Songbird Sarah's Story:

The Day She Discovered The Woman In The Jewelry Store Was Her Birth Mom

Vancouver Province, August 27, 1997

TELL ME IF you've heard this story before. It's about an adoption that involves a famous Canadian singer. It begins withan unwanted pregnancy in art college in the '60s. There's a happy' ending, with birth mother and daughter finding one another quite by accident and becoming friends.

A few weeks ago I reported on an upcoming book about Sarah 1McLachlan. The author, Toronto writer Judith Fitzgerald, told me that the final chapter would deal with a mystery figure who has played an important role in the singer's life. Fitzgerald said the revelation would be "incendiary."

Well, it's hardly that. But like the story of how Joni Mitchell found her long-lost daughter, this celebrity adoption tale underscores a phenomenon that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. All over Canada, baby-boomers who were caught between the pre-war values of their parents and the liberal attitudes of the '60s are hooking up with their offspring. These children are mature now and anxious to bring closure to the question that has plagued them from the day they learned they were adopted.

In her book, Building A Mystery: The Story of Sarah McLachlan and Lilith Fair, due out in late October, Fitzgerald tells how McLachlan, adopted at birth, found her natural mother in a Halifax jewelry store.

The story, much like the Joni Mitchell one, begins in a '60s springtime.

Judy (the author doesn't disclose a surname) finds herself pregnant while studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. "She was 20 years old," Fitzgerald tells me. "There was no way on the East Coast at that time that she could look after a baby and continue her education. She didn't want a baby. Babies are too needy. It wasn't part of her future."

"She felt the best thing she could do was not to have an abortion -- she couldn't do that -- but she felt it was very important to give the child up for adoption. It was a difficult decision for her to make."

At the age of 18, Sarah McLachlan was a student at the same college, taking weaving and jewelry design. She was a frequent visitor to a certain jewelry store, partly because her girlfriend Robin worked there, but also because she really liked the pieces.

Some of the jewelry the young McLachlan so admired was designed by Robin's colleague - Judy. Well, according to the book, Sarah and Judy hit it off, and soon began to notice that they bore striking similarities.

"Through a little bit of discussion they discovered they were mother and daughter," says Fitzgerald. "Sarah was shocked and both she and Judy were astonished at how similar they were in their looks and their mannerisms and facial expressions and attitudes."

In the book, Judy says she speaks to Sarah three or four times a year but is reluctant to go into detail about the friendship because she doesn't want to hurt McLachlan's adoptive mother.

"I think I did the right thing for Sarah," Judy says. "I mean, I was an art-college student in the '60s and what could I do? I would have had to take her home to Newfoundland and raise her. Sarah thanked me for not doing that.

"The only thing I could have done was to have her. I couldn't have an abortion. I had to put her up for adoption and these people she had a family with, they did her all kinds of great stuff. They gave her three years in a musical academy. I could never have done that for her.

"Well, these people were the people who raised her and, you know, the woman that raises you, cleans your diapers and wipes your nose and all that stuff? That's your mother, you know."

That woman is Dorice McLachlan, who still lives in Halifax. She told me this week that Sarah was one of three adopted children. It was never a problem.

"We explained to Sarah when she was old enough to understand that she was adopted," she said. "Our friends and everyone knew it, so it's not a secret." Mrs. McLachlan says she has never met Sarah's birth mother and knows nothing about her.

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