The wait is over – NU student’s senior project ends by meeting biological mom
This afternoon, McKenna Marquis boards a plane to the Pacific Northwest, determined to piece together the story of her life.
It’s a story that will likely end one chapter of the Nevada Union High School senior’s life and begin a second one, this time shared with the mother she never knew.
For years, McKenna described herself as “hesitant but curious” to forge a relationship with the mother who could not have her, a mother whose only contact with her oldest child until recently was a series of birthday letters delivered to McKenna’s adoptive parents each year.
“She wrote that she was a teenager blessed with a gift she couldn’t have,” said McKenna, whose visit with her biological mother forms the basis for her senior project, a requirement of all graduating high school seniors.
Mary Hamlin, who gave an infant McKenna to Roberta and Jim Marquis 17 years ago, is grateful simply to have the chance for a reunion.
“I’m really glad this is happening,” Hamlin said this week from her home in Spokane, Wash. “This is a miracle. I never thought I would live this long to see this.”
In truth, this was a reunion both McKenna and her adoptive parents have been seeking for years. For Mary Hamlin, it’s a reunion that’s occurring at the perfect time in her life.
Mary Hamlin was 17 when she gave birth in Reno on May 17, 1987.
The private adoption was made possible only after Jim Marquis, whose wife was unable to bear children, petitioned the Inuit Eskimo tribe, asking for their permission to adopt McKenna.
It was a decision that Mary Hamlin, who never developed a relationship with her daughter’s biological father, considers one of the best she ever made.
In a few short years, Hamlin, an Alaska native, began a decade-long slide into drug and alcohol abuse. Now clean, the 34-year-old has a steady job and a 7-year-old daughter, Alexandria.
“Maybe somebody was waiting for this to happen at the right time,” Hamlin said.
As Hamlin sorted out her life, her parents, Jack and Linda, began writing periodic letters to their biological granddaughter. Jim Marquis welcomed these letters, which first arrived when McKenna was about 10.
“McKenna’s adoption has always been an open subject,” said Jim Marquis, a Lake Wildwood resident who works as an assistant chief for the state Office of Emergency Services.
Jim and Roberta Marquis, who are separated, also have an adopted son, Erik, 14.
“We’ve encouraged them both to make the choice to find out their past, and we’d help them along the way,” Jim Marquis said.
McKenna, an aspiring firefighter and one-time varsity basketball player at Nevada Union, embraced the idea soon after researching ideas for her senior project. In November, McKenna wrote a letter to her biological grandparents asking for information about Mary Hamlin.
On Dec. 5, Hamlin and her firstborn talked on the phone for the first time.
“That was the biggest moment I’d been waiting for. I didn’t know what to say. She was my mother, but also a stranger,” McKenna said.
It was the missing piece she’d been searching for. The two have exchanged a series of phone calls since.
Still, McKenna felt like a character in a comic strip, a bubble over her head filled with question marks.
A trip to answer questions
“I don’t really know what to expect right now at all,” McKenna said Friday as she packed for her six-day trip. She’ll be accompanied on the journey with the letters and a companion, Nevada Union senior Jamie Lohmeyer.
As the months have passed, some of the young woman’s questions have been answered. Monday, she received a photograph of Mary Hamlin and her 7-year-old. In the picture, McKenna’s biological mother is striking a “hang loose” pose. “She looks like she’s a fun person to be around,” McKenna said. “But in a way, it’s kind of like looking at a stranger.”
For his daughter’s sake, Jim Marquis hopes that stranger quickly becomes a friend.
“I just want them to have a positive, healthy relationship,” he said. “I think my daughter knows herself, and as a consequence, I put a lot of faith in her. I think she’ll find the boundaries of a relationship that will keep it healthy for both of them.”
That’s a sentiment shared by McKenna, who couldn’t sleep Thursday night, trying to figure out the proper way to greet her biological mother.
“I think I’m going to let her say the first words,” McKenna said.
Although she won’t see McKenna until this afternoon, Mary Hamlin already has plans to attend the girl’s graduation.
“I’m feeling very grateful and blessed that I’m getting this chance,” Hamlin said.
Finding the missing pieces
Following is an Oct. 10, 2004, entry from McKenna Marquis’ journal, which she kept as part of her senior project to connect with her biological mother:
I have to admit there has been a certain feeling of mystery all of my life as to my origins. I used to fill my childhood with colorful fantasies about where I come from and who my biological parents were. My adoptive parents are very open in regards to my adoption, but any information on my biological parents is buried under a court order.
I catch myself still wondering. I still look at faces as I walk down the street wondering if any of them could possibly be related to me. The mystery of my origin still plays heavy on my mind and fantasies. I wonder often how much of a different person I would be had I been raised by my biological family instead of my adoptive family. How would I think? What would my religious preferences be? How would I see the world? Who would my friends be?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s a blessing or a curse, being adopted. But there are times when I wish I knew … when I wonder what my biological mother must have gone through to get to where she is today. What was the thinking? Does she wonder about me now? Does she remember my birthday? These things haunt me sometimes. I can’t escape the wonder of wondering.
I am blessed to be raised the way I have been. But I wonder if the girl who gave birth to me ever thought or cared about what happened to the baby she gave away in 1987.
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