“You’ve got a brother…”
I still remember it as if it were just yesterday, I was sat in an old armchair in the corner of our dining room. It was October 1986 and I was 15. My beloved Nana (Mums mum) had died in February of the same year and my grandfather had been very ill with pneumonia so it had been a particularly difficult few months.
Our dining room was an internal room which didn’t draw in a huge amount of natural light, and on this occasion it was after dark anyway, the light was on and being an autumn evening it had a cosy feel to it.
Mum walked in, pulled out one of the dining chairs from the table and moved it closer to me. “Sweetheart can we have a chat?” she asked, “sure” I replied, whilst internally thinking “oh God what have I done now?” but it was wasn’t me who had done anything wrong, my Mum Gloria was just about to make the biggest confession of her life.
“Remember how I told you I lived in Australia in my 20’s” she began “err yes” I thought, “you have told me at least 300 times I’m sure”, “well” she continued “when I was there I gave birth to a little baby boy, and you have an older brother”
“wait, whaaaaat, you did what?” suddenly I sat bolt upright whilst at the same time feeling the blood run cold from my body and I was so numb I would barely speak, the only sensation I became aware of was tears burning in my eyes, tears which were rapidly overflowing like a burst dam and running like a wild torrent down my cheeks.
I felt all kinds of emotions but quite literally felt as if my body had gone into shock. We had had religion and virtuous Catholicism rammed down our throats from day one and even at the age of just 15 I always believed Mum was a virgin when she married my Dad.
Not only was she not a virgin when she married, but she had given birth to another child, I had a brother, “OH-MY-GOD, I have a brother” I had always wanted a brother and a suddenly I have one and he’s on the other side of the globe. I’m sobbing by this stage, full on snotty ugly cry face, as Mum continued to tell me her story.
She told me that he would be 21 now, perhaps he even had children of his own. His father was apparently a handsome Italian steward who was working on the ship she sailed out to Australia on. A romance had ensued between them and after he sailed out on the return passage home Mum had discovered she was pregnant.
Alone in a brand new country, no money, no family, she found herself at the mercy of the nuns who had sent her to a home for un-married mothers in Sydney. This was 1964 and Gloria’s parents back in England were very old fashioned and she knew she could never tell them about this pregnancy as not only would she have been cut off from the family, but she knew neighbours and friends would be crossing the road to avoid her parents too. The tittle tattle of gossip would have destroyed her own mother who was a very proud and traditional lady with a strong moral compass. It’s hard to believe that this was only one generation ago, but that is how life and attitudes were in the 1960’s.
A world away from home, no family support, no money and nothing to be able to offer her baby, the nuns ‘caring’ for Gloria assured her she would be doing the right thing in giving her baby up for adoption. Well in the situation she found herself in, she was given no other option. She was (in the words of the nuns) “a dirty girl whom God was going to punish for her actions”
Gloria gave birth at the Mater Misericordae Hospital in Sydney on 9th December 1964, a hospital run by the ‘Sisters of Mercy’. She named her baby Michael William Bayliss. She knew his name had later been changed at the time of his adoption but she didn’t know to what.
So why was she telling me now? Why today?? Apparently she had been mulling it over in her mind for some time to tell me. Her Mum had died 8 months earlier, so Nana had gone to her grave never knowing she had a grandson. Mum now felt that at the age of 15 that I could finally be ‘trusted’ with the family secret and was old enough not to blab to my elderly Grandfather.
To this day I cannot really verbalise the tsunami of feelings and emotions which were pouring over me in that moment, I felt nothing but joy and love at the discovery that I had a big brother and knew instantaneously that I wanted to find him and meet him, but I also felt anger and betrayal that until that moment my whole life had been a lie. I grew up believing I was one of two children and suddenly I am being told I am in fact the youngest of three.
“Does Dad know?” I sniffed. “Yes” mum replied “I told him just two weeks after we met” Apparently when Mum told my Dad his immediate reply was “well let’s go out to Australia and get him back.” That was just a typical response and reflection of my Dads big open and non-judgement heart. Sadly however it wasn’t that easy, Michael would have been 2 years old by this time and already legally adopted. Instead, Dad made a vow to Mum that if Michael ever came looking for his birth mother, that he too would welcome him into the family in whatever way he could ever need or want.
Mum and Dad went on to have their big white wedding in a Catholic Church in Worthing on 30th March 1968 and welcomed their ‘first’ child (my sister Marie) just 10.5 months later. I arrived 21 months after that, and our small family unit was then complete.
It turned out that my sister had been told about Michael when she was just 8 (I would have been 6 then) so everyone knew this secret except me! Everyone knew, and everyone had been living a lie. That was a very hard and bitter pill to swallow. Whilst I have come to understand why my Mum hid the truth from me for so long, I do to this day have an absolute obsession with honesty and truth. I have drummed it into my children that it doesn’t matter what you have done or what is happening in your life just be honest with me. My other half also knows that the only time we have ever argued about anything is when he has not been 100% transparent with me.
This cold dark October night in 1986 however, there was another reason that Mum had finally decided to reveal the truth to me. She had received a letter from a friend in Australia, one nuns whom she had actually stayed friends with all those years and who had worked at the single mothers home where Gloria had lived before giving birth. She had informed Mum that there had recently been a change in the Australian law which now meant that birth parents could actively look for children that they had given up for adoption. Mum explained that desperately wanted to find Michael but was terrified of it ripping our family unit apart. So how did I feel about her looking from him??? Would I support her in this search?? “Yes, YES, of course I would, 1000 times over, YES”
That night I went to bed very tearful. I got down a decorative sweet jar that had been sitting on my top shelf since Christmas, I opened the lid and popped in a £5 note which was my weekly allowance sitting on my dressing table. That was the first £5 I was going to save towards my flight to Sydney. Soon we would find my brother and I vowed to save every single penny to get me on that flight at the first possible opportunity. I closed my eyes and I whispered “goodnight Michael, soon we will be together”