The year was 1972. In those days it was the done thing for single teenage mums to have their children adopted. My biological mother was fifteen when she realised she was pregnant, and no longer seeing her boyfriend.
I was adopted at birth by a couple who had been unable to conceive and had spent several years on adoption agency waiting lists.
The photographs taken of mum and dad holding me in their arms on the day they finally brought me home speak volumes. My new mum looked radiant.
I cannot remember a time when I was not aware that I was adopted. I was told when I was too young to understand so it feels like I’ve always known. Two years later when my parents began proceedings to adopt a baby brother, my mother discovered she had conceived naturally. I have two sisters. The three of us are very different, although they look similar, and I do not. But I don’t remember ever minding this fact. Or feeling less loved.
As a child I liked to shock adults by mentioning out of the blue that I was adopted and took a perverse pleasure in their visible discomfort as they tried to gauge how they should react. Being adopted made me feel a bit special. It was also full of dramatic potential. I had (I suspect very common) fantasies about my biological parents being fabulously wealthy and my one day inheriting a fortune. A favourite daydream was that I would see someone with my face walking towards me in the street and just know that we were related. A half brother or sister, or my mother herself. Or I imagined being attracted to a younger guy, only to find out that he was actually my half brother.
At the magic age of fifteen I thought a lot about the hell my biological mother must have gone through – not an easy thing to conceive of, as I hadn’t even had my first kiss at that stage – and I was deeply superstitious about history repeating itself.
Mum, a family history enthusiast, showed me all the adoption papers and even got hold of a copy of my biological mother’s birth certificate. The papers showed her maiden name, and gave scant details about her circumstances: she had met my father in the park, failed her ‘O’ Levels during the pregnancy. We knew her parents’ address, so I always knew that answers to any questions I might have were less than an hour’s drive away from where I lived with my adoptive family.
Whenever I talked about being adopted, my friends said that if they were adopted they would search for their parents. They would have to know. My reticence was a mystery to them. But it didn’t strike me as necessary to find my mother. I already had a family and, although we had our ups and down, like everyone else, I didn’t ever feel as if any important part of me was missing.
I had also convinced myself that my mother would have tried to put the whole traumatic experience behind her, and now quite possibly had a family who knew nothing of my existence. She might not want any contact with me. After watching the film ‘Secrets and Lies’, I admitted to myself that another of my fears was that my mother would be like the Brenda character, and if we ever did meet, we could well have very little in common.
So for a long time I did nothing. Until one summer’s day in 2001, when I decided to write my biological mother a letter.
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