Adoptee and blogger, Claire of How To Be Adopted shares her experience of searching and reuniting with birth family members, highlighting how our new FamilyConnect website can help.
I searched for my birth mother at the age of 18. I thought this was fairly normal but now that I’ve met many adoptees from the closed era I know it’s fairly early. Now, at 40, I’ve known ‘my story’ for longer than I haven’t, which feels strange considering how excruciatingly long those first 18 years felt. I applied for my records and my original birth certificate as soon as I turned 18, and within a few months I was sitting in the local town hall with a social worker. He asked if I had considered every possibility of what could be in my file. “Of course”, I said. I’d thought about it every day since I was lovingly informed at the age of two that I “didn’t grow in my mummy’s tummy”. In truth, I had considered every possibility – from my birth mum being a famous princess, to a tragic victim of abuse, to none-other than my favourite auntie. It turned out she was an average 18 year-old from the next town along!
The details are sketchy now, but I seem to remember being required to have a few meetings with the social worker before I was handed my original birth certificate. It was wonderful to know my birth mother’s full name finally, although it stung to see ‘unknown’ in the father section. Little did I know that as an adoptee in England I was ‘lucky’ to be able to get my certificate so easily – adoptees in places such as Ireland and the US are not so ‘lucky’. I have purposely put the word lucky in inverted commas because I strongly believe we all deserve our full and complete records, and it is a human rights breach to withhold or redact information.
A few weeks later I made an appointment at the local records office, taking my boyfriend’s lovely mum for support – handily she was a genealogy buff and very comfortable at the records office so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. We felt fairly confident that my birth mum had married at some point and changed her name so we spent the day searching on microfiche for a marriage certificate to find out her current name. This would be essential if we were to find out her current location. We discovered that she married around 3-4 years after my birth.
We then continued searching for any subsequent children as I wanted to know a bit more about her current circumstances to know when might be the ‘right’ time to make contact. We found a half-sister born 7-8 years after me, and also a divorce certificate. We’d searched every month’s records for almost 20 years – which took a while – but suddenly I’d gone from knowing next to nothing to knowing most of my birth mother’s key life milestones.
“I wanted to know a bit more about her current circumstances to know when might be the ‘right’ time to make contact”
Bearing in mind that this was in the very early days of the Internet, and pre-Google, I needed to use a combination of the electoral roll and the phone book to find my birth mother’s address. Once I had a probable match, I drove past her house a few times. It was only a few miles from mine, although it was down a cul-de-sac so I had to do some discreet turning around at the end! Then it was off to university for me, and my search and reunion went on to pause.
I felt that at 18 I was not ready to make contact with my birth mother, but I added my name to the Adoption Contact Register to show that I welcomed contact. I was disappointed to learn that her name wasn’t on the register, but I subsequently discovered that she – like many birth parents – didn’t know the contact register existed. I waited until my final year of uni before reaching out. I went through the social worker I initially used, who sent my birth mother a standard initial enquiry. This was very vague and said that someone was looking for information; all pretty standard with adoption intermediaries.
If you read my blog you’ll know I’m very much against using the term ‘grateful’ when it comes to adoptees. However, I must acknowledge that not all adoptees hear back as quickly as I did, or at all. My birth mother called the social worker immediately and consented to contact. I do feel very grateful she did that, as it was a very anxious time for me. If any birth/first families are reading this, please don’t leave it too long before responding – it’s agony for us! With this agreement from my birth Mum, the social worker sent her the letter I’d spent weeks crafting. In it I said I’d always wondered where I got my knobbly knees from! (Of course, I wanted to know everything, but like many adoptees in this scenario, I was ‘playing it safe’.)
Things were really picking up momentum now. It would only be a few weeks before I saw a photo of the woman who had given birth to me. A photo I had waited 21 years to see. Enclosed in her first letter was a small amount of information around the circumstances of my birth, with a promise to give me more details as and when I felt comfortable. She also sent photographs of herself across the years and some photos of her other daughter. We conversed over email for another year or so before we finally met. But that, as well as my reunion with my birth father, is another story!
Our new FamilyConnect website is a great place to start if you are an adoptee thinking about contacting your birth relatives, with free information, guidance and support to help on your journey.