Born To Be Free
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Martha sat very still, watching, thinking. When she tired of both, she took off her hospital gown and quickly pulled on her own clothes; a flowery long sleeved top, dark trousers and pale pumps. She dragged a brush through her shoulder length auburn hair, grabbed her bag and left the ward.
Eight weeks later, after receiving the predicted phone call, she returned to the hospital. She hadn’t visited during those eight weeks and neither had she signed the papers. She decided now that rather than offer her bold fateful signature, she would instead take her baby home.
She was a young girl with an illegitimate child, so the neighbours naturally talked amongst themselves. Her parents struggled with the stigma that Martha had brought on their family whilst also finding it difficult to cope with the constant crying and inconvenience of a newborn in the family home. Eventually, they asked her to leave.
She was given a flat over the other side of the city, far removed from her family. She felt alone, isolated and overwhelmed and desperately needed support. She struggled on for a few more weeks, a child trying to raise a child essentially until she could continue no more and sadly picked up the phone.
As soon as her family heard of the imminent adoption, they immediately responded by offering to raise the child themselves. Although, Martha was comforted by the idea, ultimately circumstances conspired against her and she was forced to hand over her child.
John and Shirley had always wanted a family. Once married, they began trying in earnest but eventually they realised that there may be a problem. After numerous tests, Marion devastatingly discovered that she could not have her own biological children.
Adoption seemed the next best alternative and after a long, lengthy process, they were finally able to adopt a two year old little boy called Seth and then to complete their family, they adopted Henrietta a little while later, who was just nine months old.
Before he was adopted, Seth had been in a children’s home that was closed not long after his departure due to allegations of abuse and neglect. Seth was one of the victims! Upon being adopted, it became clear that Seth had been greatly affected and would need a lot of support to overcome the trauma that he had endured.
John and Shirley wanted a perfect family.
Shirley had not worked through her emotions with regards to not being able to have children. There were acute feelings of loss and disappointment coupled with anger, resentment and shame. Already narcissistic by nature, this pain only served to exasperate the more difficult parts of her personality.
John was the eldest of three. With an absent father and formidable mother, he grew into a man who felt emasculated. Weak, unassertive and subservient, he was dominated and harangued by his overbearing wife and work colleagues until a silent rage festered inside of him. Feeling threatened by the masculinity of his only son, he finally found a release for his rage and inferiority; violence.
From a young age, Seth and Henrietta were told that they were ‘special’. Even though neither of them remembered, their parents had apparently made a book for them both which explained that they had both been chosen. It seemed in some ways similar to the biology book their parents had given them when they were four and seven respectively to teach them the facts of life, neither of them remembered that either much to their parents frustration.
Seth was the child that acted out, continuously pushing boundaries to see whether his new parents would also inevitably abandon him. Although they may have not snapped and left him on the steps of an orphanage in the traditional sense, they abandoned him in a very different way. Needing love and affection, desperately seeking attention whether through good or bad behaviour and needing stability and firm boundaries to feel secure, they felt out of their depth as parents and ashamed by his constant difficult and troublesome behaviour, especially when in front of family and friends. Rather than seeking help for themselves and their son, perhaps contacting social services for support, accessing counselling or contacting their GP, they instead reverted to more familiar and primitive ways of behaving and became violent and mentally abusive in order to find a semblance of control in their malfunctioning family.
Henrietta was a quiet, sensitive, introverted child and more in-ward acting than her brother. Shirley, who had always desperately wanted a daughter of her own, believed that she could make Henrietta into that child. With her obsessive fears of abandonment which led to her always trying to please and her terror at the violence and abuse she suffered at home, Henrietta would naturally do anything to protect herself and prevent her own annihilation, even if this meant being someone else entirely.
By the time that Henrietta was eleven things were slowly changing. Seth had finally confronted their father and like all cowards, he had backed down immediately. Unfortunately, although the violence had come to an end, her brother was still understandably angry and troubled. He felt that Henrietta had suffered less physical abuse than him and indeed deemed her the favoured child thus turning his anger away from his father and towards her. The violence may have stopped between father and son but it was just beginning between brother and sister.
Her Mother was no longer as happy with her as she had once been. As Henrietta grew up, she began to resemble her birth mother physically and this, coupled with her beginning to find herself and assert her own identity was the ultimate betrayal to Shirley. She would never be forgiven.
Henrietta had always kept a diary and although there had been entries that were particularly sad or upsetting, this was probably the most difficult thing she had had to write. She didn’t know what else to do except write down every minute detail as she sat softly crying.
Her Mother looked at her with narrowed eyes, as she held open her diary at the incriminating pages. Henrietta though upset, momentarily hoped that her Mother would help, that she would bring things to an end. Instead, her mother with her usual vehemence spat cruel words from her harsh burgundy painted lips, blaming her for what happened whilst defending her own biological relatives.
Over the next few years, her health would suffer as she began suffering from depression and severe anxiety. With no one to turn to she continued to endure the things that she had written about, whilst also being continuously bullied at school and then raped by another person whilst on her summer holidays.
When she was fourteen she gained enough courage to ask her adopted mother about her birth parents. Initially not prepared to discuss it, a few weeks later whilst sitting in the family car, her mother told her what she knew in the usual harsh, cold way that Henrietta had come to expect.
Her birth mother had been just fifteen when she had become involved with a man almost twenty years older than herself. He was married with children and a drug addict. Her family had forbidden the relationship and given their daughter an ultimatum; leave him or move out. She had chosen this man over her family and moved in with him. It didn’t last and he left when she became pregnant. Henrietta had been born eight weeks early; had suffered from severe jaundice and had become addicted to drugs via her mother. Finally her adopted mother told her that her birth mother hadn’t wanted her because she looked like her father and so had given her away.
Even though the information wasn’t particularly appetising, her mother had chosen to not only deliver the information but to make sure she hurt Henrietta in the process.
Her relationship with her adoptive parents ultimately broke down and so finally when she was just fifteen she left home to live with her boyfriend.
Having a child at seventeen brought up difficult emotions for her and although she returned home when she was nearly eighteen with severe post-natal depression, she was adamant that it was time to begin searching for her mother. She waited until she was officially eighteen and joined a group set up to help adoptees search for their birth families at the city’s central library.
Her parents knew of her search. Her father remained quiet as expected but her mother was resentful and jealous, talking of how she should not be called the ‘adopted mother’ as if she was somehow second best but should be seen as the ‘real mother’.
Henrietta persisted in her search and tried to ignore her mother’s emotional blackmail, until one evening at the adoption group, she came across her mothers name on the electoral register. The emotional reaction to seeing her name there in black and white was overwhelming and although it filled her with a collection of emotions, the greatest of them all was fear. She ran from the room anxiously and never returned to the group.
It would be fourteen years later when through a wonderful search angel Henrietta finally found her Mother. It was a surreal situation but she was hopeful. The information that her adopted mother had told her was true she would learn, her mother had been a young fifteen year old girl who had been groomed and abused by a much older man, although, she hadn’t had her adopted because of how she looked or who she resembled but because she had had no choice.
Martha had been traumatized by what had happened all those years ago, not just from the adoption but also the abuse. Her life post-adoption had been chaotic and turbulent, like many a birth mothers life. When Henrietta reappeared, although she was happy, it also reopened wounds that had never been healed and caused Martha much emotional pain and distress.
She had gone to have other children and she believed that her relationship with Henrietta should be as it was with them. Unable to deal with the guilt of what she had done, she now expected things to simply fit into place and for Henrietta to accept her as a mother, irrespective of the intervening thirty-two years. When it was explained that they were strangers to one another and although they could have a relationship, it would not necessarily be a maternal one but more a relationship/friendship between two adults, Martha reacted badly.
Finally, Martha started talking about life before her daughter reappeared in her life. She had spent her whole avoiding pain, mentally blocking things out that were too emotionally painful to contend with. Instead she focused on spending time with her children, working excessively and looking for love. Her life had a stability and familiarity that was reassuring and comforting and enabled her to keep the many ghosts at bay.
Henrietta knew that in Martha wanting to return to the way things had been before, she was needing to return to a more stable and knowable time in her life when things perhaps made more sense and the pain involved subsided.
So, exactly six months after they had found each other Henrietta made the decision… to softly say goodbye.
In the months that followed, she also said goodbye to her adopted family and finally after many years, she realised the essential truth: she was born to be free!
About Henrietta Ross
Henrietta is a writer and blogger from the UK. She is an adoring disciple of Oscar Wilde and a self-confessed Bibliophile, who loves tea, chocolate and Bruce Springsteen. You can connect with Henrietta on Twitter.