|Me with my [adoptive] mum, 1950|
"Your birth sister is looking for you."
This was the little girl who had been three years old when I was adopted, so long ago. Now she was a woman of 67 and, the lady from Norfolk County Council's adoption department was telling me on the phone, she had known nothing about me until 1999. In that year, the lady told me gently, my birth mother had died and among her things, my half-sister Jill had found a heartbreaking letter.
My birth mother, whose name was Violet, explained in the letter that in 1950 she had had a baby girl and had given her up for adoption. She had never, she said, been able to talk about it to anyone but she had regretted the decision and thought about me every day of her life. She had also hoped that when I grew up I would try to find her.
Why didn't I? It would be dishonest to say that I didn't think about it. Of course I did, many times, both as a young adult and as a much older one. But when you are deeply loved, as I was by my adoptive parents, you don't feel a desperate need to dig up the past; then there are the feelings of your adoptive parents to consider and mine had given me everything. How could I have hurt them like that? And finally, if you do decide to find a birth parent, you don't know what their reaction will be. The birth parent may well have their own, newer family to consider or the past may just be too painful. Then there comes a time when "later" in your life is too late and you accept that there are things that you will never know. However, I can honestly say that if, at any time, my birth mother had tried to contact me, I would not have rejected her.
Now, in her last letter, this amazing woman who was my birth mother was expressing a wish that Jill would find me so that she would at last have a sister and Jill decided that that was exactly what she would do She's a determined woman, my sister, because without even my adoptive surname to go on, she embarked upon a search that lasted 15 years.
During that first phone call I also understood that my sister is a kind and generous person, for the Norfolk lady told me that Jill thought I had the right to see my birth mother's letter and to know that she had loved me. I had never really doubted this, but to know it for sure was a different matter, something that made me feel "whole" in a way that I hadn't before.
And then.... bombshell number two! I learned that Jill and I also have a half-brother, who was adopted in 1960 and taken to America. So, for those of you who were wondering about the significance of the American flag on the cake at the party for Jill and her husband during their visit to Sicily two weeks ago, that is the reason, or part of it, as it was also for my natural father, who was American.
The next step, said the Norfolk lady, would be for her to tell Jill she had found me and for Jill to write to me. The first few contacts would be through the Norfolk department, just to make sure that everything was all right and also so that the department could offer us both some support, if we needed it, during what was sure to be a very emotional process.
The phone conversation ended at about 1 pm Italian time and that afternoon, I had an appointment that I had to keep. As I walked to it, fighting back the tears in the Sicilian sunshine, I kept repeating,
"My birth mother loved me. My birth mother loved me."
And both my mums were called Violet.
To be continued.