I think everyone in Ireland has seen me cry on national television. Strangers in queues recognize me; mothers at parent-teacher meetings hug me; friends joke that I ruined their mascara as they watched me. Everyone, it seems, cried along with me. I had no idea so many people watched television. I had no idea that my story would land so deeply in everyone’s hearts. No one looks pretty when they cry. I had to endure newspaper stills of my crumpled up face, not to mention screaming headlines that missed the point of it all.
In October 2016, I was featured in the TV3 series ‘Adoption Stories’. I gave my son up for adoption in 1988 when Ireland’s daughters were paving the wave for Choice. People kept their babies and I gave mine away. It was unusual for a rule breaker like me but I didn’t think it was a very interesting story. Sharon Lawless, the producer, disagreed. So, it seems, did everyone else. It’s a beautifully made series and I’m happy I did it. It wasn’t easy but Sharon and the team were exceptionally kind and patient. The PA, Aisling, re-applied my makeup so many times, in the end it hardly seemed worth the effort. The outpouring of support and goodwill from people then and since has been overwhelming. Strangers have contacted me – some wondering if I’m their mother, but also women older and younger than me, birth mothers who have been carrying the same pain.
My story began as a secret in an Ireland that was beginning to stand up to the Catholic Church. Pregnant girls defiantly gave up their carefree days and settled down to the business of motherhood. Some managed well, some struggled. I daydreamed of being a good mother; of somehow becoming more glamorous and hip, of managing motherhood with aplomb and not having it change my life. But I also considered another option that was put to me; adoption. Just an option; not just for me but for the baby too.
For the baby.
I had control over another life. The baby’s fate lay in my hands.
I had just turned twenty but my teenage years were wildly selfish. I can still stand inside myself as my mother made pastry, calmly telling me that she had washed her hands of me, that it was the only thing left for her to do. She couldn’t continue to worry about me or it would drive her mad. I watched her hands working the flour, remembering how she’d sometimes comment as she’d bake; how important it was to let the air work through the mix. I didn’t care about her worries. I was relieved that she was letting me go, free to do what the hell I pleased. A better daughter would at least have hugged her, said sorry for causing you stress. I had to stop myself from clicking my heels. I was possessed by absolute selfness. I left her there, making a pie that I would no doubt eat a slice of at some ungodly hour of the morning, feeling only the tiniest sliver of guilt. Not enough to make me a better daughter then, but enough to turn my head in the not too distant future, to force me to stop, to think of others. I had to become a mother to be a better daughter. I had to become a mother to know what it takes to be a better human being.