What does it feel like to be adopted and make contact with your birth family?
I can't answer the first part because to me being adopted is normal. I can't recall a time that I didn't know my younger brother and I were adopted, although we come from different birth families.
As a child I didn't fully understand adoption. I knew it meant that somewhere I had another set of parents and as a small child I would throw that at my mum & dad when I was having a tantrum or had just been grounded. At that time I didn't realise how it must hurt them to say 'You are not my real mum, I am going to find my real mum' but they were strong about it, at least when I was around I am not sure what happened after I had gone to bed. I guess though that is the downside of telling children so young that they are adopted.
We always knew that we had started life with different names and that mum and dad had decided to keep our original middle names for us but had changed our first names. It was only recently I found out that they had changed my first name, not because they didn't like it but they were worried I would be teased because my initials would have been CAT.
As we got older I was often curious about where I came from and slowly mum and dad would give us more information. I remember my brother coming home from school saying they had been talking about times people were born and he wanted to know when he was born. For any other kid that would have been a simple question to their mum but for us it was all about learning another piece of the jigsaw, although we didn't see it like that then. We were allowed to get the folder from the cupboard and mum allowed us each to see a piece of paper that had on some basic details of our birth. I think it probably was just confirmation of the date, time and weight and it may have had a mothers name on it, but it seemed odd in some ways that all the other kids just had to ask a question whereas we had to get mum to go through a folder of papers before we could find out.
The paper that I liked looking at most had outline details of my birth parents. It described their height, weight, hair colour, occupations, hobbies and their ages - the first time I read this document I learnt that my birth mother was 16 and my birth father was 18, that was a surprise. I don't know why it was a surprise because I had always been told that they couldn't look after me but I never realised it was because of their ages.
I had always wanted to be a twin but never told anyone because I was scared that I would upset my mum & dad, afterall I had a little brother but I was just as scared that someone would say I did have a twin. I was about 20 when I got my original birth certificate, I knew that if I was a twin there would be another entry, I felt so disappointed that there was no extra entry.
When I was growing up I had always intended to access my records when I turned 18 but I reached 18 and felt guilty for wanting them. I didn't want to hurt mum & dad and didn't want them to feel they had done something wrong when bringing me up. I had a good childhood and I would want them to ever think otherwise. I was happy & contented and don't recall wanting for anything I needed but I did always feel that something was missing but could never quite put my finger on it.
It took me a further 10 years to get the bottle together to make a start with my records. I was lucky, I knew the agency I was adopted through and had current details for them. I contacted them and was told that because they no longer do adoptions all their records had been passed to the local authority for storage. They gave me a contact at the local authority who told me I needed to contact the National Statistical Office before they would look out my records and then it would probably take about a year for them to access my record.
I approached the NSO and was sent the appropriate papers, with the paperwork was a form, which said I could join a register of adoptees and their birth families. The register worked in 2 parts, 1 for adoptees and 1 for birth families, if the details you supplied matched with any already on the register the birth family would be notified there was match but would not be given details and the adoptee would get the birth family details and it was up to the adoptee to make contact. I was really excited about this but as I thought about it I wondered how would I feel if there were no match. It could be years, if ever, before there was a match. I decided I was not ready to face that and opted not to join the register.
Because of the date of my adoption I was required to see a councillor before accessing my records. I was assigned one by my local social services, she was a lovely lady who was very understanding but also made me think quite hard about whether this was what I had wanted. Having decided that what I really wanted was medical information I asked to go ahead and request my papers. As I knew most of the details of my adoption it didn't take long for the papers to be located and sent to my social worker.
The day I went to see the Social worker I was so nervous and yet excited, this would give me the information I had wanted. Not just medical information but also maybe a father's name and maybe some information relating to why. I clock watched all day but by the time I got to the office I was ready to turn around and go home. We sat down with the papers, my social worker having produced an outline of both my birth parents' families. It showed their names, addresses their parents details and the biggest shock of all their siblings. My birth mother was one of 7 and my birth father one of 4 and I had all their names, ages and occupations (where appropriate). I was astounded, it never occurred to me they would have siblings and that in turn I would have aunts and uncles.
On the medical front there was very little information. Some of the family wore glasses and some had suffered migraine but nothing about deafness, which was my main concern. I think I took hope from that.
My social worker gave me all the papers and I went away to think about the next step. Shortly after I was told I needed a second hearing aid and that took over my life. It was just before Christmas, I was 29 and devastated. I had thought my hearing was ok but I guess you don't really know yourself. I got through Christmas and round to the following May when the second aid was fitted and life changed. I realised that I could do things that were difficult, afterall I was wearing both aids on a full time basis, and things could turn out for the best.
I had been doing some research into my adoptive parents' family trees and was working in London for a couple of days so took the opportunity to go to the Family Records Centre. Whilst at the FRC I quickly found the information I required and decided I would just kill my curiosity as to whether my birth parents had married. It said on my adoption records that they were not allowed to marry by their parents because of their ages. I started in the yearbook covering my birth and was intending to work through until I found something. It didn't take long; they had married 18 months after I was born. The man who was researching opposite me asked if I was ok because the colour had drained from my face.
I applied for the certificate and left. When I got home I didn't tell my husband what I had done immediately. He had never been keen on me trying to find my birth parents. I think he was worried about me getting hurt. A day or so later I told him, just before the certificate dropped on the mat, he said nothing even when the certificate arrived. The certificate showed their addresses at time of marriage, they matched the ones shown in my adoption record - I was stunned this meant there was chance they were still together.
I showed a good friend who suggested that maybe it was right to try and find them. I dismissed it because I was scared of what I would find, of being rejected, of being told I was a mistake and they regretted that I had been born.
About a month later this friend was telling me he had obtained some software that listed people, it was based on things like the electoral roll. The software, UK Info, was easy to use and he had quickly found us on it. I thought for a while about asking him to look and in the end mentioned it to my husband. He wasn't very keen but agreed it was probably worth asking the friend to look. It didn't take long, there was only 1 match in the district where they had married for both their names and they were at the same address. I was amazed, this meant there was still a chance they were together 30 years after my birth.
The odds had to be stacked against me; I had got this far with little problems. The BT online directory enquires showed there was phone at the property registered to my birth mother, so it was likely at least one of them was still there.
I didn't know what to do for the best, so far I had only told my mum & dad that I had applied for my record. They didn't know that I had any information because the need for a second hearing aid had overtaken everything else at that time.
I was scared of rejection but even more scared of letting the opportunity slip through my fingers. My friend offered to write to them on my behalf and after a long discussion with my husband we sat down to write the letter. It took a whole Sunday afternoon to write a letter that was 2 paragraphs.
We apologised for the intrusion and asked for help in tracking down my birth parents. We gave very little information only my birth name and date of birth along with details of my birth mother. It took so long to write so little but so much rested on it. I set myself up though to be rejected or simply to hear nothing, I had to I didn't dare hope for anything else. Even if they were the right people if they only gave me medical information I would take that as a bonus.
My friend posted the letter and said it would get there on the Tuesday morning. So I decided not to worry about it until Wednesday. My theory was they would be at work when the mail arrived and then they would need some time to work out how to say, no we are not the right people or no we don't want contact go away.
Monday morning before the office lines officially open my phone rang. It was my husband; I knew it had to be important for him to sit through all the messages before dialling my extension but it never occurred to me what it really was. I assumed it was something wrong with his parents or mine, I couldn't have been further from the truth. He said that our friend had rung and that my birth father had rung him that morning. I was stunned, they had told me it would be Tuesday before they got the letter but they had known it would get there on the Monday morning. I was desperate for 9 O'clock to come round, our friend had said to ring him then and he would tell me what was said.
I was desperate for 9 to come but was so scared. I rang and I tried to talk round the subject but my friend knew I was just too scared to ask. It's ok he said they want contact, I was stunned I had not expected that. He described the conversation with my birth father as having received a brain dump of vital information and needing to retain that without the ability to write it down. All he could remember was they had wanted contact, they had 2 further children and they were very happy that we had got in touch.
I don't think I did any work that day, I was stunned. My friend and birth father had arranged to talk the following evening, I couldn't be there - I didn't want to be there, I was scared they would want to talk to me. It seems really silly looking back but I decided to go to my evening class as normal.
On the Monday evening I came up with a list of questions I wanted answers to. The 2 highest on the list were - are they deaf and was I a secret. I was scared about the answers but I needed to know. My friend said the first question would mean he would have to tell them I am partially deaf & was I prepared for that, it might mean they didn't want contact. I decided it was worth the risk, it was better that they reject me now than later.
The Tuesday evening I couldn't settle at college, I was desperate for the break to come so I could ring and see if they had spoken. Break time finally arrived and I rang, he had just come off the phone, all he would say was it was positive. I couldn't stay at college so I left and went back to my friend's house. My husband and another friend were already there but after a few minutes the 2 of us went out to the kitchen to talk about his conversation.
He had spoken to my birth mother for about 40 minutes. They had had 2 sons, 1 is 3 years younger than me, the other 6. Both boys had known about me from a young age and I was most definitely not a secret. There was no deafness in the family and after the initial surprise they seemed to accept that I have a hearing loss. There was quite a bit of information about when they had married and about their subsequent family and it was all really positive. The main thing they wanted to know was did I have a happy childhood, to which the answer was yes.
I wrote to them a few days later, I cant tell you what I wrote because I don't remember but I enclosed a couple of photos - one of our wedding day and another taken about a year ago. I had so many goes at writing the letter there was screwed up paper all over the floor but eventually I came up with something. They replied really quickly and enclosed some photos - this was the first time I had seen a picture where someone said 'Oh you look like that person', this was all new to me.
They asked could they ring me on the following Thursday, I was working away that day and wouldn't be home until late so asked my friend to call them and explain but ask if they could ring the following evening. I was so nervous on the Friday evening, it got to the agreed time and I couldn't sit still and then the phone rang. I was determined to be calm and I thought I did fairly well, I was scared that I wouldn't be able to hear them.
All my fears were unfounded. It seemed really easy to talk to my birth mother, then she started to cry and she passed me over to my birth father, I thought I was doing really well but then the whole thing seemed to get on top of me & I cried. I passed the phone to my husband who spoke to my birth father for a few minutes and then, when I had composed myself again, handed the received back. I can't describe how I felt I was overjoyed and yet felt very little, I think the enormity of what I had done had hit me.
I felt like a weight had been lifted. I had spoken to them; they wanted to know me and wanted to meet but understood that I needed to take things at my own pace. A month later, just after Christmas we met for the first time, by agreement we would meet my birth parents, my brothers & their families - 1 had 1 son and the other 2 sons.
My birth parents live about 2 and quarter hour's drive from us but that first day the weather was appalling but I still wanted to go. It took at little over 3 hours, all the way down I was so nervous, I wanted to go home.
As we turned the final corner into their road, we had agreed that we would stop just a little down from their house so I could sort myself out before meeting them but as we pulled into the road we saw my birth father outside chatting to a neighbour. That threw me. By the time I had got out of the car and got the flowers I brought down, my birth mother was there - all I remember was hugging her and saying to her that she was shaking & was she ok - what a dumb question. We spent a day with them, it all felt kind of unreal both at the time and later.
We had taken our wedding album down with us so they could some pictures. I remember they commented on my middle name being the same and that my younger birth brother and I looked similar in the face. My eldest birth brother's child was already there when we arrived and seemed completely oblivious to everything, I wish I could have been like that. My eldest birth brother arrived, I am not sure how long we had been there. To be hugged by someone as if you have always been part of that family is very strange but also quite nice.
Mid afternoon, my eldest birth brother left to collect my younger birth brother and his partner and their children. Whilst they were out my elder birth brother's wife arrived - she again made us feel quite comfortable. Then my birth brothers arrived back; the younger one had a lovely bouquet of flowers for me. I felt very comfortable with them all. We stayed for an evening meal with them before heading back.
I cant explain how hard it was to come home, I knew we had to leave but I was scared that it was all a dream and I would wake up and it would all have disappeared. I managed to forget my flowers so we had to go back but it was almost harder leaving that second time than the first. We had promised to ring to say we got home but the deal was we would let the phone ring for 3 and then put it down, I was thrown when my birth father answered the phone and I struggled to keep my emotions in check.
Things have progressed a lot in the last 6 months or so, we have gone down there for several weekends but we stay at a nearby guesthouse. Staying away from them gives us the space we need and somewhere to retreat to when it all gets a bit much. We have now met several of my birth parents siblings as well as their surviving parents. My birth parents have also visited us for a day.
We talk on the phone about every 10 days or so, they are not short conversations but they are not strained either. Slowly I am learning more about their family and the circumstances that surrounded my birth. I am also beginning to get to know my brothers and their families, although at this stage I am still not highly comfortable with the idea of being an Auntie but I think that is more because I am not a maternal person.
My proper brother, the one I grew up with, doesn't really understand why I have made contact and from what I can work out doesn't want contact with his birth family. I think that is a good idea because he could never be as lucky as I have been.
My mum and dad seem to be ok with it too. Certainly my dad doesn't seem to have any problems but my mum doesn't want to talk about it. That's fair enough, I think she was worried that I had made contact because of something they had done, that I was unhappy growing up or something. That's not the case at all, I couldn't have asked for a better childhood and even my birth father said that they could not have given me anything like I had and that I was better off being with mum & dad.
I needed to make contact, mainly for medical information but also because I needed to find out who I was. I had turned 30 and am beginning to feel more confident about who I am, part of that being comfortable with yourself though means understanding yourself. In my case that meant I needed to find where I came from and to try and understand what they have gone through.
I know I have been selfish over this but it was something I needed. I have been very lucky in how it has worked out.
I would though urge anyone thinking of doing this to make sure you go through a sensible route. Use the National Statistical Office Register and never make contact yourself, get a third party to do - protect yourself to a degree, in case it doesn't work out.
This is a wholly personal account and I fully understand that many many attempts to contact birth families or vice versa do not have the success that I have had.
We made contact on 29th November 1999, this document was written on 10th July 2000.