Given up for adoption by her unmarried mother in 1957, MARY was determined to try and seek our her birth parents…
I was born in a nursing home in County Longford in May 1957. My mother was only nineteen and unmarried at the time, which was unacceptable in those days. She had hidden her pregnancy for months, and after she had given birth she only got to see me for an hour before I was taken away. She left the nursing home, and in her mind she would never see me again. She felt ashamed and completely alone. She was expected to keep her secret and forget her little baby girl ever existed.
I was sent to live in an orphanage for five months before I was adopted. I was twelve-years-old when my dad brought me back to the orphanage and said: “You came from here”. Not understanding what he meant, I asked a priest during a retreat at school. The priest used the word ‘adoption’ and told me I must have been adopted. He was very kind and said: “Don’t worry that your mum and dad are not your birth parents. All children were God’s children and no child is any different to anyone else”. I felt better after leaving him and never forgot his words.
I have tried not to let my adoption define me or make me feel I was any different to anyone else. Most adopted people wonder what their birth parents are like. You imagine and dream about them and wonder if you have ever met them. You also wonder why they gave you up and whether they were in love. Darker thoughts crossed my mind too…like was my mother raped? Did they ever think of you like you think of them? I loved horses, so I wondered whether I got my love of horses from them. The questions are endless and each year the list of questions gets longer but there are no answers. There is also the added worry of possible health issues that may exist in your biological family.
During those years adoption was surrounded by secrecy and silence. Some people called me ‘illegitimate’, which was hurtful. My adopted parents never spoke about it in order to protect me and to make me feel that I was their daughter.
When I was 18-years-old, however, I called the orphanage to find out if my mother had ever made contact. There was no information available, but my adopted parents were upset that I had tried to find my birth parents. I was caught between upsetting my parents that had given me a home, and my need to find out about myself and who I was. I just wanted answers, but it wasn’t until 2007 that people were allowed to search for their parents under the supervision of the Health Board.
Then, when I was 56, my dad who I was taking care of during the early stages of Alzheimer’s brought in a case and said “This is for you, mind it”. Inside, there were letters from the orphanage along with my birth certificate. I knew he was really saying: “Go and find out about your parents, I know you need to”.
I contacted the Health Board and within a year they found my birth mother, but also discovered that my biological father had died many years before. My mother was in America. There was a lot of red tape. I had to write a letter and send photos; I didn’t get to talk to her properly for almost six months. A phone call had been arranged and ironically it took place two days after my adopted father’s funeral on Good Friday.
That first call was surreal; I was both excited and sad – it was an emotional rollercoaster. She told me that my biological father was dead, just two days after I had buried my dad. I had been brought up by my foster parents in Dublin but went to live in Longford after I got married. I couldn’t believe it then when she told me that both my birth parents were from Co. Longford.
My birth mother was sent to America a few months after I was born so she too lost her parents and her brother, which was upsetting for her. Her dad was never told about my existence and neither was my birth father. My mother also lost a child after a very long illness; her life had not been easy. However, she never forgot about me and was so happy I had found her. Leaving me in that orphanage had in many ways defined her life. I don’t think you can ever forget your child.
After a few months she invited me to America. I brought my three daughters with me. Before I left, my counsellor was concerned because it wasn’t normal procedure for your first meeting; usually you would meet for just an hour initially. Travelling to America and staying in her house for ten days was unusual, to say the least.
My counsellor asked me what would happen if my mother wasn’t there to meet me at the airport. She also told me it would be hard to leave her, but I just had to go. I had only been on a plane once before, when travelling to England, but now I had to go across the Atlantic Ocean, hoping that my mother would be at the airport to meet me and that we’d all get along.
I arrived in America and was preparing myself to meet her when suddenly there she was! It was amazing how much like my eldest daughter she was. It took her a few days to get over the shock of seeing me but we got on so well; we may have been strangers, but it felt like we had known each other forever.
It was hard for her to believe that I was the baby she had left all those years ago and that she had a family she had never known. While she met some of her grandchildren during the trip, there was another grandson back in Ireland who had two children – she was a great-grandmother!
She kept saying how sorry she was for leaving me and we cried a lot. She had so much guilt, but for me, it was just so great to have found her. I understood her pain; we were so alike in the way we thought. I had never quite understood genetics before that day. I had never had anyone to compare myself to. She was my mother and it was like I belonged for the first time in my life.
My children are the most important people in my life so when I say that I could hardly say goodbye to my mother at the airport, it should give an indication as to the depth of emotion I felt.
When I was born, my mother had asked if I could be called Grainne, which never happened. It was sad because she remembered her daughter ‘Grainne’ for all those years but now she had found Mary. When she called me Mary you could see her struggling, it was like I was not the child she remembered. Four years have passed since that first meeting and it’s only recently that she has become more comfortable calling me Mary. A funny thing: She told us that she used to sing a song for years with the words ‘Down the road I look and there runs Mary’ – the power of the unconscious mind! Because of the distance we can never have the relationship I would love, but it’s great to have her in my life. We talk every day and I visit her often.
Adoption can be difficult for everyone involved. My mother is thankful that I don’t blame her for leaving me all those years ago. Due to the revelations in this country in recent years, I understand that it was Irish society that allowed this to happen and that pregnant girls like my mother were just victims.
I have told her that she gave me life and I have given life to four beautiful children and three grandchildren. If it wasn’t for her we would not exist and now she had a bigger family to love and be loved by.
My mother has shed many tears and had kept her secret for over 30 years. She wasn’t allowed talk about me to anyone. It’s so special that she got to meet me and that we became a family again. It’s the best feeling in the world and the sense of belonging is so important for all of us. don’t think you can ever forget your child.