By ANGIE MADDISON
All we knew of my birth mother was typed on a small sheet of paper: Dutch Australian; blue eyes; 5’’3; fair complexion; 18 years old; Catholic.
Her age and religion coupled with the time into which I was born leave no doubt as to why she did not, could not, keep me.
Of the many parenting obstacles that saw my mum and dad stumble, the adoption thing was not one. They managed to make me feel that the way our family had been formed was both completely normal while simultaneously giving me the sense that I was special and so very wanted.
It was not that my birth mother didn’t want me but that she couldn’t give me the life I deserved. The decision to give me up signified that she was a good person. The adored second child in a loving family, I was never plagued with feelings of abandonment (although at around the age of 7, I took pains to point out our genetic mismatch whenever aggrieved – No lollies before dinner time? You’re not my REAL mother!).
It was only as I got older and viewed my adoption through the eyes of others that I began to question it. For a teenager, one is not so much ‘special’ as they are ‘different’ and the things that served to mark me as different became the things that caused embarrassment and shame.
But even as I sought to hide this piece of my history from my peers, it never poisoned how I felt about my birth mother.
I romanticised her. She was much younger and significantly cooler than the woman I called Mum. I was just like her, small and fair. Mum imagined her as a tiny but formidable figure in high heels and shoulder pads (it was, after all, the eighties).
I knew we would meet some day.
My older brother, also adopted, had met his birth mother. She had come looking for him the moment she was legally able to (his 18th birthday). Their meeting was a joyous occasion. We pored over pictures of her as a child, exclaiming at the likenesses.
It never crossed my mind that my story would not play out in the same way.
I turned 18 and no letter arrived. It’s not that I was anticipating it, hyper-aware each time I checked the mail. In fact, I always supposed I would be the one to go looking. But now, a precedent had been set. If my mother didn’t come looking for me, too, then what did that mean?
Years passed. Nine of them. Finally, I contacted Human Services and in a small, non-descript government office, the fiction of my birth mother began to alter under the weight of the truth.
The first crushing blow – her name. Mary. Mary? Mary was not the name of someone young and dynamic. Mary was old and biblical.
And then there was the name she had given me. Anne. So close to the name I would be given by my adoptive parents. And equally as uncool.
She was from interstate, shipped off to Melbourne before her pregnancy could become obvious and scar her younger siblings. She was madly in love with my birth father who was 20 and ostensibly underwhelmed at the prospect of a shotgun wedding and a baby.
October 1976, she birthed me and headed home to Sydney where she immediately returned to her university studies.
Access to these intimate details are unusual and only exist because of a correspondence Mary entered into with the woman who had counselled her throughout her pregnancy, the letters, in the small, careful handwriting of my mother, saved in a sealed adoption file all these years.
I was 27 years old, had no children of my own. But I ached for the girl she had been, the shame she had caused her deeply religious family and the unwavering duty she felt to fulfil the promise she had made to give me up.
The State Library and a search of the electoral roll was the place to begin my search.
On a whim, I googled her full name.
And found her.
Still interstate, the tiny powerhouse in heels and shoulder pads proved not so far off the mark given her esteemed position in a male-dominated sector.
Without thinking, I shot off an email saying it would be great to get in touch. I made no mention of who I was or what it was concerning. Her personal assistant called to ask what it was related to and I stumbled through a fictitious reply before she confirmed she would have Mary call me later.
I should have said no. I should have turned my phone off. I should never have sent the email in the first place. Emailing your birth mother? What the fuck?
The phone rang as I drove home from work. I answered it (I answered it!), and awkwardly manoeuvred the car out of city traffic and to the side of the road as the voice of my birth mother travelled down the line.
The phone call, an excruciating four minutes or so, left me in no doubt that the woman who had just denied she was my birth mother, absolutely and unequivocally was.
When my mum rang me breathless with the news that she had been googling, too, and there was a photo online, all doubt was erased.
Staring back at me, me. A version of.
I like to think I am prettier.
Post-phone call, I have written two letters; the first apologising for the way in which I made contact originally, that I didn’t blame her for lying to me given the shellshock she must have been feeling in that moment; the second letter held a photo of me, a headshot from my “actor” phase, the 8×10 size of which is designed to have maximum impact on the casting director viewing it. Or the birth mother.
I never heard back.
I don’t want it to mar the idealised version of her that I have cultivated all these years. What she did is still the good and right thing. I will always be grateful to her for that.
But why doesn’t she want to know me?
I think Mum is actually more offended than I am. I think she feels cheated out of the opportunity to say, “Hey, I took good care of your little girl!”
And she really did. I turned out good, Mary. I am happy and you have three grandkids.
I’d like to tell you about it some time.
Angie is the mother of three gorgeous children, partner to one incredible man, and the daughter of two inspiring women, only one of whom she would ever think of calling ‘Mum.’ She has many interests but giving birth made her forget them – hence, she blogs as The Little Mumma and sadly not The Little Woman With All The Pretty Shoes.