The story of my birth has never felt quite as relevant as it does now, all these years later. Things have come full circle and old history has had to be revisited and a woman’s old wounds given a chance to finally heal. Call it fate, call it karma, call it what you like- it’s a past I’ve been reclaiming in an attempt to become who I really am and move forward as an almost transformed human being.
Now that sounded pretentious and portentous, but I’ll forgive myself as in the grander scheme of events, it is quite a big deal.
Most of us get bogged down with the shades of dark in our lives that we forget all the moments of glorious colour. We also forget to step back from the painting of our lives and see the lights and darks together; to see how we are creating a masterpiece. We forget.
But I never forgot the fact that I was adopted. I’ve known as long as I can remember.
My mother (who would not always be my mother) met my father (who would not always be my father) in the early ‘70s in New York City. They were both young and Irish and hopeful for a life beyond the rural confines of what their parents had known. My mother was a slim, pretty red head from the Donegal coast and my father was a boyishly handsome man from Galway. I can guess why they were attracted to each other as there would have been many similarities, and you often need people around you who remind you of home when you are so far from it.
I was conceived on Long Island in 1972. I can’t see it as chance as the circumstances of my conception and birth have resonated so strongly through my life that it’s forced me to face very definite issues, and learn from them. Do or die, I guess. I had to face my legacy and learn from it or be miserable for the rest of my life….but I digress.
My birth mother, who for the sake of this blog I’ll call Maria, worked as a nanny in the US and my father Sean was a business man (although what kind of business I forget). When Maria became pregnant her hope was that she and Sean could build a future together. Sadly Sean had become drunk and unreliable most of the time and Maria’s feeling was that she had to get away from this man. But it was the first of her decisions that she would regret forever, and the first that would change everything.
My birth father never found out about me; Maria left New York and returned to Co. Donegal in Ireland, and Dunfanaghy where she had been born. She was single and pregnant in an Irish Catholic community where such things were seen as shameful, in a way it is now perhaps difficult to comprehend. You didn’t laugh off Sin, you bore it like a cross and your sin brought shame and disrespect upon your whole family.
So Maria never told her parents about me, and this meant she had to go. Under the pretence that she was returning to America, Maria came to England and stayed with friends there and pondered her fate. In London she found no help. Single mothers to be were not dealt hand-outs by the state in 1973. If you were pregnant, without a home and without a steady job in the early ‘70s, well God help you because the state would not. Eventually Maria ended up in Manchester, and I was born in Salford on the 31st May 1973; The World Trade Centre was opening, Vietnam was ending, The UK was facing the ‘three day week’, Watergate was brewing and David Bowie, T.Rex and Wizzard were Top of the Pops
She loved me, I really believe that now, but she couldn’t keep me and although she spent far more time with me than most parents did (and are expected to) in the circumstances, our days together were numbered. I spent some time with foster parents, a fact I knew nothing of until a few years ago. Eventually that November I was adopted through the Catholic Children’s Rescue Society in Didsbury, Manchester. Maria was there to say goodbye, which was unusual as the original parents are usually discouraged from such an appearance. And there I met the couple who were to be my mother and father (and always will be).
It would be 33 years until Maria saw me again.
Growing up in Manchester and Bolton was a happy enough upbringing. Mum was often over protective of me as a child (and still is), but I was adopted and they felt lucky to have me and perhaps that made a difference. My sister Sarah came along 18 months later (also adopted) and we were a real family. My parents had lost the dream of having children of their own the natural way, but we were now theirs and they loved us just the same. Over the years it became clear that we were all quite different, but it made the journey of life all the more illuminating. Lessons are there to be learnt from those who are different –they are not always easy lessons to learn, but they can be the greatest.
In the late ‘70s we moved to a rural village on the outskirts of Bolton. I’d never been more loved. I had doting grandparents and Godparents, and my Mum and Dad had agreed to bring me up a Catholic. My Dad has never been religious, so his sacrifice was always to my Mum’s devout worship.
At age 7, both my Grandma and Grandpa Died. My Mum’s father had died in 1969, so it was my Dad’s father who passed on, and my mother’s mother who joined him. I missed them terribly. It was my first concious experience of loss, and an uneasy feeling beneath the surface suggested this had happened before….a feeling that people would always leave. Was that my imagination? I sometimes wonder.
I’m thinking now that perhaps that odd feeling of not quite fitting in, always there but not overbearingly so, followed me throughout secondary school. However, in the mid ‘80s I discovered music in a big way and my discovery of my best friend’s brother’s Punk, Rock and Indie record collection was like finding the Holy Grail. After years of not feeling like I fitted in the sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Stranglers , The Pistols, The Doors, Bowie, Bolan and The Beatles was a revelation. Sadly not all my peers agreed with my music taste, thinking it was out of date noise, and the library friendly crew I liked thought I’d gone weird. Christ, at this time these guys were listening to Kylie and Jason, so you can quite imagine! I started wearing leather and spiking my hair and it caused a few arguments with my mother too, who wanted a son with a side parting to accompany her to church. By the time 1989 came I couldn’t wait to get out of school. I did ok at my GCSE exams, but I didn’t really work hard. I knew I was bright enough, and could get away with it, but I was so easily distracted.
In September of ’89 I started a BTEC ND in Art and Design and I think that’s where I started to meet like-minded individuals, but by this point I was still wondering if I’d ever find a place where I truly belong, and occasionally I’d relate that to adoption. Whether I was right to do that or not, I still wonder, but it’s obvious it had some influence. Some psychiatrists call it the ‘Primal wound’, caused by the forgotten abandonment, but for an inquisitive soul like me, it might just have been the frustration of not knowing.
It’s clear that it isn’t like that for every adoptee, and for some it’s a much stronger and lonelier feeling than the great upbringing I had. I was loved, and still am. Nature puts you here, but it’s nurture that has the stronger long term influence. I suppose if anyone else is on a similar journey to reconnect with a birth parent, or even just to disocover an unknown past, I suppose my story could be an encouraging one. But you have to start with yourself first, and be sure you’re seeking the truth for the right reasons, and not just for finite curiousity. Other people’s lives and feelings have to be considered along the way.
So a subtle feeling of disconnectedness or lack of knowledge isn’t the sad end for an adoptee’s story, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s just the beginning, and as Frank Herbert once wrote, “a beginning is a very delicate time…”.
Here’s to New Beginnings.