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Adoption heartbreak

By Fiona Cassidy
Irish Independent, Saturday August 07 2010

Everyone wants to know where they come from, who they resemble and whose genes are responsible for the bits of themselves they don't like, and I am no different. I was born in Belfast on March 7, 1975. My birth mother had resided in an institution for unmarried mothers for much of her pregnancy with me and I had been baptised in a church in the south of the city.

My father and mother, Peter and Eileen Cassidy, adopted me when I was 15 weeks old and instantly fell in love with my name (Fionnuala Mary), therefore decided to keep it. They also surmised that as it may well have been the last thing my mother had given me, they didn't want to change it.

I grew up in Galbally, Co Tyrone, which is about seven miles from Dungannon, approximately 20 miles from Omagh and boasts picturesque countryside and a tight, close-knit community. My father was vice-principal in the local primary school and my mother was a teacher there, so being raised with a love of reading, which eventually led to an ambition to write, was hardly surprising!

As a child I grew up with the term 'adopted', and my parents talked openly about the fact that I was very special to them, as they had waited 13 years for a child. I had a very happy childhood and know that I was truly blessed when I was placed.

My Daddy talks about the adoption process as something akin to being considered for canonisation, so rigorous and laborious were all the paperwork and meetings with social workers.

He also maintains that his hair was brown before I appeared, which was when the grey began to set in with a vengeance! I was a very colicky baby, who arrived with two big blue eyes and the lungs of a sergeant major in command mode, and am single-handedly responsible for my own destiny in growing up as an only child, it would seem.

My mother still recalls phoning the local priest in tears asking for divine intervention the night I arrived and cried solidly for hours on end. The priest duly landed and was greeted with a harassed mother and a baby who, even at that early stage, showed artistic promise with her acting abilities at fooling him into thinking there was nothing wrong with her.

As I grew older I became more inquisitive, and the need to find out more about my ancestry became stronger. Telling me that my 'real' mother wasn't able to look after me no longer sufficed.

A few days after my 18th birthday I presented myself at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Chichester Street, Belfast, and asked for the full version of my birth certificate. My Christian name hadn't changed and I had always known my birth mother's surname, so I was in the lucky position of being able to get the information I required, which was a major achievement.

In fact, it was such an important part of my own adoption story that I decided to relive my experiences through my fictional character Ruby in Anyone for Me?.

I'll always remember the feeling of having that piece of paper in my back pocket. The only way I can describe it is by saying that for the very first time I felt as if I belonged just a little bit more, as I had the name of the person who brought me into the world.

Not that I was ever made to feel like an outsider by my parents or extended family, you understand, it's just that when you're adopted I think a small part of you always feels as if you don't quite fit in, because you know you used to belong to someone else. I've spoken to other adopted people about my feelings and they have reiterated my sentiments, which has given me a lot of comfort and reassurance.

After some time had passed I decided to disclose to my parents that I was now in possession of my birth certificate. They weren't entirely surprised as I am a very impulsive kind of a gal. I knew, however, that they were very worried that I would go further, so they told me that if I was doing anything I would be best going through the proper channels.

I was never one for listening to advice, though, and as an 18-year-old who obviously knew far more about everything than her parents, I decided to take matters into my own hands. With the help of a friend I decided to visit the place where my mother lived and, while there, my accomplice made a few enquiries in a local pub until I eventually was able to drive to her house.

Not having the nerve to actually knock on her door, my comrade did the needful and, while there under false pretences, managed to procure the phone number of my maternal aunt, whose name had appeared on a Baptismal Certificate I had found (Bonny and Clyde wouldn't have a look in).

With nervous anticipation and great excitement I rang her and a meeting was arranged, and that was when my world fell apart to some degree.

Far from a fairytale reunion, with Cilla Black singing in the background, this was an uncomfortable meeting where I learned things I would rather have not known. I was told that my mother was unwell and that meeting her would do neither of us any good. In short, I was told that I had been adopted for a reason and to go home.

I was devastated and because I had gone against my parents wishes I kept my emotions to myself, which was extremely detrimental to my wellbeing and resulted in me being in counselling for a year after I eventually did reveal what had occurred.

That was 17 years ago and I am still no further forward in my search. A lot has happened in that time, including the birth of my three children as well as meeting my partner and becoming a part-time mother to his two children, which is ironic given the fact that I am now carrying out a similar role to the one my parents have been doing for years.

I have tried through various contacts to approach my birth family, but they are reluctant to acknowledge my existence and have blocked any attempts I have made to meet with them or indeed my birth mother. As it has never been my intention to cause anyone, least of all my birth mother, distress, I have had to accept this situation and it has not been easy.

I must stress that the circumstances surrounding my birth and my mother's wellbeing are not straightforward, therefore it is not a typical case. However, I have been disappointed on many occasions by the apparent reluctance of my own flesh and blood to see things from my point of view. Like any other child, I never asked to be born and, like any other child, I want to be accepted.

I have never had closure and still have many unanswered questions lying dormant within me. I have done extensive research on my heritage and come from interesting stock boasting politicians both north and south of the border, a famous Irish actor and, believe it or not, a fellow author.

Many people have asked me why I wrote Anyone for Me? and my answer is quite simple. I wanted to write the story that I have never enjoyed in real life. I found writing my book therapeutic and cathartic, and, far from it being a sad story, it is a humorous look at the exploits of a young woman as she embarks on a search for her birth mother and the trouble she gets into on the way.

Of course, there are serious undertones but, on the whole, I hope that it will give my readers the same laughs they enjoyed in Anyone For Seconds? I have learnt in life that if you don't laugh you might very well cry, and that is something I try very hard not to do.

I wish my birth mother every happiness and hope that one day my birth family will have the charity and selflessness to realise that the fictional character in my book isn't the only one to ask: "Is there anyone for me?"

Fiona Cassidy's novel Anyone For Me? is published by Poolbeg Press

- Fiona Cassidy

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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