Adopted – but we
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
Kate Hilpern ,The
Guardian, Saturday 2 January 2010
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 andincreasingly worried that
it's hereditary, so I think I might get in touch just to find out my
"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
"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
"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
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