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Red Deer birth mom teams up to write memoir with the son she gave up for adoption

Book launches to be held for recently released memoir
Vonda Peterson, 82, of Red Deer wrote the memoir, ‘A Hole in Our Hearts,’ with Kelly Neville, the son she gave up for adoption when she was 17 years old. (Contributed photo)

Stories written to help a Red Deer birth mom and the son she gave up for adoption learn about each other’s lives have been blended together in the published memoir A Hole in Our Hearts.

Vonda Peterson and her son Kelly Neville, of England, were reunited in 1998 after she spent many years trying to access adoption records.

“He didn’t even know he was adopted. When my search consultant got a hold of his (adoptive) father that was the first time he knew and that’s when he was 38 years old,” said Peterson, 82, who was raised in Edmonton and lived in several communities around the province, and elsewhere, before moving to Red Deer three years ago.

Peterson was 17 years old when she gave birth at a home for unwed mothers. She kept her pregnancy a secret from almost everyone, and always thought about the son she never got to know.

“It was just such a relief that he was alive, he was well, because I’d been thinking about him for 40 years. It was a long time coming.”

She said writing the book with Neville has helped shed the shame and regret of the secret she hid and put her on the path to healing. Unloading your burdens with others may not help everyone, but for her it did.

“I feel like I’ve met enough people over this process to know that when they share with me, it lightens their load.”

Neville was adopted by a couple from the United Kingdom who were in Canada for two years before moving back to the U.K.

After his adoptive father took a military job in Africa, the family lived in several countries and Neville was conscripted into the Rhodesian army. At 17, his adoptive mother died and he moved to Scotland. There, he was recruited into the Unification Church, where he was matched in marriage and spent 16 years serving in England, various states in the U.S., as well as Bulgaria.

Neville lived for a few years in Canada after learning about his birth mother, before returning to England, where he is a maintenance manager for five hotels and has a wood crafting business.

Peterson, who has three children, said the idea to share their histories with each other in writing came about after corresponding and talking. Then they decided to take a week-long writing course on revision held at Red Deer College in 2018 where their instructor and fellow students encouraged the pair to publish their unique memoir.

An editor worked with them on the book for about a year and a half and A Hole in Our Hearts was released January 2023, and is available through FriesenPress. Book launches will be planned with the Red Deer Arts Council and at Golden Circle Seniors Resource Centre.

Peterson is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and Inkblots Writing Group.

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