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.
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. 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.
And I think – she knew she was dying, but she didn’t leave me a letter, or any photos. Just a lot of questions I would never be able to answer. The disconnect between her words and actions is hard to reconcile.
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 I’ve realised there are worse things than that.
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.
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? 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 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.