Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A tale of two adoptions

To continue our series on adoption, search and reunion, we speak to Jo, who was adopted as a baby in 1957. In 1985 she began to search for her birth mother. A few years later she was put in her birth mother's shoes when the son she put up for adoption decided to trace her.

"I was born in 1957. It was a time when young unmarried mothers were encouraged to give up their babies to avoid bringing shame on the family. I was adopted through The Children's Society, by a couple from Bristol.

"I had a good childhood. I was well loved and I didn't want for anything. I knew I was adopted from about the age of three, because my parents decided to adopt again. It was an opportune time to talk to me about it. They told me I was chosen and special. I thought that sounded wonderful, but I was too young to really comprehend what it meant.

"As I grew older I felt less and less special. I started to wonder what it was that made my parents chose me. Was it because I was the saddest, the weediest, had the biggest eyes? I began to feel like a puppy and wondered whether my parents had picked this puppy because I seemed like the least trouble.

"I had always wondered who my birth mother was. I used to fantasize and glamourise her. I imagined she was a film star or princess. But my adoptive mother had discouraged me from seeking her out. She felt there was no reason to trace birth relatives if all was well in the family.

"It was when I got married and we had our first child together that things changed. I looked at my baby and could see bits of me and my husband, but there were other things I couldn't match. I wondered where he got his eyes, his feet, and his nose from.

"I started my search in 1985. I went to see a social worker and did some counselling. I then received some information from The Children's Society, and a friend helped me look through it. We discovered an address, and the social worker wrote a letter saying I wanted to talk about something that happened in 1957. It was my maternal grandmother who received and opened the letter. She knew immediately what the reference to 1957 was. She contacted my birth mother who called the social worker straight away.

"The first time I met my birth mother was very strange. There was no wailing or running in to each others arms. I just said: "Hi, how are you?" as if it was someone I had known for ages. In a way it felt like we had known each other for ages. We had a connectivity and familiarity almost at a cellular level.

"A few years later I found myself in my birth mother's shoes, as before I was married I also gave a child up for adoption. I had always hoped that he would trace me. In the same way I fantasised about my birth mother, I had imagined what the reunion with my own son would be like.

"After the initial contact we exchanged a few letters and emails and eventually met up in London. We went out for a meal and the waiter asked us if we were on a first date. I laughed and said: "No, he's my son." My son told me afterwards that this had been a defining moment for him.

"I still have regular contact with my birth mother and my birth son. I realise I have been very fortunate with both my reunions, and realise not everyone has such a good time. I hear some very sad stories. Other adopted people I know just aren't interested in tracing, but for me it was important.

"For anyone who is adopted and interested in tracing their birth relatives I would advise not rushing in to anything. I think it's also helpful to talk to someone who has been through the process, and not just the counsellor. The empathy from others who have been in the same situation as you can be very powerful. Tracing can be isolating at times and its good to have someone with you who can understand your feelings."

Jo runs a website www.themeinside.com where adult adoptees and those effected by adoption can share their experiences in a safe and supportive environment. You can also find practical support and information at www.adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk

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