Siblings cherish long-awaited reunion with birth mother on Thanksgiving
By Cheryll A. Borgaard
For Helen Ford, finding her birth mother four months ago was “exciting, but scary.”
“I was nervous, but I also had a feeling of happiness,” Ford, 54, said Monday. “If you’ve been the product of adoption, you have some questions, but it felt good. You think, ‘Maybe I’ll meet this person, see who I am, where I came from.’ ”
She learned she was born to a 17-year-old blond-haired white girl from a strict Mormon background and a young black man the teen had met in high school in Seattle.
Early Thanksgiving morning at her Longview home, Ford and her birth mother, Delores Burlew, 72, saw each other for the first time in more than five decades.
Their reunion wasn’t the only one to take place that day. Burlew also met Mark Robinson, 52, another child she had with the man two years after Ford was born.
Growing up in Longview
Ford and Robinson were adopted by a black couple, Melvin and Jeanette Robinson of Longview — she at age 2 1/2, he shortly after his birth. They grew up on Eighth Avenue in Longview in a predominantly black neighborhood.
“We were blessed, in a sense, that we got to grow up in the same household. As far as Mama was concerned, we were hers,” Ford said of her adoptive mother, who gave her children little or no information about their background. “Growing up, we did have issues (being biracial), but for the most part, it made us who we are today.”
…Burlew remembers the day she received the document from Children’s Home Society, asking if she would agree to let Ford contact her.
“I got the letter on Friday, and I was scheduled to go to heart surgery on Monday, Aug. 10,” she said Monday from her home in Ogden, Utah. “In the meantime, I had to send in a consent form, but because of my surgery, the caseworker circumvented it, and Helen and I spoke that weekend.”
One of the first things Burlew told Ford during that phone call was that she’d also given up for adoption a son born March 17, 1959.
“I told her yes, that’s my brother, Mark, and that we’d been adopted by the same couple,” Ford said. “Dee (which is what Ford calls Burlew) was just floored at that point.”
“It was great to find out they were together,” Burlew said.
‘It wasn’t something I wanted to do’
Burlew moved from Utah to Seattle with her mother and stepfather in August 1954, just before her senior year of high school.
“I thought my mother was taking me straight to hell; I hated it there,” Burlew said. “I had to leave all my friends in Utah.”
When Burlew discovered she was pregnant, “My mother told me I wouldn’t handle the stress and couldn’t keep the baby. It wasn’t something I wanted to do.”
Burlew went to a home for unwed mothers in Seattle. “My mother didn’t want anyone to know what happened. My mother was a very, very staunch (Mormon).”
The young man had gone into the service, and when he came back on furlough, “it was one time, and boom, there was Mark,” Burlew said.
This time, her mother kicked her out of the house. Burlew said she got a job baby-sitting until she was far enough along in her pregnancy to return to the home for unwed mothers.
“It was just really difficult for me to go through it again,” she said. “But I wanted them to be wherever they would be the best off. I thought I would try to find them, but I never had the means. That’s why I never changed my maiden name. I thought maybe they could find me.”
She returned to Utah in 1959 following her first marriage and gave birth to another son and daughter.
“When they were old enough to know, I told them I figured I needed to tell them (about Ford and Robinson),” she said. “I wanted to tell them of the possibility that ‘You might not like your brother or sister because they’re biracial.’ ”
Read more of the Ford/Robinson/Burlew story HERE
I really liked this story…until the part where the birth mother said she had to warn her white other children that they might not like their siblings because they are biracial. Did it not occur to her to raise them in a way that would encourage acceptance of all people? Please pardon my judgmental tone. I’m just sayin’.
Yeah…the approach could have been done a lot differently. If she raised them in that way, the “forewarning” would not have been necessary. Judgmental or not, it’s the truth.
it doesn’t matter how the parent raises the kid as they are still subject to outside influences…eventually the child gets a mind of its own. it is possible to hold racist views in a home that is anti-racist.
and since i don’t know life in that household, i don’t blame her for warning her kids so there wouldn’t be any surprises and this way if they do disagree, they don’t have to be there to make helen and her bro uncomfy.
i think its always important to prepare for that reality rather than to foolishly hope someone is something that they may not actually be, which is more painful to deal with.
About Dee’s warning her other kids about their biracial siblings, you got to think about the environment she was raised in and continues to live in. Utah back then was lily white. Still is for the most part, at least probably in the circles she moves in. Heck, the church didn’t even allow black members to hold the priesthood until 1979. Also, she was raised in a strict Mormon household, which means outside influences were curtailed, and Mormon thought about all things “outside” were colored (pardon the pun) by what the white men in Salt Lake City decreed. I’m not sure the thought of raising her children to be tolerant and/or accepting ever occurred to her. Would’ve been nice if it had, but many time the attitudes we adopt and perpetuate are those that are modeled for us in our formative environment … and for her, that was the Mormon church.
Full disclosure: I was born in Utah, raised in a strict Mormon family that thankfully moved to the South when I was young … just after they desegregated the public schools. I remember being totally in awe at being assigned a desk right next to a little black girl. First black person I’d ever seen, let alone spoken too. Turns out we went all the way through high school together … weren’t close friends or anything, but stayed in touch, even up to our 20th high school reunion. Oh, and I’ve left that hypocritical Mormon church. Talk about narrow-minded intolerance.
It DOES matter how you raise your child. You do it in such a way that nothing on the outside will influence them — negatively. It’s like, “hmm, I see what you’re saying. However, this is what mom & dad said!” Especially when it comes to diversity and accepting people for who they are no matter what. The parent is the foundation, so that no matter how far (they think) they’ve strayed away, they’ll always have that to fall back on. This was a very strange approach; “you may not like them…” How did she know this? Seems as if that would set the stage right there as far as how they would accept an individual. Now, I’m just sayin’ 😉
Tami…that is a terrific point, but most of the time external influences shape a person’s attitude almost as much as what they learn at home. Like alwaysright101 said, it is possible to hold racist views in an anti-racist home. And kids can learn a lot about racism outside the home as well when they come into contact with others.
If her other children had limited contact with children of color, it makes sense to prepare them beforehand so they wouldn’t say something offensive. Children pick up notions about race from their parents, friends, teachers, and other people in general. She probably didn’t want one of the kids to accidentally blurt out a racist comment when meeting their siblings or be surprised by how they looked. My thoughts? She didn’t literally mean that they would dislike their siblings for being biracial. She simply wanted them to be open-minded about it, which is fair considering the fact that many people do have racist attitudes. It was poorly worded.
Her age and generation are also factors. She was unable to keep her biracial children, especially at a time when it was deemed unacceptable for black men to look at white women. The Mormon community is very insular and that is the community she was raised in. Some white women face a very harsh reality when they have biracial children with black men. They are unprepared when it comes to hair care and having tough discussions about race/ethnicity. She probably felt it would be awkward when they met their siblings for the first time, based on her perceptions of racial interaction. Sometimes you can raise children the right way and they will still disappoint you.
I know people who claim that they aren’t racist, but indeed they are. There are plenty of white mothers with biracial children who are blissfully ignorant and unaware of their own prejudices. My husband is white and he is not racist…but I’ve had to check him on his “white privilege” a few times. It simply comes from being reared in an overly conservative Southern family where Christianity is considered the only real spiritual path with all others (especially Islam) being considered bad. His parents are both wonderful people, but they hate Muslims and they dislike Barack Obama because of his political views and *possibly* because he is the first president of color we’ve ever had. I wouldn’t assume that they are racist but they are intolerant of anyone who is neither Christian nor Republican. They have made some comments that had me looking at them sideways, but they’re still basically good people.
Sorry to wander off topic, guys…this is a cool story and great discussion! 🙂
You’ve made some valid points here, Cinnamon. Age and generation are major factors. Which is why we now have several ways of becoming educated on these various topics. We have to be aware of other cultures, experiences and ways of life. We have to pass the information down to the children. All in an effort to understand, tolerate, and respect each other more.
I agree Tami… Thanks for posting this Tiff.