I got swept up in a wave of people doing Ancestry DNA tests.
Your DNA fingerprint links up with everyone else who has done the test. At first there were lots of fourth and fifth cousins, where we shared a great-great-great-great relative. But then one man contacted me through the site to point out that we were very closely linked.
I asked him which side of my family – maternal or paternal – but he was unable to answer given his father had been adopted. He only had his dad’s mother’s birth name, which they recently searched for and found from an adoption agency in Scotland.
He gave me her full name, place and date of birth. I replied: “That woman is my mother. Your father is my brother.”
Which made this man my nephew.
There was silence for a few days, then I got this response: “OMG. I was so shocked I had to process. We’ve been looking for your mother for many years. Dad actually teared up when I showed him our texts, which I’ve never seen him do before. Did you know my dad existed?”
I had no clue.
I phoned my dad, who was divorced from my mum a long time ago. It turns out that 58 years ago, Mum was an 18-year old nurse in South Africa and fell in love with an Afrikaans man who was in hospital with a broken leg. My conservative Scottish grandmother was horrified, because the man was dark-skinned and Afrikaans. This was at the height of apartheid.
So Mum was bundled off back to Scotland, to a cooking school in Edinburgh. However, a few months later, she realised she was pregnant. She told nobody. By now, she had met up with my dad, who she knew from her church days in South Africa, who was studying at a nearby University. They’d become close friends.
“Didn’t you notice she was getting fatter and fatter?” I asked Dad.
My rather vague dad, not the most observant person, said it had been winter. He reckons Mum might not have even admitted to herself what was really happening – that she might have been in deep denial. She ended up giving birth alone, with no preparation, and nobody to turn to. Her landlady obviously realised what was going on and made sure my mother received assistance and care from a Home for Unwed Mothers.
Today, when having a baby out of wedlock is normal and carries little to no negative stigma in most parts of the world, for women in the 1950s, this was the epitome of disrepute.
Mum kept her newborn a secret from her forbidding mother for a few weeks, but eventually my grandmother found out and forced my Mum to give her newborn son up for adoption. Being under 21 years old, Mum helplessly stood by while her baby was taken away forever.
A year later, she fell pregnant again, and Mum and Dad married. She went on to have five more children over the next eight years. She did not speak to her mother again for more than a decade, and at no stage in our lives did she ever give us any clue about our adopted brother or speak of her heartbreaking experience.
One of my sisters and I began to correspond with our new nephew and his dad, Graeme – our brother. When Graeme heard he had sisters and brothers, he cried for joy as he was an only child and his step-parents were long dead. When I spoke to him for the first time on the phone, he again sobbed for the mother he did not know, and for a life he didn’t have.