Any mother who gives her baby away for adoption is bound to rouse deep feelings of, at best, incredulity in the hearts of most maternal women, however understanding they try to be. It just seems such a terribly unnatural thing to do.

Ella, who was adopted at birth, didn't condemn her mother when she looked her up out of curiosity. But Ella got cold feet when the woman kept calling her, longing for her to be part of her life and wanting her to call her mummy - when Ella had a perfectly good mother of her own.

It was hard not to feel, initially, that all this 'call me mummy' stuff was a bit late now. But Ella's dilemma was how to react to her birth mother's emotional response. Should she be straight and tell her to back off? Or should she pretend to be friendlier than she felt?

Let her down gently, but decisively, suggested Anne Crocker of Bath. She says Ella should make it absolutely plain that her birth mother could never be a close part of her life.

'With your life-long family's co- operation, invite your birth mother to a party to meet them so she can see where your love and loyalty (and time) lie. By their normally affectionate behaviour, they can demonstrate that your place is in the bosom of this family circle. If she doesn't cotton on to the evidence, then at least you will have softened the ground for being straight with her in the near future.'

The Rev Noreen Russell of Stoke-on-Trent wrote from the point of view of an adoptive mother of a boy and a girl in their twenties. 'Both adoptions have turned out very happily and we are grateful to the birth mothers who made this possible,' she wrote. But she, too, felt that Ella should feel under no obligation to take the relationship further, since adoption constitutes 'total and legal separation of mother and baby'.

Ella should explain that it was natural curiosity which led her to look for her birth mother, not a deep emotional longing. And she should also make clear 'the reality of the situation - the daughter is now an adult and no longer the baby for whom the mother may still be grieving. And she should emphasise the rightness of the original decision to surrender the baby for adoption. It has obviously worked out well. For this, the birth mother can be thankful.'

Dot of Egham gave up her son, Tim, for adoption 20 years ago. She was delighted when he got in touch. 'He has set a slow pace which I have found very difficult. There are no precedents for situations like this - it's the most overwhelming, euphoric kind of joy and I can well understand Ella's mother ringing her every day.

'But the guiding principle of adoption must be the child's best interest, and that remains true even when the child has become an adult and taken the initiative in finding the birth mother. I never expected to know Tim, of course, though I always hoped to. Now that I do it's the most wonderful blessing and extra joy in my life. I stress extra. I know he was perfectly happy before he met me and I try hard to hold on to that and not impose.'

But perhaps, said Ginny of Clapham, there should be more sympathy for the birth mother. She explained that it is hard for anyone under 40 to understand how different things were for unmarried mothers before the late Sixties. 'How can we convey the social, emotional and financial pressures we experienced to those who do not remember those times?

'Ella should examine her motives for contacting her real mother in the first place. It is understandable that she should want to satisfy her own curiosity, but did she imagine that her mother would stand immobile, like a waxwork, while her long-lost daughter walked around her asking personal questions about a painful period in her past, evoking old emotions? Did she then envisage her mother sweetly waving goodbye, while Ella, curiosity satisfied, walked out of her life once more? All relationships are reciprocal.

'Ella sounds like a spoiled brat. The irony is that we were told that we should give our babies up for adoption because others would bring them up better than we could ever hope to. 'Baby must come first,' they chanted. We went straight back to work, told nobody; no counselling in those days.

'Anyway, what, exactly, does Ella feel her mother has to 'make up' for? Having sex before marriage? Does she feel that her mother should make up for relinquishing her? In that case, she is applying today's values to yesterday's situation. Her mother had little choice, and she honestly believed that she was doing the best for her baby, regardless of any emotional damage to herself.'

If only, said Norcap, which helps families with all kinds of problems about adoption, Ella had approached a counsellor first, one trained in spotting the emotional pitfalls that could lie ahead, from rejection to the overwhelming emotional response she's facing now. 'The birth mum, particularly, is unlikely to have received any support or counselling pre- contact and may need help with her feelings about the whole adoption experience and to recognise what is and isn't possible in a relationship with a daughter relinquished for adoption.'

However, it is not too late to get in touch with Norcap. The organisation can be contacted on 0865 750554.

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