A tearful reunion, 38 years in the making, took place Saturday at Comox Valley Airport.
Courtenay resident Michelle Alksne met her biological mother, Debbie Touet, for the first time Saturday. With Michelle’s loved ones on hand, holding signs that said “You Found Me” and a balloon saying, “It’s a girl,” they waited in anticipation, and when Michelle saw her mom approaching the terminal, she jumped up and down and ran for an embrace. Mother and daughter hugged for several minutes, before Michelle starting pointing out who was who to her mom.
Debbie flew in from Barrhead, Alta. for the meeting.
Michelle was born in Mission. She and her adoptive parents, Steve and Wendy, moved to Vancouver Island in 1991, when Michelle was 10.
She found out she was adopted five years later, and has been searching for her biological parents ever since – including some time back on the mainland.
“I actually spent an entire year, driving from Surrey to Mission every day, trying to find clues,” she said.
Little did she know that her biological parents were doing the same.
Though their intimate relationship ended shortly after Michelle’s birth, Debbie and Michelle’s biological father, Sean Ferguson, have maintained a connection all this time, in hopes of someday meeting their child.
“She (Debbie) told me they never stopped looking for me,” Michelle said. “That means the world to me.”
One of the challenges was that Michelle’s birth name was Kelly-Anne. Her adoptive parents named her Michelle.
For Debbie, if it was a short flight from Alberta, Saturday’s meeting marked the end of a much longer journey. She remembers the day she gave birth vividly, saying the nurses differed on whether she should even hold the baby.
“Give the mom a second to even hold the child, give her a first kiss,” Debbie said.
In the end, she didn’t get the chance. She and her mother even went back to the hospital a few days later, but her baby was gone. What followed were some difficult choices, as she moved into the city to spare her family. Along the way, there was misinformation and deception from social services people, as she had been told things, like being able to get a photo of the child at age 19, then was not allowed to, or having the records released. She waited in anticipation for the baby’s 19th birthday but was given no information.
“They didn’t give me anything after she was 19,” Debbie said. “I always stayed positive. I knew I would find her.”
The name changes and everything else only made the search harder. Social media, though, helped her track down her biological daughter.
“I was extremely nervous because after 38 years, you don’t know if you’re going to get rejected,” Debbie said.
Debbie reached out to Michelle’s partner, Dave Goodall, on Facebook, July 10.
“Dave didn’t know what to think at first… some random woman claiming to be my mom, contacts him out of the blue,” said Michelle. “This is so surreal. This is … years of wondering if she is alive, who she is, what she looks like, all these different things.”
Michelle said an important part of the reconnection is learning about her medical background.
“I have been through a lot of medical issues. So for me to find out a lot of that medical background is wonderful, because now I know who I get if from and why I have these issues.
“It’s a big puzzle piece that was missing. I feel complete now.”
Sean, who now lives in Edmonton, did not make the trip to Courtenay, but they have already been in contact. Michelle found Sean on Facebook and the two met through a FaceTime visit.
“The weird thing is my dad lived in Union Bay for about six years,” said Michelle. “This is a pretty small community, so chances are good that we’d met before.”
Michelle has four step-sisters from Debbie’s side and two brothers from Sean’s side.
“Then there’s my adoptive brother, here, so I have seven siblings,” she said.
Debbie will be visiting until Aug. 28.
(With files from Mike Chouinard)