The Black Adoption Project – creating better futures for Black adopted children in London

Orla’s story

“I have no childhood memories of my birth mother. I know that she couldn’t take care of us and left us with friends a lot. We were in and out of care. She couldn’t take care of herself. She didn’t have an easy life herself. My birth father was not significantly in Mum’s life, I understand now that he was around for a while, it seems that she was his ‘bit on the side’ and that he had a more solid relationship somewhere else. My birth mum was white Scottish and my birth father was from Monserrat.

At the age of 2 years; in the mid 1970s I was adopted along with my brother Lee who was then 5 years old, by a white British couple. They moved to South East London in order to give us the best possible upbringing in a multi-cultural neighbourhood.

My entire family are white and they put up with a lot of discrimination. I didn’t notice, when I was young. I knew we were different, but we were loved. When I started school I became more aware of our differences. My brother is darker skinned than me, and in the whole of our primary school there was us and one other mixed girl. There was not many mixed relationships back then.

My Mum and Dad were both nurses and they were ahead of their times in so many ways. My husband believes they are the nicest people on the planet, they are non-judgemental, open and the most accepting people I could ever wish for.”

Orla’s older brother has a different father and had more memories of their birth mother. These are not good memories of her or her relationships. He remembers the disruption, neglect, abuse from her male friends – physical abuse. He remembers it being a noisy unsettled environment and trying to protect his mother from the men in her life.

“I always knew I was adopted; my parents were open to questions, we celebrated our adoption day every year. I would cringe, but my brother loved it. They were able to share with us the information that they knew of. I always remember around my birthday or on cold days, I would get upset. My Mum would ask what was wrong and I would explain that I was thinking of my birth Mum and wondering if she was warm. Subconsciously my birthdays were always a bit weird like that.

I always knew that one day I would find my parents. It was no secret; I wanted to see what they looked like, whom I looked like? My parents always said that when the time was right that they would support us through that process. They also said that if we did not want to tell them anything then that was ok too, and that they would support us whatever we wanted to do and however we wanted to do it. Mum and Dad made me realise that they did not feel I was rejecting them they would say ‘we understand you want to find that missing part’.”

At the age of 18 my Mum gave me an exercise book which was a letter from my birth mother. It had been written many years previously in a prison exercise book. It detailed her life. How she was left age 3 days old in a fairground, was brought up by her paternal ageing grandparents, went off the rails, had a breakdown, moved around and met my father. She said she would always love us but knew she couldn’t take care of us and gave the name of an adoption agency and a social worker that would have her contact details if we wanted to find her. She included a photograph of herself.”

When Orla was 26 and a mother herself with a son and daughter, she tried to access her birth records, after some time the records were found. “I went to their offices on my own, I was handed a pile of records, and I took them home. I sat and read, and cried”.

Orla went through all the listed previous addresses in the file and wrote to each one asking if they had any information or a forwarding address. After a couple of days Orla was contacted with an address in Clapham, just a few blocks away from her in-laws while Orla was living less than ten miles away.

“I did a drive by – I wanted an idea about her life circumstances, it was a block of low rise flats. I knew I didn’t want to just burst in and interrupt her life, so I decided to seek guidance about the best way to make an introduction. Orla told her Mum, Dad and brother. Then my adoption agency linked me with a person who wrote a letter to her. We left it for a couple of weeks, then sent another letter which must have arrived around Mother’s Day.

My birth mum rang the adoption agency the next day, she was tearful, and the social worked explained to me that she had been waiting for this and that she wanted to meet me and that she did want to have contact. She met with the SW first who then arranged for us to meet at their offices.

As soon as I saw her, I thought “I don’t look like you”. She was very very thin possibly a size 4 and missing a front tooth, we believe that she was possibly still using heroin. What was surprising was she still had a very strong Scottish accent.”

“We exchanged numbers but I never gave her my home telephone number or my home address, I didn’t want her turning up on my doorstep. I didn’t believe she had the right to meet my children. My parents were more compassionate than I was, and they understood, and felt sorry for her. She died 10 years after our first contact, age 59. She never met my children, or my husband, she did meet with my brother and they had a better relationship then she and I ever had.”

The experience made me even more grateful to my Mum and Dad. My birth Mum was always a stranger to me. I understood that parenting was hard, but I also understood that my children were the most important thing in my life. And In hindsight I think I was punishing her for failing as a parent towards my brother and I.

I’m very glad I went through my adoption agency, to help arrange the contact – that was a really good move and I would recommend it to anyone trying to trace or meet up with their birth family, just because you have no idea what you could be interrupting and what your timing might be like.

I recently started accessing adoption support, through my desire to help transracial adoption families and now this is helping me to manage my feelings and emotions towards my birth family.

I think it’s an incredibly tough journey and that it is important that you don’t do it on your own and that your family know what you are doing, so that they can look out for you. I don’t think it’s wise or clever to go looking for a ‘new’ family. Regardless of what your adopted family is like. I understand that there is a gap, and a need to find the missing part, but don’t assume it is the ‘good part’ that is missing.

Next: PAC-UK launch ‘BIG CONSULT 2022’ surveys for adopted people and birth families

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