I was about 3 years old when I was told I was adopted. My parents were going to adopt another baby so it seemed like the opportune time to explain in an age appropriate way that I was chosen. I remember my father telling me that I had another mother somewhere but that my mummy would always be my mummy. It made me feel funny inside. He sat with me on my bed and told me that I was special as he and my mummy downstairs had chosen me because my own mummy couldn’t look after me.
That is quite an overwhelming thing to hear when you’re quite little. I could see that my father had tears in his eyes and I couldn’t quite understand why.
I felt as if I had gone to another place as I looked through the window of my room into the dark, dark night. I watched the moon which was like a shiny new sixpence in the sky and wondered if it watched me back. Of course I didn’t really comprehend what being adopted meant at all, but it was a word that was implanted in my thoughts and there it stayed.
I grew up therefore knowing that I was adopted.
I remember seeing a photo of the gorgeous baby boy who would come and live with us. He would be my brother and he was also adopted. So as siblings we had something in common even if it was not blood.
Funnily enough people would remark how my brother and I looked alike, much to the amusement of my parents.
Like many children I grew up in a secure if rather dysfunctional middle class home. As a family we had summer holidays together, we had a dog and a menagerie of pets. I had my own bedroom, I learned to play the piano and clarinet, I was a Brownie guide and I went to Sunday school. Nothing remarkable about any of that and yet as I grew out of my early years into my teens, my mind became more restless. I questioned who I was and where I came from. I wondered about my birth mother and imagined that she was a princess or someone really famous. I was living in my own fairy tale to start with but at times it felt more like a tale from the Brothers Grimm. There were odd moments of anxiety and panic as I felt overwhelmed with not knowing who my real mother was.
Why did I call her my real mother? Was my adoptive mother not real enough for me?
My adoptive parents had their own issues and these rubbed off on me but to the world around me, I looked no different from any other child. However deep inside myself I felt strangely distant. I felt distant from myself too, an odd thing to feel, I know, but that’s what it felt like. I felt disengaged from myself as if only part of me was functioning. Where was the other functioning part? Who knows, I certainly didn’t and still don’t if I’m honest with myself.
When I was 17 I went to work in Paris as an au-pair for an American family. I felt so grown up and sophisticated being in the big city. It was the first time that I felt I had any real control over what I did, at least during the times I wasn’t working. Why Paris you might ask? Well I had a French boyfriend that I’d met two years previously whilst I was on a train crossing France with my brother and a chick. How bizarre – a chick (un poussin) – whatever was I doing with chick on a train travelling across France? Well to cut a ridiculously long story short, I was given the chick by the mother of my French pen-friend whom we had been visiting for a holiday. I declared it at customs and brought it home with me. Sadly it died as I put in the airing cupboard to keep it warm and I think it suffocated.
So here I was, grown up and in France with a French boyfriend who worked at the theatre.
Paris got into my bones and my knickers, I was completely saturated with all that Paris had to offer a teenage girl away from home in 1975. I was also pregnant. PREGNANT!!!!!! How the hell did that happen?
Of course I know how it happened but I tried to pretend it hadn’t and so ignored it somewhat. I’m not exactly sure what I imagined would happen by ignoring it but that’s what I did for a couple of months.
By the time I was nearly 4 months pregnant a friend told my employer, who called my mother.
What happened next was a total whirlwind of anxiety as my employer summoned me, informing me that my mother would be arriving that very afternoon to take me home to England. Good grief, no time for goodbyes to friends and barely time to pack.
Once back home it was clear that I was going to have a baby and so I was sent off to a mother and baby home to wait for the arrival, away from prying eyes and chattering tongues. It was like being in prison with a matriarchal German Führerrunning a tight ship. I can’t ever remember laughing whilst I was there.
I gave birth to a very beautiful little boy who was taken away before I could catch a glimpse of him. I felt numb and removed from reality. Everything felt dreamlike and after the birth I slept nearly a whole day.
When I awoke, I had an overwhelming desire to see my baby. The nurses were very hesitant as they felt I might bond with him and then want to keep him, and it had been made very clear that adoption was in his best interest. After all I had been adopted successfully said my mother. I couldn’t stand it and demanded to see him and care for him whilst in hospital. It was the least I could do for him and I hoped he’d understand that I loved him.
After 10 precious days I left the hospital and my first born son behind me. My mind was blank, my senses numb and my emotions in turmoil.
Whilst I had often wondered and fantasied about my birth mother, I had never taken active steps to trace her. Not until that is my now ex-husband and I had our first child. When he was born I got to wondering which bits he’d inherited from whom and what traits we would see develop in him as he grew. I knew so little of my biological background that I had no framework on which to build a picture. Coupled with that was the thought of the first son that I had given up and where he would be now as this new baby was in essence his sibling. I wondered what my birth mother felt when she gave me away and if she thought of me as often as I thought of my first born.
It took me another few years before I finally made the conscious decision to try and trace her. It was like taking a leap of faith, like taking a step off a cliff and not knowing if there was anything below to break my fall, it was scary.
Surprisingly it didn’t take long at all to track her down through the national records office and within a few months, after some very brief counselling with a social worker, my first mother and I met.
She is the most amazing woman and we connected right away. Of course we connected right away, we were already connected! We had been literally connected for 9 months and for the years during our separation we were connected by some ethereal tie at a cellular level. The moment we set eyes on each other we knew each other, we felt right together and just started talking like we were friends who had not seen each other in a while. It was a beautiful reunion and one which continues to this day. I feel totally blessed to have her in my life.
From the very first moment I gave up my first son, I had always hoped he would want to find me. I thought about him often and especially on each of his birthdays. I now had two children with my (ex) husband and life was good. Being a parent has been the most wonderfully satisfying job I’ve done and both my children are now adults and I’m so proud of them. As they were growing up they never knew about their half sibling and there was no reason for them to know as there was nothing tangible to see except one photograph.
However in 2000, I got a phone call out of the blue from a relative who had received a letter from a young woman keen to trace me on behalf of her boyfriend. As soon as the penny dropped and I realised this was my first born child trying to contact me, I went into a slow motion meltdown. I felt like I was falling into a dark well, overwhelmed with excitement and panic and grief for what I had lost. For the first hour or two I was completely disengaged from myself until I collected my thoughts and tried to be a bit more pragmatic about things.
All that I had hoped for was coming to fruition, my child had found me and very soon we would meet.
My children were shocked to say the least but surprisingly accepting in their own way. My son more so than my daughter who, at 13 years old, found it hard to get her head around. I wondered how my son might feel as he was no longer my first born, but he reassured me by saying that he was still my ex husband and my first child and that wouldn’t change. How grown up he was at 16.
My first son and I decided to meet in London and met outside Oxford Street tube station. It was a busy station and we were each standing waiting at different entrances! Thank goodness for mobile phones as we soon sorted out where we were and met up. The moment before I clapped eyes on my son I was filled with anticipation and an overwhelming feeling that I can’t describe.
We met and hugged and went for a drink together and just chatted and stared at each other. We learned that we both absolutely hate bread and butter pudding and when the drinks came we each pulled out a pack of Malborough Lights! Oh how we chuckled at that! (neither of us smoke now).
From that first lovely day in London, our relationship grew and life would be empty without him in my life. He is now married and has two beautiful children. I feel as if we have come full circle.
All three of my children get on really well and see each other as siblings. They are accepting of each other and have a deep love of each other, which is more than I could ever have hoped for. I am truly blessed.
JoJo has written a book about her adoption journey, you can buy it here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adoption-Alchemy-JoJo-Miracle-Patience/dp/1527225631?fbclid=IwAR1f7O3f0sMXnbmfizcip8MRCnvWTNurfOXtk1ww81KuuJMBKj0UxD4Qzp0