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When mum met my mother

Jenny Hudson was adopted as a baby. At 38, she met her biological mother, and they got on very well. Then she had an idea

JENNY HUDSON – Irish Independent, 28 OCTOBER 2013

They are sitting in a nondescript hotel lounge, a quiet place to meet and to talk. Both women are great talkers and quickly, easily, find their way back to the details of 40 years ago.

One remembers how on the same day she asked for maternity leave, there was so little time that she left the office for good. After six long years of waiting, suddenly, in just one week, they would have a baby. The other talks about working until the day she gave birth and how, as an Irish girl in London for the first time, she wore baggy clothes and kept her pregnancy hidden.

This is the first time the two women have met, but they have the strongest link imaginable. Four decades earlier, one gave birth and the other adopted the baby.

I was 38 when I made contact with Maria, my birth mother. We exchanged three letters each before meeting in London. Walking through the streets of Kensington and Notting Hill together that day, Maria recalled her life there in the 1970s; the girl from the west coast of Ireland relishing the adventure of the city.

As we walked, I noticed how often Maria seemed to take a wrong turn or seem unsure of where we were but would find her way. We quickly saw in each other the same offbeat sense of humour and curiosity.

A month later, we met again, and during the next year, we visited each other's homes; Maria met my husband, Dave (46), and my children, Molly (10) and Sam (7), in Birmingham where we live. I stayed with Maria and her partner in Plymouth. We both quickly found a central place in each other's lives.

When I talked to friends about making contact with my birth mother and getting to know her, one of the first questions they asked was: "How does your mum feel?" It's an understandable question. When an adopted child decides to contact the birth parents, it often causes pain and fear of displacement in their existing family. So much so that birth parents are often traced secretly, or at arm's length from family members.

The adopted person feels torn, working out which sort of relationship will emerge with the birth parent while also facing the anxieties of existing family.

I was lucky to face no such conflict. Mum always said she would support me if I wanted to trace Maria and meet her one day, when the time was right. On that day, last November, in Birmingham, it struck me that if both mothers could meet, it would complete the connections in an adoption.

The moment Mum and Maria met had all the aplomb of a 1970s TV game show. Mum was staying with us, Maria was at a city centre hotel. We arranged to meet in the hotel lounge, but, unsure which floor it was on, Mum and I stood beside a lift. The doors opened – and there was Maria. "Surprise!" she declared, and we all fell about laughing.

As we found seats and started to talk, I happily slipped into the role of observer. Parents have a story that begins with pregnancy, moving on to the early days of babyhood. With adoption, this is a shared story. Maria said she didn't have morning sickness, but felt sick in the evenings. A roommate in the hostel where she was living joked that she was a restless night owl, not knowing the cause. Maria recalled that I was an easy baby, but cried loudly when hungry.

Some things I hadn't known. Maria told us that a colleague who had been unable to conceive mooted the idea of adopting me. Part of the enduring legacy of adoption is knowing that, with a blink of an eye, another name at the top of a list, everything would have been different. Maria felt the adoption had to be a completely new start with no possibility of later contact.

Mum told Maria how on each of my birthdays, at some point, she would think about the Irish girl who had given up her daughter. She used to find a quiet place alone and cry for this unknown woman, imagining how she would be feeling on that day of all days.

This lies at the heart of the relationship between child, birth parents and adopted parents: what is the birth mother's story – and how does it make the child and their family feel about her?

Our story, told through social workers and notes handed on, was that Maria was 22 when she got pregnant. Her own parents had died and her relationship with my father was not going to be permanent. So Maria left Ireland and came to London, believing adoption was best. It was a brave, caring, selfless decision.

Friends of mine who have recently adopted children have less happy stories of birth parents. While my adoption was typical of its time, driven by the social and economic landscape, today's adoptions are more likely to follow neglect or abuse. How does that affect the child and the adoptive parents' view of the birth parents?

This is not to underestimate Mum's capacity to welcome Maria into our lives – to accept this new dynamic in a precious mother-daughter relationship.

Having been told they couldn't have children of their own, Mum and Dad nevertheless ended up with four. Two years after I arrived, Mum gave birth to my brother David, now 39. Later on, they adopted Andrew (36), and then, to her surprise, Mum got pregnant again with Philip, who is now 35.

Mum and Dad were natural parents, easily and instinctively providing the same love and support for all four of us in our Hertfordshire home. Now, as a parent myself, I can better understand what an egotistical business parenting is and more fully appreciate what Mum and Dad accomplished.

We constantly seek to understand our children in reference to ourselves. It is easy to compare the self-belief Molly and I share, or see Sam's gregarious nature as a reflection of his father. But how does it feel for the parent when their adopted child reflects interests or characteristics that seem to come from elsewhere?

Mum told Maria that as a child, she would sometimes observe me and think, that is very Irish. Maria laughed and wondered what sort of thing Mum had in mind. Mum said it was hard to pinpoint, but joked about my relaxed attitude to things, which she would have expected other people's children to become worked up about.

At the age of 15, when I wanted to swap classical violin for traditional fiddle playing, Mum soon found an Irish club where I could learn, the lone English parent chatting with others whose heritage was Irish, happily developing a new interest in the music.

Mum and Maria talked for hours, then they spent the weekend with us. Together, they joined in the usual weekend activities – watching swimming lessons, a walk in the park, a meal in our favourite restaurant. Dave joked about acquiring a second mother-in-law.

On the Sunday evening, we watched my daughter Molly perform in a play, and between shows, Mum and Maria found a quiet corner of a cafe and I watched them deep in conversation.

Two women with integral parts in a story – my story – happy to accept each other and learn about the different roles they had played. It seemed both natural and astonishing.

Irish Independent

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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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