Birth parents never forget the children they have lost to adoption. ROB BROWN tells the moving story of his search for the son he thought he’d never meet.
I was 18 when I fathered my first child. When my girlfriend first told me that she was pregnant, I felt very happy about becoming a father.
We got engaged and made plans to marry but as the date drew nearer I realised I couldn’t go through with it – on several fronts. This caused me a great deal of confusion. I felt awfully guilty for abandoning my pregnant girlfriend and great deal of pain at losing my son. But I felt too young for marriage and the responsibilities of a baby.
A CRIPPLING SILENCE
Paul was born in December 1973 and placed for adoption soon afterwards. I found out when he was born but fear and guilt kept me from taking any action. I told my friends and parents but people didn’t know how to react, and Paul’s conception, birth and existence became a shameful, compartmentalised secret for me. My anguish during this time was immense. No one asked me what I wanted. Nobody spoke to me. The shameful silence crippled me. I felt powerless as the days ticked by after his birth and I knew that soon someone else would have my son and I would never know him.
The pain I felt continued for a long time. It gave way to depression and increased teenage risk taking behaviours. (Much drinking and two serious car crashes). I never got over the loss of my first son. I knew that I was not supposed to talk about him but I thought about him all the time. I remember justifying Paul’s adoption to myself (and others) by saying that I was too young to be a good father and that a married, middle class couple could provide him with far more than his mother and I could.
The passing of time dulled the pain, guilt and confusion but they never really went away. Life continued. I travelled, studied and later married and had two more sons. My marriage broke up after 9 years and I found myself determined not to lose any more children. I fought hard to remain a significant part of my younger son’s lives. In fact I became their primary carer. I had worried about Paul over the years and I realised if I could look after my two younger sons, I could also look after Paul if he needed it.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
I started searching for him in 1990. It didn’t take long to discover that his adoptive family had moved to New Zealand with him when he was 18 month old. I put my name down with an adoption search service. I approached the adoption counsellor who made a phone call to the number that I thought was his adoptive family. They said that they did not have an adopted son. Were they lying or did I have the wrong family? The counsellor left it with me to find the right family and phone number. I fell back into sadness, pain and inaction. The fact that he was in New Zealand put me off. I had also got into another relationship and this put my search for Paul on the backburner (again).
I later realized that I had a cycle of becoming energised to find him, getting active but then becoming frightened that he would reject me if or when I found him. It seemed easier to have the fantasy of a happy reunion with Paul than risk the possibility of his rejection.
By the year 2000 I was on my own again and I had two teenage sons living with me. During a ‘contraceptive’ talk with my eldest son, I told him of my ‘accident’ when I was a teenager. As had happened to me, he got the unspoken message that Paul was not to be talked about. But a year later he told me that he wanted to find his brother, find out what sort of person he was and what he looked like. I was inspired by his curiosity and courage. I said that I too wanted to find Paul and decided that I should act.
A NEW ENERGY
I went back to the adoption counselling agency. This time I was really motivated to find Paul. God, it is frustrating the way they slow you down! Don’t they understand that once you are ready you’ve got to do it?
I was able to curb my impatience and gained a great deal of support and courage (not to mention insight and forgiveness) out of the counselling. In January 2002 I found Paul’s number and address in Auckland (thanks to the internet). I decided with the counsellor that she should make the first call to him. I trusted her professional expertise and objectivity. She was to phone him to determine if he knew he was adopted and if he wanted to have information and contact with his birth father. She was to phone me at 6:00 pm that evening and tell me how it went. I couldn’t wait: I came home from work early and phoned her. She told me she had spoken to him and that he was happy to have contact with me. In fact he would wait up for my call that night.
I cannot describe how elated I was. I wanted to know all about him and plied the counsellor with questions. She said that I needed to ask him all of these myself, of course. I could hear her happiness too. I got off the phone and cried for 20 minutes with joy, sadness, excitement…I jumped around the house and sang. Then I had to pluck up the courage to make the phone call. I dialled his number. My heart raced as I heard the beep beep beep of the international connection. And then the moment I had rehearsed a thousand times – a male voice answered. I asked if this was Paul. He said it was, I took a deep breath and said ‘Hi I’m Rob, your birth father.’ He said: ‘Yeah, I know’. I asked if he was ok to hear from me. What a relief – he was!
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
I didn’t know where to start. I asked him to tell me about himself and he happily did. I soaked up every word. I gave him a brief summary of me and my life (what do you say?) He told me that he had had a good childhood, he knew from an early age that he was adopted and that his adoptive parents encouraged him to find his birth parents. He had met his birth mother four years earlier and had asked her to help him find me. He actually wanted to know me. My years of fears and hopes finally resolved.
I could not believe what a great young man Paul seemed to be. He was accepting, understanding and did not appear judging or rejecting about the circumstances of his conception, birth and adoption. We talked for about 45 minutes and then I had to stop. I wanted to slow down and savour what had just occurred. He agreed to me phoning him in a couple of days.
I didn’t quite know what to do. Who do I tell first? Bursting with joy, I phoned my next-oldest son. He caught my excitement and came straight home from work to find out about his brother. I called my father and told him. In his own way he now gave me permission to welcome Paul into my life. I phoned several friends who came over with champagne. They wanted to hear every detail of the day and the call. It was fantastic.
A BIGGER JOURNEY
Two days later I got a call from Paul’s adoptive father, Bill. He wanted to tell me how great it was that I had made contact and what a great kid Paul had been and what a fine young man he now was. I was stunned and honoured. Bill was genuinely happy and encouraging for Paul to have contact with his birth parents. He invited me to come to New Zealand. I said I would love to but needed to negotiate that with Paul first.
Paul did agree to me going to NZ and we both acknowledged an impatience to meet. I arrived in Auckland on Easter Saturday and Paul was at the airport to greet me. We weren’t sure if we would recognise each other despite exchanging photos. However, we spotted each other the second I walked through the terminal. It was spooky how similar to me he looks. I had wondered how to greet him: should I shake his hand or hug him, what should I say to him in person? I had to hug him. Twenty eight years of not knowing him, seeing him, holding him like I had held my other boys, I couldn’t help myself. He was a bit taken aback but okay (I think).
Paul had time off work and I spent ten days with him. We had time alone and the opportunity to share stories. There were things I needed to tell him. I wanted to hear from him. He was very open with me. I felt very honoured and proud. He took me to meet his adoptive parents in the country town he grew up in. They were hospitable and welcoming. They showed me photos and videos and their love of Paul. I thought I would feel jealous of their relationship with him but to see how much they loved him was in fact healing for me. It was a relief to know that he had been well cared for.
I left NZ after ten 10 days with Paul. It had gone very well, far better than I had hoped. I was awash with feelings, mostly positive. It was such a relief to have found the courage to take the step to find and meet him. I also felt a great burden lifted.
And now I am able to tell people I have 3 sons.
Rob Brown was born in Perth, Western Australia to Scottish parents. He grew up and lived there until his two younger sons left home. He moved to the UK in 2008 and has lived in Edinburgh and now London where he works as a Social Work Team Manager in a children’s hospital.
For more information on tracing birth relatives in Scotland, try Barnardos Scotland Adoption Support Service.