On Wednesday Jenny Ghamini celebrates her birthday - except she doesn't know how old she is. Her name and date of birth were picked at random by a social worker. Now, with only an old press cutting to help her, Jenny is out to discover who she is
EVERY day I find myself desperately trying to remember more about my past; I go over the details time and again searching for clues. I have no idea who my parents are, when my birthday is or even if my real name is Jenny. Over the years, social services have given me three different dates for my birthday - 5 March is the final one that I've agreed on. When I was five years old, they told me I was really only four - I think I'm about 32, but can't know for sure.

There are no papers to say I've officially been born. I've got a sister who may be a twin - again we can't be definite about her age. Until I discover more, I feel like I don't exist, that I was dumped on this earth and then left. It's like landing here from outer space; I have no idea who I really am.

My very first memories are from when I was about three years old. I can remember being kept in a cold, dark attic room at the top of a house with my sister. She used to pick up mouldy bread and feed it to me. I have no memories of playing or even getting out of my pram - I do know that I couldn't walk or talk at that age.

I certainly don't remember my foster mother - it seemed like my sister and I were alone all the time. I found out later she knew my real mother and agreed to look after us for pounds 3 a week. At that point, my real mother lived in London and called herself Mrs Jones. The story was that she was going to Nigeria and would come back to collect us later. Then the payments stopped and that's when our foster mother started taking it out on us; not looking after us properly.

Around this time, my sister and I were caught in a house fire. I can still picture the flames at the attic window. I remember crying my eyes out and the fireman carrying us out of the window. I fell unconscious because of the smoke and was taken to hospital. I've got a newspaper cutting of the story with a photo of me and my sister - it's the biggest key to my identity.

After the fire, I never saw my foster mother again - I think she was sent to court for keeping us illegally, but I don't know what the outcome was. I've never spoken to her since - she died about 16 years ago. I visited the house about a year ago and looked up at the top; there was the attic- room window as I remembered, proof that I hadn't imagined the whole thing after all.

After the fire, my sister and I went to live with foster parents in Easington who are both now dead. It was a more stable, secure time and I stayed with them until I was 22. I worked in several jobs but now I'm a live- in carer for the elderly. I'd like to help children, though - perhaps in a counselling role.

All the time I was fostered, I knew my parents must be alive somewhere, and I somehow felt there was a chance they might turn up to collect me. In a way it would have been a relief to me if I had been adopted. I could have accepted it more - I think I'd have felt more of a person.

At school, I always felt aware that I was different to other people. I was teased because of my colour and the fact I had no real parents. I often used to fantasise about what they looked like - I still do. Even now, when I'm travelling, I look at dark people and think, "Is that what my mother and father look like?"

I never told my foster parents how I really felt. I wanted to speak to someone but felt I couldn't. The only person I could ever really confide in was my sister. But now she's got her own family and doesn't want to take part in finding out any more about our parents.

Because I've got so few clues to go on, I've been back to a social worker who was on the case at the time and I've also visited social services. No-one seems that interested in helping, though. I do feel they have let me down - these people must know how important it is for foster children to find out details from their past. I think that my case could have been handled better. It's as if they've given up on me - already decided there's no chance of finding out about my family. Now my search seems to have came to a standstill because of this lack of information.

I do get really depressed about my experience. It's always on my mind. The same questions crop up over and over again: What's my real name? What do my parents look like? Where was I born? I so much want my parents to be alive, to be able to meet them and get some answers.

The worst aspect of not knowing is the sense of anger. I feel I don't deserve my position. I sometimes think my mother should have come to look for us. I know she gave us up for a reason, but why hasn't she come to explain what happened, rather than just cutting us off completely? It sounds weird but I do still love her - it's as if I almost know her. Yet at the same time I know she can't be interested in us. I also feel that somewhere along the line I must have done something wrong for her to reject me. I feel I've been punished even though I don't deserve it.

Lacking an identity takes away your confidence. I feel as though I am not a real person. As the years pass I get more depressed about it - at times I've felt suicidal - and I feel I cannot live my life until I know more.

It's still very isolating to look at other families and the close bonds that they share - I just don't know what that feels like. My husband is the first real sense of family I have had - I met him five years ago and that's made all the difference. I feel it's important to know who I am so that when I have children I can at least tell them something about my past.

It would be nice to start a family, but I want more answers to tell them. I would like to be able to say something positive rather than admitting that I was never really wanted. All I want is what everybody else has got - some sort of family history.

If you have any information that might help Jenny in her search for her mother, please write to her c/o Real Life, IoS, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.

Interview by Emma Cook

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