The story of the room with the cots…
When my brother and I were little, my mum used to tell me this story….”When Aunty Eileen had John, and Aunty Olive had Adele, they went into hospital. But I couldn’t go into hospital to have a baby so I went to this place instead. It was a place with a great big room that was filled with cots, and in each cot was a baby. When I looked into one cot and saw a little baby girl with brown eyes I said “That baby’s got brown eyes just like mine” and I brought you home. Then when I went back they had a little baby boy with red hair and I thought “That baby’s got red hair like my sister’s baby boy” and I brought Michael home.”
My mum and dad couldn’t have their own children as my mum had tuberculosis in her Fallopian tunes, a legacy of being evacuated to rural Wales as a child during the war. After six years of marriage, she had been to her GP and said “Doctor, I’ve been married for six years and I haven’t had a baby.” The Doctor sent her packing. Three years later she went back and told him “Doctor, I’ve been married for nine years now and I still haven’t had a baby.” This time he listended and sent her for a routine D&C.
My mum woke up three days after the D&C to the sight of my weeping dad who told her that they’d never have children. He was clutching an adoption application form. The entire process from them applying to adopt, to them bringing me home took nine months. Today it takes on average 2.7 years.
My mum and dad adopted me through a Church of England Adoption Society, as was the way back in the 1960s. My mum said they’d have had a baby quicker if they’d been Catholic. They had to have medical tests and an assortment of other tests to check their suitability as parents, which they passed. The world of adoption was a very different place back then. As part of the application, my mum and dad were given lots of choices such as being asked to choose the sex of the baby (there were lots of babies to adopt back then).
My mum and dad, thinking that you don’t get a choice when you have your own baby, left all the boxes blank. Nine months later they got me. I was 5 weeks old and I’d been born in Wales to an 18-year-old mother whose family would not support her. My father was nowhere around. There was no benefits system that would have allowed my mother to get a flat and raise me on her own. Society deemed it shameful that she had me and so she had to give me away.
I absolutely cannot imagine the pain of this. My mum and dad met my mother when they went to collect me. They said it was heartbreaking for everyone. When they brought me home they had to wait an agonising six months for the adoption to be completed, during which time they were subject to unannounced inspections and constantly being told by my legal guardian, Miss Thomas from Social Services, that they “shouldn’t get too attached to baby” in case the mother changed her mind.
When I was five months old I was diagnosed with a heart murmur. My mum had to advise Miss Thomas and was promptly told, “Oh well then, bring her back and we’ll find you one that’s perfect.” My mum and dad were understandably devastated and told Miss Thomas a polite “No thanks.” I’m so glad they did. I might have been marked down as “imperfect.” I might have grown up in the care system like more than 60,000 children in the UK are today.
I was one of the very, very lucky ones though. My mum and dad got it so right with me and my younger brother, who they adopted when I was two. They told us all along that we were adopted, even when we didn’t know what adopted meant. They told us stories of rooms filled with cots, and tales of us being from a seemingly-magical kingdom called Wales.
My brother and I grew up in a home where we were loved and nurtured. We are part of a large and wonderful family and we have never been anything less than part of that family. The fact that I am adopted is to me the same as the fact that I have brown hair; no big deal, it’s just part of who I am.
Now and then someone will ask me if I’ve ever wanted to find my birth mother. Well the answer is this. I have a mum and a dad. They’re the ones that brought me up and who I love more than words can possibly express. I have never, ever felt that anything is missing in my life because I’m adopted. I do wish I could let my birth mother know that I understand the terrible decision she had to make, that I know she loved me, and that she did the right thing. That I have had a wonderful life thanks to the decision she made to give me to a couple who could have no children of their own.
I’ll end with a couple of stories. When our eldest children were one and two-years-old respectively, my brother and I were in our mum and dad’s house. We were sat on opposite sides of the room and both looking at our babies who were sitting together on the couch. If you’re not adopted, you’re probably used to being told you’ve got your mum’s eyes, or your dad’s nose, or your Uncle George’s big feet, but when you’re adopted the only barometer you have for your appearance is your own face.
As I sat looking at these two babies – my daughter looked so much like me and my brother’s son a little doppelgänger of his dad – I was struck by how odd it was to have another human being that had some genetic link. I looked up and found my own puzzled expression mirrored on my brother’s face.
“Does this seem really weird to you?” My brother asked. “Yeah,” I replied. That’s about as in-depth as we ever get on the subject.
The second story is this. Many, many years ago I was dating a guy who’d had an horrific childhood. He was telling me one day of the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his father. “That’s so awful,” I said. “I can’t believe that kind of thing goes on, I mean, I come from such a normal family.”
“No you don’t,” he said. “What you’ve got isn’t normal. What you’ve got is extraordinary.”