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16 October 2014
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Sally Rode
Sally Rodé

My name is Sally Rodé and I live in Norfolk with my husband and two sons. I've been writing all my life - as a journalist and public relations specialist. Now I'm dabbling in fiction and seeing where my scribblings take me.

Thank You by Sally Rode

It was Sarah's auburn hair that set the seal on her future.
At six months old she had a mass of burnished red curls and they attracted the attention of two would-be parents. The pepper-and-salt haired wife recalled with fondness her own childhood red hair which she'd always worn in a thick, heavy plait that she could sit on.

Sarah was given a new home brought up in rural comfort, adored by her parents. Sarah was ten when her mother told her she was adopted. The information meant little to a girl cosseted by love. It meant little to her until over 40 years later when she suddenly felt the loss of her parents who died within two years of each other.

Rootling through her father's papers Sarah came across her adoption order. It gave no details about her birth mother. There was no indication about where Sarah spent the first few months of her life. Sarah felt no overwhelming urge to find out all she could, but she did wonder if her birth mother had given her a name.

"If she gave me a name, she must have cared about me a little," Sarah told the social worker who came to reveal her original birth certificate. After some careful counselling about what emotions Sarah might feel, the social worker handed over the birth certificate. And Sarah's journey to the truth began.

Her birth mother had given her a name, Lorna, and registered her birth, but for some, as yet unknown reason, she had placed her 18 day old baby in the care of Banardo's in Barkingside, Essex. Sarah thought she'd be content just to know her birth mother had given her a name, but, of course, she wasn't.

As a divorced mother of one Sarah had no-one to share her feelings with. She was working full time in a stressful job and had a young son to care for. As someone who bawled at the film Ghost, who howled over Lassie and who couldn't even watch her son open his Christmas presents without her eyes filling, Sarah knew she had to build a stock of emotional barrier battery power before taking the next steps.

The battery was a long time charging and it was two years before Sarah found herself sitting, on her own, in a railway carriage, en route to Barkingside. A worker had prepared her background history and was ready to hand over the papers. "What I learn today could change the rest of my life," thought Sarah, "and there's not even anyone else in the carriage to share it with."

It was a bright, early summer sunny day. The Barnardo's building wasn't far from the station and Sarah was early. She found a statue of Dr Barnardo in the grounds and sat down close by. As she said a silent thank you to the man whose organisation had looked after her and found her wonderful parents the tears started to flow. Sarah had a fleeting feeling of betraying those parents by even being there. There was a physical pain when she thought how much she missed them, how she could have been a better daughter and how she should have said "I love you" more often to her Mum.

The green area where she sat was surrounded by black and white cottages - she'd seen them on a television programme about Barnardo's. Sarah's eyes were drawn to one particular cottage and she knew it had bare wooden floorboards and a black fireplace. It was imagination and not a memory. She'd only been a few months old when she was here.

It was time. The worker showed Sarah into a comfortable room with two chintz covered sofas. There was a chill inside Sarah, reminiscent of the teenage feeling of excitement and fear that made her shiver before a date.

What Sarah heard took her by surprise. She'd always had the romantic notion that her birth mother was the single daughter of a well-to-do family who forced her to give up her baby to save a scandal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The worker carefully and slowly told the tale. In the early 1950s a 33 year old woman had presented herself at an east London hospital, on the verge of giving birth. She'd not attended any ante-natal classes and she was suffering. After a long and difficult labour the baby was born, but the mother was worn out and the two were kept in hospital for 10 days. The mother breastfed her baby and gave her the name Lorna.

Then came some information that stunned Sarah. Her birth mother was in a hurry to leave hospital to look after her other six children. "I've got brothers and sisters?" asked Sarah in complete shock. The worker read out the list of six names, four girls and two boys. When Sarah was born they were aged from two to 11 years. Sarah did some quick sums, that would make most of them in their late 40s or early 50s. Her birth mother, if still alive, would be in her 70s.

The story continued. The children, it seemed, were being cared for by other members of the family and Sarah's birth mother was anxious to get home and reunite her offspring. "Home" was two rooms in a shared house in the east end and the father of the brood was in prison. With cramped living conditions and no money coming in staff at the hospital were concerned about how Sarah's birth mother would cope. Social workers persuaded the new mum to place her daughter with Barnardo's. She had no choice but to sign the papers.

For several years Sarah carried the names of her brothers and sisters everywhere with her. She half-heartedly, and unsuccessfully, searched on the internet for them. She feared these strangers would not want to know about a sister they'd never heard of.

Sarah was speaking about her brothers and sisters to a work colleague who revealed she was a family history expert. "Let me try and find them," Mary asked. "I'll write to men with the same names as your brothers in London . If you are meant to find them, you will."

One morning at work Sarah's phone rang. It was Mary. "I think we've found them", she said giving Sarah a phone number of a woman who might be her sister. "She wants you to call her," said Mary. "She's at home now."

Shaking with nerves, Sarah dialled. A husky, throaty voiced woman answered. "Hello," said Sarah. "I think I'm your sister."

The emotional barrier battery packed up and Sarah's tears flowed. Slowly over the next few weeks the two women talked to each other and the pieces fell into place. Miraculously the other brothers and sisters accepted Sarah who, they all agreed, looked just like her birth mother.

Her birth mother had died, in the same year Sarah's son was born. She was buried in a cemetery in Essex . When the emotional barrier battery is charged Sarah's going to find the grave and place a card there with just two words on it. Thank You.

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