Last night I watched Jeanette Winterson talking with Alan Yentob on BBC1 about her growing up with the woman who adopted her – and touching on her search for her biological mother. We have met a couple of times and talked at length about the strange multi-mothered world of the adopted. I never tire of sharing the strange stories with others who have been through the same process – everyone is different, yet everyone has the same hole – even if that hole is hidden away.
Ten years ago I was getting ready to go and visit my biological mother for the first time since I was 10 days old. After lunch today I am heading up to celebrate her 70th birthday.
That first visit had me in a state of extended anxiety. Concentration, work, eating, sitting still – all were pretty much impossible. And then, getting to Oxford railway station and finding the train had been cancelled – I was suffering serious internal gymnastics. Part of the problem was that I had decided that I did not want to speak to my birth mother over the phone before I met her. I am not sure why, it just felt important to have our first conversation unmediated by technology. But I had to call her – to let her know I was going to be late. I tried hard not to read anything into the call – to have it as much like the letters we had been exchanging.
The first meeting was extraordinary. I have talked to many other adopted children who have met a biological parent and the stories are all so enormously different. I was lucky. I met her, small and bird like, at the station and we hugged. We sat in the back of the car as her husband drove us to their home, and we did not stop touching.
I had made the effort to go that day as it was the only opportunity before her 60th birthday, and I had found out from the social working mediating our case that she had expressed a desire to meet her only child before she turned sixty.
We spent most of the day sitting on the sofa, chatting, holding hands, looking into each others eyes – like new lovers. How strange to be falling for someone in a totally new way? The emotions were understandably rich and close to the surface.
She had worked as a primary school teacher – travelled with her barrister husband to the Far East – and was now retired. She plays the cello and loves nature, nurturing her garden with an eye for form leavened with a desire for wildlife. I laugh like her father but have a sense of humour closer to her mother. Surprisingly she is not naturally tactile – my need for contact is another hangover from her beloved father.
It had to end and she drove me to the station for the last train to Oxford.
Blessings to Branson … it was cancelled! There was no way I could have organised my first visit as a ‘sleep-over’ … too much to expect. But I was stuck – so was able to spend the night and be there for her 60th birthday.
The next morning, as I travelled south again, I was sat in a crowded carriage, at a table. Three other people shared that table. I was listening to music – and then along came a song by my dear friends Seize the Day – the song, in fact is called Seize the Day. And, suddenly, unexpectedly, I burst into tears. My body was trembling with the massive build up of emotion, hot, salty water poured down my face – yet I was deliriously happy. And not one person near me even acknowledged me – as I calmed down I was shocked. How could they not have asked how I was? If they had I could have shared with them such a beautiful story.
We talk, the ‘old biological’ and I, regularly. I see her whenever I can. She is a wonderful and kind person who had to make such a massive choice at an early age. She has worried that I might resent the choices she made, but no, she did the best she could for me. And now I have her as a friend, and as a clear biological link to my past. She does not replace my family – my mother is still my mother – she mothered me! But the ‘OB’ is something else – almost like an older sister; a dear and loving friend.