Sherri Lynn Chouinard had 37 birthdays before the extra special one she celebrated last Saturday.
Her 38th birthday was the first one she has ever spent in the presence of her birth mom, Margaret-Anne Wiseman of Corner Brook.
Chouinard, who has lived her life in Dunnville, Ont. since being given up for adoption as a newborn, had been searching for her birth mother since she was 16. She spent countless hours searching the Internet for clues through the years, but never had any luck.
Her mom’s identity was kept from her by the law. That all changed when both Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador changed their respective legislation to allow full access to birth certificates in 2010.
After finally learning who her mom was — the certificate identified her with her maiden name, Margaret-Anne Prosper — and where she lived at the time of the adoption, Chouinard began her search anew.
The Internet searches, though, proved fruitless once again.
Around two months ago, Chouinard took her husband Brian’s advice and wrote eight letters to different Prosper families in the Corner Brook area.
Around seven weeks ago, Wiseman got a call from her sister, Sharon Prosper, who was crying. Wiseman was afraid something terrible had happened to their elderly mother.
“‘No,’ she said, ‘come up, it’s happy news,’” Wiseman said of the call from her sister.
About two weeks after she had sent off those eight letters, Chouinard was sitting at her computer when she got a call from Sharon Prosper. The ensuing speakerphone conversation would be the first Chouinard would have with her mom.
“I wasn’t sure what to say to her the first time,” said Chouinard of that emotional moment. “Once we started talking, I was just really happy and excited and I couldn’t wait to come down to Corner Brook.”
Travel plans were made immediately. After countless more phone calls, Chouinard finally made it to western Newfoundland July 2.
“When we met at the airport, I had my arms out waiting for her to come through the door to grab her,” said Wiseman of the anticipation of their first meeting in person.
“I knew who she was right away. I knew because she looks just like me for the world.”
When the two were finally locked in their first embrace, Wiseman was crying. Chouinard was not.
“I wasn’t crying because I was crying for many years and was too happy to cry,” she said. “We were just hugging each other and didn’t want to let each other go.”
The week she spent home in Corner Brook was spent sight-seeing throughout the region, shopping for souvenirs and getting to meet most of the rather large family on her mother’s side. She discovered she has a half-sister named Michelle and a half-brother named Michael.
Wiseman has 10 brothers and two sisters and most of them and their kids were at last Saturday’s huge birthday party for Chouinard.
Chouinard and her husband have three sons, but only 13-year-old Travis made the trip with his mom. His nan can’t wait to meet her son-in-law and her other two grandsons, 10-year-old Lucas and five-year-od Riley.
Wiseman said she and her sisters constantly pondered what had ever become of baby Sherri Lynn, the name she gave her daughter and which the adopting parents decided to keep.
“I wondered if she was married, if she had kids and if I was a grandma,” she said.
As it turns out, Chouinard was an only child. She grew up having two horses and participated in horse shows and barrel racing. She took modelling, ice skating and dance lessons. Her parents bought her a car and got her through studying early childhood development in college.
In her own words, Chouinard said she “was spoiled” as a child and never wanted for anything.
Wiseman said it was hard to give up her baby 38 years ago, but firmly believes she made the right decision.
“I had nothing to give her at the time,” said Wiseman. “I think I done the right thing because the people that did adopt her gave her everything she needed ... Those were things I would never have been able to do for her if I kept her and reared her up.”
Wiseman did give her daughter life and the one thing Chouinard’s adopted parents could not give her was the special bond she can now forge with her birth mother.
Chouinard is planning a longer trip back to Corner Brook with her entire family in tow next summer. Wiseman said she will go to Ontario before that, if she can.
Chouinard said she is “over the moon and beyond” to have finally found her mother and the rest of her family.
“It has changed my life forever,” said Chouinard. “I never really knew who I was and never thought I belonged anywhere. Now, I do because I know my family now.”
*** Edited 9 a.m. July 12 ***