Shannon Peck has always known she was adopted. That’s never been an issue.
But finding out about herself, where she came from and who her biological parents and some of her other biological family members are has been a lifelong journey for Chemainus resident Peck, 47.
With adoption, rejection is often ingrained in a person, but “coming to terms with my family and identity has really helped,” she said.
After a long painstaking process to identify her birth mother that has yet to yield any personal contact, Peck only recently discovered the identity of her birth father, Chuck, and plans are in the works to meet him. “Sometime in the next month,” she noted.
Chuck resides outside of Rochester in upstate New York. “I found him through DNA testing in August 2017,” noted Peck.
Chuck and Peck’s birth mother met in 1969 while he was an electronics technician with the United States Air Force in Europe. Her birth mom, who was from Alberta, had been in Europe for a summer vacation and didn’t find out she was pregnant until she returned home.
Shannon was born in 1970 at Grace Hospital in Vancouver and given up for adoption at 10 days old.
“When I was 11 days old, my mom and dad, Anna and Harold Peck, picked me up at the hospital,” Shannon indicated.
“My older brother is adopted, he was adopted two years earlier,” she added. “They wanted another child and couldn’t have children of their own.”
The Pecks were in Courtenay at the time and it turns out that they could have children of their own, adding another boy, Garrett, born in 1976, and another girl, Heather, born in 1978, to the family that already included Jason and Shannon.
Shannon’s mom never kept it from her that she was adopted.
“I remember having a conversation with my mom going into school in the truck one time and she explained about being adopted,” she said. “She always made sure she told us from an early age.”
The first pursuit of her birth mom started when Peck was 19 and in university. She had applied to Vital Statistics for non-identifying information about her birth family.
Peck found out her birth mother was 22 at the time and been a bank teller. There was also a physical description with hair colour and a few other basics.
“It was short and sweet, just the minimum,” she noted. “I thought that was great. I was interested in finding out that much information.”
Things changed dramatically in 1996 when the B.C. government announced it was opening up adoption records. Ironically, that’s also the year her adopted father Harold died, but Anna is still alive and doing well.
Peck’s mother eventually was one of the small percentage to file a veto on the birth records. Shannon did find out her real name was Kari, followed by the exact same middle name, Lee, that was given by her adoptive parents. Her original last name was blanked out.
Fast forward to 2013, and “I kind of put that stuff aside,” conceded Peck.
She had gone through a difficult time and did a course on “attachment.”
“I’ve spent my whole life thinking being an adoptee has not affected anything in my life,” Peck noted.
“It set me on a course of a learning and research path, reading all I could.”
Peck rediscovered art as an important pursuit in her life. “I threw myself back into it as a way of processing these feelings I had,” she indicated.
With the advent of so many genealogy sites and other statistics available on the Internet, “within a week I found an obit for her mother and what her married name was,” said Peck. “I didn’t reach out to them at the time.
“Last fall, I decided to rewrite the letter I had written for four years and mail it to my birth mother,” noted Peck.
She sent the letter and told about her life and found out her birth mother is now living in Saanich, but still no direct response.
Peck formulated a textile art exhibit that put various aspects of the adoption experience on display. The exhibit, Your Daughter is in Good Hands, was set up at the PORTALS Gallery at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan during April of this year.
The title was used to voice cynicism towards the familiar platitudes spoken by Church and state during the adoption boom era.
One of the displays, Statement of Incident, began as a public rebuttal to Peck’s birth mother’s disclosure veto statement.
“The little girl in me continued to feel the pain and hurt of being rejected at birth,” explained Peck. “It took me years to fully understand my childlike reaction to my birth mother’s statement of ‘Incident.’ With that, I began to understand the immense panic and fear she must have felt when new adoption legislation came into law in 1996 that opened records to adoptees.”
In ‘Genealogical Bewilderment,’ a hidden grief connects Peck’s birth self to her adoptee self.
“Though I have lived most of my life as Shannon Peck, I still carry my birth self (my alter ego), Kari Lee (Hug) within me. Kari represents the unlived piece of my life; a child in name only who relinquished at birth, lost the opportunity for life with our birth mother. By connecting with this loss, I have been able to mourn the loss of my birth mother and integrate my two identities.”
The exhibit garnered plenty of attention as ground-breaking, with interviews conducted with her by CBC and Shaw.
“It walked people through my entire time from conception to present day,” Peck noted. “Anyone who walked through that was visibly shaken. It became a symbolic show for many people.”
It definitely drew such a strong response, Peck feels it needs to go to other galleries in the future.
“In the midst of my exhibit, I decided to do DNA testing to see if I could find out any information of my birth father side of the family.”
That yielded successful results and Peck is looking forward to meeting Chuck.
“Comparing it to my birth mother, he was interested and accepting from Day 1,” she indicated. “It’s been really pleasant.”
Some progress has been made on the mother’s side of the family through cousins.
“At least I’ve had acceptance from part of her family,” said Peck. “That’s been healing as well.”
As Peck prepares for the meeting with her birth father, she continues to work with husband Mark at their Well Bred Bakery business at their home and selling at Farmers’ Markets.
“It’s been life-changing, I would say 180 per cent life changing,” summed up Peck of her experiences.
“Safety’s a huge thing. It’s given me a lot more courage to step outside what I would have never considered before.”