I was 22 when I met my biological mother. I was 43 when we last spoke. That phone call, almost two years ago, was about a piece I had written for the paper; I was running it by her before it
went to print to make sure it was OK with her. It was not OK with her. I shouldn't have been
surprised by her reaction - I said some insensitive things in it,
perhaps most upsetting for her was the central theme that I had lived a good life, the best life I
could have. It must have felt like a brutal rejection. She was distraught, words were exchanged, and then that was it - the call ended, and so did the relationship.
Life since is, in many ways, simpler. My family is a slightly less-extended, more straightforward one; no need for explanations or addendums when I talk about relatives. But it is also quieter, and a little lonelier. I am left with a lasting question - why? Why did it burn out? Why is it like this?
The first 10 years after I met her, we got on like a house on fire and I effectively jettisoned my
parents in favour of her. I spent all my time in Dublin, having decided that this was my real
home, this was where I belonged. As the years went by, I could see that my new-found family in
Dublin were different from me. Of course they were - they had lived different lives, with different parents, in a different place. We can argue about the respective viscosities of blood and water,
but in the end, it is time as much as anything that makes a family. I was an adult when I met them, and while the experience changed me for the better, I was not somehow magically remade in their image. And no matter how I tried to talk jackeen, I still speak in a singsongy Cork accent when I get upset. And, once I had children myself, I came to realise that sometimes being a parent is about making difficult choices - that it is about sacrifice, stability, security, and it is about being there.
I don't think what happened between us is uncommon in adopted people who meet their
biological parents - an intense bond is formed, which then slowly dissolves over time as people realise that actually you cannot simply dream this parent-child bond into existence; it is something that starts when you're an infant, and is less effective when you are
You meet, you find out what you need, and get answers to those vital questions: Who am I? Why am I here? And is there any odd medical history I should know
about? But after all that, and the flurry of excitement that comes after you meet, reality bites. You have lived separate lives, and the worlds that shaped you will most likely be very different.
You can bend and mould your reality to convince yourself that you have some innate connection,
and perhaps you do. But time erodes it.
The connections often fade over time, or fizzle out, or
end in even more trauma for everyone. And there is much trauma here - the whole system was and is loaded with it. For every joyous reunion, there is a rejection; for every solid relationship, there is one which ends in a sad decline.
Perhaps it is the pressure of expectation that condemns it - the idea that this will be some great revelation where you finally discover some great truth about yourself, that the happiness which evaded you for so long will at last be yours.
I spend much of my time asking if this is happiness - is this what it feels like to be whole? I am more complete than I was 25 years ago. I know where I came from, where I have been, and
where I belong. It may not be happiness, but it's a start.