Our Family Action adoption support agency, PAC-UK, provides specialist support to all parties affected by adoption and permanency. Each year, PAC-UK supports over 500 birth parents of adopted children, a historically underrepresented voice in the media and society. Here Jo tells us her story.
When I was 16-17 and still a student, I began my first real relationship, and fell in love, ‘hook line and sinker’. I hadn’t had an altogether happy childhood and my rebellious streak would sometimes appear. My best friend and I would often be at dances, or at a local club. We both loved music. That’s where I met him – my child’s father.
He was about four years older than me, and in an up-and-coming band at the time. We met when he played at the club, and we seemed to click, which was amazing. I’d never had a meaningful relationship before. We started writing to each other, as we lived some way apart, and even managed to meet up from time to time, over several months. We were serious about our relationship, and had even started thinking about a possible future together. Then, in the holidays, I was invited to spend some time with him and his family. This was when I got pregnant.
Once back home, I don’t know how, but I realised very quickly what was happening, and was determined to see him as soon as possible. I wangled a day out of school, and, with my best friend, organised a lift to go and visit him at home. The moment he opened the front door, I could sense something – he was very surprised and unsettled to see me, I think. It all felt quite strange and awkward. After a while, I plucked up the courage to explain everything. He clearly didn’t really know how to react to the news. After we’d talked, he actually did suggest that we could get married, but I think we both knew this would have been wrong, as we were both so young, and he was so involved with forging a successful career in music.
To me, it felt, somehow, like he was trying to ‘do the right thing’, but that’s not the way to start a life together. It seemed to devastate us both. So, heartbroken, I returned home, just sensing that this was the end of our relationship. I remember telling myself “I’ve got to get through this year somehow”. I went into denial at that point. I’d lost the love of my life and couldn’t think straight at all. My life was on autopilot.
It was when I was going into my exams, a while later, that my mum started to suspect something, and we had a major showdown at that point. She and my dad had divorced a few years before, and, as a single parent herself, she was finding it all extremely difficult.
My father, also a musician, had left when I was young and, although she didn’t actually say it, I sensed that she felt it would be a complete mistake to keep the baby. In her view, I should get on with the pregnancy and then simply have it adopted. She didn’t articulate her feelings much, but I sensed that she was angry, and ashamed of me; I’d let her down and she didn’t know what to do with me.
“I struggled to see beyond the end of that nine months … In those days, there was still huge shame around that sort of thing – especially in smaller communities.”
I struggled to see beyond the end of that nine months. For me, I remember the whole time as a ‘half-existence’. In those days, there was still huge shame around that sort of thing – especially in smaller communities. So, I focused on finishing my exams, and just put one foot in front of the other, after leaving school. I was referred to the ante-natal clinic, and Social Services also became involved as they were responsible for managing the adoption process.
But nobody ever suggested that, actually, I had a choice.
Social Services interviewed me and I named the father, but after they met with him, I was notified, bluntly, that he had denied paternity, which just floored me. I felt I’d lost everything.
I thought he might have accepted some tiny part in the process and I couldn’t believe it. I still kept an eye out for what his band were doing. During that time, I still hoped, now and then, that he might actually make contact, or, when they were playing in the area, even maybe come to visit me.
The Social Services ‘Guardian ad Litem’ stepped in. These are appointed by the court, to represent a baby’s best interests. Although I do remember signing something, I was never really made aware that I didn’t actually have to do this and that I had a choice. I also recall being told that they would try to find a suitable family, but that was about the limit of the information.
I grew up hugely that year and I felt both very old and very young at the same time. What really helped though, was that I could stay with my paternal grandparents for a time, before my baby was born.
They were amazing people, and I had always been very close to them. They had also been so caring and supportive with my mum throughout my parents’ separation and divorce. They could see she was struggling and stepped up to help. Although a generation older, they understood a lot, as they’d experienced so much adversity themselves.
They had a different sensibility, and they knew what was right. They were very grounded and ‘no-nonsense’ generally, and this included dealing with my situation. My granny, in particular, was a strong character, who just accepted life in all its colours. This was my bedrock.
One thing that meant so much was that she knitted a beautiful set of baby clothes in yellow for me. She said “We want that baby to have something lovely”. She was a fantastic knitter, so that was really special. My granny was my lifesaver and is the blueprint for who I am as a grandparent. I knew I was loved, unconditionally.
When my son was born in the local maternity unit, I remember feeling both thrilled and apprehensive, as I understood very well what was to come. I had my camera with me, so managed to have someone take a few photos of us both together. As soon as I came home, I wrote straight away to his father, via his mum, and included a photo, so that he knew he had a son. I needed to carry on believing he was interested, as it was too tough otherwise.
I took loving care of my little boy for a week in the unit. Then, one day, I knew. I had to dress him in his lovely yellow outfit and sat holding him tightly, in the nurse’s office. One minute he was in my arms, and the next, the nurse came in, and he was gone. I had to hand him over, and immediately she’d walked out of the door with him. I was absolutely in shock to my core. The way it was done felt very brutal.
“It felt that I had no option in any of it, and I think that reflected what the underlying ethic was at the time: “keep it tidy, and be grateful we’re taking him off your hands”
It felt that I had no option in any of it, and I think that reflected what the underlying ethic was at the time: “keep it tidy, and be grateful we’re taking him off your hands”. The attitude seemed to be “These stupid girls getting themselves into trouble… what do they expect?”
Looking back, it’s quite fascinating really, as you do tend to shut down to some extent, which allows you to carry on with life. I suspect the reasoning was that, if we’d been given a choice, it would be harder and far more complicated (for everyone) to try and sort things out.
I came home with mum on the same day he was handed over. I don’t remember what was said, but everything seemed so empty and blank. Mum was there, but there wasn’t really any ‘permission’ to unload the emotional pain I was feeling to anyone. Again, I was on my own.
I just gritted my teeth and carried on. Although my confidence had been really knocked, I actually was a bright student, and I sensed everyone’s view that it was done and dusted now! I was off to college, to forge a new life. So, inside, I had to find a way to hold in the emotional pain and lock it away somewhere, deep down.
So, I started college and began to rebuild my life. I made many friends there, including the brilliant man who I eventually married. We’ve now been together for over 40 years, and we have two great children, and grandchildren. He’s always known about my first son, and the circumstances, but I hadn’t ever really explained too much about the detail or the emotional wrench at the time. Again, it was ‘locked away’.
Life went on but I couldn’t ever forget about events around my son or what happened with his father. I‘ve always cherished thoughts of my first son – and remembered him particularly on his birthday every year. I constantly kept an eye out for him… any little boys who looked a bit like me, thinking “maybe that could be him?”.
As I’m now a qualified professional, my training has also offered an opportunity to work through some of those very early complex feelings, and develop far more insight and emotional strength. Sadly, although I did try, there was never a real opportunity to talk openly and honestly about my experiences at that time with my mum, as she struggled to express her feelings around this. She died a few years ago without us ever discussing any of this fully and openly, which is a great sadness.
However, I could share and talk through things with my best friend, and other family members. My step-mum was particularly supportive. She was able to completely understand and accept, in a way my mum hadn’t and, before she died, she’d urged me to not leave it too late to find my son. I discussed this with my husband who was also completely supportive. He has such a good heart and he told me he knew I was going to do it eventually. We’re all older now and, as a family, we’ve always nurtured each other and encouraged emotional honesty.
So, now I’d resolved to do it, I managed to eventually track down my baby’s father, and, as I felt like I had nothing to lose, I reached out to him… but heard nothing back. Although disappointed, I made my peace with that but, 18 months later, out of the blue, an email popped up in my inbox from him. Again, I was in shock.
After that, over the course of many emails, and some quite difficult phone conversations, he told me he’d always wondered what had happened, and had even tried to contact me via phone at my mum’s house. This was quite a shock. She’d never mentioned that he’d done this, and so I’d assumed I’d been completely forgotten.
In actual fact, he gradually explained to me how awful he’d felt about everything, and it was out of those discussions that we started to properly consider finding our son. He’d acknowledged him at last. It was strange having a ‘grown-up’ conversation about it and being able to talk about what was going on at the time, and how circumstances had affected us both and driven us apart.
He told me that he’d felt hugely pressured into denying paternity, and had felt guilty about how it all turned out. I think, for him, he was able to do something positive at last. It lifted his feelings, and I learned more about how things were for him at the time, although we were never able to resolve any of it, then……. we were so young.
“That’s when I reached out to PAC-UK. They’d recently inherited the NORCAP register, which holds the contact details for many of the agencies involved in adoptions historically.”
That’s when I reached out to PAC-UK.
They’d recently inherited the NORCAP register, which holds the contact details for many of the agencies involved in adoptions historically.
Interestingly I somehow must have sensed I was going to do this sometime, as I’d always carried around a slip with the NORCAP contact details, every day since it all happened. It was always on the ‘to-do’ list, but for years we had the family, and I was also busy working hard, with professional responsibilities. Also, I feel a major part of the ‘block’ was that it was all so very tricky to deal with while mum was alive.
Everyone at PAC-UK was so welcoming and kind, from first contact. My link person ‘held my hand’ through the whole process, even though this was during the height of COVID, so we never met in person. It was a huge step for me and there was such trepidation about it all, but she was so positive and personable. We couldn’t ever do a five-minute chat on the phone… always ended up talking for much longer.
However, they stayed realistic, and I was reminded of this. Although I could tell they were moved by my story, I was also aware that they couldn’t ever guarantee any outcome from their research. It was especially tricky during periods of lockdown, when contacting people and/or locating documents was far more challenging, so this also slowed things down.
Then, one day I received a text telling me they had some good news.
What a week! A phone call with my PAC-UK contact, on the Monday, revealed that they’d at last found my son, but that firstly, there had to be a very formal process around any approach, starting with a letter from PAC-UK.
They told me they’d send it on the Tuesday, so they did… and he rang them straight back on the Wednesday!
Apparently, I was told, a very excited man had phoned the link person that day, and he had basically asked them to please get on with it. Just hearing that felt SO good. My PAC-UK contact told me that talking to him was like talking to me!
Despite the enthusiasm we both had, there was still a formal process to go through. Over a few days, we had to exchange letters as a first step, and then, after that, swapped phone numbers. That’s when a whole new chapter started. After that, we spoke to each other by phone for the first time the following week – for an hour and a half. That was so special.
I didn’t have any preconception about how he’d sound, but was prepared for intense emotions. However, I stopped feeling nervous the second we started talking. It was just very natural and we agreed there was absolutely an instant connection… It’s like I both knew him completely but didn’t at the same time. It just makes me smile to think about it all.
A week or two after that we decided to meet at a pub somewhere between where we both lived. PAC-UK advise arranging a short meeting at first, but we ended up spending over four hours chatting on that first day. We couldn’t stop talking and sharing.
Immediately, I was so thrilled to discover we look very similar – a good mix of me and his natural dad. We also have similar energy and zest, when we talk. He told me he too had been a bit of a rebel in his teens and pictures of us both from that time have a similar cheeky spark.
He said that he was told that he had been adopted early on, and he knew what name he’d been given when he was born. He also understood his birth family were musical. He’d often wondered about everything, but couldn’t really work out how to start tracing. His life was so very busy too.
It had been a ‘pipe dream’ of mine that he might have been adopted by a musical family, to nurture that, but this wasn’t quite the case. However, he had been involved in some music-making when at school, and then discovered music for himself; he has a really good musical ear and voice, and he played the guitar. He just loves music and also really enjoys going to gigs and festivals – like me, and the family.
We’ve continued to meet over the months, gradually connecting with the wider family, step-by-step. He also took a trip further afield, so he could meet his natural dad – which meant such a lot to everyone involved. After this, we organised to all gather together over a few days, which was the most amazing experience. Although there have been a few bumps in the road, I’ve felt so blessed with everything.
It is becoming such a happy ending really… I’ve met up with the two extra grandchildren I didn’t know I had, and my first son has really connected with the younger sister he’d always secretly wanted, and with his younger brother. They all share a similar sense of humour!
“It is becoming such a happy ending really… I’ve met up with the two extra grandchildren I didn’t know I had, and my first son has really connected with the younger sister he’d always secretly wanted, and with his younger brother. They all share a similar sense of humour!”
We’re all in touch now and remain in each other’s lives – not constantly, but enough to build on. What we’ve realised is that it all takes time, after the initial euphoria, and that everyone is in this – particularly partners and wider family, who weren’t so directly involved. We are all very sensitive to and respectful of this, so it’s a longer, gradual process for all of us.
We are there for each other, and I think it happened when it needed to happen, really, in all our lives. Since the whole roller-coaster started, I’ve had more opportunity to reflect fully and deeply on this amazing journey – over many decades – and all of those involved.
As a result, I decided I want to give something back, now I have more time.
I’ve already submitted a statement to the Movement for Adoption Apology UK (MAA) which has pushed for the government to acknowledge the pain and heartache caused in relation to adoption, over earlier decades, before society and attitudes changed for the better. I’m also planning to volunteer for something which involves helping families, which will enable me to support others and hopefully make a real difference, somehow.
It’s just so fantastic, after all this time, to be able to close the loop.
PAC-UK provides specialist support to all parties affected by adoption and permanency. Their dedicated Private Intermediary Service Advice Line (020 7284 5876) supports adult adoptees and birth relatives who wish to reconnect – this line is open Monday 3.00pm to 5.00pm (excluding bank holidays) and Wednesday 6.00pm to 8.00pm. You can also email [email protected] to request a call back.
For more information about PAC-UK visit www.pac-uk.org.