I have always known I was adopted. It was normal to me. Normal that I didn’t look like anyone else in my family, normal that I was ‘chosen’ and that others were not. It was normal that my parents were far more special than others because they had been able to give so much love to a child who had come from someone else.
In primary school, I used to study my friends and their parents and siblings, intrigued at how much they did or didn’t look alike. I occasionally wondered who I might look like but on many an occasion, people commented on how much I looked like my mum – despite our lack of biological connection – and that was enough for me, or so I thought.
In high school, my thoughts began to change and my imagination started to drift into wild fantasies about one day meeting my birth mother and father. People were fascinated by my adoptee status and I was always willing to talk about it. We used to joke about teachers at our school who could potentially be my birth mother. I became so fixated on one Year 9 English teacher and the fact that her eyes were similar to mine that I convinced myself that she had changed her name in order to avoid being identified. I would often randomly call out the name of my birth mother in the hope of catching her out.
In even wilder ideations, being a singer myself, I imagined that my birth father might have been someone famous, like John Farnham. I imagined that one day I would meet him and he would deny paternity and beg me to leave he and his family alone. In my fantasy, I would bribe him into giving me a recording deal in exchange for my silence!
At the beginning of Year 11, my mum and dad sat me down and explained to me that my birth mother was very sick with Multiple Sclerosis and was losing her sight. She was desperate to meet me and they encouraged me to do so. At nearly 17 years of age and full of anger for the world and a hatred of myself, I declined to meet her. I had no sympathy for her. I was pissed off that she had ‘invaded’ my life, potentially upset my beautiful parents and fucked with my head. My mum and dad supported my decision, although I suspect they thought it wasn’t the best one I had ever made. 12 months later, she died, never having met her daughter.
I attended her funeral with my parents and social workers and couldn’t for the life of me work out why everyone was staring at me. I later found out that I did indeed look like someone else on this planet – my birth mother. I was the spitting image of her. I met her family who welcomed me with open arms and did their best to include me in their lives. For some time, it was great but feelings of confusion, disloyalty (to my parents – despite their support) and a sense of not really belonging started to erode the friendships we were trying to build. I grew resentful towards the disruption to my life and to the lives of my beautiful mum and dad. Our relationship honeymoon ended and eventually settled into some sort of friendship with some of the members of her family.
More than 20 years later, after the birth of two children – each one bringing with it more emotions relating to my birth mother and father and my own identity – I began to search for my birth father, based on information left in my adoption file by my birth mother, 30 years earlier. First I tried searching by myself, using Facebook and other online resources. This seemed far more advanced than the 20 years I had spent (on and off) flicking through the white pages dialing the numbers of hundreds of random people who happened to have the same surname as my birth father! I found nothing.
I eventually got in touch with VANISH who took all my information and informed me that searching for birth fathers was a difficult task but that they would try. Only a few weeks later, I had a call saying they thought they may have located someone of interest on the electoral rolls from 1978. Not long after that, another call saying they thought they had found a death certificate for a man who may well have been my biological grandfather. Using the information on that certificate, I was able to find a postal address for the man who could potentially be my birth father. I immediately sent a letter via registered post.
Weeks went by, my relationship ended and my children and I were preparing to move house. As I sat packing boxes one evening in late July, my phone rang. The letter and the search had slipped from my mind after more than six weeks of jumping at every phone call. "Hi Kate, this is David Williams" – with so much going on, the name that had lived only on a piece of paper for more than 20 years, didn’t quite register. The voice continued ‘I got your letter…’ I nearly fell off my chair, my head was spinning. We chatted for quite some time and he didn’t seem to recall my birth mother as I had described her and told me he knew nothing about a baby. He was incredibly kind and more than helpful – offering to help me in any way he could. At the end of our conversation, I sent him a photo of my birth mother from when he may have known her. He immediately responded saying he would never forget a face and did she go by a nickname. Yes she did. He knew her.
In the two weeks following, I met up with David and two of his sons (he has 5 boys, all younger than me). We did a home DNA test and sent it off. Five days later, the results came back – a 99.99999% match. I found him. After all these years. Not only that but I had gone from being an only child to having 5 brothers! I flew down to visit him the very next day and we sat and chatted for hours on end. He was a musician, just like me. He was passionate and feisty, just like me. He was stubborn, just like me. He told things how he saw them, just like me. His eyes, were just like mine.
12 months on and I continue to have a relationship with David and my brothers. It’s a long road, getting to know people who you feel you should have some sort of connection to but really, they’re like new friends. My parents are thrilled, David is happy and as far as I can tell, the boys are doing a great job getting used to having a big sister and a niece and nephew. So that’s it, my puzzle is complete – isn’t it?
Adoption is a funny thing – like a rock thrown into a lake – the ripples travel a long way, affecting everyone involved. As my counsellor pointed out, despite me coming from a positive adoption experience, it has affected me in a way that can never be repaired. Despite knowing where I come from and why I was given up, despite being welcomed into two biological families with open arms and having lived a more than fortunate life – I still cannot find my place. It’s like, despite all these things, I don’t really fit in anywhere. Despite all the love and support, I am still essentially, on my own.
One of my favourite authors, Jeanette Winterson, wrote, ‘adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you – and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.’
Kate Gibson is a natural light photographer based in Gisborne, Victoria. You can follow her on Facebook, here.