Adoption, Labels and Expectations

Almost forty-two years ago I was given away. For one reason or another my birth mother was unable to keep me. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, in fact I know she had a good reason. The fact that, to this day, I’ve no idea who my real father is probably goes some way to illuminating the circumstances.

Anyway, she was eighteen. I doubt that many people have their lives together at eighteen. I know I didn’t.

After a brief stint with foster parents I was adopted. From what I understand adoption is a long drawn out process. At least it was then. It’s remarkable how much more difficult it is to provide a home for an unwanted baby than it is to make one.

Anyway, I wanted to write something about this because I saw that there was a new series coming on television about families being reunited and I wanted to share my experiences in case they were of use to anyone. I can’t say I’m typical, but then nobody is.

Almost fifteen years ago I got it into my head that I wanted to find my birth mother. I was well aware that there were official channels for that kind of thing but, being a bit of a research geek, I decided to give the process a go myself.

In reality it only took half a day of digging around in Islington records office to find the information I needed. As it turned out there were a couple of people with the same maiden name as my birth mother (I had an original birth certificate) living in the same area where I was born. I rang them. We had a rather cagey conversation. My assumption that they were my birth grandparents was right. Later that day I had a call from a woman I’d never spoken to before.

“Do you know who I am?” I said.
“Yes, I think I do.”
“Hello.”

And that was it. Shortly after the phone call I got a lift with a friend to where my birth mother lived. We met. It was a very odd experience. I can’t think of any better way of describing it.

She introduced me to some half-siblings, two boys and a girl. The eldest boy was almost my age and, to me, felt a bit like looking into a mirror. We’re not exactly twins, but meeting blood relations for the first time messes with your perceptions somewhat.

The thing is, at this point in my life, right now, I no longer have any real contact with them. The other people in my life find this odd and it’s hard to explain, but I wanted to give it a go. Which is partly what this post is about.

As someone who’s adopted I’ve spent a significant part of my life thinking something was missing. Other people have told me pretty much the same thing. Any bad patches I went through could be easily explained through my particular life circumstances. It helps to have a label for people. Adoption is a useful label.

But eventually truths can become unavoidable obstacles and so my morning in the records office was inevitable; a long time coming. I needed to find the missing part.

What I learned from all this was that missing parts are sometimes never found. All the time I thought that what was missing was a person. As it turned out it was something much more than that. It was a person plus time together and the person without the time together was nowhere near enough.

So I decided to let the relationship go. There are other reasons but those reasons involve other people and it’s not fair to write about them here.

I’m intending to catch that television series if I can. I’d love to know what other people’s experiences are like. How much they’ll really, truthfully, come across on television I don’t know. But it’s still interesting to me.

All I’d like to say to anyone intending to find birth parents or similarly misplaced relatives is to try and approach it as rationally as possible. I know it probably sounds ridiculous given the emotional circumstances, but expectations are important. Finding someone who should have been part of your life isn’t going to bring back that part of your life. If you’re lucky you’ll meet someone you really get on with. You might want to develop a new relationship, but it will be a new relationship and should be treated as such.

Now I have a new family and it’s something different. It’s good to make new things, especially when you’re in control. Creating your own life is a lot better than trying to fix the one somebody else messed up. At least that’s how I feel.

Of course, none of this has stopped me wanting to find my real father, but I hope that if I do pursue it then at least I’ll be better prepared for what it brings. Or doesn’t.

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7 comments
  1. It’s pieces like this that matter. In going in to difficult areas without fear and sharing your thoughts you give access to people like me that have a totally different situation – this brings people closer together. I will share this with people that I know will appreciate it, thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve been meaning to write it for a long time but I’m not very good at the personal stuff. In glad you think it might be useful for other people. It’s hard to know how widely such a personal perspective will appeal. I’m glad I published it though.

  2. You have been very good at the personal stuff in this post, Simon. Well expressed, and balanced.

  3. Annemcx said:

    As we were saying, transmogrification for the win. Thanks for writing this post, Simon. It has an integrity to it that shines very bright. ‘Truths can become unavoidable obstacles’ is an exceptionally prescient sentence written out of deep knowledge, very movingly.

    • Thanks, Anne. Lovely comment. Everything is transmogrification. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Simon. This moved me, and I had to go away for a bit . First I responded to your honesty and compassion. Then, I responded to your narrative. As someone who works with storytelling, I felt the dull thud as you said you no longer have contact with them. That’s not how we see it in the movies. But this is a true story, and truth doesn’t always meet our expectations.

    I went away to mull it over. I had a friend who gave up a baby when she was sixteen, and that daughter found her, and now they are friends. I had a client whose mother gave him up, and took his sister to Australia. They met fifty years later, by which time his sister was a Professor of Psychology, and she said “I always knew something was missing.”

    Which brings me to my story. I was loved as a child, and I knew who my birth parents were, and I always felt something was missing. And over time, I’ve come to accept that was just my curiosity and yearning, and the people I had around me don’t always make everything right.

    But it was very tempting, especially as a child, to believe that I had to go on a quest, and bring home the golden fleece, and then my parents and I can be healed Instead of thinking that lots of bits of the world are a bit crap, and I can be one of the smart, honest compassionate people that improves it.

    Thank you.

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