Lifetimes apart disappeared in an instant when Irene and Andy met their blood relatives for the first time recently. In part two of our adoption series, YL finds out more about these two heartwarming tales.
After years of feeling something was missing, Irene Robertson finally found the answer in a phone call. The word that she always wanted to hear – ‘Sis’ – was coming down the phone to her from her brother, Reg.
Irene Robertson spent her birthday with her brother for the first time ever in September when she celebrated her 70th.
She was put in touch with him via Birthlink, a Edinburgh-based charity that helps people who have been adopted get in touch with their family among other services.
Irene, who lives in Forgue, Huntly, with husband, John, and dog, Max, was born at Edinburgh Western General to Helen Begg and Frederick Jenkins.
Whether the pair were married is something still unknown to Irene but it is understood her mother was left on her own with a baby.
“She found it hard to get a job and she needed to find a place for both of us to stay. When she did finally get a job and accommodation, the place she was staying didn’t allow for me to be there,” Irene explained.
“It was around December the following year when my mother put me in a home, the Canaan Lodge and I stayed there until I was four.
“Although I was fostered out, my mother always said that I wasn’t allowed to be adopted. I was eventually sent to my foster mother, Margaret Jackson, who lived in Glasgow and I stayed with her until I was married at 21.”
Irene said she had no contact with her birth mother and thus never knew about her background – a fact that she used to think about as a child.
She said: “You know how kids fantasise, I used to think ‘Oh maybe I am a princess’ and that sort of rubbish but that was as far as it went. I didn’t know about any siblings. I think when I was older I used to think that I would quite like to have a brother or a sister.”
Over the years she did in fact try to discover her roots but never got anywhere. She said every few years it would crop up. She would see an advert in the paper or something online that would re-energise her search.
It was an article in a newspaper that led Irene to the Edinburgh-based charity.
She said: “There was an article about a woman finding her sister after I think 60-odd years and beside it was a wee bit about Birthlink. And I thought I’ll give this a go. So I did and they were amazing. Absolutely amazing.
“The chap that I worked with, Ben Dyers, he was our caseworker. He gathered all the information about what I was like as a child, where I went, what I did, and you thought this is me, because when you are fostered, there is something missing and you don’t know who you are.
“When I saw programmes on the TV like Who Do You Think You Are? I couldn’t watch them, I couldn’t watch people meeting their relatives, I would just start crying. I so wanted it to be me.”
Volunteers at Birthlink eventually managed to find Irene’s niece, Fiona, who then helped her find her brother, Reg, through a social networking site.
Irene said she knew right away that it was her brother, she just “got that feeling”. She e-mailed him saying she thought she was his half sister and after a wee while, she got the reply she had been dreaming of.
“He was over the moon. I phoned him that night and it was just fantastic,” she said.
“I was very nervous before I spoke to him but the minute I spoke to him he said you sound just like family and that’s all I wanted to hear really. That’s great. He made it very easy. I mean somebody called me ‘Sis’. What a feeling that is, it was just amazing.
“He didn’t know I existed. I’ve got another brother John who I haven’t made contact with yet cause he’s not well at the moment.
“Finding out I had a brother was the best thing. Reg is very open. Anything you want to know he just tells you.”
Sadly Irene’s mother passed away in 1998 but she has been able to find out about her through Reg.
“I did ask him about my mother. I wanted to know what kind of person she was. And he has filled me in slowly and he said she had a very stubborn streak and so has Reg and so have I.”
In September Irene celebrated her 70th birthday and she got the best present ever – having her brother by her side.
She said it was “absolutely brilliant” and she is hoping to visit Reg’s home in Gateshead next year.
For Reg, it was equally a surprise to be contacted by Irene as he had only once heard that he had another sister.
He said: “I was told once that there was another sister but we didn’t know where she was. And I had looked into my own family tree some years ago but they didn’t pick up on Irene at all. So when she contacted me it was out of the blue.
“When we met up for her birthday, it was just like we had seen each other the week before. There was no awkward moments, it just felt really natural. It was quite emotional actually.”
Andy Massie was standing looking at himself in the mirror when he experienced a “bolt to the system”.
He began wondering where he got his nose from, his silvery grey hair, his tall stature and his size 14 feet.
Growing up he said he never really thought about the fact that he was adopted. Born in Huntly, he was brought up in Blackburn by George and Dorothy Massie. He said he felt it was a “taboo subject” and never wanted to do anything while his adopted parents were alive as he felt it would be disrespectful.
Then a few years ago, after discussions with his (now late) wife, Viv, he decided to look into his background and discovered something that changed his whole perspective on identity.
“I discovered that I was born with a different name,” the 54-year-old, who now lives in Fintry, said.
“I was born James Skelton McIvor. I was totally overwhelmed. I subsequently found out I was named after my grandfather.”
After doing some research on his own, his journey led him to Birthlink, who would eventually lead him to his birth mother, who wishes to remain anonymous. It was not an easy journey but one the charity helped Andy deal with.
“Birthlink sent my mother a letter and she replied saying it was a no. It wasn’t a rejection but she just couldn’t do it,” Andy explained.
“It was absolutely terrifying. Birthlink were very calm and said they would send another letter. They emphasised that sometimes the other party needs time to take it all in. Eventually my mother agreed to meet and I realised she just needed time to come around. Birthlink told my mother that she could write a letter to me but she said I just want to meet him.”
Their first meeting happened on November 23, 2012 at the charity’s offices in Edinburgh. Despite more than 50 years apart, Andy said the pair felt instant unconditional love.
Andy said he was told that normally first meetings lasted around 40 minutes but if they felt they were struggling, Birthlink could step in. But three- and-a-half hours later the reunited mother and son were still chatting.
“I think Birthlink were a bit blown away by us,” Andy said.
Since then Andy and his mother have kept in touch and began to build their relationship, visiting each other regularly. Andy has now been introduced to his half-brothers and extended family. He said that he was lucky that his mother was still alive and receptive to his contact. And he had Birthlink to thank for it all.
He added: “I believe the key was the mediation skill of Birthlink and the support given to each of us.
“My mother and I have a very special relationship, one which is very different from what we’d have shared, had I been brought up by her. I felt instant unconditional love for her and a respectful sadness that she’d lived with the pain of giving up her 5lb baby boy. It’s been a journey of immense learning and continual delight as our relationship grows.”
Anyone who would like more information, please visit www.birthlink.org.uk