'He is my flesh and blood. I never gave up on finding him
Forty years ago this week, Maria Moylett had a baby boy who was taken away from her at birth.
Maria, who attends Danu - the Sligo-based birth parents' support group, says she had to fight to get to hold him for just one minute.
"Back in 1977 I gave birth to my first born. In the next breath he was taken away. I was simply told it was a boy. I used to walk down to the nursery and look in at the cots trying to find him. I was not allowed go in," she says.
Maria was eventually able to hold him for 'one minute' the day before she left the hospital.
"I remember his tiny beautiful face and whispering in his ear that I would come and find him one day," she recalls.
Maria fell pregnant aged just 17. The eldest of seven siblings, the teenager who was living near Castlebar was sent away to Galway to stay with a family where she 'continued her pregnancy.'
None of this was her decision as she explains: "It was decided for me. There was no questions asked. My pregnancy was to be brushed under the carpet and never spoken of again. My own brothers and sisters never knew my secret until I told them 20 years later."
Maria assumed her baby was adopted out immediately but she has since discovered that he was in fact kept in a children's home for six months.
"He was in there on his own and I was only 20 minutes away living in Galway. It breaks my heart that I never knew. I was told nothing," she says.
Afterwards Maria found a job in Galway choosing to settle there. She married four years later and had four more children. Every year the 13th of July came and went and only Maria knew the significance of that date.
Maria says: "I always remember that first birthday and thinking he would have been a year old. But I had to protect myself as best I could. I had suffered a trauma. I had to try to move forward. Who could I tell back then? My parents never spoke about it again. His father was never in the picture. There was a big stigma. To this day, birth mothers are afraid of this stigma and some are still harbouring this secret. Lies become our new language, pain becomes our new feelings."
Danu was established to support women like Maria. She joined the group that is facilitated by the Sligo Family Resource Centre on the Mall seven years ago and has never looked back.
"We meet five times a year, we tell our horrific and sad stories when we feel safe. We cry, we laugh, we feel each others pain and we support each other. Groups like Danu need to happen all over the country," says Maria.
"It has given me the freedom to unlock the shackles holding me back and step out of the stigma around the shame instilled in me by becoming a birth mother. I can now reach out to others living with their own secret and help them. We don't wear a label to identify ourselves but we were labelled by others," she adds.
Maria, who is now divorced, says that she was having problems in her marriage and sought counselling. There, she discovered she was grieving the loss of her first born.
"The counsellor asked me did I want help to look for my son. They were the magic words I needed to hear for years," she says.
When her son was just 13, Maria made initial contact but then decided to wait until he was older. "We met when he was 19. It was like a bolt of lightening. My whole body went into shock. My legs were shaking. He was so like my brothers and my side of the family."
Maria now enjoys a good relationship with her son, his wife and two children but the journey was far from easy:
"You have to go back to the baby and work your way up to get to know your own son. I was very lucky. His parents shared so much with me.
"At his wedding there was a collage of pictures from his childhood. My own family then saw first hand what I had missed all those years. Someone else had all that joy."
Maria concludes: "I never gave up on finding him. He is my flesh and blood. I gave birth to him. I had to go through a lot of pain to bring such joy into someone else's world. They gave him a good life but I gave them a gift. They got great treasures from that gift. All I had was pain."
This week Maria will host a special dinner for her first born son and her family to mark his 40th birthday celebration.
Contact Danu on 071-9146315.