Share on Facebook  |  More Articles

Published Tuesday June 30th, 2009 at 10:04am

Original Article by Lesley Garner

Lesley Garner advises Lifeclass reader Martha on whether or not she should get in touch with her birth family.

Dear Lesley,

I am asking for your help because I don't know who else I can go to for sensible, impartial advice. My mother gave birth to me when she was a young, single girl in the 1960s. Things were different then, so she put me up for adoption. My adoptive parents, my mum and dad, are the best parents ever. But, despite the fact that I am very much loved and wanted, I feel a sense of other-worldliness and have struggled constantly with the feeling that I don't fit in anywhere.

My brother was also adopted. He confessed to me years ago that he had tried to find his birth mother, and that he felt rejected by her. I have never felt like that because I think my natural mother gave me the best chance she could. But I have always felt a sense of sadness that I didn't have any blood relatives – though I am now married and have a daughter of my own. I feel that my mum has different feelings for her blood relatives than she has for her adopted children, although she has never said as much. She is quite a hard person, and emotionally quite unlike me.

I have tried to track down my birth mother, and I am as sure as I can be that the woman I have found is the right person. I once drove past her house and, to be honest, I was relieved that her life wasn't my own. She is married now and has other children. I work in the town where she lives and, in the course of my work, I have come across some of the people I believe to be my half-siblings. Each time I have, it has left me in turmoil.

I feel confused and uncertain. I know that getting in touch would open Pandora's box. I can't tell my mum and dad that I have found my birth mother, because my dad, in particular, would be heartbroken. But my birth mother is getting older, and I don't want to regret not having contacted her while I was still able to. I can't talk to my husband about this because he doesn't have a good relationship with his own family and can't understand why I would want to pursue it.

I worry about almost everything. I don't know how much of that has to do with these unsettling feelings I've had for such a long time. Please help.


Dear Martha,

Whatever happens, you do need to talk to someone. The feeling I get from your letter is of someone who is very anxious and isolated; who is in a semi-permanent state of turmoil and has nobody to lend a sympathetic ear. You can't talk to your own parents. You can't talk to your brother. You can't talk to your husband. You seem to be surrounded by people with whom you can't discuss your innermost feelings. No wonder you feel worried and depressed.

So before I look any deeper at your situation and its possible outcomes, I want to suggest that you contact the National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and Parents (NORCAP), which offers counselling to people in your situation – adults affected by adoption. I think you would find this very helpful.

The organisation also offers a service of mediation, which may interest you. This means that an intermediary can contact your birth mother on your behalf and mediate contact between you, which could be very helpful in dealing with the fears and difficult feelings on both sides, while giving you the reassurance of having someone on your side. You can contact NORCAP online at; phone 01865 875000; or write to 112 Church Road, Wheatley, Oxon, OX8 1LU.

I want to tell you that the feelings and fantasies you have are very normal. Of course you don't want to upset the mother and father who brought you up. Nevertheless, anyone who adopts children must accept that, sooner or later, a profound biological curiosity is going to drive most adoptees to want to know something about their genetic origins, particularly once they have children of their own. Genetic parentage matters profoundly. Studies of separated twins have shown, over the years, that they can share tastes and character traits that owe nothing to their very different social backgrounds and upbringing. No wonder you look so closely at the people who might be your half-siblings. You are looking for yourself.

I think one reason you are increasingly drawn to contact your birth family may be that your adopted family is not quite as wonderful as you loyally claim it to be. Your adopted brother is uncommunicative and disgruntled. You describe your mother as "hard", which sounds quite bruising to me, and you obviously feel slighted by her to some degree. For all your gratitude and loyalty, something in you feels at sea, displaced. You are obviously intelligent enough and observant enough of your own thought processes to see that you may be being driven by an unrealistic longing for wholeness.

There are many possible outcomes if you do contact your birth mother. The first, which you don't mention, is that she may want nothing to do with you. The beginning may be the end. This issue has been aired in this column before. In that case, the discussion was opened by a woman who was delighted to find that her birth mother had other daughters, and that she now had sisters. But her mother wanted nothing to do with any of it. One of the reader responses to the problem came from a woman who had herself given a child over to adoption and dreaded any contact. It was a part of her life that had been painful and was over. Are you prepared for what might be a second rejection?

From the little you say, it sounds as though your birth family is not particularly stable. It is possible that, after an initial contact, your relationship with them could stall and fade. Your curiosity would be satisfied but not your longing for completion.

Ultimately the question of who we are and where we stand in the world is something we have to resolve for ourselves. Maybe it's easier to know the answers if we are the fourteenth Duke of Omnium with a family tree for all to marvel at. But the emotional history of aristocratic families suggests that this isn't all it takes for emotional stability. Our sense of self can be rocked by having the pieces of the jigsaw scattered, but our energies can be needlessly dissipated by trying to make sense of things we can't control. At the heart of your identity now is your own family, in particular your daughter, who has a mother to love her and help her make sense of her life.

These are big issues to deal with, especially without the support of any one on your side, which is why I urge you to contact people who understand the issues and can unravel them with you. I think you need help in comprehending what motivates you, what is missing in your life, and in developing other ways, apart from a relationship with a lost family, in which you might build up your core identity and your self esteem