A heart-rend­ing

Gazette colum­nist is help­ing a woman to write a book about her re­mark­able true story, and how she found the mother who gave her up for adop­tion

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

WE couldn’t have had a more dif­fer­ent start t in life – our moth­ers were po­lar op­po­sites.

But when I first met Phyl­lis I felt a spe­cial con­nec­tion. We were both born in Birm­ing­ham but it was sev­eral decades be­fore our paths crossed in 2004. Blonde and bub­bly, you would never guess how Phyl­lis’s life had be­gun.

Her mother handed her over to an or­phan­age when she was only eight months old and she was adopted as a five year old into a ‘good Catholic fam­ily’ to be a sib­ling to their daugh­ter and two boys.

Told that her par­ents both died of TB, she was told to never men­tion that she was adopted.

In 1974 Phyl­lis started her train­ing as a nurse hav­ing al­ways been con­vinced that her mother was alive, in spite of what she had been told.

I had by then left Birm­ing­ham and was (still am) mar­ried, liv­ing in west Lon­don and at home with a baby daugh­ter, hav­ing a break from teach­ing.

A new ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist even­tu­ally led me to Phyl­lis whose story was so fas­ci­nat­ing I did a two page fea­ture on her in a women’s mag­a­zine. But that was af­ter she met my mother.

My early child­hood was very dif­fer­ent to Phyl­lis’s. I lived with my par­ents in a self-con­tained rented flat – half an old house. My dad was an of­fice man­ager, my mum worked part-time in Boots the Chemist, but they weren’t well off and a mort­gage was out of the ques­tion.

In 1956, the year Phyl­lis was born, the first high rise flats went up in the out­skirts of Birm­ing­ham.

‘Se­lected ten­ants’ were moved into them and my par­ents were thrilled with the fourth floor three­bed­room flat with a view of the Clent Hills that we were of­fered.

West Heath in the south of Birm­ing­ham was a con­trast to where we had been liv­ing in Bal­sall Heath.

Only a mile from the city cen­tre, my early mem­o­ries are only of be­ing sur­rounded by neigh­bourly, sup­port­ive fam­i­lies but Bal­sall Heath was chang­ing and sev­eral years af­ter my fam­ily moved away, it had be­come a very down-atheel red light dis­trict.

Phyl­lis’s birth mother, who was in fact very much alive, moved into the area we had aban­doned a decade ear­lier. Brid­get – Tip­per­ary Mary – was a chronic al­co­holic, in a bad phys­i­cal state, men­tally un­sta­ble, abu­sive and well known as a trou­ble­maker in the area.

Def­i­nitely not the fairy-tale mother Phyl­lis might have hoped to find.

It was af­ter a long hunt, when Phyl­lis was work­ing as a dis­trict nurse, that she fi­nally tracked her mother down and made an as­ton­ish­ing de­ci­sion. Un­of­fi­cially, and with­out con­sult­ing any­one in au­thor­ity, she in­cluded her mother in her nurs­ing rounds.

She bathed her, took her clean clothes, and tended to the wounds she regularly re­ceived from her dys­func­tional life. Be­hind the safety of her uni­form she got Brid­get to talk about the five chil­dren she had had to give up – in­clud­ing Phyl­lis her­self.

This she did for nine years with­out re­veal­ing she was her daugh­ter.

My mother was wid­owed in 1990. She de­vel­oped Alzheimer’s but vis­its from three car­ers a day meant my mother was safe and still lead­ing an in­de­pen­dent life. She vis­ited friends, en­joyed walk­ing, the theatre ... and ev­ery week­end I would stock up her freezer and take her out to lunch and the cin­ema.

Sadly by 2004 she had de­te­ri­o­rated to the point where so­cial work­ers in­sisted she needed 24-hour care in a nurs­ing home. I was still work­ing in Uxbridge, trav­el­ling weekly to Birm­ing­ham, check­ing on her house, vis­it­ing her at hos­pi­tal – and then look­ing at homes – to the point of ex­haus­tion.

So dis­ap­pointed, some­times hor­ri­fied, at the places I saw; pres­sure was be­ing brought to bear (mum was ‘bed block­ing’), but I could find nowhere suit­able and re­fused to move her un­til I did.

A new so­cial worker sug­gested a home I hadn’t heard of so I de­cided to take a look and there I met Phyl­lis for the first time.

She was then man­ager of the per­fect place for de­men­tia pa­tients and

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