Personal Column: She gave me my face and a name, but the mother I went to find was a stranger

Hugh Maynard, 31, was abandoned by his mum when he was weeks old. Now after a lifetime wondering 'who am I?', he finally has some answers
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The Independent Online

Whenever you wash your face, you look at your features in the mirror and wonder where they all come from. Those are the questions I ask myself all the time. My eyes, my skin, my nose, my hairline, all these distinguishing things that other people have in common with their parents, I don't have in common with anyone. And it's not just what you see; it's what you're feeling as well - your personality. The anger inside me - where does that come from? The love in my heart - where does that come from? I don't have answers for those important questions that most people take for granted.

I was probably a couple of months old when social services found me abandoned in my mother's flat in Birmingham. I don't even know what area it was in. My history is such a black hole that not even social services have proper documentation about what happened to me. My parents had come over from Jamaica; my mother was soliciting herself and my father acting as her pimp. She had already been arrested several times, so when the neighbours heard crying and noises coming from the flat they called the authorities and I was taken into care.

In the 1980s, the local authorities used to advertise children for adoption in the newspaper. If they were unsuccessful they would change your name. If you're selling a car in Auto Trader and it has been in there for five weeks, potential buyers probably assume there is something wrong with it, so they change your description slightly to make you more desirable. I wasn't adopted until I was eight, so they changed my name all the time, but my name, Hugh Maynard Jr, was the only thing my parents gave me and that was something I wanted to keep; it was my rock.

I had been through three children's homes by the ages of eight, which is a lonely experience anyway, but knowing that I had been abandoned made me feel as though my life came lower down the pecking order than everyone else's. I often asked the people at the home, where's my mum? And, where's my father? I felt distraught and jealous when other children's parents came to visit them, so, on Sundays, I stayed away from the living room, where the other families were. I withdrew into myself; I'd deal with my problems on my own because that was all I had.

I knew that I was Afro-Caribbean, which was like a bit of sunshine in my life - that tropical feeling that I could belong to something. You learn your culture and your history through your parents, but I had none of that, so when I went to the library and I saw the Caribbean or Jamaica in books - that was my little bit of association with my heritage. We had other black people in the home, Asian children and white children but I never saw black grown-ups around so when I saw Whoopi Goldberg on TV I used to imagine that she was my mum.

At the age of eight I was adopted by a family in Devon, who gave me unconditional love. It didn't matter how much I played up, they were still going to love me and I'd never been told that before, so that was a real turning point in my life. But it wasn't all happy endings - I was still misbehaving and wanted to be sent back to the home because although it was an environment where I was mistreated it was also an environment that I was used to.

In the children's home I was subjected to physical abuse, mental abuse, I was abused sexually, but in my eyes it was safe - it was familiar even when it was dangerous for me. Life was very regimented; you get up at a certain time; we all made our own beds, we cleaned, we washed, everything was done by the clock and then when I moved into a family situation there was no control. But after going back into care a couple of times, it eventually worked out and now I have a very close relationship with my adopted family.

Up to the ages of 18 or 19, I always thought the good side of me was my mother and the bad side - the aggression and negativity - was my father. I wanted to do well so that when my mother saw me again she could see that I'd been good and that I'd achieved something.

I was open-minded about her because I didn't know what the circumstances were that led to her abandoning me. I never once thought that she was a malicious person. I believed there was a reason for what she did. I imagined that when I met her there might be tears, joy, elation. Five years ago we did meet. I received a phone call that she had got in touch with social services but the reality was a complete contrast to what I had imagined.

We pulled up outside her house on a council estate in Wolverhampton. My adopted mum and dad came with me for moral support and when my mum opened the door it was like seeing myself in the mirror again, when I was in the children's home. The big eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the skin, the shapes, the tones all those nuances she had on her face were mine, so I knew it wasn't a hoax. Maybe it was only a few seconds, but it seemed like a good few minutes, I stood there staring at her and she was staring at me.

The identification was purely physical. She was just a big black Jamaican woman who grabbed me and hugged me and all I wanted to do was look at her face. I didn't want to hold her; I just wanted to see, to look for the longest time possible. I was hugging this lady that was my mum, but my real mum was standing behind me with my dad. I didn't have any emotion and I was really conscious of that. Why wasn't I crying or why wasn't I elated? I came from this lady but all I felt was numb.

She got a photo album out and started showing me photos of the rest of the family; my brother, my sister, my nan, and kept asking me did I remember this and did I remember that? But I wasn't even there - I'm not in any of the family archives or photographs. When I found out how large the family was it made me a bit bitter, because I thought, if the family was that large, why the hell was I abandoned? I didn't demand answers immediately and I didn't even push her about what happened because I didn't want to lose touch again.

I still love and respect my birth mother and have seen her a couple of times since then, but these people aren't even friends to me really. I'm not angry with her but I'm not saying I feel sorry for her either. I don't think it's possible to get over that kind of abandonment. I can forgive, but I can't ever forget. I've always told myself that when the time comes I am going to be the best father in the world. I think of myself as a protector: I always look after other people before I look after myself. It's what I'm good at. My goal in life is to have my own family and to give my kids a better life than I was given, so being abandoned has been a real driving force in my life.

I'm an actor now and I often wonder about whether what happened to me has made me what I am today. Do I still want to be liked, to be loved and applauded? As a child I would put on my sweet little face and use my body language to gain things or to get attention. I learned that acting is a lifestyle; it's survival. I am very grateful for what I have. I have two arms and two legs and they work. I've got nothing to complain about. I'm all right.

Hugh Maynard was speaking to Sarah Harris. Kate Adie presents 'Found', about abandoned children, this week Mon to Fri, 9.15am-10am, BBC1