REAL LIFE

I was sold as a baby for $80

For years, Theresa felt like a misfit in her family. Then she found out why...
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Theresa Tinggal, 60, Bournemouth, UK

‘Sometimes I feel as if I didn’t come from her,’ I confessed to my friend. ‘I feel so detached…’

Taking a sip of wine, I sighed.

A friend and I were chatting about our mothers, and while what I was saying about mine might sound a little heartless to many people, it was the truth.

The relationship between me and my mum Kathleen had always been strained.

Growing up, I felt like an outsider.

But neither my older sister, Margaret, nor my younger sister, Bernie, who Mum and our dad, Jimmy, fostered when I was two, had the same issues with her.

When Dad died when I was 16, I left our home in Dublin to move to the south coast of England to work as a teacher.

Decades went by with very little contact between Mum and me, and by the time I was 48, we hadn’t really spoken for years.

But when my friend suggested I actually talk to my mum about our relationship, I realised I did need to get to the bottom of why we didn’t seem to connect.

Ringing my uncle Pat, Mum’s brother, I told him I was flying home to discuss things.

To my astonishment, he started crying.

‘She has to tell you the truth,’ he blurted out.

What did that mean? Probing him about it, I wasn’t prepared for what he was about to tell me.

‘You’re not Kathleen’s child,’ he said. ‘You’re adopted.’

I was absolutely dumbfounded. How could this be? I was 48 years old.

My parents’ names were on my birth certificate… How could I have not known?

Phoning Bernie, now 58, in Dublin, I told her the shocking news.

‘Oh god, who told you?’ she gasped.

It seemed she and Margaret had known since they were teenagers but had been sworn to secrecy.

I was the only one who’d been kept in the dark.

In a flash, all those years of feeling different suddenly made sense.

I was different. My whole life had been a lie.

Flying to Ireland the next day, I confronted Mum. ‘Yes it’s true,’ she admitted sadly.

My adoptive parents, Kathleen and Jimmy (Credit: Supplied)

Mum explained that in 1954 she’d been approached by a local woman whose daughter was a social worker.

The woman said she knew of a girl who was giving birth soon, but couldn’t keep the child.

‘She asked if I was interested in taking on the baby,’ Mum said. ‘I was desperate for another child so I agreed.’

I was apparently born on June 9, 1954 in Dublin and Mum said that two days later I was ready to collect.

Mum went to the home of a local midwife to get me and it turned out she had been given 45 pounds – the equivalent of $80 – by the doctor to pay for the expense of keeping me.

It was as if I’d been sold.

Adopting a baby that way was illegal, but six weeks later Mum and Dad registered me as their own child.

My head was reeling as I asked Mum what she knew of my birth mother.

All she could tell me was that she thought her name might be Bridget.

That day, I left Mum’s place with my head in a spin.

I didn’t blame Mum for taking me in, but I did resent her for not telling me the truth until now.

At the same time, another feeling overwhelmed me. I had to find my real mum.

But I had no idea where to start.

Returning to the UK, I got in touch with the Irish authorities, asking them for any information.

It took a long time to get answers but finally I was sent a file. In it was a form setting out the adoption and showing that money had exchanged hands as I was handed over in ‘good’ condition.

There was also an index card stating that I was originally called Margaret O’Grady.

After that though, the trail ran cold and it’s now been 12 years since I uncovered the shocking secret about my past.

I’m a mum myself to Tara, now 37, and Ryan, 33, and it pains me that I’m still no closer to finding my own birth mum.

Me when I was four (Credit: Supplied)

Over the years I’ve wondered if my birth mum emigrated to Australia. Falling pregnant with me would have caused a scandal in those days and she may have moved to escape it.

I realise that, even if she’s still alive, she will be a great age and I do not wish to upset her, but I’ve written her an open letter about how I feel.

As for Mum, I don’t blame her for taking me in, but I struggle to accept why she didn’t tell me the truth earlier.

It shatters me to think I was handed over like a parcel all those years ago.

I am now 60 and although my search for answers goes on, I fear I will never know who I really am.

Me with my daughter Tara (Credit: Supplied)

Letter to my mum:

I know it must have been difficult for you to hand over your baby, but what choices did you have in the 50s – none? I just want to know what happened to you and that you went on to have a happy life. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you did.

Theresa’s adoptive mum, Kathleen Hiney, now 90, says…

What I did was illegal and it is something I will live with till the day I die. It is something I can’t undo and my heart aches for Theresa’s hurt.

When I took her to be baptised, I could not bring her to the church without a parents’ name on the certificate.

I’d had one child who was five by then and, desperate for another, my maternal instinct overrode any anxiety I had about what I did.

I told Theresa all I know. I pray she finds her birth family. I still call Theresa my daughter.

I love her but I did a terrible wrong and it is not easy to live with that.

I still hope to meet my birth mother (Credit: Mirrorpix)

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 2, January 2, 2015

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