20th Jun 2017
Some things I have of yours:
A ring your husband gave me.
A soft toy you gave to the staff of the mother and baby home to give to me.
A letter to the adoption agency saying you understand why it is best to give me up for adoption.
Your chin, which is my chin, is how I know you were my mother. It’s the same chin your other son, my half-brother Matt, has. Your mother Kate had it too. It’s a strong chin, with a lot of attitude. I’m proud to have it.
I know what you look like. I even know what you sounded like, because one night at Matt’s, we watched a video of Kate’s 80th and of course you were in it. I saw you and I heard you speak. It was the strangest feeling. You could have had no idea I would see you.
I was told that once, towards the end of your life, you made some enquiries about finding me. At that time, the law didn’t allow parents to get in touch with children who’d been adopted. I wish it had. The one thing that I regret most in my life is that I never got in touch with you.
I had a good reason. When you’re adopted, you have two lives. The life you would have had, which very often would have been a terrible life, and the life you do have. I was adopted by two people who I call my mum and dad, because they are my mum and dad. If I’d traced you, I would have hurt their feelings deeply. I can call myself a coward for not doing it, but finding you would, in their eyes, have been rejecting them. I’m sorry, though.
Sometimes I think that, knowing what happened, it wouldn’t have helped if I’d found you. Because we’d have met, and then you would have become ill, and I would have been in the way. I may be your son, but I wasn’t part of your family, and being around at a time when you and your family needed each other might not have been the right thing to do.
I realised today that when you died, you would have been about the same age I am now.
I’m not a mystical person, I don’t read horoscopes or believe in ghosts but I swear that one day, about 20 years ago, I woke up suddenly feeling that something was gone, that a person was gone. It was the strangest feeling, as if someone had left the room without saying anything. After that, it seemed like I was very angry for a long time. This could be nonsense: it probably is (I was working quite hard in my life on finding things to make me angry) but I’ve never felt like that before or since.
I’ve been to your grave, several times now, in the little churchyard with the cooling towers in the distance. The biggest surprise of tracing my family was probably discovering that I was not, as I’d always thought, from Yorkshire. It turns out that I am by descent from the East Midlands. Maybe that explains the dry sense of humour.
I went looking for my family after something was triggered off by a piece on TV about a register of names online. For some reason, I’d always known what my birth name was – the name you gave me – and when I heard about this register, I looked it up. And there it was, a jpeg of a page in a typed register. That made it real for me: I knew I was adopted, my mum and dad made sure I knew that, but seeing that name on the screen focused everything.
After that, I followed the usual routes. A woman called Sheila at Camden Social Services guided me through the process. I found names, addresses and then confirmation. A name and address on a certificate was, amazingly, the same name and address as someone’s on 192.com, 45 years on.
Sheila wrote letters. She told me that you had died.
She also told me that I had a half-brother, Matt, and that my grandmother, Kate, was still alive. I’d lost my mother, but I had a brother and a grandmother.
Sheila wrote more letters. Matt says when he got his, he knew what it was at once and leapt out of bed to read it.
And then I went to Long Eaton, where the house on the birth certificate was. I met Kate, and your brother Pete, and most of the family. I saw people, for the first time in my life, who looked like me (one of the strange things about being adopted is that you’re always being told by strangers how you look like your mum and dad). I saw photos of you, when you were young, when you married Bob. The day you graduated from the Open University. And family holidays.
One of the things that affected me most was when people were talking about holidays and Pete said that you all would go to the Sidmouth Folk Festival. Sidmouth is just a few miles from where I grew up. We used to go there often. The idea that one summer I might have been a few feet from you and not known was something I found hard to think about.
I learned why I wasn’t from Yorkshire. When you were pregnant, you were sent to relatives several miles away and so when I was born, it was in the nearest mother and baby home, which was just outside Sheffield. I don’t like to think about mother and baby homes: I know the alternatives could be worse, but even so. The thought of what you must have gone through.
(I’ve looked it up online since. Sometimes I think of visiting the place where I was born.)
I said before you have two lives when you’re adopted. In the life that might have been, where you kept me, it would have been so difficult for you. A single mother in a judgmental moral climate. I never for a minute think you did the wrong thing. I wish you were here though.
A lot of people must feel that way about you, I know.
In the life that I have, I’ve been so lucky. I believe strongly in adoption as a force for good. I’ve been a referee for friends who wanted to adopt and I’d do it again and again. I love my mum and dad and my sister, and I can’t believe the life I’ve had.
I’m also lucky to have had glimpses of the other life. Getting a phone call and the voice at the other end saying, “This is your uncle Pete.” Going for a drink with Matt. Meeting Kate for the last few years of her life. Once, from her chair, she asked me, “Has it all been worth it?” and hugged me.
I’m 56 now. I have a family of my own. Jenna and I have two sons. Alex, the oldest, looks more like Jenna. Laurie, the youngest, looks more like me.
He has your chin.
Alex has your eyes.
All my love,