Hidden gems

I first met my older sister when I was 22. Seems strange I know but in the 70’s it just wasn’t acceptable for an unmarried teenage girl to give birth to and parent a child, so my sister was adopted out not long after she was born. Growing up, the only girl in my then two-child household, I always dreamed of having a sister – more so in teenage years when my brother, going through that teenage boy stage, disappeared into his room for 4 years or so. My best friend at the time had (and still has) two sisters and I was always jealous of the relationship between them, yes plenty of fighting and I wasn’t jealous of that, but also so much fun and sharing that just doesn’t happen between boy and girl as teenagers…..clothes, make-up, boy-stories.

I remember the day I truly found out about my sister. I say truly because apparently I discovered her adoption papers when I was a child and thought that I was adopted, but I don’t remember that. When I truly found out about my sister, and remember finding out about her, I was fourteen. At first I didn’t believe my mum, thinking she was talking complete rubbish. I remember phoning my nana (my dad’s mum) to check with her, needing someone to corroborate the story. Unfortunately she wasn’t much help, she’d been in hospital around the time my sister was born and because it was such a secret she was never really kept in the loop, it wasn’t that she didn’t remember at all, she was just a bit vague on the details. I’m not sure if I asked my dad or not but something finally made me believe I had a sister out there somewhere and from that moment on I fantasised about being able to meet her.

Because of the way adoptions were once carried out in this country my parents never knew where my sister had ended up. The only way children and birth-parents were reconnected was if they both independently made contact with social services requesting contact information for the other. I remember asking Mum every once in a while “has she made contact yet?” only to be disappointed with a shake of the head. Multiple times I had random people say “Oh you look so familiar, are you blah-blah’s sister?” and every time I would shrug, secretly wondering if maybe I was.
Finally in my early twenties, I asked my mum again, “Has she made contact yet?” and although Mum tried to say no, I knew she had. I’ve almost always been close to my mum and I generally know when she’s trying to hide something. Turns out contact had been relatively recent so Mum wanted a chance to meet and get to know my sister first, which I completely understood, although it did nothing to alleviate my longing to meet her.

The day finally arrived where I got my near-life-long wish, and we travelled to my sister’s house to meet. I was so nervous but also incredibly excited. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty shy person so meeting new people, especially those as important as this, terrifies me. I wasn’t sure what to say, wasn’t sure if she’d like me, or if she’d resent me in some way for growing up with my parents. I have to admit, I’ve often wondered how different my life would be (assuming I was still conceived) had we grown up together. Would it have made hard times like my parents separation easier? Would I be a better or stronger person today having had her in my life all those years? Would we even have got along when we were younger or would we fight like cat and dog (or cat and cat in my household) – an annoying younger sister getting in the way of her life? I guess it doesn’t really matter does it, it didn’t happen and that’s that.

So we meet and it’s great and awkward and scary all at once. I remember my mum taking a photo of the two of us, complaining we were both pulling a silly face and taking another. A week later we get the photos (this is back in the days of film) and both our expressions are the same – first the ‘silly one’ then the smile. I am amazed at how two people who have never met can be so similar (genes are strange things), and finally feel like our family is whole again.

Over the intervening years we’ve regularly kept in touch and both our families (though that seems weird to write “both” as to me we all feel like one family now) have spent time together and gotten closer. Unfortunately distance and shyness has delayed the degree of closeness I would like but I feel, especially over the last year or so, that we’re getting there, and it makes me so happy. She was all I ever wanted growing up and despite loving her to bits now (as I do all my siblings) and enjoying hanging out, I can’t help but think of all the lost years between us. My hubby thinks that all this talk of loss at our adoption workshops has made me feel this way but I think it’s always been there, the only difference is I now know what to label it, that hole in my tummy. Loss.

It makes me thankful that adoptions are more open now. It may be a little harder initially but the idea that both birth and adoptive families get to play a role in a child’s life creates a sense of relief in me. I’m sure sometimes things just don’t work out and the two sets of families drift apart, but just having the opportunity to be present in a child’s life and having the option of a relationship with both origin and upbringing can remove a lot of the hurt potentially felt by both sides. Personally I think it would have helped me a great deal, although as a minor player in the game I know it’s not about me, but uniting with my sister and her family now, I know it would’ve been great to know them all along.

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