The Pain of Adoption.
Interviewed by Sue Leonard
Published in the Irish Examiner. 30TH November 2010
Fiona Cassidy can’t wait for Christmas. She’ll be celebrating with her partner Philip, with her two children, her partner’s two, and their own three year old, Áine. Best of all, Fiona is pregnant again, with a baby due in March. It’s all a long way from the time when she struggled as a single mum of two.
“Christmas will be brilliant,” she says. “We have a mad brood. It was will be chaos, but I love that. I love the identity it gives me.” And that, for Fiona is a vital feeling.
Fiona was adopted. As a teenager, she often wondered who she really was. She wondered what life would have been like with her birth mother. And what sort of person was she?
Fiona had always known she was adopted. Her adoptive parents, Peter and Eileen Cassidy had told her she was special. They’d given her a magical childhood in County Tyrone, and said, simply, that her birth mother had been unable to look after her.
“My parents said I’d been ‘meant’ to come to them. They described me to others as their special wee girl, and when I was younger, I accepted that. But as a teenager you realise, ‘my mother didn’t want me.’ I wanted to know why.
“I was always close to my parents, and I felt almost guilty about asking questions. But I was dying to know if I looked like somebody. I hated those conversations other people had, when they were told, ‘you are so like your sister,’ or ‘you have your mother’s eyes.’ I would have loved somebody to turn round and say that to me.
“My parents always supported me,” she says. “They didn’t palm me off. When I said I would contact my birth mother, they said, ‘do what you want to do. We will always be behind you.”
Fiona expected her search to be long and hard. But when, a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday she went to the registry of births deaths and marriages, she procured her full birth certificate. That certificate had my birth mother’s full name and address on it.
It was a momentous moment.
“It was surreal. It was ‘wow.’ I was once somebody else. I carried my birth mother’s address around for a long time, and I never told mummy and daddy that I had it. I was afraid of their reaction. I felt I’d sneaked off without telling them, and gone behind their back. I knew they were keen for me to go through the proper channels, but I was impulsive. I didn’t want to do that.”
Although she was nervous about taking the next step, Fiona was excited too.
“I’d often dreamt of meeting my birth mother. When I saw people meet their relatives on Cilla Black’s ‘Surprise Surprise,’ I’d thought, one day that will be me. I waited for weeks. I only told my boyfriend about it. I didn’t trust anyone else enough. I was afraid if I told my friends, they would have told their mummies, and their mummies would have told mine.”
Eventually she and her boyfriend went to her birth mother’s house but Fiona hadn’t the nerve to knock on the door. In the meantime she’d found her baptismal certificate, and on it, was an aunt’s address.
“She had been my Godmother. My boyfriend did some sleuth work, and he came up with her phone number. He phoned her, she gave him the address and we went to see her.”
Fiona was hoping for her happy ever after ending, but she was in for one big shock.
“Two aunts were there, but they weren’t exactly welcoming. They told me that my birth mother had health problems, and it would be detrimental to her to meet me. They said it would not do me any good either. It was just awful to hear that. It was really upsetting. I was basically told to go away and not to come back.”
Fiona carried around the hurt for months, too upset to tell her parents.
“I was emotionally distraught. When I did tell them, it was straight to the family doctor, and he organised for me to have counselling. It was a very bad time for me. I do realise it was partly my own fault. If I’d gone down the proper channels I’d have had counselling before making contact. It would have prepared me.”
Shortly after that Fiona became pregnant. Her son is now 15. She had another child, and ended up coping as a single mum. Ten years ago she met her partner, Philip, and they live happily in County Tyrone with her children, with his two part time, and with their own child Áine, who is three.
Having her own family has helped Fiona. She now feels she fits in somewhere. But it’s brought back the pain too.
“When I had Áine, in particular, it did make me think, how could a mum give a baby away. You realise how precious they are, and how much you love them. You think, I would die if anything happened to them. I remember someone came to leave off a baby present when we had Áine. They said, ‘Oh you are gorgeous, how could anyone give one away?’ I was thinking, yes how could you?”
Fiona’s latest book, ‘Anyone for me?’ covers the story of an adopted child. She covers the issue in an authentic way, but gives Ruby the happy ending she would have liked for herself.
“Writing the book was cathartic,” she says.
Fiona is still close to her parents. They’re looking after the children while Fiona is in Dublin for this interview. Over the years, Fiona has tried contacting her aunts again; she wants, at the least, to know how her mother is doing, but each time she’s knocked back.
“They’ve always snubbed me, and that’s hard. I’ve done some research. There are politicians in my family on both sides of the border. There’s a famous actor, even a writer. There are cousins the same age as me. I can’t contact them because I have a duty of care towards my mother. I do understand that her sisters want to protect her.”
She doggedly kept contact, using Philip as an intermediary, but in the Autumn, when Philip met a relative, he was abruptly told that Fiona has been a mistake; and that when she’d been adopted, her birth mother’s family gave up all legal and moral responsibility towards her.
“I’m so shocked,” she says. “And so saddened. I can’t agree that they have no moral responsibility. It’s so harsh. If I could, I would ask them to walk in my shoes for a day. I never asked to be born, any more than any child did, and I’m not wanting to intrude, but I’d love them to acknowledge me.
“One of my biggest fears is I am going to open the obituary pages and see my birth mother’s name. Why can’t they extend their hand and say, ‘I am glad you are well – this is how your mammy is.’
Anyone for me by Fiona Cassidy is published by Poolbeg Press at 13.99 euro.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on ADOPTION