It was around Spring 1987 when Mum dropped that second bombshell. After a lot of soul searching and several letters to and from Australia, she had decided NOT to look for Michael. To this day I still wonder who those letters were to and from – was she corresponding with the Sisters of Mercy at Waitara? and if so what exactly was being said?
Mum had already told me in our earliest conversations that the day she signed the adoption papers in front of the Mother Superior that she was told in no uncertain terms that she would most definitely NEVER be seeing Michael again.
I remember sobbing and pleading with her to search for him, but she gently replied “he might never have even been told that he was adopted” and added “or he might know and have absolutely no desire to have contact with me.” I came to learn that understandably she had a huge fear of being rejected. “Who am I to roll up in his life now when another family have spent 22 years raising him” she said with tears in her eyes. “I don’t want to disrupt his life now, I love him way to much for that”.
I understood, but I was still absolutely heartbroken by her decision. I desperately wanted to find Michael and now it felt as if the rug had been pulled from under my feet.
What Mum had discovered however was that there was a central reunion register in Australia where she could leave a letter and her contact details, so that if Michael ever wanted to find her he would be able to do so immediately. We both naturally hoped that he would use this register and find his Mum sooner rather than later.
More than two years passed and nothing. I was 18 by this time and I raised the subject of searching for him with Mum but once again but was greeted with a similar response “my details are on the register and so if he wants to find me he can do so straight away. I guess he either doesn’t know he’s adopted or he doesn’t want to find me” she sad sadly. She was pretty sure it was the latter though because when she was initially told about his adoptive family she was told they already had at least one other adopted child and that Michael would always be raised knowing the truth.
I decided I was going to start searching for Michael myself, but where to start??? This was the late 1980’s, it was several years before I was even to get a mobile phone, let alone email and internet.
The only organisation I knew of that helped search for people was the Salvation Army and I knew they had a branch in Worthing, the next town along from where we were living. I decided to write them a letter. It took them a few weeks for them to respond but when they did they gave me details of a central office which for memory was London based. So I sent off another letter and this time it took them even longer to reply although they were very helpful. The bad news was though that as his sister I was not able to access Michaels adoption records, only my Mum could do that and I would only gain the right once Mum had died. Without the adoption records I had no idea what his name had been changed to and therefore had no idea of the person I should be searching for. I had hit a brick wall.
Further years passed and I entered my 20’s, I still longed to fulfil my earliest childhood dream of visiting Australia, but I couldn’t. He could be anywhere and I wouldn’t recognise him. I knew I would be staring at every guy of a certain age with slightly olive skin and brown eyes wondering “are you my brother?”. He might serve me in a restaurant or I might sit next to him on the bus and never know. I was aware enough even then that such a trip could reap havoc on my mental health and so I swore that my first trip to Australia would be to meet Michael one day, and over and over again I would dream of the day I would walk out of the arrivals hall in Sydney airport, scan the waiting crowds for his face and we would then fall into one another’s arms shedding tears of happiness.
I even wrote to the British TV show ‘Surprise Surprise’ to try and find him but I never even got a response from them. Maybe their researchers knew enough that Mum would need to sign the papers to access his adoption records.
As I reached my 30’s technology was starting to move forward rapidly, we had the internet, Google search engines and such like. I began to spend hours and hours searching for information with his birth name, Mums maiden name and Australian adoption etc – but alas all these searches brought forward nothing.
By the time I was around 35 I discovered a new website called ‘Oz Reunion’ which was to reunite long lost or adopted family members in Australia. Once again I poured over that website for hours and hours in case Michael had already put anything on there. Perhaps he didn’t even know what his birth name was and was only looking with his adopted name which we didn’t know. So night after night I would go through every person on that website, but my search was fruitless. I did however register my own details on the website and a search looking for my brother Michael William Bayliss born in Sydney on 9th December 1964, with a little background and assuring him how much he was loved and still wanted by both his birth mother as well as myself.
It was around 18 months later when an email popped into my inbox from the website with the heading ‘re Michael William Bayliss’. My heart immediately started pounding as I clicked frantically on the keyboard to open it. Alas, to my disappointment it was not from my Michael, but from a researcher of an Australian TV series ‘Find my family’ asking if I would like them to look for my brother. Of course I leapt at this opportunity, they were doing this work every day, they would know exactly how and where to look. After 22 years of searching I finally had some real hope, and what an incredible surprise it would be for my Mum if we found him.
I sent back all the information I had which was obviously limited but hopefully enough for them to make a start – but alas a couple of weeks later the researcher came back to me again “in order for us to access your brothers adoption records we need YOUR MUM to sign the attached authorisation papers”. We were back to square one, and by this stage I was so desperate that if it hadn’t been for the fact her signature needed witnessing I would have forged it (after all I had become quite an expert at that in my teen years writing letters to get out of P.E. !!!)
Instead of forgery though, I did the right thing and spoke to Mum and told her how this TV company had been in touch with me and offered help find Michael.
Her standard response was again the one that I had heard so many times over the years “all my details are on the Australian register, if he wants to find me he can do straight away. He obviously doesn’t want to find me” – “Pleeeeeeease Mum” I begged her “this is the best chance we have ever had”
Gloria was approaching 70 by this time and I think the realisation was setting in that she wasn’t getting any younger. I knew her heart still yearned for her baby boy as much then 42 years later as it did the day she had to give him up. I knew she also had the eternal question going around in her mind as to whether she now had grandchildren as well?
“Send me the papers, I’ll sign them” she finally said. The sense of elation I felt was electrifying. AT LAST we could move forward. The forms were duly signed, witnessed and emailed over to the researcher in Australia. It was just a matter of days when I received an email from a different researcher which read “just to give you an update, we have now accessed your mother’s adoption records and we can begin searching for your brother”.
I was elated beyond words but decided not to tell Mum immediately, still hoping that I could bring an element of surprise to her when they found him.
It was less than a week later (26th February 2008) when I came home from doing the morning school run with my daughter to find a message on the main answer phone. I listened as a man with a strong Australian accent spoke “oh hi, this is Greg from Network Seven television in Australia, we are the production company for ‘Find my Family. I have some news I want to share with you. It’s late here in Sydney now though so I’ll try and call you back in the morning” Again my heart was racing and I wanted to call him back immediately except i) he didn’t leave his number, and ii) he was probably tucked up in his bed right now. All day my head was spinning, ‘have they found him? does he want to meet me?’ It must have been one of the longest days of my life.
I worked late in the study that night willing the phone to ring. As soon as it did I picked it up in a split second. “Hello is that Terri?” the Australian voice on the other end enquired. “Yes, yes it is” I replied, with my heart pounding. He continued “Terri, Hi. This is Greg and I am the director of network seven, I am sorry to call you so late in the U.K. but let me assure you that if you were not on the other side of the world I would be on your doorstep now and not on the phone to you………………….”
I listened intently as he continued his message and as he spoke the blood ran cold through my veins. I put the phone down in stoney silence knowing in that moment my life had changed forever. MICHAEL WAS DEAD. 💔
Greg told me little else at that time other than they’d discovered he had died in America in 2003 but that he did know he was adopted and he did want to find his birth mother, so much so that he had flown from Australia to the U.K. several years before he had died in an attempt to find her. He had spent years searching for her. He had even added his details on exactly what he same register that Mum was on but for some reason the two of them had never been matched.
I was numb, I was completely broken, I quite literally felt like someone had reached in and ripped my heart from my chest. All those years searching for him and all the time he was also searching for his Mum. How could this possibly have happened? How could the register not have matched them? I cried and wailed like I have never cried before. How was I ever going to get over this? and worse of all, how was I ever going to break the news to Gloria?