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Jo Stoneham

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Jo Stoneham

Upon reading through the Winter 2000 Edition of NORCAP News I came across 'Michael's' poem. It touched so much within me, the sadness and tears that he may never know the truth about himself. We do not always have time on our side, but never give up, there is always someone out there to help you.

My story began in 1939 when I was born, just weeks before the outbreak of World War II. I was taken to a home in the Gloucestershire countryside (it had been moved from central London due to the outbreak of war) and shortly afterwards was placed with a couple who had shown interest in adopting me. These people were my lovely parents, who had already adopted one little girl, who is 3 years older than me, and later adopted a little boy 5 years younger. They never made a secret of our adoptions, and told us what little they knew of our backgrounds. Our adoptive family, grandparents, aunts and uncles took us unquestioningly into their lives as their own, and we had very happy and stable lives despite the war with all its ensuing restrictions We were given every opportunity to do well in life with a good education, and for this I can never thank my parents enough. We all grew up and moved on to marry and raise our own children, and I must admit that I very rarely thought about my adoption and natural parents. If I did, it was to feel that I had been a mistake, and got rid of at the earliest opportunity, bearing in mind the social pressures in those days. So I closed my mind to my early days and moved on through life.

We had lived in Scotland for many years and, in the early 1990s my husband's company relocated us home to Southern England. I became ill in 1993 and cancer was diagnosed, it was also around this time that my mother died aged 93. In 1998 I was again diagnosed with the same disease, and this time had to have major surgery and chemotherapy. This reduces you to something less than human for some days after treatment and so it was during these periods my mind turned to my adoption and 'origins'. As I was now very ill, although recovering, and did not know very much at all about who I was or where I came from, if I did not act soon, I might never know. So began my long search. I had seen a television programme about tracing people, so wrote to the address given and received the first details of what to do. I filled in a form with the scant details from my adopted children's birth certificate. Some time later Social Services called to say they had received the details I had requested but I would need to see a counsellor first. The appointment was made and I was seen by a very nice lady who asked several questions, mainly about why I wanted to have this information after so long! I explained about age and illness etc, and she gave me a piece of paper with my original name and place of birth. My first surprise was that the name I had been registered with was the same as that of my adopted sister. This had naturally been changed at my baptism, after adoption. (I learned later that my adoptive mother gave me the name my birth mother originally chose, but which had been changed against her wishes) I was told also that there may still be a file held with more details of my adoption, if it had not been destroyed by fire during the blitz in London, and would I be interested to see it if it had survived? Of course I would! I had to wait some weeks, and then went back to Social Services where I was given my file to read. It was very thick, 'very unusual' I was told, it contained many letters from the Adoption Society with news from my adoptive mother and some photos for my birth mother, this continued for 10 years, also letters from my birth mother to the Society. As I read, the true story began to come to light, and how different it was to what I had always imagined. My mother had never wanted to give me up, but the pressures at the time forced her to this action. It is here I would say to Michael, yes there were tears, many of them, and so much pain, but mostly they were my mother's at having to part with me, and this stayed with her for the next 60 years - mothers can never forget. The more I read the more I began to understand the reality and knew then that I had to try and find my mother and tell her that I now understood what she had had to do, that I had a good life, and to thank her for such a brave act.

I joined NORCAP and the family register. I spent the next couple of years searching at my local Records Office who almost charged me rent for my seat! I went through the microfiches until my head ached, but gradually little pieces came together. At least I knew the area to start my search. My husband Derek and family were wholly supportive in my search, Derek even drove me to the area after the first 18 months of searching as we thought we had located my mother and her husband, but it turned out not to be so. I had by then been in touch with my NORCAP mediator who was so kind and helpful and gave me a lot of support. So back to the Records Office. I kept coming up against dead ends, small bits of information which led nowhere. I became so anxious as I felt time was not on my side due to my age, and my illness, also I knew by then that my mother was 83, and although alive, she did not appear anywhere on the Electoral Role searches. Had she gone abroad? Had she remarried? (I learned later that she had changed her first name!). By then I had obtained all the birth and marriage certificates I needed for family information, and found that I had an aunt who had two daughters. So my search began for them. We got so far again, and then nothing. Where were they?

In despair I went onto the Internet and had a look at some of the sites which aim to help people like me, I was so sure no one could help someone of my age! Well, I contacted Debby Wilson, and she was like a bright light in my life. She took me on, and was so enthusiastic and full of ideas, I felt even if we did not find my mother, between us we would have done everything possible. She came up with one or two great ideas, and with the help of my mediator Carolyne, and after several false attempts, we found out where my aunt had lived. She had died and the house had been sold. Debby found the name of the Estate Agent who had dealt with the sale, but because of the act of disclosure, they could not tell us the name of the vendors, but said they would ring them and see if they would contact Debby. They did. I had been out one evening, and on my return had about six frantic e-mails from Debby. I called her and she told me that she had been talking to a cousin of mine, the younger daughter of the aunt we had been searching for, and my mother was alive and well. It was a long call, Debby was as excited as me! The next evening I received a call from my cousin. We were both in tears. Her mother had told her about me before she died, and she said 'I just knew it was you', after she had taken Debby's call. We had a long chat, and the most amazing thing was that she totally believed everything I said to her without even meeting me. She even travelled specially to see my mother who lives a long way away, to tell her about my search for her. I had always been worried about the effect this would have on my mother at her age and was very cautious about approaching her, but my cousin was also sensitive to this. I had in the meantime written two letters, one to my cousin, and one to my mother, the most difficult letter I think I had ever written in my life, and enclosed 2 photos which my cousin gave to my mother. The outcome was that we arranged a day and time, and at about 10.30am on 31 May I spoke to my mother for the first time ever. She was totally overcome, as was I; I was told later she was very happy about it. Next my cousin said we should all meet, but to give my mother a few weeks in between to come to terms with the idea. This we did, and later we all met in a hotel in London. What a day! There are no words to describe how I felt then, I was so nervous when I saw my cousin and mother come through the hotel door. We had so much to say, and had lots of photographs taken. After I had spoken to my mother on the phone for the first time, I started to compile an album of photographs, of me as a baby (which she had specially asked me for) to the latest one taken just after I had spoken to her on the phone, and also a short history of my life, and what I had achieved, which I gave to her at our first meeting. Also pictures of my two children, her grandchildren, and she also has one great grandchild! I hope they will be able to meet later. We are now in regular communication. It is unfortunate that my mother's husband is very ill, but he too wants to meet me, and we hope to go to see them before the end of August. This year I received a birthday card and beautiful bouquet from my mother on a day she said she thought she would never see. I also sent her flowers to arrive on my birthday, as she had told me she had always been very sad to remember and I so wanted her to be happy.

I have learned a lot from my mother about my birth and adoption, and her family. She has written me some lovely letters, some have reduced me to tears to learn of the heartbreak and pain she went through. She had no other children and it is now beyond any doubt that searching for, and finding my mother was the right thing to do, to try and put things right for her. Now the circle is complete. As she said to me later, 'you have made my life complete and there will be no more sadness'. We still have so much to learn about each other, and slowly we are achieving this.

JOSEPHINE