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August 16, 2011 permalink
Shirley Smith was raised by adoptive parents. But when she found the family that give birth to her, the adopters cut off all contact.
I chose the mum that gave me up over the parents who raised me
Shirley Smith was ecstatic when she received a letter saying that her biological family was trying to track her down.
But when she broke the news to her adoptive parents, they gave her an ultimatum to choose one family or the other.
In turmoil, she turned her back on loving parents who had devoted their lives to bringing her up in favour of a family shed never met.
Her adoptive parents, who raised her on her own for more than 30 years, are now in their 80s and she hasn't spoken to them since.
Its a decision few people will understand but Shirley says any guilt over abandoning her elderly parents is cancelled out by the amazing times shes had with her birth family.
There's every chance my parents will go to their graves believing I betrayed them, says Shirley, 42.
After dedicating their lives to me, it was my turn to look after them. But the desire to meet my real family was too strong, so I picked them and broke my parents hearts.
Shirley was nine when she found out she was adopted. She was sitting in the hallway of the family home when she overheard a conversation between her parents and brother.
My brother asked them if I was adopted like him, she recalls. When they said yes, my whole world fell apart.
That afternoon, I confronted them while they were making tea. They admitted it but when I probed Mum further, she became defensive about it.
She said she loved me like her own and would be hurt if I brought the subject up again. Dad said he'd explain when I was older, but that day never came.
Burdened with questions, Shirley spent most of her teens feeling confused and rejected, which put a strain on the relationship with her parents and she moved out at 18. I loved my parents very much, says Shirley.
They'd supported me through thick and thin, like when I was bullied at school, and made sure I never wanted for anything.
But they were strict and our personalities clashed, which made me constantly question whether my real mum was more like me.
I didnt even know if she was dead or alive, but I was too scared to ask my parents for more information. They saw it as the ultimate betrayal.
Shirley as a toddler with her adoptive family
Despite the friction, Shirley was close to her mum and dad while building a life for herself in Poole, Dorset. She met her first boyfriend in 1989 and got pregnant with their son, George, 14, eight years later.
I was over the moon, recalls Shirley. But when I told my partner he said he wasn't ready to be a dad and left me.
I was devastated I didn't want George feeling abandoned like I had growing up. But my parents were an amazing support.
Mum came with me to every scan I had while I was pregnant and held my hand tight throughout the birth.
And when I held George for the first time I felt such an intense rush of love, it made it even harder to understand how my birth mum could have given me away.
Having a child deepened her need for answers about her biological background.
I hoped my parents would understand now I was a mother myself, she says.
But when I mentioned it to them they were offended immediately.
So I kept quiet, not wanting to upset them further.
They were so fantastic with George, I was very wary not to burn the bridges I had.
But in March 2005 on Georges eighth birthday the decision was taken out of her hands. Shirley opened her post to find a letter from the adoption agency. A sibling was trying to track her down.
My pulse raced, she recalls. I wanted to call the number instantly, but the mix of emotions was overwhelming and I feared the letter could have been intended for someone else.
But if it was true, it meant I had a brother or sister. It was all mind-blowing news.
The next day Shirley called the number on the letter and then arranged a meeting with a representative from the adoption agency. There, she was told she had a sister named Caroline Grant, 34, who had spent two years searching for her.
Without further hesitation, Shirley gave permission to initiate contact. One week later, a letter from Caroline arrived in the post. In the letter, Caroline explained how their mother, Barbara, 58, was 16 when she got pregnant with Shirley and because of her age, was forced to give her up for adoption.
However, Barbara's relationship with Shirley's father, Jerry, 60, endured and Caroline was born seven years later and brother Keith, 32, three years after that.
Id gone from feeling alone in the world to having a mother, father, sister and brother all at once. It was the most surreal moment of my entire life.
Shirley wrote back to Caroline and was soon corresponding with her biological family behind her adoptive parents backs.
She says: My mother posted my birth certificate and a photograph of her holding me as a baby, and one of my father cuddling me as well.
She said shed kept the pictures by her bedside and looked at them every single day. Shed never ever forgotten about me. That meant a huge amount to me.
But, after three months, Shirley ached to meet her family. They agreed to meet in Skipton, North Yorks, a neutral ground between Shirley's home and the Grants base in St Helens.
But as the reunion came closer, she was racked with guilt and plucked up the courage to tell her adoptive parents.
George and I went to visit them and I took the letter from the agency with me, Shirley explains.
They hit the roof. Mum asked, Aren't we good enough for you any more?
And it was then they gave me an ultimatum.
They said if I met up with my real family they would never speak to me again because it would hurt them too much.
The guilt was suffocating. They'd loved me for 35 years. But I couldnt do it. Finding my biological family was like completing a jigsaw puzzle. I couldn't rest until Id managed to fit the missing piece.
So despite knowing it would break her parents hearts, Shirley was reunited with her birth family in September 2005. When mother and daughter embraced for the first time, they immediately felt a bond.
The feeling was similar to when I held George for the first time, recalls Shirley.
Its a bond you cant describe and we just hugged and cried. Then my father came over, with my sister and brother. It was the best day of my life.
At a local pub, the family caught up, chatting about their lives and taking photos. It felt like Id know them all my life, says Shirley.
George even looked like my father, and I had my mothers eyes. I also learned we all had webbed toes and that my father liked to eat his meals in order, saving his favourite food for last, like me.
But Shirley also discovered something more significant. For years, she had struggled to walk and had several operations on her legs and feet to strengthen the bones, but her condition was not diagnosed.
She learned Barbara suffered from a rare condition called hereditary spastic paralysis.
The condition affects the muscles from the waist down. They get very tight and slow you down when you're walking and can make you fall over. The symptoms were identical to mine.
Six months later, Shirley received the same diagnosis. Sadly, it meant she would also end up in a wheelchair.
I was just relieved to finally know what it was.
Shirley and her family now speak on the phone every week. Were hoping to meet up next month, says Shirley. Caroline lives in Australia now and recently got married, but shes planning to come back here to celebrate. I can't wait.
However, Shirley has paid the price for her happiness. Devastated by her actions, she and her adoptive parents have not spoken for almost six years.
They're still in Georges life. My adoptive brother comes to collect him once a month, but they refuse to see me.
I hope one day we can be friends again, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I truly belong.
Shirley's adoptive mum adds: It is true that we do not speak to Shirley any more.
She always knew that she was adopted and we never kept anything back from her.
We just felt pushed out when she wanted to find them. It was very upsetting for us.
Source: Mirror (UK)