Searching for a birth parent – my experience

Watching TV programmes is so thought provoking. First funerals, now adoption!

As you can guess, I was adopted and there hasn’t been a time in my life when I haven’t known this. My parents made the (very sensible) decision to tell me when I was old enough to understand; so I’ve known since I was aged 3. They also kept a file with all the letters between them and the adoption agency which I could read and have any time I wanted to.

There has always been a curiousness about my birth parents, particularly my mother. I have never felt anything negative towards her at all; in fact, I have always firmly believed that she was incredibly brave to have me adopted when in fact, she probably had no choice in the matter. Society took a dim view of unmarried mothers in the 1960’s, sending them away to other relatives or unmarried mothers’ homes to have their babies, only to return home when they had physically recovered.

Counselling was not an option in those days, mothers were just told to get on with their lives and they’d “done the right thing” by giving their children up.  In our modern times, it is hard to believe that society was quite so cruel to women. Or maybe it isn’t.

As curious as I was in my younger years, I knew that she would have grown up – she was 18 when she had me – probably got married, her husband most likely unaware of my existence, perhaps had other children and hopefully lead a full and happy life. Whenever I was asked by well meaning friends if I was ever going to find her, my reply remained firm: you can’t just knock on someone’s door and say hi, remember me, the baby you gave up for adoption.

By the age of 19 my curiosity got the better of me. The law in the UK states that if you were adopted prior to 1975, and wish to conduct a search for your birth mother/parents, you must go through a social worker. Which is what I did. I was appointed one who began to investigate my records only to discover that the court issuing the adoption order had stored all the documents in their basement and they’d been destroyed by a flood the year after my adoption. I took this as a sign to stop looking.

Periodically it would enter my conscious but I rarely gave it much head space and life moved on. Four weeks after my mum died, some insensitive ‘friend’ (no longer one!) asked if I was going to find my ‘real mum’ now my mum had died. A classic case of opening mouth before engaging brain.

Time passed and two years ago, encouraged by friends, I decided to start the search seriously. I knew her name and with the help of the internet (gotta love all that info at your fingertips!), I stumbled across a website that mentioned the family business. There, right in front of me, on that web page, was a photo of my grandparents, uncles and my birth mother.

It took my breath away. I am so much like her it’s scary. Imagine growing up, surrounded by family and not looking like any of them. For those of you not adopted, I bet people say all the time “you have your fathers eyes” or “you have your grandfathers chin” etc. In other words, you have a heritage, people you look like and people from whom you have acquired inherited skills and personality traits.

Now imagine not having any of that.

When my daughter was little, she would sometimes look a certain way or I’d just catch her in a particular pose and my heart would just stop. There was this little human being who looked just like me. Having never experienced this before in my life, I would be stunned momentarily. Now I’m used to it, she’s just a younger taller version of me 😉

I contacted the owner of the web page, asking if he had the email addresses of the family members he’d spoken to about the family business. Naturally he forwarded my email onto my two uncles, with the proviso he wasn’t sure if either email address was still valid. But a couple of days later, they both contacted me!

I’ll try to keep this bit brief. One of my uncles was extremely terse in his response but the other much more forthcoming. I wrote a carefully worded email, giving as much detail as I could about the circumstances of my birth and adoption to prove I wasn’t a nut job, which included the address my birth mum had given on my birth certificate. Turns out this uncle was the only person who knew of my existence as that address was his in-laws home in London.

We emailed back and forth over the next week or so, him not giving much away but as I pointed out to him initially, I didn’t expect him to as it wasn’t his story to tell. My birth mother was ill in hospital at the time so he promised to tell her of my approach when she was well enough to deal with it. He also didn’t think her husband knew about me, thus catching her when he wasn’t about was prudent. I also let him know that I would be leaving the country to go travelling in the next few weeks (remember this is 2014).

When he eventually got the chance to speak to her and let her read all the emails that we had shared, she wanted to write a letter to me before I left the UK and he asked for my address. In due course, after a weeks trip to Romania before leaving the UK for months, I arrived home to find an white envelope and I just knew it was her.

Now, everyone who knew that I was on this emotional journey, was utterly convinced that she would want to see me, how could she not? Even my friend who is a psychotherapist was absolutely sure this was going to be a positive outcome. I wasn’t so convinced. In fact I had a gut feeling she would tell me thanks but no thanks.

So, when I saw that envelope, I wasn’t in a rush to open it. In fact I emptied my suitcase, put my washing on, made a cuppa and only an hour later did I sit down to open the letter.

And there I sat staring at it. One typed, half page, no address and not even signed letter that basically told me to go away. Exactly as I anticipated. I don’t have the letter any more but there are certain key phrases that are etched on my brain. She couldn’t remember the date of my birth let alone what time I’d be born. She hadn’t thought of me at all, I was part of a life that no longer existed. I had a mother and she was my mother in all things (which was written in the present tense but my emails had clearly stated that my mum had died 10 years previously). She told me that we suffer stomach problems and heart problems “so don’t get fat” (her words not mine!). And lastly, not to ever contact her brothers again, they are too old to deal with it. Sorry that it wasn’t the outcome I wanted but goodbye and wished me well.

Wow.

I just chucked it on the bed and walked away. It was callous and cruel in tone and intent.

Throughout all my emails to my uncle, I had been respectful and mindful of how delicate my approach was. I hadn’t wanted a family, but I had wanted to understand more about myself and my roots. To be clear, I wasn’t looking for an identity, no one can give you that, your identity comes from within yourself. What you get from family is heritage, an anchor of familiarity in this world, people who you look like, behave like. A tribe if you will that you recognise and who recognise you.

In all my 49 years to that point, I had never once felt rejected. In fact, when I gave birth to my daughter as a single parent, I gained a whole new respect and admiration for her, and felt terribly emotional that she was unable to keep me but here I was 28 years later in the same boat and society was far more accepting of unmarried mothers. I felt a kinship if you like.

But after that letter, I had never felt so rejected in my life.

Two years on and I can honestly say I don’t feel anything negative toward her or the family. I am very sad that we may never get to know each other, that my daughter will never get to meet her or them. If I had had to give her up for adoption at birth, well, I can’t imagine it to be honest, the thought is just too painful. But I know I would want to meet and know her without question. However, I cannot change how someone feels or what they believe is the right action.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, except perhaps to say those of you who grew up in blood family, appreciate that you will never be truly alone as there will always be a tribe somewhere that you recognise and who recognise you. Familiarity is important, more so than most of us realise.

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