Social Justice

Adoptees share the 'extreme emotional challenge' of meeting birth parents decades after adoption

Adult adoptees often experience trauma decades after their adoption. Vivien Grant and Nick Ede share their stories of pain, identity crises and reuniting

adoption/ Vivianne Grant

Vivien Grant, who met her birth mother for the first time in 2006. Image: Supplied

Vivien Grant’s birth mother was standing in a hotel lobby when they met decades after the adoption. She was facing away and staring out the window, but Vivien knew it was her even though they had never spoken. 

“She turned around and she looked at me directly and my knees gave away,” Vivien remembers. “It was a phenomenal bodily response. She looked like me. I have never had that experience in my life. It was quite overwhelming.”

The last time the pair had seen each other was inside a mother and baby home in 1963. It was a time when unmarried women were shamed for pregnancy – an estimated 185,000 women in England and Wales were coerced into giving their babies up for adoption between 1949 and 1976. 

Vivien believes her biological mother was one of these women. They were severed from each other when she was just nine days old. It was not a magical moment when they reunited decades later but one tinged with sadness. 

“She just wasn’t able to cope because she had guilt and shame that she was still carrying,” Vivien says. “It wasn’t an amazing reunion. But I’m grateful she sends me a birthday and Christmas card every year and she writes a little note in it. That’s lovely. 

“I know that’s all she can do. I’ve accepted that. Some people who have been historically adopted start looking for their birth parents and they’ve already passed away. They don’t have that chance to be able to see where they came from and reconnect. So I’m grateful.”

More than half (58%) of adopted young adults accessed or attempted to access mental health services last year, according to Adoption UK – but the psychological impacts can be lifelong. 

Adoptees often face the challenge of being infantilised and having their trauma dismissed, which can have long-lasting effects on their mental health,” says Shania Sophia Dunbar Ives, co-founder and chief executive of the Dunbar Project, which helps adult adoptees navigate their trauma.

“Through extensive research and personal experience we have gained a deep understanding of the effects of adoption trauma. We believe that in order to help adoptees heal, their voices need to be put at the forefront of the conversation. They should have free access to therapy and spaces where they can be understood.”

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

For Nick Ede, who was adopted in Scotland in the 1970s, the journey to finding his birth mother opened wounds. “You are putting yourself into a situation where you might have bad news or you are looking for hopeful things. It is extremely challenging emotionally. 

“You’re going on that journey on your own and you’re not really able to tell anybody about it. You don’t know what the outcome is. You barely understand it yourself, and I tried to articulate it to my friends but it is very difficult to know what to say in that situation.

“It has been challenging to work it all out. I loved my adoptive mother and father so massively that I felt guilt in potentially loving somebody else.”

Nick Ede, who started looking for his biological family during the pandemic. Image: Supplied

Both Ede and Vivien had loving childhoods. “I grew up feeling a lot of love and support,” Vivien says. She was around seven when she was told she was adopted.

“It wasn’t like a landmine being dropped into my life because I was quite young. I’m really glad my parents were truthful and honest about that. It wasn’t a taboo in our family.”

Ede was only told that he was adopted when he was a teenager, which took its toll on his mental health. His dad was a scientist and he grew up travelling the world with his parents and brother, who was also adopted but from a different bloodline. 

“I loved my family, but suddenly to feel that they weren’t your flesh and blood so late was difficult,” he explains. “I never felt betrayed or hurt because my mum and dad were such beautiful and caring people, so there must have been a reason. But I felt anger that I didn’t know. I was religious before and I lost all my religious faith.”

Adoptees often face feelings of loss throughout their life – they grieve the families and lives they never had and the person they could have been. 

Historical adoptees have a real sense of loss because they’ve really lost their birth parents,” Vivien explains. “And they have to somehow manage that loss throughout their lives because there’s always a sense that something’s missing.”

Ede and Vivien have experienced further tremendous grief in their lives which has made their feelings around adoption more complicated. 

Vivien’s daughter died four years ago when she was just 21. She never met her biological grandmother. “She knew about my adoption because I was very open with her. She knew that I had met my birth mother and potentially she had a second granny.”

Vivien had started looking for her birth mother when she fell pregnant – it had triggered questions about her identity. She was having a child with blood relations she had never met. 

“But unfortunately, those relationships didn’t develop because my birth mother wanted to still keep me a secret,” Vivien says. “She didn’t want to foster any relationships with my family. Her words, essentially, were: ‘You have your family and I have my family and never the twain shall meet.’”

Ede lost his adoptive mother to a stroke when he was 23. “It changed everything for me,” he says. “It was a very difficult time. It broke me, because I felt that I had lost two mothers – a birth mother and an adoptive mother.”

Ede has poured himself into campaigning for stroke awareness over the years, and his mother remains an enormous part of his identity. But he was always curious about his birth family. 

He contacted the show Long Lost Family and researchers managed to reconnect him with his birth mother. She did not want to be on the show, but they started to write letters to each other. 

One of Ede’s biggest regrets is that he never came out as gay to his adoptive mother – and suddenly he was opening up his birth mother to a part of his identity that his adoptive mother had never known. 

“In these letters, I was finding myself coming out to my birth mother who I had never even met,” Ede says. “Receiving a letter back and a photograph was one of the most amazing, emotional, exciting experiences, but also you’re opening up a whole new world. You’re never going to be able to close this box ever again.”

Nick Ede says his experience meeting his family was “incredible”. Image: Supplied

Ede had moved to Rye from London with his husband during the pandemic and, incredibly, he discovered that his mother lived just half an hour away. He also found out that he had a younger brother and sister. Ede has their support now in speaking out about his experiences.

“The great thing is that I’ve now got a whole new family, with beautiful half siblings and my mother who never thought she’d ever see her child again. And now we have the opportunity to build a relationship which we are starting. 

“It’s an amazing story and it feels like it was all meant to be. My mother who adopted me was quite simply the most amazing mother, and I feel like I had the most amazing life with her. And now I get to share my life with my birth mother. It is incredible.”

But it is not always incredible. Vivien found her mother through an adoption agency which connected the pair with letters and provided psychological support through the process. But Vivien did not feel ready to meet her for years. The letters had shown Vivien that her mother was not ready either. 

They eventually met in that hotel lobby in 2006. “She said she was sorry, that she was young and naive. The nurses in the mother and baby home told her it would be best that she gave me up for adoption because she couldn’t give me a comfortable family home. She told me she did what she was told was the best thing for me.”

In many ways, Vivien feels lucky because her adoptive parents were so brilliant. Her father is still alive at 98 and writing his own book about his campaigns in the second world war. 

Both Ede and Vivien are passionate advocates for adoption, even though they have faced trauma in their lives. They are backing the You Can Adopt campaign, run by regional and voluntary adoption agencies across the country, with the hope it will inspire others to adopt. 

Latest figures show there are 1,900 children waiting to be adopted in England, and more than half of these children have been waiting at least 18 months.

“It’s really important to show people that you can adopt,” Ede says. “I think people are scared of it and might not understand it. There is still a long way to go. There are lots of children out there who need to be looked after and loved.”

Vivien is a life coach now, and she works in the adoption sector matching children with adoptive parents. “I’ve come full circle. I feel like I’m giving something back through the experiences that I’ve had through my adoption.” 

But she feels that there needs to be more support for the adults who were severed from their birth parents decades ago, and Ede agrees. 

“I’ve really not told anybody about what I’ve been going through for the past few years,” Ede says. “And I think my journey of imposter syndrome, and knowing who I am, is a jigsaw that is only just beginning to complete.”

For more information, visit youcanadopt.co.uk/NAW2023.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'
child pulling hair of another child who is eating
Child poverty

More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap
three children
Child poverty

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?
Free school meals/ Easter holidays
Free school meals

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?

DWP's 'automation' of universal credit discriminates against single mums, researchers say
benefits/ money
Universal credit

DWP's 'automation' of universal credit discriminates against single mums, researchers say

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives