Saturday 24 August 2019

Dear Mary: I've found out that I have a sister who was given up for adoption

Couples who became unwittingly involved in an alleged adoption scam are 'devastated', their lawyer says
Couples who became unwittingly involved in an alleged adoption scam are 'devastated', their lawyer says

I was widowed after a very happy marriage and found a new partner 18 months after losing my beloved husband. We battled years of ridicule but it was meant to be. We were very happy for 10 years till last year when he died suddenly. I cannot even try to explain my heartbreak.

A short time later a very close friend died through suicide. Around this time I got a telephone call from an unknown girl who told me that she had been adopted and that the family had adopted another girl who she said was my sister; apparently my mother had given her up for adoption when I reckon I was about seven and my sister was five. She said my adopted sister contacted and met my mother in 2002. She said my mam couldn't commit to a relationship because she felt she could not tell my sister and me about this part of her life. My mother said we might not understand. I agree that my sister might find this situation hard to come to terms with but I truthfully would not think anything less of my mam. What an awful decision she had to make and I understand it was the ways of the era in which she was born. They have not met since.

The girl who rang me told me my adopted sister wanted me to know she existed and would like us to meet. I told her I needed time to think as I was already in shock from the earlier news about my friend.

With all that has happened in the past year my mind is in turmoil and I'm still grieving my partner and adjusting to life without him.

My mam is 83 and I see her daily. When I'm in my darker moments I get inwardly angry about her not telling us about this girl. It must be hard on her to have kept this hidden but when this girl contacted her she should have known me better than to think I would judge her. I also feel for this girl as she wants to meet me. Out of respect to my mother I cannot tell her secret to anyone and because of this I feel I can't meet this girl.

I always admire the advice you give to your readers and I would be so, so grateful if you could advise me as to what I could do to resolve this situation in a way that is sympathetic to all concerned and which I would like to think would have a happy outcome.


You certainly have experienced a lot of loss in your life and so you know all about the grieving process. Your mother must have gone through her own grieving when she gave up your sister and probably continues to grieve for what might have been. I was very touched by your letter because you seem to be a very understanding and empathic person and want the best for all concerned.

I recently heard a radio interview with Caitriona Palmer about her book An Affair with my Mother telling of her search for and meeting with her birth mother. Her birth mother was agreeable to meet her and they had many meetings over the years but her mother insisted that they be clandestine as her husband didn't know of Caitriona's existence. I haven't yet read the book but it sounded fascinating with great insights and you may wish to read it yourself.

While I agree that you don't want to divulge your mother's secret to anybody out of respect for your mother, I don't agree that meeting with your half-sister would be disrespectful to her. As you see your mother every day it might be an idea to raise the topic in general with her - for instance you could discuss the film Philomena if you have seen it - just to give her a chance to tell you about her past in case she has had a change of heart. At the same time you can let her know how sympathetic you are to anybody caught in such a dilemma all those years later.

I think you would benefit greatly in speaking about all of this, in confidence, with somebody, and a very good resource is Barnardos, who work with vulnerable children and their families and have a huge amount of experience in all facets of adoption.

Their website is

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