(A free ibook of the complete ‘adoption file’ story can be downloaded here)
Who Do You Think You Are? producers, Wall to Wall, began making a series reuniting long lost relatives in 2010 for ITV called ‘Long Lost Famlies’. At the end of the first series I completed an on-line application form for the second series, and to my amazement I was selected for the 2012 show! But I had to remember, I was told, the purpose of the programme is to ‘entertain’ the nation, not re-unite me with my natural mother…
“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choices” (George Eliot)
Whilst not keen on conducting the search for my mother in front of millions of viewers I knew this could be my best opportunity yet of finding her. After the excitement of finding my sibling the trail had gone cold. Over the last 3 years my partner and I have flown to New Zealand to meet cousins who might have more information, they didn’t! We travelled to my mothers last known address (from 1964) knocking on doors and accosting strangers in the street showing random people her photo asking if they recognised her. I sent swabs to America to establish my mtDNA, incase anyone else was on file as a relative. The closest I got to my mother was confirming we both probably derived from a female who lived in South Asia 60,000 years ago! We spent hours in the British Library tracking down my grandfather in ‘Thackers’ directories, these list Europeans who lived in India up to the 1930’s, as well as searching for my mothers birth/death certificate, which we have never found, (we have a lot of death certificates of women with a similar name and of a similar age!). Passenger lists have been searched to find out when my mother travelled to the UK from India, and of course we spent several thousands of hours on Ancestry websites, google, 192, People Finder etc, etc…….but we were no closer to finding her.
Initially a researcher from Wall to Wall made contact requesting a meeting between us, where she would gather information whilst filming me. This would then be viewed by the production team and a decision would be made as to whether our story was ‘in’ or not. One of the first questions I asked was how many applicants were there, 7000!
The initial interview was very tiring, and something of a marathon. All the questions obviously related to my adoption. However, what took me by surprise was the focus on how I ‘felt’ about everything. For example I went to Somerset House to see my birth certificate for the first time in 1978, “how did it feel to see your birth name for the first time?”, ummm it was 34 years ago I’m not sure I can remember. “What did it feel like when you saw your adoption record for the first time?” Ummm, ditto, it was over 30 years ago! In the end I just had to describe how I thought I might have felt in hindsight. Not sure how accurate this was but, I was as honest as I could be. It did bring into sharp relief how emotional this journey has been and gave me an indication of just how emotionally draining this process might be. It was sobering to say the least.
On receiving the phone call confirming our story had been chosen I was absolutely elated. One thing that stuck in my mind was the researchers warning “this is an entertainment show not a family reuniting service”. This was said in a positive sense to remind me of what I was letting myself in for (we would only appear on TV if there was a ‘result’ i.e. we were reunited and my mother agreed to appearing or if she were dead and I agreed to appear). The whole purpose of the programme is to entertain viewers. We as a nation seem to love watching such programmes if the viewing figures are anything to go by. But in reality it’s more than entertainment, a ‘soap’. It is actually about real peoples’ lives, people like my mother and I, whose secrets could be laid bare to the whole of Britain!
This can get lost when watching. From my limited experience I can tell you it is an extremely hard and emotionally draining experience, and that for many involved it is through desperation rather than a desire to be on TV (I begged the programme makers on my application to include us). There is a cost to all those involved. Those at the heart of the ‘story’ have to re-live highly disturbing events, giving up your child for adoption must rank as one of the most difficult things you face in life. The consequences of revealing such events and reliving long buried feelings remain long after the production has ended.
Although, I can not fault Wall to Wall in the support mechanisms they have in place. They arrange for a psychological assessment and provide an ‘intermediarry’ to act a kind of go between should a family member be found. Mine proved very supportive, keeping in contact right from the beginning to check all was okay.
People have mixed feelings about these types of programmes, so do I. Participation should not be taken lightly, the potential to make a life ‘worse’ is definitely ever-present, so realistic expectations and the support of loved ones is vital.
Several months after my last contact with the intermediary, and after several non-committal e-mails from the interviewer at Wall to Wall, I receive a phone call.
There is good news and bad……… to find out what happened next click here to download a free short ibook (you will need an iPad to read it. The free ibook contains all the ‘adoption file’ blogs along with some extra details and a few more photos. Previous blogs are here, here and here)