What happened when I found my birth mother

finding my birth mother

I don’t know what I expected from finding my birth mother. But there are a lot of things I know today that I didn’t know a week ago.

The biggest one, obviously, is that my birth mother died.

My backstory

For context, I’m adopted. My birth mother put me into care when I was 6 months old and I was fostered, then adopted when I was ten. I hadn’t had any contact with my birth mother since I was adopted.

This year I decided to look her up. I’m not sure what prompted it. Maybe realising that my relationships with my adoptive family are complicated, and painful at the moment. Or perhaps just the pandemic and realising that my parents (birth, foster, adoptive) are getting older and who knows if they’ll be around this time next year?

So I found my birth mother’s Facebook page. That’s a common thing, these days. Then I went and looked up proper records. Spoke to a nice man at the council. And what I know now is that my birth mother died in June 2019. She was 62. She found out she had terminal lung cancer, and she died three months later.

I also know that, apparently, my mother cried whenever she spoke about me. She told her other children that she’d been pressured into giving up her baby. She showed them photos of me, and told them it hurt to see how much we all looked alike.

Mixed feelings

And I think – you knew you were dying, but you didn’t leave me a letter, or any photos. Just a lot of questions I would never be able to answer. The disconnect between your words and actions is hard to reconcile. I feel rejected, unwanted, all over again.

birth family

I’ve always known I have two younger half-sisters. This week, I’ve spoken to them, and I know they’re doing okay. I’ve found out that they didn’t get the opportunities I did, and their early lives were marked with experiences I feel equal parts guilty and grateful to have escaped. They tell me that our birth mother’s mental health wasn’t good. Their lives were very hard. I might have felt abandoned, but I guess there are worse things than that.

New siblings

I’ve talked to both of my sisters. They seem like good people, with good hearts. They’ve been so kind, really. I have five nephews and nieces. They know my name and they know things about me from their mother that I didn’t even know about myself. It’s weird.

I’m hearing all sorts of stories for the first time. Some I knew, some I didn’t. Some of them completely contradict what I thought I knew. It’s hard to know what’s true, and what was my mother’s illness, or maybe just her wishful thinking.

There are stories from social workers, boyfriends, dads, sisters. Everyone has a different page and it’s like we’re trying to put together a book but nobody knows the order, and half the pages are torn. Maybe some of the pages aren’t true. It feels like the ground is shifting under my feet and I feel – for the first time – like I’m not sure who I am.

And I’m angry. So angry that I found my birth mother only to realise she left us all in this mess. Is that fair? I don’t know.

Doing research

Sometimes being a journalist comes in handy. If I know how to do one thing, it’s research. So I’m poring through records and comparing dates and trying to find a story that feels important, but maybe it doesn’t matter at all. Maybe what’s important is me, and Flea, and what we have here, and now. Does your past define you? If you come from a lie, does it matter? Will finding truth make you any happier? Who knows.

I have a birth father. Maybe. It depends which story turns out to be true. He lives less than a mile from one of my childhood homes. How weird is that? I find myself wondering if we were ever in the supermarket at the same time. If he’d seen me, would he know? Did he ever look me up?

When you’re adopted you miss out on seeing people who look like you. Such an everyday thing for most people, but i never experienced it until Flea. And now I know there are people walking around with my nose, or my eyes. It’s hard to fathom.

For a time, it all just got too much. My head can only fit so many thoughts, before it just shuts down. I’ve been throwing myself into work, writing, writing, with headphones playing music so my mind can’t wander. Do I have space for this? Should I grieve? Is it okay to be sad? Am I angry that maybe some people weren’t honest about my history? Since I found my birth mother, I feel untethered somehow, like the things that ground me are falling away, one by one.

They say you should talk to yourself like you’re your own best friend. And here’s what I’d say. You found your birth mother. It’s a lot. You don’t have to know everything, right now. It’s okay to take time. It’s okay to sometimes shut your eyes and ears and just focus on things that make you happy. Your past might be important but it isn’t the sum total of you. And it will still be there in another week.

No matter what, you are you, and that’s enough.

15 thoughts on “What happened when I found my birth mother”

  1. Oh my lovely pal bloody hell . That’s very sad your mum died before you got your questions answered. Thinking of you lovely, I thik its okay to feel all those things and you are right YOU are YOU. You are awesome funny, smart as a whip, kind, naughty , world travelling supermum Sally Whittle. My mate. You are ace. xxxx

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of your Mum, the Mum that raised you and loved you and whom you loved back, and who was a Grandma to Flea.
    About the adoption info, there are so many positives in your story – her regret (if she didn’t regret it she wouldn’t have talked about you to her daughters), a lucky escape, the family and the opportunities you had. I hope you will be able focus on the positives as these are the things that made you you. Who knows what she was thinking as she neared her end. Maybe she didn’t want to interfere in your life and open up old wounds (for both of you)? Maybe she was scared that you’d blame/hate her? We think of leaving letters and photos because we read and we understand about legacies and some psychology. Maybe she was a simple woman to whom these things just didn’t occur?
    Maybe you can establish a relationship with your sisters and Flea’s cousins? Maybe your brother will come round to some reconsiliation at this sad time? Who knows what the future will bring.
    You can’t grieve for everything all at the same time – it’s too much. I wish you happy memories of your dear Mum and hope they bring you comfort. xxx

    1. Well, I must say for starters that it’s my birth mother who has died – my adoptive Mum is still alive and well, thank goodness!

      But you make an interesting point about the letter and you might be writer – if you’re not by nature someone who writes and captures memories, then would you even think of it? Maybe not.

      There are positives but I think I need to process the loss before I can truly think about those.

  3. Gosh what a week you’ve had, indeed!

    Nurture versus nature is an age old question.

    At this point: What are the things you do know and believe about yourself? What are the things that friends and family love you for? Those are the important things. Those are the things to hang onto. You are who you are: uniquely wonderful because of the sum of the past and the choices you’ve made (choices with the best intentions) along the way.
    Hope this loss leads to building new relationships and strong ties, extended family for Flea and you.

    1. Thanks Monika, it means a lot you are still thinking of other people when you are going through such a terrible situation right now.

      It would be nice to think I could build a relationship with my sisters and Flea could meet her new cousins, wouldn’t it? Maybe after lockdown.

  4. Oh love. It’s so so much. And no your past does not define you – good or bad, it just IS.
    But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact. A couple of years ago, an aunt I’ve nont seen in years came and visited, and brought a couple of old family photo alnums. I saw pictures of my Granny as a oyung woman, I heard tales of a family I thought lost for eer to me, and it was wonderful. I was connected, rooted, to something i didn’t even know I was missing until I had it back for a while.
    Of course this stuff is important. It’s not all of yu, and what’s here and what’s next is the bigger picture. But peeking backwards for a while from under your blanket? Totally important too.
    Be gentle, allow yourself space to feel whatever you feel. It’s all okay – and will be all okay again too.
    Oh, and looking something in the face and then saying ‘not today, sunshine’ while you slap the headphones on? Definitely okay.

    1. Oh, I an imagine the impact of the photo album. It is so important to feel grounded and connected – and I think sometimes we don’t think about it until it’s not there, or when we feel it after a long period of not having those feelings.

      And here’s to all the days we need, popping on headphones and waiting until a better day.

  5. I would say exactly the same as you’ve said here. Of course it’s normal to feel sad, and okay to feel angry. Whatever you feel is absolutely fine to feel because it’s the only way to work it all out. I’d also say that your birth mother was her own person with her own reasons, and was obviously damaged. So none of what she chose to do was about you. It was all about her, and that doesn’t change who you are.

  6. I’m very sorry to hear this Sally, it must be so difficult to process all of this. Do you know about PAC-UK? They’re an independent adoption support agency, and they have specialist services for adopted adults. They will be able to help you, if you want them to.

  7. Wow, what a lot to comprehend. Families are so complicated sometimes, but you know that and you know you are not alone. Focus on you and Flea and all will be okay, I’m sure. It seems like so much at the moment and maybe some things will never be resolved, but what can you do? Sometimes we just have to accept life can throw us into turmoil, but we keep on keeping on. I’d be proud to have you as a sister, I have always looked up to you Sally, and I think you have achieved so much. And all this being a single mum too! Hold your head up high and stay positive. This is a blip, a big one, but a blip all the same. My Mum left me a letter when she passed. We had been estranged but had tentatively re-started our relationship shortly before she died. The letter tells me how she never felt loved by her children and that she was so disappointed in her entire life in general. It breaks my heart to even look at it. I vowed that no matter what, I would never make my children feel that way, and you have the opportunity to do the same with Flea. xx

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about the demise of your mother. It must be very difficult for you. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings. And I think your mix emotions of sadness, anger and greif are on point. Stay strong this shall pass too!

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of your Mum, the Mum that raised you and loved you and whom you loved back, and who was a Grandma to Flea.
    it’s too much. I wish you happy memories of your dear Mum and hope they bring you comfort.

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