Hearing the raw emotion in David's voice as he told us about his reunion with his birth family over 45 years after his adoption has probably been the single most worthwhile moment of the three days of adoption prep I have now completed.
David's story was probably very similar to that of many others who were adopted back in the 50s when the whole subject carried much more of a stigma than it does today. Told that he had been taken in from a rescue centre as a baby, he had never had much curiosity about his birth family until his adoptive mother admitted out of the blue that she had always lied about his origins, that he had never been in a rescue centre and in fact he had been three years old when adopted.
By this time, he was married with three children of his own. His relationships with his adoptive family (parents and two siblings who were also adopted) had become gradually more strained over the years, especially after the death of his adoptive father, and now a family which had always 'functioned like five individuals' had virtually broken down completely. This remark of his adoptive mother's was enough to send him off on an epic and sometimes madly-conincidental journey towards finding and eventually meeting his birth family.
I have to admit that I really do have a not-so-secret dread of the day that OB tells me he wants to meet his birth mother. I am very close to completely resenting the letterbox contact that I will be required to do because there's a big part of me that just wants to take him away from his past and never mention it again. After all, he will be my son and I will be his Mummy and I don't want anything in the way of that!
Intellectually I know that it's important for people to understand where they have come from. It helps them to know who they are, to establish their identity. But this was brought home to me in a much more meaningful way by David's honest re-telling of his story.
By the time he managed to trace his family, his parents were already dead, but he did discover that he had been the second youngest of seven children of whom five, including himself, were still living. He had been the only one that had been adopted, although several of the children had been in care at some point as their mother had tried and failed for years to improve her circumstances to the point that she could actually have all of her children with her in a decent home with enough money to feed them. By the time this actually happened, it was too late for David who, purely because of poverty, had been taken into care and then adopted.
His story was by turns surprising, shocking, amusing and heart-breaking. Even though he had had no recollection of any family other than his adoptive family, he was amazed to discover that his eldest sisters were called Helen and Mary - his own daughter had been named Helen Marie. As he said, it's impossible to know what's buried in a young child's subconscious mind.
What struck me most, though was the effect that his adoption had had on his siblings. One of his sisters spoke of her vivid memory of the day when she was told that David was never coming back - she was only 4 years old at the time. Another had carried a burden of guilt and grief for years as the last time she had seen David she had been angry with him, not knowing that next time she went to visit him at his foster carers' home, he would be gone forever.
Even though David never considered finding his birth family until he was well into his 40s, it is clear that doing so has radically transformed his life for the better. He has found himself welcomed into a large, loving family where he feels as though he really belongs, despite having grown up in very different circumstances. Somehow, he is so much more complete as a person because of the journey that he took.
I know that not every effort to trace a birth family will have such a fairy-tale ending, but I hope that if that day comes when OB decides to make the same journey I will be strong enough to walk with him.