I worked with someone once who was from far away, the other side of the world, but had tracked her mother down to my city. She found out she was adopted at her (adopted) mother’s funeral. She told me the first thought into her head was – I knew I wasn’t related to these people.
Interesting how that feeling of things not being quite right is there, whether you have been told you are adopted or not.
There are some inherent understandings with the people who brought you into this world. Nobody is tabula rasa. The “good” and the “bad” in you is recognizable to your family. Like my daughter’s sweet tooth. I don’t have one at all but her Dad does. Always on the hunt for candy those two. I wish they wouldn’t but it makes me laugh.
Or like my son – his behaviour, I don’t like it but I get it. I get the part of his personality that is making him act the way he does. I could head down that path myself if I let myself. My daughter thinks so too.
Here are some stories from people who found out they were adopted very late in life – in some cases very late. Your first reaction is – what a shock that must have been. But read what they have to say.
Adopted – but we didn’t know
How does it feel to discover as an adult that you were adopted as a baby? We talk to four people who came to terms with finding out later in life.
The Guardian, Saturday 2 January 2010
Hilary Moon found out she was adopted 12 years ago.
Hilary Moon, 60, was 48 when she discovered that she was adopted. She is divorced.
“I was at my uncle’s funeral when my cousin’s husband wandered up to me and said, ‘I’ve been wanting to meet you, because we’re both adopted.’ It was a huge shock – how could it not be? On the other hand, I had an instant explanation as to why I’d always felt like a square peg in a round hole when it came to my family.
“I once said to my mother, ‘I’ve always felt like I was found on a doorstep.’ She got terribly upset, and I later learned that was the point at which she confided in my cousin’s husband. She chose him because he’s a vicar. She assumed he’d keep it to himself.
“My mother had died by the time I found out the truth, but my father hadn’t, so I asked him about it. He was an unpleasant man and simply said, ‘Well, nobody else would have you.’ I threw a cup of tea at him, said that at least it meant I wasn’t related to him and we never spoke again.
“Was I angry? Of course I was. I had been advised not to have children because my mother and brother had both had severe diabetes and had gone blind and died early. To learn I wasn’t blood-related to them means I made an enormous decision based on fiction.
“I’ve mellowed now. My mother had such a bum deal in life – a husband that had affairs and a son who died young – that it’s hard to feel anger towards her. She and I got on well, and I’m thankful for that. And although I still have negative feelings towards my father, who is now dead, I think that’s probably more to do with how he treated my mother.
“About eight years ago, my biological sister sought me out. She put me in touch with my birth mother, to whom I look incredibly similar. I’ve met others in the extended family, too, and I even changed my full name to what it was before the adoption. With all my adoptive family dead, and a large birth family still alive, it just made sense to me. But, actually, they’re a funny lot and I can’t say I feel any great bond with them.
“The whole situation has left me feeling neither part of my adoptive nor my biological family, and the lack of a sense of belonging in either can make me feel lonely if I let it. When people ask me who is my next of kin, I say, ‘I haven’t got one’, because that’s how it feels.”
Mandy Sullivan, 52, is divorced with three grown-up children. She found out she was adopted when she was 36.
“I’ve never had a good relationship with my mum. She had a baby that died at a week old and from very young I realised I could never replace that baby. But one day, when I was 36, something else came to light that further explained things – I wasn’t even hers.
“I found out by chance. I became a mature student and the university administration office requested my birth certificate. I’d never seen it and my mum kept saying she couldn’t find it. In the end, she gave me a piece of paper that I duly showed the university office. The administrator looked at me and said, ‘This isn’t your birth certificate.’ She must have registered that I didn’t understand and explained, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s your adoption certificate.’
“I felt sick. My whole life had been a lie. It was horrendous and not helped by the fact that I was right in the middle of a bad divorce and my house was being repossessed. I didn’t do anything about it for three or four years. I thought about it constantly but I felt I had to prioritise finding a job, moving house and settling my three daughters.
“Eventually, I wrote my mum a letter. I thought, I can’t just ring her up and blurt it out because she’d get defensive. She got defensive anyway. In a short, sharp tone, she said my dad didn’t want me to know because he was afraid of me feeling rejected and different. I believe her – my dad and I were very close until he died when I was 25. But I don’t accept that it was all him. It must have been a joint decision. She said she planned to write it in a letter that I’d get after she died, but what a cop out.
“Our relationship has continued to go downhill since that letter. The main thing she seemed concerned about was that her relationship with my daughters didn’t suffer. A few years ago, when she had a massive stroke, I felt we might be getting a bit closer, but as soon as she was on the mend the old barriers went up. These days she doesn’t want much to do with me.
“About 10 years ago, I decided to apply for my adoption file. It’s funny – despite always feeling different to my adoptive family (I’m tall, they’re not. I’m a bookworm, they don’t read books at all), I remember still thinking the social worker might come in and say it was all a big mistake – that I wasn’t adopted at all. But, of course, she didn’t.
“I didn’t discover much more than what my mother had divulged, however – that my adoptive father had been in the pub having a drink with a friend, who said that his sister-in-law couldn’t cope with her baby. Apparently, my dad came home and asked my mum, ‘Why don’t we adopt her?’
“I’ve never looked for my birth mother. I don’t think I could cope with another mum rejecting me. But I’m in quite poor health and increasingly worried that it’s hereditary, so I think I might get in touch just to find out my medical history.
“Every area of my life has been affected by what I found out. I have great problems trusting people – both men and friends – and once I do trust someone, I seem to find it really hard to say goodbye, even if the relationship is really rubbish. On a positive note, I’m closer than ever to my daughters – they’re the only blood relations I know.”
Chris Lines, 63, is married with three grown-up children and one granddaughter. He found out that he was adopted three years ago.
“My wife and I were in a local garden centre when I spotted the daughter of my mum’s next-door neighbour. She was with a little girl, who she introduced as one of her three grandchildren. The other two, she explained, were adopted from Vietnam. She turned to the girl and said, ‘This man was adopted too, you know.’
My wife and I looked around to see who she was talking about. She felt awful – she thought I knew. It turned out she still remembered going in the taxi with her mum and my mum to pick up a five-month-old baby – me – from the Salvation Army all those years ago.
“The way I deal with most problems is to deny their existence. I didn’t want to think about it, but my wife prompted me to check the official birth records in Liverpool and, sure enough, my name wasn’t there.
“With both my parents dead, I approached two elderly aunts. They knew all about the adoption, and even told me my original name – Dennis Kelly. The moment I heard that name was when it really hit me. My legs gave way. I felt I’d lived for 61 years as one person, but really I was another.
“It turned out everyone in my adoptive family knew. I’m still amazed nobody told me because it’s a huge and close family. They’ve all since said they thought I’d been told. My mother had an ectopic pregnancy and was advised not to get pregnant again, so she doted on me as her only child. I think they felt that if I discovered I was adopted, I might look for my real parents and they’d have to share me or even lose me.
“I did decide to look for my biological parents. It struck me that the only blood relations I knew were my own children. Even though I used the charity After Adoption, it was a long search because when we found out that I was born in a home for “wayward mothers”, we assumed my mother had been young. Then we discovered she’d been 39.
“I was sad to learn that she had died, but I did find a cousin who agreed to meet me. When he produced a box with four or five photos of my mother, I was speechless. There she was, smiling and laughing. She really did exist. Another relative I later found, remembered her as larger than life and always smiling. I liked hearing that.
“It might sound funny, but a big relief to me was that I had been born in Liverpool and that I have Irish blood in me – both things I’d been brought up to believe and am fiercely proud of. What isn’t true, however, are all the little genetic links I’d always taken for granted – my youngest daughter having my aunt’s eyes; my eldest daughter having her grandmother’s legs.
“I think I’d rather not know I’m adopted, but it has helped explain some things – for example, why I sometimes felt as a child that I wasn’t quite the same as the other children in the family. Also, one of my aunts told me that when my parents got me I didn’t make any noise, presumably because, for the first five months of my life, nobody had come when I cried. I wonder if that’s why I’ve always been quite introverted.”
Peter Clark, 61, was 39 when he found out he was adopted. He is married and has four sons and five grandchildren.
“The thing I remember most about the day I found out that my mother didn’t give birth to me, was this feeling of standing with my back to the edge of a cliff because everything behind me – everything I’d known to be true – felt as if it was a lie and I literally didn’t know who I was.
“It even made me question the right to have my father’s war medals. As the eldest of five children, I’d been in possession of them. I took them out of the drawer by my bed that night and felt it was wrong for me to have them, because he wasn’t my real dad.
“I don’t think my parents ever intended to tell me. My mother says it’s because I was a sensitive child and they didn’t want to upset me. When I asked her why she still didn’t tell me in adulthood, she said she gave my father, who had died when I was 21, a deathbed promise to keep the secret. I think the real reason was a fear that I would abandon her in favour of my birth family. Even when my mother did finally tell me I was adopted, the first thing she asked me was never to make contact with my birth mother.
“She finally told me just before I went on an overseas business trip. There were some complications over my visa and passport, which prompted questions around my birth certificate and the identity of my parents. It must have made my mum panic.
“I was gobsmacked because I’d never had any inkling. It’s not as if adoption is taboo in our family. One of my brothers adopted four children and my wife’s brother adopted three. I felt very angry with her about the web of deception for a long time and although I’ve worked through that now, I still hold a strong belief that people have a fundamental right to know about their origins.
“I realised I needed to know my roots. It wasn’t easy – the search for my birth mother took six years. I had an unconscious fear of rejection, so I’d make some progress in finding her, then take a step back. She was also hard to find. Even with the help of an adoption charity, it took a couple of hundred phone calls and many letters to find her.
“My first meeting with Agnes, when I eventually found her living in the United States, went wonderfully, and although she never acknowledged who I was to her friends and family – which I found hard – we continued a warm relationship until she died in 1996. About two years later, I plucked up the courage to search for other members of my birth family and I’m now in contact with my cousins, aunts and uncles too – although, sadly, I was never able to get any information about my father.
“It’s good to know where I came from, although I have no regrets about being adopted and my adoptive family feels no less my family than before. Three of my siblings say it doesn’t make them feel any differently towards me.
“Sadly, one of my brothers – who, I learned last year, was the only one who knew before me that I was adopted – doesn’t feel like this. But we have a difficult relationship for other reasons. One of my other brothers recently had my father’s watch repaired and said he felt I should have it. Given how I’d felt about the war medals, it was a significant gesture.”