This is the story, taken almost verbatim from my diary, of a discovery made when I was almost 67 years of age, that changed my life. It is recorded here just as it happened.
Someone in our Probus club, whose name I don’t remember, suggested that I ask a well known local historian to speak to the club on the Historical Records Society in Geelong. I added his name to my list of possible speakers. It was nearly a year before I acted on it but when I rang him with the invitation to speak, he said, 'No. I'm not into public speaking but the man you want is our president and he's a good speaker,' So I rang the President and we fixed a date in February.
During an interesting talk about the development of the historical society and the services it offered the speaker mentioned that 'the shipping records were now in Geelong so that you can check when immigrants entered Victoria from overseas'. I registered that comment and thought that I might look up the records to see if my parents had entered Australia through the port of Melbourne.
Her immediate suggestion was that I might have been adopted. 'You can easily find out,’ she said, 'just ring the Department of Health and Community Services and ask them. They'll tell you.'
I couldn't see myself ringing some government department and asking such a personal question and anyway, I knew I wasn't adopted.
I rang the second number and repeated my request only to be given a third number. This number was duly called with exactly the same result but when I rang the fourth number the girl at the other end said, ‘Oh, you want Brendon. I'll get him for you'. Clearly the fourth number was indeed the one I wanted.
'However,’ Brendon continued more hopefully, 'Over the years we've collected up a lot of ad hoc information and if you like to hang on a minute I'll just check what we've got - it'll only take a minute.' While I waited I doodled on the pad.
It would be a 'no entry' for sure, besides, I knew with utter certainty that I wasn't adopted. A moment later Brendon was back on the phone. 'Yes,’ he said, 'there is an entry,’ and he proceeded to read out the details including the full names, occupation and address of the only parents I had ever known. I had, indeed, been adopted.
"Yes, there were regrets..."
I was stunned. To think that such a secret had been kept for so long. I was embarrassed. To think that the most important fact about my birth, who my mother was, remained totally unknown to me for more than half a lifetime. I was disappointed. So much time had elapsed. If I had known thirty years ago when my adoptive mother had died my chances of finding my blood relatives would have been so much better.
But I was also relieved; relieved that the highly unrewarding task of finding answers to questions about my parents, adoptive parents as I now knew them to be, could be put to one side. Surely it would be easier to find out about my biological family. I know that I didn't feel angry, neither then nor since, that I had been given up for adoption and never told the truth of the matter. I understood the problems of an unmarried girl with an unwanted pregnancy. But I was sad, sad for the years of not knowing.
I had a head cold. My eyes were sore and my nose runny. ‘Yes, it's quite certain. Do you want to know the names of your real in-laws? Gerald Roy Victor Lynas and May Isobel Lynas.'
'How do you feel about it? Are you upset?' my wife asked. 'Of course not. It's ancient history’ But my eyes were a bit moist. It may have been the cold.
My son was his usual phlegmatic self. After hearing what I had to say there was a moment's silence. 'That's interesting,’ he said, 'By the way what are you having for dinner tonight'. Fairly predictable responses, given their personalities.
Yes, there were regrets. Wishing l'd known earlier for even now my biological parents could be alive had they been young at the time of my birth. Perhaps I had brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, a whole family that I had never known. What kinds of people were they, are they?
Vividly I recalled how nuclear my adoptive family was, a mother, father and one child. You can't get much more nuclear than that. Not a single relative that I knew of. No grandparents. No uncles and aunts. No nieces and nephews. No cousins, first, second or any other degree. I was the only kid I knew who did not have a single relative to visit, speak about, or write to. Of course there were relatives somewhere but I didn't know them.
Both my adoptive parents came from large families. In fact, on a visit to England I had met a cousin, a niece to whom my adoptive mother was also godmother. She was unwilling to tell me anything about my mother or her family or even to put me in touch with them. She felt it her duty to be secretive. I wonder if she knew that I was adopted. She died some years ago. I wrote to her husband in case she had left any documents of interest to me. There were none.
Were my parents down on their luck, no money, out of work, no home of their own? Was marriage and keeping me not a possibility? Was I the cause or the reminder of some great unhappiness and therefore surrendered so that they might make a fresh start?
Whatever the reasons, at least they did the best possible thing for me by giving me to a mother who wanted me and loved me dearly until the day she died. Was my adoptive mother ever tempted to tell me the truth? I firmly believe that had I asked her the direct question 'Am I adopted?' she would have told me.
But I think she was well satisfied that the question was never asked and she never had to tell me the truth.
When she was seventy seven she had a stroke. She was in Perth and I in Canberra. My stepfather rang me, said that she was in hospital but was expected to recover well. Despite that reassurance I decided to fly over. We spent most of the day together chatting about family and past events. I cherish the memory of that day. Neither of us knew when we parted that we had shared our last conversation. During the night she had a massive cerebral haemorrhage and as I approached her bedside the next morning, she slipped into a coma and died three days later. Mine was the last face she saw; mine the last voice she heard. She died the more peacefully I think, content that she had filled the role of ‘mother’ so completely that the validity of her motherhood had never been doubted.
When Monday came I knew I couldn't wait another day and so went to Melbourne to get my Birth Certificate. My son accompanied me clearly at the instigation of my daughters just so someone would be with me in case I was confronted by anything emotionally disturbing. That's the great thing about families; they look after one another.
A country girl from Kyabram (according to the birth certificate), nineteen, pregnant and probably alone at the hospital to give birth to an unwanted baby. I can imagine her family giving her a bad time, their disappointment at her moral lapse fuelling anger and perhaps even rejection. Her friends may not have been able to help much. My father was obviously not around. She must have felt pretty much abandoned, alone and isolated. Childbirth at the best of times isn't without pain and trauma, even with the full support of husband, family and friends and undergirded by the passionate desire to have a child.
For my mum it might just have been the end of the unhappiest few months of her life. 1928 wasn't exactly the most enlightened age as far as unwanted pregnancies were concerned. I feel deeply, painfully for her.
Its likely they may not have wanted any contact. It's even more likely that my adoptive mum would not have wanted contact because mine was an informal fostering and she would have feared me being taken from her.
Sadness for my nineteen year old mum and for myself and for all that might have been.
The next step is to apply for the Certificates of Isabel May's birth and her parents’ Marriage. I have done this. Now I will take some time and look for the marriage of Isabel May that is likely to have occurred some time after 1928. It was easily found; she had married David Williams in 1930. I wonder whether he knew about me? I have also applied for that certificate.
After searching records for some time I was about to leave, but as an afterthought went back to thank the lady whose suggestion had first opened up this new vista for me. She asked if I had discovered Isabel May's Death Certificate and suggested that, as the 1994 Electoral Roll was there on microfiche, I should check that to see if she were still alive.
I would like her to know that things worked out all right for the baby she had to relinquish; that I feel for her in the situation she was in and that I am neither hurt nor angry that she had to give me up. I'd like her to know that she did her best for me in giving me to a mother who could not have loved me more had I been flesh of her flesh. I want her to know that not only does she have a son and daughter-in-law but three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren of whom she can be proud. Most of all I want her to have pleasure in knowing these things, content that there need be no regrets, no sadness, no blame.
After all, they are my half brothers and sisters, even though I can't expect to develop that relationship with them. They will have their extended families and their circles of friends just as I have mine. We're not likely to meet much, maybe not at all and we may have little in common but it would be nice to know something about each other - at least, l'd like to know about them.
We tracked down a telephone number for Sandra, a voluntary counsellor with the Geelong Adoption Program (GAP). Sandra answered my call and spent a great deal of time preparing me for the possible outcomes of any attempt to make contact. Then she indicated a way to initiate contact that generally had the best chance of success. It made sense. In my case Isabel May, my mother, was eighty six years old.
"My heart bled for her."
The birth I was asking her to recall occurred sixty seven years ago. She had probably never discussed that event in all those years. No one else might even know of it. A painful memory to be suppressed and repressed until it faded from mind. 'After such a length of time,’ Sandra said, 'some women will have little recollection of the birth and some may never believe or acknowledge that it occurred.' After reflecting on the advice I wrote the following letter.
Then it was matter of waiting to see if there would be a reply.
|I speculated about her reaction. She would receive the letter on Wednesday. No doubt she would puzzle over it. Perhaps if she understands that it refers to a baby she had out of wedlock all those years ago she might destroy the letter immediately. She might not want to face the emotional trauma of dealing with the writer and simply discard it. Maybe she would give it to one of her children to deal with and then who knows what might occur. If she replies she might deny the link between us. Even if she accepts the link she may declare that she wants no further involvement. The possibilities are endless. All this and more passes through my mind while I wait for a reply.
The reality was quite different!
At least a week will have to be allowed before a reply could be received. That will bring us very close to Easter and any subsequent step may have to wait until after that holiday period. I continue to hope that the letter has caused her no distress.
I filled in my time by researching the family through the public record, finding out about Isabel May's husband, children, parents and grandparents. By getting the appropriate Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates I acquired much information. Then on the Tuesday before Easter the reply came. It was written in the spidery hand of one no longer accustomed to writing but it was clear, concise and to the point. This is what it said;
Just received your letter so will answer it straight away. Believe you are the baby I adopted out all those years ago. I have to have an operation as soon as there is a bed in the Warragul Hospital, if you want to get in touch with me my phone number is *********. I'm home most evenings except Tuesday.
I hope this is the information that you want. Yours sincerely...
Was it ever the information I wanted! My old mum remembers her baby son and welcomes him contacting her. The most difficult part is over!
Wednesday found us finishing our packing to go away for Easter. I almost wished we were not going but felt that the forced interlude between our writing and our meeting would be best in the long run. It would give both her and us time to prepare ourselves for meeting face to face.
After receiving her reply I had written to her that night indicating that by the time she received the letter we would have spoken on the phone and fixed a date when we would visit her in Warragul. I called her on Wednesday morning. Her voice betrayed some anxiety and uncertainty but strengthened as we talked. She told me a little of her family and I told her something of mine. We confirmed the date and time of our visit. I didn't know it then, but that date was one of the most significant anniversaries of my life, a fitting occasion on which to meet my biological mother.
I called Sandra, brought her up-to-date, and off we went to Maldon for Easter.
As an aside I have to tell you that, right from the first discovery, we told all our family and friends the story as it unfolded. This meant that we were able to enjoy the experience to the full with no thought of having to suppress anything we learned. It was the greatest help I could have had in adjusting to learning of my adoption and preparing for the next steps - just being able to talk freely about it.
The next exciting event would be meeting my mother after sixty seven years.
Wednesday, 19th April. A beautiful day and a pleasant if somewhat quiet drive to Warragul. We had flowers, photos (particularly of me as a baby and little boy) and many anxieties as to how the meeting would go.
Fairview Homes was easy to find and following Isabel May's instructions over the phone, her flat was easily located. Her front door was open, the room shielded only by the fly wire door. Lorna and I walked down the path and knocked. A voice from within said, 'I thought it might have been you. Come in.’ We opened the door and went in.
Isabel May, supported by a walking frame, was standing in front of an armchair. 'My legs are not too good,’ she said. We said hello and kissed. It was all very low key but warm, friendly and welcoming. Each of us was pleased to be meeting the other and I think we conveyed that pleasure clearly. The flat was small. A living room, bedroom, small kitchen and a kind of vestibule that housed laundry and toilet. Seventeen years, she told us, she had been living there, going on to tell us how it all came about and what she had been doing all these years. After much talking and showing of photos we suggested taking her out to lunch. Her reply was what we came to recognize as vintage Isabel May. ‘I’d rather we get fish and chips and bring them back here to eat.’ No pretensions about my mum.
I mentioned earlier that the 19th April was a significant anniversary for me. I was born on April 5th and on April 19th, 1928, when I was just fourteen days old, Isabel May placed me in the arms of my adoptive mother.
She still remembered the scene clearly – an English couple, the wife wearing black with a single strand of pearls and the husband standing behind her saying nothing. Our reunion in Warragul was exactly 67 years to the day after she had surrendered me into the arms of my adoptive mother. Such are the mysteries of life.
Before we completed our visit Lorna nudged me and said, ‘Ask her who knows about you.’ I did as I was told. ‘No one,’ Isabel May replied, ‘But they will. My brother and his wife come tomorrow and I’ll tell them then. And when I speak to the girls (my half sisters) on the phone I’ll tell them.’ And she did. In fact, she presided over my entry into the family with calm assurance.
We had five good years with Isabel May, visiting her every two to three weeks in Warragul although we saw her in her flat only the once. She had her operation within a week or two of our meeting and was moved from the hospital to Cooinda as she could no longer walk.
She died at the age of 91 on Valentines Day, 2000.
There is much more I could tell you but I must finish by reminding you how my story started. If I hadn’t joined that particular Probus Club and arranged that particular speaker and if he hadn’t mentioned shipping records…. So my story did indeed come about ‘ just by chance’ and in so doing enriched my life beyond measure.
--> Back to Top