Once upon a time, an unmarried girl hid her pregnancy for 9 months, travelled to the north of England and gave the baby up for adoption. It was 1975. She also hid the secret from her family and friends for 20 years until, the child, now a fully grown woman, found her mother. I was that child.
Although at the time I was asked to write a piece to benefit the experiences of other adoptees and adoptive parents, I felt that the subject was too raw. Even now the situation remains unfinished. Will it ever be? I don't know. Out of loyalty to my adoptive family I was hesitant to commit my thoughts to paper as I knew that they may be hurtful. In our case, time has not healed.
The book that opened my eyes to many of the events in my life is called The Primal Wound. It was given to me by my adoptive mother and I highly recommend it. It describes the bond that is forged between the baby and the natural mother during 9 months of gestation and thus the wound that is created when this bond is broken before the natural course of the child's growing independence. At 8 days old my natural mother was replaced with an adoptive mother with whom I had no history and who was desperate for a child and envisaged me as the answer to her unsatisfactory life. She was a stranger.
As a child, I excelled in her passions, in academic work, music and drama although it was she who provided the discipline while studying by my side, pushing me forward with a fearsome omnipresence which dominated and suppressed my developing character. As such I barely remember my father who only supplied the financial means and the occasional argument to the running of the household. My presence exacerbated the existing disharmony in their relationship and my parents divorced when I was 11 years old.The divorce, a serious car accident and my mother's strong love heightened the rebellion of my teenage years. I created a personage who dramatically contrasted with the daughter she had tried to mould during childhood, in an effort to precipitate a rejection scenario which I felt was an inevitable consequence. I was someone with whom she found it impossible to live and someone who found it impossible to live with her. During these years I picked up every violently disapproved habit I could, running away on a periodic basis, drinking heavily and smoking. Promiscuity was also high on the list - searching for an unconditional love to assuage the insecurity resulting from both the adoption and new facial scars - a legacy from the car accident - as well as to combat the dislike and rejection at home. Our love was painful - only joined together by the scar tissue of many arguments. Finally I went to boarding school and then to my father's house which culminated in further arguments. I left home whilst still at school.
Finding my MotherNot surprisingly at the earliest opportunity during university, I started to search for my natural family, to try and understand myself better; to answer the questions of whether I was a product of nature or nurture. The first person I contacted was my natural mother. We were both overwhelmed by the discovery and as she felt that she had no jurisdiction over my behaviour or life, her love was unconditional. My adoptive mother, suspicious of the transfer of my affections, foraged in my belongings to uncover mementoes, photographs and gifts with dedications which only left her feeling desperately insecure. This in turn rendered me more secretive and underhand to the extent that she neither knew my whereabouts nor my sentiments. Suffice to say that after many excruciating years, our relationship built on mistrust and false expectations has crumbled; my adopted mother and I are still strangers to each other - in fact we are currently estranged for a second seemingly permanent time and have been for the last 10 years.The fact that I now have a loving relationship with my natural mother does not make up for the hole left by my adoptive one. Two women took the role in my life that is normally considered to be the role of one, neither replacing the other and both playing a part in the person I am today. Until the discovery of the second one, I was effectively in teenage limbo although legally an adult at 20.
Finding my FatherMy father was very difficult to trace since he had no legal address, no bank account and no social security number. He was the proverbial bad penny. At the end of what was supposed to be a joyous reunion, he tainted our encounter into something sordid and heartbreaking. His sexual attraction towards me was overt and ugly. And he made no effort to hide it. In my own private catch-22, I was repulsed by what I had found, but I also found it very difficult to drive away someone for whom I had searched for so long. With help and support from my natural mother who instantly identified a duty to protect me, I managed to pick up the pieces of my tattered dreams.My discoveries were more important for what was missing. I found no real answers. I could no longer blame the upheaval in my life on the fact I didn't know where I came from, because now knowing my origins I had no more excuses on which to lay my behaviour. Having solved the equation for "x" I found that the only solutions lay within myself. Only I could decide what kind of person I wanted to be and what kind of future I wanted to build. I feel that in experiencing the "not knowing", I am able to better appreciate the "knowing".
To the adoptersThere are many children out there who need a loving home and parents to care for them. My experience does not negate the usefulness of adoption. However a child does not determine whether he/she is born or even adopted. Any repercussions that stem from the adoption should be borne by the players who set the wheels in motion many years before. Therefore although many parents will adopt to satisfy a need deep inside themselves, they should bear in mind the possible consequences and give due thought to the stranger who is to become their child. They should also be aware that the hurt caused by separation from the birth mother, although unacknowledged and subconscious, is still unhealed and can manifest itself in unexpected ways. To those birth mothers who deny their child's rights to get to know their heritage, I only have one thing to say. Shame on you. Own your mistakes, you may be surprised by the outcome.
To the adopteesYou have been given the gift of limitless possibility although you may not know it yet. You are forced to go through the experience of finding yourselves and making the defining choices that many people neglect to the detriment of their character. You will have the benefit of choosing to know where you come from or being able to create your personality without the confines of family history. You will never be a shadow of someone else's genes - just your own wonderful self.
Follow Louisa Leontiades on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FreeLeontiades