This

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Het­tie Ash­win

I AL­WAYS knew I was adopted. I just seemed to grow up with the knowl­edge and it be­came part of who I was in re­la­tion to the rest of my fam­ily. But I al­ways felt that if there was a change of heart from the gov­ern­ment and peo­ple like me could ac­cess their his­tory, then I’d like to find my real mother and per­haps a fa­ther.

That chance came in the late 1980s when the laws changed and adopted peo­ple were al­lowed to see their birth records. I was liv­ing in Eng­land at the time, but the urge drew me back to Aus­tralia to find out who I re­ally was.

When I was handed my en­ve­lope it felt like a huge leap of faith. Would all my ques­tions be an­swered? Would I find that one miss­ing piece of my jig­saw life that made me whole? I hoped so. I jumped at my one chance and be­gan hunt­ing in the elec­toral rolls at the li­brary, match­ing names and ad­dresses.

My search led me across South Aus­tralia and ended in the Vic­to­rian phone book. That first phone call was one of the hard­est things I’ve had to do. I had ex­pec­ta­tions, hopes, fears and a whole range of other emo­tions. I’d seen re­unions on TV and stud­ied the re­ac­tions of the par­tic­i­pants, won­der­ing what I would do, how I would act. I ran sce­nar­ios through my mind on what my mother might be like and how she would re­act. They were in­evitably tinged with hap­pi­ness. The why she gave me up was usu­ally fan­ci­ful and in mad mo­ments I thought, or hoped, she might be look­ing for me too.

I made the call and in­stead of get­ting a mother I found my grand­par­ents. They were the nicest lov­ing peo­ple I could have imag­ined and were thrilled and quite sur­prised, but never judg­men­tal. They gave me my mother’s num­ber in the US. I took a deep breath and di­alled.

She said she knew it would hap­pen one day, she thought of me on my birthday and she needed time. I hung up won­der­ing time for what. Didn’t ev­ery mother love her child? Hadn’t she had more than 25 years to get used to the idea of me? My new grand­par­ents were con­sol­ing and de­cided to drive from Vic­to­ria to Ade­laide to see me and brought a fam­ily his­tory I had missed out on. They show­ered me with pho­to­graphs and for once I be­longed. My nose felt right at home with theirs.

Fast for­ward to last year and my ma­ter­nal grand­mother rang and said my mother would be com­ing from the US to see her, and could I come too. She is get­ting old and her one wish was to see mother and daugh­ter united.

Through the years the gap that ex­isted be­tween my mother and me had grown very large. I could count on one hand the num­ber of times we talked and for about the same amount of min­utes. It al­ways left me drained and frag­ile. Be­ing a mother my­self, I felt a pow­er­ful bond with my chil­dren and her dis­tance felt alien to me. Now the stage had been set for our first meet­ing. I made plans, bought air­line tick­ets and was egged on by my hus­band. I had great ex­pec­ta­tions that through the many silent years my mother would have mel­lowed and the old adage that time heals all wounds would have worked in my favour.

Then, I got a call from my grand­mother. She was up­set and said that my mother didn’t want to see me. Ever. It is hard to be prag­matic when your ex­pec­ta­tions are shat­tered and your heart feels as if it has been dug out with a spoon. I had fash­ioned a caveat for my emo­tions and told my­self it wasn’t that big a deal.

But it was. And al­ways will be.

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