A fairly innocuous and standard Christmas card encases the 6 pages of lined paper. You know the ones with snowflakes, snow encrusted apples and a lovely Festive Greeting. Believe me, I am not dismissing the card itself. It is lovely and clearly well chosen by the sender. I am making the point that it strikes me that for a letter so incredibly hard to write, and no less hard to read, the card housing it is probably strung across a hundred sitting rooms across the country. Having been ripped open and not given more than a seconds’ thought. However, the card I hold is so precious and special to me that its factory printed sentiment almost laughs in my face as I open it. I see these hand written pages , so neat and so full of promise. I am already in tears and I haven’t even read a word.
Pulling my big girl pants on I set about living my past, or her past at least. She starts by thanking me and telling me she had being praying for me to get in touch since I turned 18.
By law, a child adopted prior to 1970 was protected from being contacted directly by their birth mother. My BM knew nothing of the Adoption Register so there was nothing found there to suggest she was looking for me. Sadly the information is never there unless you look for it and at her time of life she left well alone, I trust out of respect but more likely out of just not knowing where to start. I mean, its not like I have the same name so how would I be found…
Anyway, She goes on to say she always hoped and prayed I had loving parents and that I wouldn’t feel resentment towards her for giving me up.She told me giving me up was the single most painful thing she had to do for me but knew I would have a better life than she could give me.
I expected this and would have said the same , she made the decision that ensured I had a great life, good education (I can write this so must have taken something in !Ha)
I read on…One sentence that made my eyes sting was ” I don’t know if I can explain the joy and the peace that I experienced when I read your letter. Its as though the part of me that’s been missing all these years has finally come home”
Guessing that I had opened all manner of barely healed wounds by finding her, I must admit I felt better about the situation. You see you do have this constant nagging whisper in your ear during the whole journey ‘What if? What if I am a secret that should remain buried? Who knows her history? Who may make her feel shame or hate her for giving up a child ? A single black women in the 60’s with two children out of wedlock? Hmmmm, doesn’t fit the ideal British Middle Class way does it. My heart hurts reading on as I learn truths that only I will ever know but what I will tell you are cold hard facts. These are hard enough for my mortal soul to comprehend I take a while to absorb them myself.
What amuses me is I see clearly exactly where my humour comes from. Prove positive that the nature nurture theory is spot on. I had said in my letter than I had learned to live with the fact size 10 was a thing of the past (well childbirth put paid to that one)
Her response to that was this ” You mentioned that you are a bit thick around the waistline, I myself is not only thick around the waist but all over, but it doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother it 🙂 Come the new year and I will have words with it!:-) “
Brilliant! She is a laugh! The relief was immense..imagine me finding my BM was strict and serious! Not likely but I was relieved all the same! The one thing we so far had in common. I love to see people laugh. I mean really belly laugh with tears rolling down their cheeks! its like a shot of Serotonin to me! To laugh with true friends is on a par with an elicit bar of Galaxy instead of a proper lunch. Highly recommend both, I really do!
OK so it seems that my BM managed to retain her sense of humour despite the facts that lay before me now. Prior to my conception my BM had a traumatic teenage life. Born in Jamaica of loving parents (my biological grandparents) she was left to fend for herself at 15 when her parents took the ship from the Caribbean to the UK. Her Father was taken ill during the two years he was here setting up life for her and her brother. Her brother came to the UK at the time of his death. She didn’t see her father for 2 years and then he dies during this time!:-( My heart aches imagining a 15 year old VB left behind in her home country. She never said Goodbye to her Dad. With my own Father poorly this rings loud in my ears and I know I would feel such devastation myself.
Her mother and brother remain in the UK and she stays in Jamaica to finish her education. During this time her elder Sisters’ partner makes himself ‘unwelcome’ during a baby sitting . A child is conceived. 😦
This child, a boy, is my first half sibling. He was raised by a family known to her in the area and never seen again for the next 50 years. He has since been visited and reunited with his BM.
She travels to the UK to be with her Mother and Brother and the incident is never discussed , neither the attack or the child.
I learned some time after, that the sister thumped her round the head when she learned of the pregnancy and deemed it to be my BM who was responsible for the whole nasty business. My BM’s sister needed a bloody thick ear herself if you ask me but I held my tongue when it was discussed..but yes she needed a major slap for sure!
Turned out in recent years she was forgiven for her attitude towards my BM. Over her grave. At her own funeral!
So here in Old Blighty my BM set up home with her remaining family. In 1965 or thereabouts she fell in love. My Birth Father was a tall, handsome rogue. Fair play!
Actually he sounded like fun but couldn’t get his act together when it came to monogomy So he came in and out of my Birth Mothers life and she fell deeper and deeper for the man who as far as I am concerned donated sperm (twice) . That is as far as he knew about fatherhood.
My BM was a very proficient Seamstress at this time , I always wondered why knocking up a whole house worth of curtains never phased me ? Hey , again nature?
So she made herself a living and enjoyed life with her handsome boyfriend, who was working as a Baker and rather popular with the ladies by all accounts.
In 1968 she fell pregnant. From her letter I learn that her Mother washed her hands of her at this point. This really pissed me off, pardon my language but frankly I always believed the Caribbean way was all about FAMILY and looking after their own ?. Forgive me if I am wrong but surely at just 18 and having been left to survive the last of her education in another country, my BM didn’t deserve to be thrown out into the cold?
Anyway she was. Took me a while to absorb this as it smacked of injustice to me (remember me saying that this REALLY PISSES ME OFF!??) Hmmmm, it did now too for sure.
So she goes on to explain more about her life and further revelations I will share with you in due course….Suffice it to say the relationship was dramatic but she swears blind he was the love of her life and that comforts me.
She tells me she always imagined me to be a very beautiful young lady and seeing my photo and reading my letter showed her I was indeed beautiful inside and out and my little daughter was very pretty. She was touched that I asked again after her health and welfare in my letter.
Bear in Mind I was still yet to see an actual picture of her and now I had one , right there, flanked by her two super tall sons. Wow!! She is 5ft 2? Eh? I am 5ft 8 and they had to tower over her at least 6ft 2. Guessing Birth Father had the height then! To say I stared at that photo was an understatement. I was like someone doing one of those spot the difference games. Digesting and absorbing every feature, eyes, nose, chins, who do I look like? Am I like her or my Full Brother? We all share the same eyes and at his point I decide I look most like my full sibling but he is way thinner in the face..its so surreal!
She told me how pleased she was that I kept my birth name. Yes I did. In fact my Mother still to this day cannot understand how I applied for and received a passport switching my birth name and the name they gave me. This made my given birth name my middle name and not my first name. Hey , again – I don’t worry about Red Tape! Ha! Even now it is sacred but I am known as the name given by my parents. The First name on my second birth certificate. So for me it’s a gift I keep but don’t really use. A bit like a Fondue Set. Who needs one really? But you just never know do you , so you keep the damn thing in the loft anyway!
I learned that my BM had worked as a Seamstress, making men’s clothing, in a biscuit factory and also as a carer. She then and until now worked in Social services, enabling the elderly to remain in their own homes as long as possible. She told me how rewarding she found it.
She has a deep faith and regularly attended church…Oops, wait till she hears me swear! I’m like a pissed up Navvy when I get going , she wont like that will she!? Oh well….
So I learn that I also have 3 further siblings
The Full brother we know was born in the January of 1969 then I came along in the December. A second long term relationship (after my Birth Father cut and run, in fact his best friend!) produced two further siblings. A boy who she kept and a little girl who was also put up for adoption……..Whhhhhhaaaaaaaatttt????
So I had a little wobble , it happens to the best of us yes? OK lets be clear here, I get that shit happens to people and I am grateful for honesty and disclosure at this point. However, my already emotionally bruised ego is now looking at this from all angles. So she had 3 boys and 2 girls. She rightly was removed from the first Son, as aposed to having a choice to stay his mother. She has a boy. Keeps him. Has me, gives me up. Has a third boy, Keeps him. Has a second girl, gives her up.
Now, I don’t claim to be anything I am not. You get what you read. Right now I have to tell you I felt so deeply sad and confused. Why keep the boys and give up the girls?? Made no sense in the writing on the page. Not enough information is so much worse than too much isnt it? I felt all manner of little inner rejections at this point reading her life story there in that pretty hand writing. Was it easier to adopt girls? Did she not like girls? why were we given up and not our brothers??
She went on to say she often wondered how it would have been to raise all four of us but would never know now.
I held no bitterness towards her, I have always maintained that and stand by it BUT at that precise moment my feelings of self worth and how I was valued in her life and even the life of my own family faded to almost nothing. It has taken me sometime to climb back onto my personally build pedestal. Right then I saw just a percentage. 50% Boys versus 50% Girls. My half sister and I were given up for adoption??
I said before how what you learn can open up more questions than it yields answers and this is exactly what I meant folks…to say my head ached almost as much as my heart right then would put it mildly. Life sucked big time for quite a while after this bombshell…
So the letter romped on to give me dates and details about my siblings, it was as if she had raised us all together too, the way she wrote it out. Popped us out like peas…as I said Womb equals Whoopie cushion sprung to mind again. I especially loved the statement
‘ Having two babies in just one year seems amazing don’t you think!?
Ha, No shit!??
Couldn’t help wondering if contraception even existed back in the day but put that to the back of my mind where it should stay really, if I were to remain focussed. I was not in a position of judgement. I speak as I find and I accept what I hear as what would be the point otherwise?
Her life had been pretty hard, shitty really. Married twice, widowed twice and never really loved for as long as she deserved. Her first husband was a layabout who bore her two children and barely noticed. He died in horrific circumstances, I do know them but it wont serve you as a reader to learn these details so I will remain loyal to that ‘family secret’ She married her second husband after meeting him in her church and sadly he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They married in her home..The very house I traced her too..He was sick and housebound but they loved each other and I guess in the eyes of God they felt the marriage was a union to be continued when they met again. I loved that idea. Remember me saying how I actually regularly experienced a physical chest pain? Well again my heart ached as I read on and learned how she had pretty much fended for herself even through her relationships. She claimed God gave her the strength to carry on and she did feel health and love had featured well in her life.
She thanked me for my assurance that I held no bitterness towards her and that my intention towards her was positive. She hoped her past didn’t paint her as a bad person and that things happen the way they do for a reason and that she would clarify things for me further when we got to know one another more. OK so I accepted this and knew our communication had to continue in order for me to know everything there was to know.
She blessed me with Gods grace , wished me a Happy Christmas and hoped I would reply soon…..It struck me later that she had sent me and mine a Christmas Card. Lovely. However it hung like a lingering odour that she hadn’t sent me a Birthday Card.
Now I am not precious about my birthday as such but will admit that if anyone , be they family or friend, who shows disregard to the fact my Birthday falls on Christmas Day feels the sting of my silence. Those who know me well respect that it is a sensitive time for me all round so if its ignored or worse still, seen as OK to leave my card etc until a few days after? That really pisses me off.
So I found it hard to digest why the one person of all people would neglect to recognise the time and date they squeezed me from their nether bits and not have THAT date as the focus but did recognise Christmas ? It was a question to be answered but not today
Her hope that I would give her chance to tell me more and share her truth with me in the near further left an imprint on my heart and I felt my very being beginning to evolve having read that letter.
I felt almost invisible to everyone except her at this moment. Her spot-light was well and truly on ME. Had I opened Pandora’s box, or a Can or Worms?
Time would tell I guess……
Thanks for Reading,
Love Black Sheep