It was 1995 when Mum started signing her letters ‘Mum’. Those inverted commas had names and I knew them well. They were called ‘Guilt’ and ‘Blame’.
‘Here is a number for you to contact.’ she said handing me an envelope with writing scribbled on the back. ‘I think it’s time you found your real mother. I’ve always known I would have to give you back one day.’
On this occasion I didn’t follow it up with some half-arsed insincere reply like ‘Don’t be silly Mum, you ARE my real Mum.’ Because our play acting of mother and daughter had long since been torn to shreds by the brutality of our fights. We fought every time we saw each other. Even if it was one week. One day. One hour.
We fought so violently that by the time I was 15 we’d both decided that I should go to boarding school because we couldn’t stand living with one another.
When she handed me the envelope, my head was still hurting from the last fight. And yet I was 19.
Old enough to know better, immature enough to be treated like a child. She’d had to pin me down to try and stop me beating my head against the banister rails. Because hurting myself, was also hurting her which is what I wanted to do. My life was her life and I was her. And the more I hurt myself, the more I would hurt her.
We had two weeks before I left to university which was located at the opposite end of the country. I had chosen it by design. I hadn’t lived with my mother for 4 years and had had barely any contact during this time. In this two weeks, this small patch of grace, what we wanted almost more than anything was to finally learn to love each other.
But our relationship was steeped in too much pain. And in that moment, I realised that her power had started to fail. The freedom I had fought so hard for and for so long was within my grasp. I had won. She was allowing me to contact my biological mother, without the guilt that had always accompanied it. Not quite however.
‘They say that children who are really happy with their adoptive parents have no need to contact their biological parents.’ She said as I turned away. ‘I can help you trace her.’
If I contacted my biological mother, if I used this piece of paper, it would be tantamount to an accusation that my adoptive mother wasn’t a good mother. And I knew that this accusation would be the last straw in our already destructive relationship. Yet she’d protected herself; she’d given me the piece of paper. She’d been ‘the good mother’. She’d offered to help. The choice was mine.
My adoption took place in 1975. It was the first year in England of what has become known as ‘open adoption’ where the rights of the child to find their birth parents superseded the rights of the mother to keep the birth quiet. It was a landmark decision.
In middle class England, the stigma of illegitimacy was a fate worse than death and would follow you through life. You couldn’t hope to be well educated – since your biological family would have surely disowned you and your mother making you both penniless – or indeed marry well (for who would want to marry a child coming from such disgraceful circumstances).
For the mother there was little choice. Hide the birth and have the baby adopted, thus securing both your futures but live with the shame, pain and secrecy for the rest of your life. Or risk utter rejection from your family and your society. It was considered wiser for both parties to remain in ignorance about the whereabouts of the other…
For should – god forbid – emotions and the tie between a mother and child prove so strong that they would want to find each other again then this heinous event might become known and undermine the very fabric of society. Secrecy was the best choice. But being adopted whilst outwardly respectable, was only another word for disgraced bastard. And everyone knew it, even if they didn’t say it.
My birth mother made the only choice she could for the sake of her family’s reputation. She travelled to the north of England, told no one and stayed with her brother. And at 8 days old, she said goodbye to me. Neither of us knew, just how much we were losing.