because she had to carry that around with her and never tell anyone about it."
The women entertained the idea of running DNA tests, but when Mrs. Loucks saw Ms. Walsh, "I thought, 'She looks exactly like my mother.'"
Since that initial meeting, the sisters have swapped stories and gotten to know each other's families. Mrs. Loucks' daughters and grandsons call Ms. Walsh "Aunt Pat." The pair run a table at craft fairs together, selling Ms. Walsh's photographs and Mrs. Loucks' candles; they visit their mother's grave on Mother's Day and even ride bicycles together in an attempt to recapture their lost youth.
They've discovered countless coincidences about their lives before they met - and even in the present, like when they broke the same toe on the same foot on the same day two years ago. Ms. Walsh's cousin worked with Mrs. Loucks' husband and also knew the sisters' mother. When Mrs. Loucks was young, her family moved from Glens Falls to Schenectady, just 10 minutes from Ms. Walsh.
The sisters both moved around as adults, but in the 1980s, they lived "practically in each other's backyards" in the Bellevue area of Schenectady. They were both away from home during the tornado that hit the city in 1960.
All of this and more is chronicled in a book they self-published, "The Pieces Come Together...At Last." The memoir explores the semantics of phrases like "adoptive parents" and "birth parents," gives resources for genealogy searches and includes the women's written accounts and email correspondence.
Applause for adoption
One of Ms. Walsh's goals was to encourage "people who have this kind of relationship in an adoptive family [to] appreciate what they've got." She had checked out a group for adult adoptees and found that "too many people are angry [toward the birth family].
"Their whole theme was, 'I deserve to know who I am,'" she said. "They weren't seeing the person who had the courage to have the child" and find him or her a loving home.
Ms. Walsh returned to work at St. Joseph's parish this summer; Mrs. Loucks is a retired secretary for correctional services. Ms. Walsh believes God was "right in the center" of the sisters' discovering each other.
"Just the fact that my life turned out the way it did is an act of faith," said Ms. Walsh, who attended Catholic schools and taught as a Sister of St. Joseph for 30 years. "Times changed, the world changed, religious life changed, and I changed. I was a sister, but I didn't have one - but now I have one and I'm not one."
Ms. Walsh lost a close friend in 2008 and believes God knew she "needed a companion on the journey. I think there has to be some intervention bigger than us."
In November, the sisters will celebrate their fifth anniversary of meeting.
"Even though it's become very normal and natural, it's still very awesome," Ms. Walsh said. "It just continues to grow. There's no model or right way to do things. It's sort of like we're bushwhacking."
Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013
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