Plucked from an or­phan­age and adopted by an Ir­ish fam­ily Anna Gabriel tells how her life was trans­formed and of her emo­tional re­union with her birth mother

Kathy Don­aghy

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Iwas a day old when my birth fam­ily put me up for adop­tion. I was born in Be­larus and be­cause of the nu­clear dis­as­ter at Ch­er­nobyl 32 years ago, I was born with many med­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. I have one kid­ney, 12 fin­gers and my legs were very de­formed — be­cause of that I was put in the or­phan­age. I spent my first three and a half years there. I’ve been told since that if I hadn’t got out be­fore I was four years old, I would have been put in an asy­lum home.

It was all thanks to Adi Roche and Ch­er­nobyl Chil­dren In­ter­na­tional (CCI) that I got out. She brought me to Ire­land on a med­i­cal visa. I have no mem­ory of my time in the or­phan­age. I ar­rived in Ire­land in Jan­uary 1986 on a flight into Shan­non where the Gabriel fam­ily from Ban­don, Co Cork, took me in.

My fam­ily said they were not send­ing me back and they started a long le­gal bat­tle to adopt me. My par­ents Robert and He­len had to fight so hard. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

I have three sis­ters Mar­ian (32), Rose-Mary (29) and Clodagh (24). I’ll be 26 in June. I’m so busy liv­ing my life and fo­cus­ing on where I am now that I don’t keep look­ing back. I take each day as it comes and fo­cus on what makes me happy.

I’m sur­rounded by peo­ple I love. I don’t think about the ‘what ifs’ too much be­cause you could drive your­self mad.

My fam­ily has al­ways been very open with me about my birth fam­ily. They al­ways told me not to be afraid to talk about it. They were al­ways so lov­ing and they gave me so much af­fec­tion. My sis­ters were al­ways sen­si­tive to me — I’ve al­ways had so much sup­port. My sis­ters would de­scribe me as loud and say I never stop chat­ting.

When I first came to Ire­land I wasn’t able to hear, so I couldn’t speak. I had a spe­cial hear­ing con­duc­tor fit­ted — a bril­liant de­vice that al­lows me to hear ev­ery­thing. I can even hear the grass grow­ing! That turned my life around as it meant I could go to school. I very quickly learned English and I haven’t stopped talk­ing since.

Both my legs were de­formed. At the age of 13 I met an or­thopaedic doc­tor and he in­tro­duced me to ar­ti­fi­cial legs. I went through BIG FAN: lots of dif­fer­ent ap­point­ments and I got two ar­ti­fi­cial legs. It was a case of learn­ing to walk all over again and for the first time I was as tall as every­one else and could look my friends in the eyes.

Now I get up in the morn­ing and I put on my ar­ti­fi­cial legs and they don’t come off un­til 10pm at night. I need to go back and get new legs ev­ery two or three years.

I’ve six fin­gers on each hand — I’ve al­ways felt it’s a bonus. I’ve had a few peo­ple look­ing at me but I ex­plain to them why. They are fas­ci­nated and I’ve never had a neg­a­tive re­ac­tion. Peo­ple can’t be­lieve my back­ground or my achieve­ments. I’ve never let any­thing block my way — I’ve al­ways been very de­ter­mined. That’s the way life is.

I’m work­ing as an ac­count­ing tech­ni­cian with the Ir­ish Cat­tle Breed­ing Fed­er­a­tion (ICBF) in Ban­don. I grad­u­ated with a busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion de­gree from Cork In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy last year and I did my place­ment with the ICBF. They of­fered me a full-time job after that. I was re­cently con­ferred as a mem­ber of Ac­count­ing Tech­ni­cians Ire­land and was hon­oured at their an­nual din­ner ear­lier this year when I re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion for telling of FAM­ILY LIFE: all my ex­pe­ri­ences. I have tracked down my birth mother and I got to meet her with the help of Ch­er­nobyl Chil­dren In­ter­na­tional. I was 19 at the time. She trav­elled to Ire­land and stayed for a week with a trans­la­tor. It was amaz­ing.

I met her at the air­port and she came up tome.Her­handswere­clos­e­to­herch­e­s­tand she was bawl­ing. Even though there was a lan­guage bar­rier, I could see the sad­ness in her eyes. She saw the baby she had given up. I threw my arms around her and said, “It’s okay”. I told her I un­der­stood why she gave me up.

Thatweek­we­got­to­bond­with­onean­other an­daskonean­oth­erques­tions.Igot­toshow her around where I went to school and where I was in col­lege at the time. I was able to drive her around. She could see for her­self what my life in Ban­don was like.

We keep in touch with Christ­mas cards and birth­day cards. There’s al­ways go­ing to be a lan­guage bar­rier. She told me her preg­nancy with me was per­fect and there were no prob­lems. It was only when I was born and the doc­tors saw the de­for­mi­ties that they au­to­mat­i­cally put me in an or­phan­age. My birth par­ents didn’t have the money or the re­sources to look after me.

I’ve al­ways thrived in school and in col­lege and now in work. Of course I have my ups and downs, but my friends and fam­ily and my boyfriend Derek sup­port me through it all.

I think if you fo­cus on the fu­ture you for­get to en­joy the present mo­ment. That’s the way I’ve al­ways been.

I love trav­el­ling and so­cial­is­ing with my friends and chill­ing at home.

I can’t thank Ch­er­nobyl Chil­dren In­ter­na­tional enough. I’m very hon­oured to have Ali Hew­son as my god­mother. Ali has al­ways been there for me. She is so gen­er­ous and kind and she never for­gets my birth­day. When U2 play in Dublin Ali al­ways pro­vides me with tick­ets.

I would be dead today only for Adi Roche, who plucked me out of mis­ery just in time. Grow­ing up with my fam­ily, they gave me pos­i­tiv­ity from day one. They are amaz­ing. They are ridicu­lously amaz­ing and they’ve sup­ported me through any­thing and ev­ery­thing.

Anna was adopted by the Gabriel fam­ily from Cork

Ali Hew­son is god­mother to Anna Gabriel

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