`After 28 years, I immediately felt he belonged'

Family Affair: Carole Thomas was 20 and unmarried when she had a baby in the late Sixties, and she gave it up for adoption. Two years ago, her son John Rowlands, 30, a technician living in Anglesey, arranged to meet her
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The Independent Culture
Carole

ALTHOUGH I was 20 years old and had been involved with a man for quite some time when I became pregnant, all the decision-making about my baby's future was taken from me. This was the Sixties, after all, when unmarried mothers were considered outcasts and when I was still dependent on my unemotional and conservative parents. I was sent well away from the neighbours to live with my godmother and prepare myself for adoption.

John's birth took place at a small maternity hospital where mothers and babies slept side by side. My son, however, was kept in a separate room from me. It was so dreadful, and whenever I could I'd go and sit with him, often for hours at a time. Eventually, a lady from an adoption society came and I had to bath and dress him in preparation for him to be taken away. Although I believed I was doing the best thing for my baby, it was so traumatic that even now I see it as a video scene being replayed rather than it really happening. I remember screaming and crying as he was carried down the stairs and away from me.

For a while, I became rather obsessed with baby boys. I suspect the reason that I got married so soon afterwards was this incredible need to replace my lost baby. But thankfully, when I had my two other sons, I loved them for who they were.

John's birthdays and Mother's Days were the hardest. But I kept my grief hidden from my children. I was terrified of what they might think of me. Then, one day almost two years ago, my dream of being reunited with my child came true and I realised I need not have worried. My sons were very supportive.

Initially, John wrote to my father who wasn't even going to pass the letter on. My sister, however, felt differently and made sure I knew of the situation. After two weeks of written correspondence between John and I, we arranged to meet.

I suggested our first meeting should be brief. The sensible part of me knew we should take things slowly. In addition, I knew I'd love my son but I didn't know whether I'd like him or vice versa. So we decided on a walk along a quiet beach. It felt right immediately. John looks a lot like me which helped and I immediately felt a sense of him belonging. It wasn't an overtly emotional reunion but the underlying feelings for both of us were very powerful.

I guess that's why we didn't continue to take things slowly. We met every weekend and I even moved in with John for a while. In hindsight, I'd say our relationship became slightly obsessive. I had problems with John spending time with others and he had problems with me going to work. It was so hard because we had no guidance about how our relationship "should" be after 28 years of separation. I often felt like "mum" but then again, I hadn't been there as he grew up. At other times, I felt like a "friend" but that was only part of it. And I sometimes even felt like a "lover" because of the emotional intensity.

In May, I got back from a three-month solo trip to Australia. It was a much-needed break for us both. Now, we're trying to have a more relaxed relationship and are slowly working out what our roles are. Sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we have to work with John's fear of feeling like he's on the periphery of his extended family. But I'm so thankful for this second chance to know John.

John

I had to think very carefully about how I would approach my natural grandfather. My researcher hadn't discovered where my mother was living and so it was one of my only ways of reaching her. At first, I kept my identity hidden and made up a story about needing to know something about his family tree. But then I decided to tell the truth. Hopefully, I thought, he will be pleased to hear from me.

It wasn't long before replied and I felt relief and excitement. I wouldn't say I'd always intended to find her. But being adopted had, for as long as I can remember, made me feel incomplete and I'd come to realise that meeting her would be the only way to change that.

I suppose it was the birth of my daughter - four years ago - that made me finally do something about it. As a child, I'd been told being adopted made me "special". But all it really made me feel was inquisitive - a feeling that only grew as I grew. I remember never really wanting to celebrate my birthdays which I later recognised as evidence of that great male trait of running away from emotions rather than confronting them. I was always deeply concerned about hurting my adoptive parents, though, and so I kept putting off any search for my natural family until I suddenly realised that it wasn't only my right to know them. It was also my daughter's.

The first things that struck me when and I had our first contact were how young she was and how similar we looked. Most people take it for granted that they resemble family members, but adoptees grow up not looking like anyone.

Then came our actual reunion. I can still remember sitting in the car waiting for her and feeling more nervous than ever before. Finally, she arrived and it just felt natural. But I did feel sad that she wanted the reunion to be so short. I understood that we'd have a lot of immediate reflecting to do but after waiting a lifetime to meet, I felt anxious about letting her go again.

The time between that meeting and her trip to Australia some months later, is what I always refer to as the first phase of our relationship. It incorporated all the inevitable intensity and "getting to know each other" stage which her trip then put a natural full-stop to.

Now, in the second phase, I think we are able to accept living further away from each other and being apart for longer periods because we know the other person isn't going to disappear again. But there's still a long way to go. I've been very lucky, for instance, that my extended natural family have all been so welcoming and have accepted me. Yet sometimes the irrational side of me feels they're still not completely at ease with me.

Interviews by Kate Hilpern

National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and Parents (NORCAP) 01865 875000

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