The agony of birth parents and children, separated for decades, is explored by the UK television programme Long Lost Family which aims to reunite adult adopted children with their birth families. Anchored by popular presenter Davina McCall and journalist Nicky Campbell [below], it is particularly poignant for Campbell who was himself adopted as a young child. The series is incredibly popular in the UK, concentrating on the emotional stories of children and parents, rather than the nuts and bolts of the search. Some of the interviews are heart-rending. Now in its third series, the programme is sensitive to the emotional difficulties on all sides of the adoption triangle, no judgements are made about the past, the emphasis is on reunion where possible and emotional healing.To give you a taster, here is the story of one birth mother seeking her son.
Helen Harrison tried to find her child for years. In 1977, at the age of 16, she fell pregnant. She hid the condition for five months. When her father found out, he turned her out of the house. “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out…’ He didn’t want anything more to do with me, he just wanted me to go.” In the UK in the 1970s, local councils were obliged to provide housing for women in Helen’s situation, but Helen describes the flat she was given was ‘undesirable’ for raising a family.
She didn’t know what to do. Her father offered her a solution, asking her: “What sort of life are you going to offer to a child on your own? There are people out there who desperately want to love a baby.” So she agreed that when the child was born, it would be given up for adoption. “I’m having this baby for someone else,” she thought. “It’s going to be so much better for him.” When the baby boy was born, she called him Anthony. “It was the most heart-breaking thing to have to do.” She wrote a letter to him then, at his birth, explaining that she gave him away in order for him to have a better life, and that she would always love him.
She never received a reply from Anthony and had no idea if he had read her words. “I don’t think he’s read the letter,” she told the television programme. Why did Anthony not answer the letter – did he not receive it, did he not know he was adopted, or was the time not right? She writes a second letter for the Long Lost Family team to give to Anthony, should they find him.
In fact Anthony, re-named David, had not received the letter. He had been told of his adoption, when he was nine, by his adopted parents. At the news he remembers being terrified a stranger would arrive on the doorstep and take him away. He had a happy childhood. He is traced by Long Lost Family who give him Helen’s new letter. He agrees to meet her and writes a letter in reply.
The first thing Helen asks when she hears the team have found Anthony is “Is he happy?” She reads aloud David’s letter which starts: “The first and most important thing I want you to know is that whatever the circumstances surrounding the adoption were, I will never be angry, bitter or resentful.”
Helen, who for decades when asked the question ‘how many sons do you have?’ had thought ‘three’ in her head but spoken ‘two’, finally gets to meet her lost son. “I couldn’t imagine the day that I would meet my baby.”
For helpful ‘adoption search’ resources, suggested by the team behind the Long Lost Family programme, click here.
For information about appearing on Long Lost Family, click here.
For help with late discovery adoption, click here.
To read a fictional story involving adoption, click here for more information about my novel Ignoring Gravity.