This question is the one that most parents anticipate, but also dread. This time I am not looking at one’s beginnings from the procreation aspect, but literally, who I am and where I came from.
There has been a series of programmes linked to well-known individuals discovering their roots(BBC 1 Who Am I?). Through carrying out genealogical tasks to find out more about his great-great-grandparents and their racial origins, Colin Jackson, the athlete, was quite surprised to be informed about how much European blood runs through his line.
Our histories are fascinating and exciting. I remember being informed by my father that we are linked in some tentative way to Edith Cavell, a nurse who became famous for saving the lives of prisoners of war and who was killed as a result. One of these days I will carry out the research I have always promised myself that I will do.
To ensure that there is some record of everyone, the congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons as most people call them, have a mission to research their genealogy so that all the members of their family, both living and dead, can become part of this family of Christ.
That sense of belonging is very strong in most of us. Children love to identify who is part of their family and what each branch of the family means. The words ‘sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin’ are all significant to a child. They love to look through photo albums of relatives and identify who belongs with whom.
We bring people into our circle by gracing them with titles to which they have no familial right. The woman next door becomes ‘auntie’. Those individuals who offer a lost child a foster home become ‘family’.
There is sometimes a dire consequence to losing family. A high percentage of homeless people have either made choices to abandon or be abandoned by their families for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes losing one’s family or some of its members can force us beyond sanity because the pain of loss is too much to bear. The saying that we can choose our friends but family is thrust upon us can only be used as a humorous comment if there is family to begin with.
What about the children who are abandoned at birth? What do they do? Well, we know that some spend years as adults searching for the family into which they were born. I am sure that some of them really do anticipate a fairy-tale ending where the parents explain that their baby was snatched by a wicked, evil person and that they spent the last however-many years looking for their baby and now that everyone has found each other, they will live happily ever after. Others have a more realistic need – just to see where they came from or to find out who else they are related to. If there is no information, what does that individual do? They will never know who they take after. They will never really know the circumstances of their birth. They will never know if they were loved or not.
I think that is the most significant aspect of being abandoned. Most of us are aware of our ‘fit’ within the birth family. We quickly work out who is the talkative one, who is seen as the moody one, who is the achiever and so on. In every family unit, there is always one person who feels they don’t fit, or they are the outsider. There is inevitably a daddy’s girl or a mummy’s boy. There is the oldest child syndrome, or the middle child or the baby effect. We know about only children and their ways.
What if we didn’t have any of those things, what then? What if we never know whether we have siblings or parents? What if we were the offspring of murderers or thieves? What if we were the child of somebody famous? Many a fairy tale has begun from such a premise. It takes most humans a long time to understand themselves. We identify ourselves by how others see us as well as how we see ourselves. In this country, most abandoned children are placed in loving families and grow up understanding that they are loved and wanted.
9 September 2000 When abandoned babies grow into adulthood their mental health may be at risk because of poor knowledge about their backgrounds. Current practice regarding the treatment of abandoned babies has a weak evidence base. These were the conclusions of Dr Lorraine Sherr, Natalie Hackman and Ann McGregor of the Royal Free and University College Medical School, based on a study presented at the British Psychological Society’s Social Psychology Section Annual Conference at Nottingham Trent University. Of the 49 cases identified in the media over a period of ten years, 55 per cent of the babies were male, and 74 per cent were left in places where they would be likely to be found. There was mention of the baby’s father in only a very few of the reports provided. Information of the ‘finder’ of the baby was also very limited. Babies who were abandoned to die may require a different form of support from those abandoned to be found. British Psychological Society