History repeats itself
Perhaps this one of the hardest chapters for me to write as it’s so personal. I admit I have had a slight internal battle as to whether to include it or not, but it is very much part of the fabric which weaves this whole story together.
I had my own daughter Georgia in 1997 at the age of 26, exactly the same age that Gloria was when she gave birth to Michael. I too was a single mother from birth, but 33 years on things thankfully were very different.
I had been in a relationship with her biological father for around 11 months when I fell pregnant. The first few months of the relationship had been perfect but pretty quickly cracks were beginning to show. Emotional and psychological abuse to start with, then physical abuse. He was a stereotypical narcissist, but at the age of 25/26 I don’t think so even knew what the term meant! Friends and family had seen through him much sooner than I had, I was young and in love so when things started falling apart I didn’t want to admit it to anyone lease of all myself. As I said in a previous chapter my Dad was a hard Scotsman and if he had known the truth of what was being done to me he probably would have killed him and ended up in jail himself, and I wasn’t going to risk that happening and so I stayed silent.
The violence and abuse continued and escalated until at 4.5 months pregnant l knew I had to get out for the safety of my unborn child. I was still broken hearted though because despite everything I was (stupidly and naively) still in love with this man, and with the strict Catholic upbringing and personal pride I had, I loathed the prospect of being single mother because whilst now widely accepted within society, there were still labels and stereotypes attached to the role.
I did it though, and becoming a mother for the first time on 8th September 1997 truly was the happiest day of my life. I knew in that moment I didn’t need a man in my life, I had Georgia and that was all that mattered, I had never felt a love or a bond so deep.
In those first few days of motherhood I also fully understood for the first time exactly what my Mum Gloria must have gone through in having her baby all alone on the other side of the world and the devastating loss she must have felt in having to give him up. The prospect of being separated from my own new born baby was incomprehensible.
Gloria loved being a Nana, she doted on Georgia and was very hands on in the early days (as was my Dad too), without their help I don’t know where I would have been.
I did meet another man, Chris, just 8 weeks after Georgia was born. We met whilst both performing in an amateur dramatics production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and we married 3 years later. He was an incredible father to Georgia, never hesitating about bringing her up as his own flesh and blood, as well as being a lovely man with the biggest caring heart. He was 18 years older than me though (he had played the role of Tevye – my father in Fiddler on the Roof!!) and as much as I had wanted and needed a father figure for Georgia, I quickly found myself trapped and very unhappy. I fought for several years to try and make it work, desperate for us to enjoy a full family life together but as time went on we drifted further apart in our marriage and had to admit it was over. To this day though Chris remains one of my best friends as well as a loyal and devoted father.
I said for many years that I have succeeded at almost everything in my life….except relationships! Thankfully that finally changed for me 2.5 years ago in 2020 but for many years I was pretty much going it alone as a single parent, albeit Georgia and Chris maintained a very tight father/daughter relationship. I dated on and off and was desperate to have another child all through my 30’s, but by the time my 40th birthday came around and Georgia now 13 I had admit to myself that I was only ever going to have one child.
Then in the summer of 2010 I entered into conversation with a pall bearer at work whilst waiting in a cemetery for a family to say their final goodbyes at the graveside (not the most romantic place to meet someone, but hey, I had worked in the funeral profession for years so there was always going to be a chance!!). As he spoke I was immediately hooked on his Australian accent. I had seen him around on and off for months whilst working for this particular funeral company but this was the first time we had actually had a conversation! I don’t mind admitting that it was the accent which sparked my interest but obviously at the time I didn’t let on. He told me however that he already had a ticket booked back to Australia and would be going back in a couple of weeks time. We said our goodbyes and I thought nothing more of it, but later that evening I received a friend request from ‘Christopher Trickey’. (or just Trickey as he was always known at work) He then sent me a message telling me how much he had liked me for months but never had the confidence to strike up conversation until that day. He said he wouldn’t usually be such a fast mover but as he was booked to return to Australia would I meet up with him for a drink. So a date was fixed and in that remaining time we started to have quite strong feelings for one another, but all too soon he was gone – back to Melbourne, and I honestly thought that would be the end of it.
He unexpectedly messaged me from Australia though and we corresponded on social media for the next few months. By the New Year I already knew I needed to try and get out to Australia for work and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see Trickey too and see whether this long distance ‘relationship’ was worth pursuing??
The date was set and flight tickets were booked for the following month in February, naturally being a single mother I would be taking Georgia with me. I began to get excited. Then I got another message from Trickey “I applied for my old job back in the U.K. – they said Yes, but want me to come back immediately. The good news is that I’ll see you sooner, the bad news is I won’t be in Melbourne when you visit”. Well the latter didn’t matter too much as I already knew that I would very easily fill the time in Australia with work, a visit to Sydney, and of course some sightseeing.
So back he came to England, 1 week before I left for Australia. Passions ran strong having not seen one another for all those months and know I would be leaving again in a weeks time, we wanted to make the most of the brief time we initially had together, and we did.
I knew from day 1 he was only coming back to England on a 12 month visa so had no plans for a long term relationship, but we did have feelings for one another and that was at least good enough to build foundations on.
Fast forward to being in Sydney, staying in Marks childhood home and suffering with severe nausea. I clawed my way back to Melbourne the following day and did the test which confirmed which I already knew – I was pregnant, and my baby’s father was Australian!
I had no idea how Trickey was going to react, I had gone from being in a marriage with a man 18 years older than me, to starting a relationship with a man 12 years younger than me. I was 40 at this stage and Trickey was 28.
I honestly didn’t know how to tell him, our relationship was still so new and the only time children had ever come up in conversation he had mentioned that he didn’t want any! I hadn’t dwelled on it as at the age of 40 I thought I was past it anyway.
I sat outside on the steps at the International Square in Melbourne, took a deep breath and text him “I know this is a million miles from what we had planned, but……..” I went on to pour my heart out to him and immediately gave him options to be in or out. The reply came back within seconds and it simply read “TERMINATE THAT CHILD, IT WON’T HAVE A FATHER”.
My heart sank, I had half expected him to say that he didn’t want to be a father but the coldness of his message made my blood run cold. I had Georgia sitting next to me and didn’t want to break down in front of her….but here I was alone in the middle of Melbourne, on the other side of the world discovering I was pregnant and about to become a single mother for the second time – It was Gloria’s history playing out in the exact same city all over again, and yet my true internal discovery had been in Marks childhood home in Sydney the day before. Now here I was growing a child I had longed for for many years who was going to be half Australian – I had a tsunami of feelings and emotions cascading over me, the strongest of which was unconditional love for the tiny life growing inside me, terminating was absolutely NOT an option.
My thoughts were interrupted by a second text from Trickey “GET RID OF THE VICTIM, YOU’RE 40, YOUR LIFE IS OVER IF YOU HAVE THAT CHILD”
I knew my life wasn’t over, a new chapter was just beginning. Cameron Mark was born on 31st October 2011, his middle name obviously given to him after his late Uncle. I heard via colleagues that Trickey returned to Australia two weeks before Cameron was born and we have never seen him since. Cameron has grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins in Australia but I don’t even know if they are aware of his existence??!!
Both Mum & Dad (Gloria and Bill) were absolutely thrilled to become Grandparents again, they idolised both of their grandchildren but I know that after going on to have two daughters and a granddaughter that Gloria was overjoyed to have a little baby boy to finally cradle in her arms again.
I of course immediately wrote and told Iris of Cameron’s arrival too and let her know that I had chosen his middle name as ‘Mark’
At 8 weeks old we held Cameron’s Naming Ceremony and Baptism, we ensured that as his middle name was given to him that his Uncle Mark was remembered and with the hope and faith that he would forever be watching over and guiding him throughout his life.
The day after the naming ceremony a package arrived from Australia, it was from Iris. I opened it with Gloria sitting next to me, inside was a tiny white gown. Gloria recognised it immediately and burst into tears. “It’s the christening gown I sent with Michael when he was adopted” she wept.
A beautiful letter came with it, but it was the last we ever heard from Iris. We don’t know whether she died or whether she felt returning the christening gown to us was her final act of closure?. I tried to email one of Marks brother in Australia but also received no response. I would have liked to have retained contact but also respect their decision to close the door and keep Mark to themselves and within the boundaries of their own family unit.
I was heartbroken that the little christening gown arrived one day too late for Cameron to wear on his Naming Day, but 6 days later on Christmas Day we put the gown on Cameron and Fr John McCormack who had conducted his naming ceremony a week earlier came to the house and blessed Cameron, the gown and Marks legacy beneath the twinkling lights Christmas Tree. Cameron was cocooned in love and the presence of family and friends, so very different to Michael/Marks first Christmas alone in Waitara.
I heard on the grapevine that 6 years later Trickey went on to father another baby and now plays the doting Dad. It was another little boy called ‘Stanley’. Cameron knows about his little brother, but I don’t know whether Stanley knows or will ever be told about Cameron, but Cameron has a half brother on the other side of the globe with a 6 year age gap – exactly the same age gap as there would have been between myself and Mark. It hurts that history is repeating itself in this way and I can only hope and pray that one day of the brothers want to find one another and have a relationship that they will be able to do so.
Cameron has now visited Australia 3 times, he’s been to both Sydney and to Melbourne, he’s even visited Featherdale Zoo and fed the kangaroos there in exactly the same way I did on the day I discovered I was pregnant with him. He’s walked in the footsteps of his Nana, his Uncle Mark, his Dad and his little brother. I have made sure he knows and understands his story, his roots and his Australian heritage. He is still young though and whilst he takes it all in his stride, he knows he will always have my 100% support if he ever wants to try and find his Australian family.
My life certainly wasn’t over in having him at the age of 40 though, we have travelled all around the globe together. He is world schooled (similar to home schooling but he learns all around the globe!). He is happy, healthy, highly sociable, he loves life and he loves people.
Georgia too had inherited the travel genes which clearly run in this family as she works as Cabin Crew for Virgin Atlantic and now gets paid to travel the world. Cameron also been the best big sister that he could ever have asked for. It’s been hard at times but I am a very proud mother.
Cameron hasn’t grown up without a father though, despite having been separated from Chris for years when I told him I was pregnant his immediate response was “well I’ve always been here for Georgia and I’ll be here for this one too” and he has been, he took on the role of an adoptive Daddy to Cameron as well as to Georgia. Our family has been very non-conforming but it works.
My love life had a happy ending too (yay) Simon came into my life 2.5 years ago during lockdown and exactly a year later I relocated with Cameron from Sussex to Berkshire to begin a new life with Simon and his own 3 children. Just two months after moving Simon asked me to be his wife…..of course I said “yes”.
So neither of my children know their biological fathers and yet they have an adoptive father in Chris and a step-father in Simon, both who love them dearly and they in turn love back.
I only wish that societies attitudes towards unmarried mothers had been the same back in the 1960’s because Gloria’s story would have been a very different one, and perhaps her son may still be alive today.
Copyright 2022 Terri Shanks