When I discovered that my birth mother left me on a street corner in North London when I was just three weeks old, I just knew it was so I would be found.
After all, why would she choose a busy street over a quiet one where no one would spot me?
Growing up in the 1950s, I always knew I was adopted. I was only told that I’d been abandoned when I was a teen. I was a ‘foundling’, an infant that had been left by its parents and brought up by others.
While it was an awful lot to take on board and understand, it also felt unreal – a bit like a fairytale.
My parents were only able to give me very limited information, about where I was found and the name I was given. Nothing else.
They said that after a person found me I was taken to a children’s home in South East London. At seven months my new parents took me home and I was officially adopted about 15 months later.
It wasn’t until the late 70s, when I was in my thirties, that the laws changed giving adopted people the right to find out more about their origins and my natural curiosity led me to look for my birth parents.
Until then, I was just like any other adopted child. I never really felt disadvantaged because of my circumstances, however I soon discovered that I wasn’t like the others, as I couldn’t search for my birth parents in the same way.
Other people had control and privacy of their searches. They had records to go on, certificates with names. I had nothing to go on other than where I was found and when. There wasn’t even any record of my weight.
I ended up using the media to share my story and ask for help in my search, which led to me joining a charity who offered support to foundlings. Through them, I was put in touch with others like me, who were unable to find their roots.
That was when I realised that, even though I was in a unique and rare position, I wasn’t completely alone.
Eventually, I accepted that I might never know anything about my history and decided to concentrate on enjoying my own family life.
Even so, I never stopped wondering.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was in my sixties and a grandmother, that I began to hear about DNA testing and I watched with great interest its progress and the possibilities it brought.
It also gave me renewed hope about finally tracking down my birth family, and after a lot of thought, I felt emotionally and psychologically ready to take the plunge.
Deep down I genuinely never thought I would find out anything after all these years, which is why nothing could have ever prepared me for my first glimpse of the DNA database held at Ancestry.com, after I’d taken one of their tests through the post.
Hundreds of names popped up, mostly distant relatives, lots of Mcs and Macs as well as many American sounding names.
But the real surprise was the details of my ethnicity. I turned out I was 100% Irish/Scottish, with my roots originating in Ireland.
It’s funny, but as I tried to take in all this information, one of the first thoughts I had was, no wonder I get so badly sunburnt!
But my overall feeling, which was so profound, was one of absolute relief. I didn’t have to wonder anymore.
Looking at the database was one thing, but trying to unravel the information was another.
The details on each name are of a suggested relative, not a definite one. After making lots of contact, I was sent photos from a reasonably close relative and on looking at them, I was struck by how alike I was to the man in the photo.
I knew instantly he had to be my birth father – although I’m unlikely to ever be able to prove this as he has died with no other (known) children.
As I grappled with all this complex information, a new name popped up on the database: a suggested first cousin.
It turned out to be my nephew on my birth mother’s side, who asked his mum to do a DNA test when he saw my details.
The minute her name appeared as a close relative, I just knew she was my sister.
Although I had siblings through my adopted family, to discover I had a birth sister somewhere in the world was such an overwhelming feeling. Through her, I was also able to find my birth registration and obtain my original birth certificate, which proved our connection conclusively.
It turned out that my birth wasn’t registered until eight weeks after I was found – we have no reason why – so now I have a new name, birthday and star sign. Not many can boast, apart from royalty, of two birthdays – plus it turns out that I’m also four days younger than I thought, which is a bonus!
I ended up meeting my new sister Susan* and nephew Simon* in a pub in London last summer. It was a totally overwhelming experience and very emotional. I won’t forget as it was an occasion I never thought would be possible. It was as if all my Christmases had come at once.
Through my ‘new’ family, who straddled across the North and South borders of Ireland with many now living in England, I learned that they were aware my mother had a baby, but they’d thought it was a boy and had no clue I had been abandoned.
They didn’t know any other circumstances, which meant they also didn’t know how to find me.
My story also brought heartache too.
My birth mother, who died 20 years ago, had actually settled near to where I was brought up with my adoptive family in North West London, living just two miles away from me. She even worked on the road I lived on.
She went on the local tube and bus that I used on a daily basis. I must have walked past her, maybe even sat next to her.
Her circumstances must have been different when she had Susan as she kept her, which means that when I visit my ‘new’ sister I turn left as I leave the tube, not right as I used to do when going to my family home.
Susan has lived for over 30 years at the end of the road where my husband went to school.
We have found so many coincidences and similarities at times it feels unreal.
It also feels quite cruel in some ways. With all the heartache I experienced over many years searching for my roots, they were literally within my grasp.
Even though it’s now 18 months since I discovered my birth family, I feel I am still at the start of my journey, as there is a lot still to discover and learn.
There are many new family members to meet, but I am lucky as I have been greeted and accepted with open arms and a very warm welcome.
There is a downside though. I am left trying to find affinity with a culture I know very little about and feel I should. I am conscious of how my life would have been very different if brought up with my birth family and how it would have followed a completely different path.
There is also an impact and effect on others who have to adjust to my new information, which was unexpected by all.
But I have absolutely no regrets about taking the DNA test.
There aren’t many accounts from other foundlings who have managed to find and contact birth relatives – which means there’s no blueprint of the range of feelings, outcomes and challenges that might be encountered.
I have been fortunate to have had a lot of much needed support both personally and through an intermediary from the FamilyConnect service run by the charity Family Action, who has helped me talk through my feelings and thoughts and deal with the overwhelming emotions that come with instantly finding your whole family through a DNA test.
Now I’m just happy to know who I am, which is what I was seeking. Anything else is a bonus.
You can find more information about Family Action here.
Adoption Month is a month-long series covering all aspects of adoption.
For the next four weeks, which includes National Adoption Week from October 14-19, we will be speaking to people who have been affected by adoption in some way, from those who chose to welcome someone else’s child into their family to others who were that child.
We’ll also be talking to experts in the field and answering as many questions as possible associated with adoption, as well as offering invaluable advice along the way.
If you have a story to tell or want to share any of your own advice please do get in touch at [email protected]
- Why we’re talking about adoption this month
- How to adopt a child – from how long it takes to how you can prepare
- The most Googled questions on adoption, answered
- How long does it take to adopt a child in the UK
- Adoption myths that could be stopping you from starting a family
- How to tell your child they are adopted
Visit our Adoption Month page for more.
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