When Charmayne Parks was 21, she embarked on a road trip that would change her life forever. She drove a few hours west of the small Ontario town she was raised in to meet her biological mother and sister for the first time.
Parks was separated from her older sister when she was adopted at two months old. Her biological mother was struggling to raise both daughters at the time, until her sister put her in touch with a family she knew who wanted to adopt a child.
What Parks didn't know until that meeting was that she also had two older half-brothers and a younger half-sister.
"I was shocked and fearful because I didn't know if they knew about me," Parks told HuffPost Canada. "But I also felt joy because I had no idea I had any other siblings out there aside from my sister Sherry."
Parks' adoptive parents had two sons so she was raised with two older brothers, and while she was very close to them, she had always wished for a sister.
"Meeting Sherry for the first time was incredible," said Parks, who works as an account manager. "The feeling of growing up knowing I always had a sister out there but didn't know her is hard to explain. I wondered what she was like, if she looked like me and was similar to me."
Over the years, the sisters developed a relationship, gradually growing closer, and making up for lost time.
The sisters are part of a growing cohort of Canadians who have found previously unknown relatives either through DNA testing services, (which use saliva samples to determine ancestry, and identify potential DNA matches with others who have taken the test) or through social media platforms like Facebook.
Canada doesn't compile statistics about the prevalence of these types of reunions, nor do they for domestic adoption rates since adoption is provincially regulated. But documentaries such as "Three Identical Strangers" highlight this experience and journey, which may not always go as smoothly as it did for Parks.
"There was so much to learn about each other," said Parks of her sister. "How we grew up and how the last 21 years had been. She always knew about me and had hoped that I would try to find her one day."
It was in fact Parks' adoptive father who found her sister. When she was 18, her dad gave her her adoption papers so she knew her mother's name, but at that time, she wasn't ready to find her mother and sister.
"It all became too real, I guess."
When she was 21, her dad was in Oshawa, Ont., and stopped at a payphone. He looked up her biological mother's number in the phone book and called.
"It actually ended up being my sister who answered his call and he said 'I adopted your daughter,' not knowing it was my sister he was speaking with," Parks. "My sister, who was pregnant at the time, was shocked and went into labour that evening."
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Three halves make a whole
Parks' biological parents were not in a relationship when she was born and her father wasn't part of the adoption process. Her two half-brothers and half-sister were children on her father's side whom he had with his wife, so they didn't have a relationship with her biological mother.
Parks said she wasn't ready to meet her half-siblings until a few years after that first meeting with her sister. Once she was finally prepared to meet them, she sat down to write her half-sister, Franca Gatti, a letter. Months later, Gatti replied, informing her that she and her half-brothers didn't know about her.
"Meeting my half-sister for the first time was scary as I don't think she believed that I was really her sister/ But she brought photos of my father and half-brothers and we talked for hours, getting caught up at a coffee shop," said Parks. "Once she saw how much we looked alike, she couldn't deny we were family."
The half-sisters talked daily after that first meeting, slowly learning about each other, discovering their commonalities and differences. They grew so close that Parks was heartbroken when she passed away a few years ago.
"She had a daughter who I'm very close with and she lives on in her, that's for sure," said Parks. "I try to keep her memory alive and talk about her a lot with her daughter as she was very special."
As for her half-brothers, Parks doesn't remember the details of meeting them for the first time, but does recall feeling like she had known them forever.
"My half-brothers accepted me right away and never questioned that I was their sister. They were both married with children as well, so I had more nieces and nephews than I knew what to do with! I think I have a total of 25 now, I have lost count, to be honest," she said laughing.
Meeting her other family members enabled Parks to feel connected to her roots, learn more about herself and grow.
"It was pretty incredible to have my family grow as it did, knowing that I had blood relatives out there was nice, but finally meeting them gave me closure of who I was and where I came from."
"I learned about my background and gained the sisters I had always wanted. I know that I will never be alone, they're always close at heart."
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