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Authors: Marita Conlon-McKenna

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BOOK: Three Women
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‘Erin, I’m not sure what more I can tell you than what you already know,’ said Nina slowly, sitting down and trying not to give in to the rolling wave of despondency she felt coming towards her. ‘Your mother was single. They told us that she was about twenty years of age when you were born. She wasn’t from Dublin; the agency said she was from the country, but they wouldn’t tell us where. She was from a good family, well educated, Catholic. She was a good person by all accounts, and
the
social worker said that she was very torn about her eventual decision to give you up.’

Erin sat hunched at the table, her chin on her hands, intense, listening.

‘There must be something more, something more they told you, Mum. Think back.’

‘I am trying to think back, Erin.’ Nina racked her brain trying to remember. ‘But it’s a long time. Things were different then. There wasn’t the openness there is now and obviously your mother wanted discretion, and the adoption agencies always guaranteed that. We all had to respect what your mother wanted. No contact is what she said, and that’s what the agency told us.’

‘That’s crap!’ exclaimed Erin. ‘I’m a person too and entitled to know who I am and biologically how I got here. I’m fed up with all the bureaucracy and secrecy and claptrap. I know it’s not your and Dad’s fault, Mum, but surely I’m old enough to know who I am and about my biological mother.’

‘Of course,’ said Nina softly. ‘Of course you are entitled. Your dad and I will do nothing to stop you and in fact are a hundred per cent behind you, whatever you want, Erin. I’m sure most young people in your situation want to know more about themselves,’ she continued. ‘It’s only natural.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ said Erin, flinging her arms around her. ‘I knew you’d understand that totally. You are the best mum ever – this is the best family ever! But I still have to know about her, do you understand, Mum?’

‘I understand, love …’

Nina could see the relief in Erin’s eyes that she hadn’t kicked up a fuss or got upset or anything. For years she had been waiting for this to happen, and she thanked heaven that
she
had somehow managed to retain her composure instead of breaking down and begging Erin to forget about it and be happy with the family she had.

‘Mum, I’ve actually set up an appointment with the adoption agency and I am meeting someone there next week.’

‘Well, hopefully they will be able to help you to get the information you need.’

‘Mum, you’ve been great. Really great. Thanks.’

Nina said nothing, busying herself tidying the kitchen and packing the dishwasher, relieved when Erin disappeared off to join Tom and Jack.

Erin was going to find her mother – her real mother. Nina, upset, suspected that their relationship would probably never be the same once Erin and her natural mother were reunited. Where would she and Tom fit in? Just temporary substitute parents? She didn’t think that she could bear the pain of it.

Chapter Eight

ERIN HAD SET
up the appointment to meet marian kelly at five o’clock. It was the adoption agency social worker’s last appointment of the day and Erin had asked Declan if she could leave a bit early. Declan was such a great boss, and always tended to acquiesce with whatever his staff wanted. Whenever the time came to leave De Berg O’Leary Graphics, she knew that she would really miss the pleasant work environment that Declan and Monika had created.

The traffic was awful, but luckily when she arrived Marian was still with a previous client. Erin sat in the antiquated waiting room of the rather ramshackle Georgian building, skimming through ancient
Hello!
and
Homes & Gardens
magazines, trying not to be anxious. She was an adult, sane and normal, who was employed and was a good citizen, and she was entitled to information about her birth and its circumstances. Still, she could feel her stomach tumbling with nerves, which was so stupid. She had done nothing wrong, she repeated to herself over and over again.

‘Nice to meet you,’ said Marian, introducing herself. The social worker was a lot younger and more stylish than Erin had expected. ‘Would you like a tea or coffee?’

‘Coffee would be great, thanks.’

The office itself had been modernized – new desk and chair, all brown leather and cream, a tall vase of purple iris adding a splash of colour.

‘Now, tell me what I can do for you,’ said Marian kindly, sitting across from her.

‘I want to find out about my mother – my birth mother.’

‘Do you want to trace her? Is that it? Do you want to try to meet her?’

‘I’m not really sure at this stage,’ admitted Erin. ‘But I do want to find out more about who I am and about my background. It’s so strange – I know very little about what happened back then, the time I was born, and why my mother made the decision she did.’

‘Do you disapprove of what she did?’

‘I don’t know. As I said, I don’t know her circumstances or what happened to her. They were different times and maybe there was a lot of stigma compared to now. She probably felt that she couldn’t keep me … I don’t know …’

‘Adoption and being adopted raise so many issues, and I understand how difficult it must be for someone who is an adoptee to have so little knowledge of their birth parents, no family tree, no history of their own, as such,’ Marian agreed. ‘But back in the nineteen forties and fifties and early sixties, being an unmarried mother in Ireland and other places was a total social taboo. Mothers were ostracized, often put in mother-and-baby homes, their babies considered illegitimate and treated as if they were second-class citizens. No wonder
the
girls wanted it all kept secret and so many gave their babies up for adoption.’

‘But I was born in the eighties,’ interrupted Erin, ‘not then. Mothers surely could keep their babies if they really wanted to?’

‘So why didn’t your mother keep you? Is that what you’re asking?’

‘Yes,’ said Erin, holding her breath as the question that had squatted like a big black stone somewhere deep inside her was finally revealed.

‘Your mother had very valid reasons for giving you up, Erin, very valid. Things might have become far more liberal and tolerant and more open by then, but girls like your mother who found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy were still scared and alone and vulnerable. Many of them wanted to hide the pregnancy from their families or work colleagues and were faced with severe financial hardship in terms of trying to raise a child on their own. Single parenthood is an enormous challenge to take on and often it was felt it was better for the baby to be adopted by a loving family, a father and mother who really wanted a baby, rather than staying in a situation where often the mother was a young girl with little or no support and couldn’t cope.’

‘So I was one of those? My natural mother, for whatever reason, couldn’t keep me and I ended up being adopted?’

‘Yes,’ said Marian, ‘your mother made that decision. She wanted what was best for you at that time.’

‘It did work out. My parents are great, and they adopted me and my brother, Jack, so it hasn’t been a big deal ever for me about being adopted.’

‘Well that’s good to know, and believe me, most adoptions have worked out.’

‘I really love my mum and dad,’ Erin confided. ‘They are the best in the world and have been so good to me and Jack. We are a very close family.’

‘That’s nice to hear,’ smiled the social worker. ‘Do your parents know that you were coming to meet me?’

‘Of course.’

‘That’s good! So, Erin, tell me how you think I can help you.’

‘I suppose I’m curious about it all – about her and where she’s from, and about what kind of family she came from. Also, I’ve always looked so different from my mum and dad and their families that I kind of wonder, am I like her? Do I look like her or my biological father? I’ve allergies – did I get that from her? Most of the time I don’t think about it, but now I’m getting older I suppose it matters more.’

‘We find most adoptees come to us when they are getting married themselves or having a child, or facing some kind of pivotal choice in their own life.’

‘I just want to know,’ Erin insisted.

‘What information have you already received?’

‘Very little, only what Mum and Dad have told me – but they seem to know scarcely anything.’

‘It was always the policy with adoption to protect the privacy of everyone concerned; that was paramount. The birth mothers wanted it and the families adopting children did too. They didn’t want someone turning up on their doorstep a few years later, destroying their family and demanding the right to get their child back, or wanting to become suddenly involved in their lives. So you can see how delicate it all is.’

‘I understand,’ agreed Erin, ‘I really do, but I want to find out more about my birth mother. I think I am sensible enough
not
to expect too much, but Marian, I do deserve to know at least who I am!’

‘Do you have a birth certificate?’

‘Yes, it’s the copy of the one my parents have, which shows them as my parents and the date I was adopted. I also have my baptismal cert, but to be honest these aren’t much use for me finding out about my mother.’

‘I see.’ Marian looked at the papers. ‘So you want me to help you with the rest?’

‘Yes. You are the professional and my parents both felt I should do this correctly and through the proper channels.’

‘Very wise. So many people rush off and put two and two together and get five – they get it all wrong.’

‘I don’t want that. I’ve waited this long … I can wait a bit more.’

‘That’s good, Erin, because there are no quick answers.’

‘What can you tell me?’ Erin asked, looking at the file sitting on the social worker’s desk.

‘Well, you know that you were born on the tenth of March 1985. You were born in the National Maternity Hospital at five a.m. and weighed seven pounds and seven ounces. By all accounts a perfectly healthy baby girl.’

‘I didn’t even know that.’

‘Your mother was single, and was twenty years old when you were born. She gave a Dublin address where she was staying, but the social worker at the time noted that she was from the country.’

‘Do you know where?’

‘No. We don’t have that information. Probably she didn’t want to divulge that.’

‘Is there anything else?’

‘Her occupation was listed as student, so I presume that she was studying at some college in the city.’

‘What about my father? What happened to him?’

‘There was no name registered – that was almost the norm then. But his occupation was listed as student also.’

‘I see. Is there any other family mentioned?’

‘Not officially, but the social worker in her notes said that her mother was dead and her father was a very strict Catholic and would be unsupportive to her situation.’

‘Do you have her name?’

‘Her name is Kate.’

Erin smiled. Kate. She liked it.

‘Can I get a copy of my proper original birth cert?’

‘Of course. I’ll organize that for you.’

‘Marian, thanks. At least I know more than I did before. My mum and dad just heard that she was temporarily living in Dublin and presumed that she was from the country and didn’t want anyone to guess that she was having me.’

‘Every bit of information we get about ourselves in these situations is precious.’

‘If I did want to make contact with her – write to her or even try to meet her – how would I go about it?’ asked Erin, suddenly curious about this Kate, who had only been a student when she was born.

‘The best way is to go through us. We often suggest that you write a letter to your birth mother and then see if she will write to you before we progress things any further.’

‘But I thought you didn’t know where she is?’

‘We have ways of finding people and making contact with them. We have lots of experience in bringing birth mothers and their grown-up children together, arranging for them to
contact
each other and often even to meet up and see each other.’

‘Does it work?’

‘It can be a bit difficult, but often it does. Seeing people reunited after such a long time can be very rewarding.’

‘So what do I do?’

‘If you want us to pass on a letter from you to your mother Kate, we will do that. However, we suggest no very personal details that would identify you, such as full names or addresses or telephone numbers, be used in the letter.’

‘Why?’

‘That’s the way we work. We try to protect our client’s privacy and yours. Many of the mothers have never told their husbands and families that they had a child, so discretion is needed.’

‘I understand,’ sighed Erin. ‘Being adopted is such a major thing. Most people don’t talk about it. A lot of my friends still don’t even realize that I’m adopted.’

‘That’s what I mean, Erin – it is such a deeply personal issue for those affected by it.’

‘Do girls still give up their babies?’

‘Fortunately very few. It’s such a hard thing for any woman to do. Single parenthood is a lot easier now. Most mothers have great support from family and friends and the state,’ explained Marian.

‘Well that’s good!’ smiled Erin, thinking of Nikki and her baby.

‘The majority of the adoptions we handle now are overseas adoptions, as so few babies are given up by their birth mothers here in Ireland,’ added Marian.

‘If I write the letter …’

‘You just send it in to me and I will do my best to get it to your mother. However, I cannot guarantee that she will respond to it – you do understand that?’

‘Yes, but still it’s worth trying.’

‘I always advise take your time and don’t expect too much.’ The social worker passed her a card from the drawer. ‘Here are my contact details if you need them.’

‘Marian, thank you. You’ve given me so much of your time already and I really appreciate it.’

‘All part of the job.’

‘You know, I was dreading coming here today,’ Erin admitted. ‘I phoned a few times before and called into the office once a few years ago, and the person I dealt with made me feel like I had done something wrong or committed a crime!’

BOOK: Three Women
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