The possibility of a meeting was not mentioned at first, as both of us were treading carefully, anxious not to rush things and frighten the other away. So we began by exchanging photographs, and more letters.
Obviously I look nothing like my adoptive family. My sisters both have wavy auburn hair and freckles and are often mistaken for one another. I have dark blonde hair and a pale complexion, and I’m petite in comparison. I have always wondered what it would be like to see echoes of myself in someone else’s face. I reasoned that if there were visible proof of our shared genetic heritage, it would help me to establish an immediate bond with my biological parents. I suspect they were just as disappointed as I was when the likeness was not immediately apparent.
I spent a long time poring over the photographs searching for genetic clues. Undeniably, when I was very young, I looked a lot like one of my twin brothers. However it is almost impossible to detect any similarity between the thirty something me and the teenager he has become today, and I struggle to see anything of my father or my other brother in me.
My mother’s face is deeply lined, despite the fact she is only in her mid-forties. It reflects the fact that life has not been kind to her. I can trace faint lines in the same places on my own face, but I hope they will never have cause to become as pronounced. Our features are not similar, but people have told me there are fleeting moments when we do have the same facial expressions. On one recent photograph, where we are both squinting towards the camera with the sun in our eyes, one such instant has been captured and the resemblance is quite striking.
I now see my biological parents two or three times a year. Letters are exchanged, but less frequently than in the beginning. For me at least, once the curiosity about the circumstances surrounding my birth had been satisfied, knowing the details of their day-to-day life was not so important to me, so there is inevitably less to say. The person I wanted to get to know was the fifteen year old girl who gave birth to me, and so it is when my mother talks about the past that she holds my attention. It would have been enough for me to hear her story, be reassured that she was well and happy and not harbouring too many regrets about having me adopted. I could have lived without continued contact. I hope this doesn’t sound callous.
For my mother on the other hand, getting to know me represented the beginning of a healing process. Once she had told her story she could start to find a way to exorcise the guilt which had been poisoning her life ever since she gave me up for adoption. There is no way I could break off contact now without inflicting more pain. I decided to go looking for her, and there are consequences to my actions.
I do feel a great deal of empathy for her, especially now that I too have experienced pregnancy and motherhood. In her company I am far more at ease than I would expect, given how little we know each other. But there is no escaping the fact that our lives have been very different and we struggle to find common ground. I have been to university and now live in a foreign country; she never left the village where she was born. I suspect I intimidate her a little.
My adoptive family will always remain my ‘real’ family, as far as I’m concerned. They raised me, loved me unconditionally and have seen me at my best and worst for the past thirty years. Their upbringing made me who I am today. When I have a problem, my first instinct will always be to reach for the telephone and call mum. The names ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ belong only to them. My sisters may not look like me, but we grew up together, we have a shared history. Regardless of blood ties, I don’t think the twins will ever feel like brothers, right now they are more like distant cousins.
I know that my biological family would like to see me more often, but there is a limit to how much I feel able to give. It is delicate finding the right balance, reconciling my needs with theirs. I do understand that they, and particularly my mother, feel the need to play a part in my life going forward, and in the life of her first grandchild.
I don’t regret seeking out my biological mother. Positive things have come out of it. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and I don’t think it ever will be.