Reflections of an Adult Adoptee
One January morning, five years ago, I woke up knowing the time had arrived to search into my past. The prompt seemed to come from a voice inside my head. Purposefully, I leapt out of bed aware that there was no time to waste, since, in a matter of months, I would turn sixty. Not that I considered sixty to be a particularly old age, but because time might be running out to track down my birth mother.
For the previous few years I’d come to doubt that what I’d been told as a child might actually be true. Instead of taking action, I stalled, since I didn’t want to have to acknowledge that my parents had, most likely, lied to me, even though I guessed that it would have been for my protection. My ‘real’ mummy had died, they said, when I asked what happened to her. And even if they had told me the full truth, instead of the explanation designed to put an end to the matter, I hadn’t wanted to start delving until my adoptive mother, who outlived my father by twenty eight years, passed away.
I’d also stalled because I had no real idea where to begin. A few years earlier, a friend who was into ancestry research, suggested that I start with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Halfheartedly I lifted the phone and dialled a local number. The ring tone lasted for ages until I replaced the receiver, concluding that it was not meant to be and feeling just a tad relieved. But, on the morning of my epiphany, there was no more excuse as the internet was now at my disposal, I was computer savvy and all I had to do was conduct a google search. I was taken to the website of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) - an institution which, sadly, no longer exists - filled in an email template and within a short space of time received a hopeful reply.
The wheels were set in motion and a request sent to the Government Registry Office in Southport, Lancashire, because, even though I was living in Edinburgh, my adoption, as a six month old baby, took place in England. I was informed that the details would be sent to a local adoption charity. I have to confess that I was more than a little miffed to discover that there was an apparent snag. It was due to the fact that I was adopted before 1976, the year in which a change in the law came into being, enabling adoptees to obtain details of their birth identity. In order to be given the information I sought, a counsellor would have to assigned to me. Those that were born after that date had a choice in the matter. How wrong I was to consider this a stumbling block, as though the counsellor would somehow stand in my way. Soon I received a reassuring phone call from the person allocated to my case at Scottish Adoption, and I knew then I was in safe hands. It was absolutely essential to be in the presence of an empathetic, well trained and highly skilled professional, since to read my name at birth and that of my birth mother, presented a monumental trauma and was not to be experienced in isolation.
And it didn’t just stop there, as I was to discover that, indeed, my birth mother was still alive, and I desired to find her before it was too late. My counsellor was at the end of the line whenever I needed her to help me come to terms with the gradually unfolding revelations, and to act as an intermediary when required. Close friends said they admired my courage when I announced my intention to search, and while I recognised that it wouldn’t be easy, I had seriously underestimated just how much the information I garnered over time would rock me to the very core of my being. I had no idea just what damage takes place when a child is exposed to prenatal tensions, thoughts of possible abortion and separation from the biological mother, which recent research has revealed. To see a photograph of my birth mother for the very first time, navigate my way through the emotionally turbulent waters of my adoption file, and attempt to integrate with the birth family is not a journey I could have realised, much less undergone safely, without my counsellor being at the helm.
The act of procuring information which was rightfully mine: namely accessing the missing puzzle piece of my infancy as well as my biological heritage, was far from straightforward. The stumbling blocks lay with other institutions and authority figures who might well have denied me this complicated still further by the fact that I was born in England and my counsellor was able to address each issue as it came along. Thanks to her persistence at the time, and her support of mine since then, a highly pleasing result has been achieved. I appreciate, of course, that the ending might not have been a happy one, that my birth mother and also those close to her could well have not wanted any contact with me. It was, then, even more reason to have this back up.
Certainly there have been many ups and downs and moments when I’d wished I’d never gone ahead with my search. But I soldiered on, and only last month did I realise a dream I thought would simply remain that way. Although I had met and stayed with my ninety one year old birth mother a few times, I was finally able to sit down at a pre Christmas meal table with her, also in the company of the younger full sister I never knew I had, and my adoptive cousins. Everyone was happy and interacted well. However, the best part for me was being able to celebrate this achievement by way of a phone call and the sharing of a photograph of the occasion with the person who has accompanied me along the often tortuous way, during which, at times, all seemed lost. My counsellor at Scottish Adoption.
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