JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Abandoned on a doorstep

Date

Andrew Rowan tells Emily Cunningham how he found out he had been discovered on a doorstep by a paperboy.

A foundling's experience ... In the 1960s children weren't often told they were adopted.

A foundling's experience ... In the 1960s children weren't often told they were adopted. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

The day after my mother's death, I went up to her bedroom and found a box full of papers. Inside was a letter. "Dearest Andrew," it began, "this was not the way it was meant to be... There was never a right time to tell you."

I was brought up in the 1960s, when telling a child they were adopted wasn't common practice. As I read on, I discovered, at the age of 32, not only that I was adopted but that, as a newborn baby, I had been abandoned on a doorstep. Along with the letter, which had been written some time before, was my adoption paperwork - "Mother: unknown. Father: unknown" - and two newspaper clippings. The first described a newborn baby in a grey and pink knitted vest, wrapped in a pink blanket, discovered on a doorstep in Falkirk, Scotland, by a paperboy. The second was from a year later, reporting that the baby was still in a children's home, yet to be adopted. There was also a photograph of a toddler with a wistful expression. I realised with a start that it was me.

It was an incredible shock. These revelations, along with my mother's death, were a lot to take in. Initially, I wished I'd never found out because it seemed to diminish my adoptive mother's status in my mind.

My childhood was happy and secure; my adoptive father died when I was eight, but my mother made sure I couldn't have had a more loving home. Now a huge question mark hung over my beginnings.

I didn't do anything about tracing my birth parents for 15 years. Occasionally I would daydream about going to Falkirk and waiting to be recognised, but generally I put it to the back of my mind. Finally, though, curiosity got the better of me; there were so many questions to which I longed to know the answers. Why did my mother abandon me? Did she hide her pregnancy from everyone? I even wondered where she had got my little vest and blanket from. I didn't feel angry with her for leaving me - it must have been a dreadful ordeal - but I wanted to know more about the circumstances surrounding my birth.

I started to research my history and went on Scottish local television news in the hope that it would lead somewhere. Amazingly, a man called Ronnie contacted the TV station, saying I reminded him of his father. We met up and I was surprised to see a man 20 years my senior. We arranged a DNA test - I'm a geneticist, working with DNA on a daily basis, so it was a strange twist of fate that led to me being tested myself.

The results were positive - Ronnie was my half-brother. It was a very emotional moment for me, meeting a blood relation and finally having a brother after having grown up as an only child.

Most importantly, Ronnie was able to fill in some of the gaps in my mysterious past. My father would have been 60 when I was born - a shock to me, because I'd imagined I was the result of a teenage accident - and he was a chief medical officer. Incredibly, his signature is on my medical records: he examined me when I was found by the paperboy and he was the one who gauged me to be two days old. I will never know for certain if he knew he was my father, because he died before I started my search, but I think it's safe to assume he did.

As for my birth mother, I have a vague idea who she might be. Ronnie told me my father was having an affair with a young woman during the year of my birth, but she is now married with her own family and I don't want to intrude on her privacy. If she approached me, I would be delighted - the final piece in my story's puzzle would be complete - but I don't mind if she doesn't. I would like my questions answered, but not at the expense of her happiness. Most abandoned babies never identify either of their parents and I'm lucky that I found out about one of them.

When I had my own children, I couldn't imagine abandoning them when they were tiny, but I don't feel judgmental that my birth mother did. Not knowing my exact birth date is strange but not upsetting, and being named by a nurse makes me feel fond towards her rather than bitter towards my birth mother.

"Abandoned" is such an emotive word, but I don't feel any sadness or rejection, because I don't know the circumstances of my birth. Instead, I feel unique.

Guardian News & Media

12 comments

  • Go find her Andrew and lose that bitterness, I'm sure she has a very valid and loving story to tell.
    Thankfully times have changed.

    Commenter
    a country gal
    Date and time
    June 13, 2012, 12:50AM
    • Sorry, mate, but you're not much of a geneticist if you never figured out you were adopted. And where I grew up, yes, in the 60s, most of us who were adopted were told. It was usually obvious no matter how much matching occurred for eye colour and the like. Adoptees were everywhere. And of course some of us became doctors, too. So I am not quite sure why this is a story in any newspaper, let alone worth repeating from England to Australia.
      In nine days I meet my natural father for the first time, at 50. Two eccentric old nut-cases, opposite but congruent. Yippee!! Wish him luck.

      Commenter
      notanotheradoptee
      Location
      here
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 1:53AM
      • notanotheradoptee....... No two peoples experiences are the same, good for you - if that is how you REALLY feel. As a nurse, it dosen't surprise me at all that, with your attitude, you are a doctor! Oh yes, I'm adopted too and there was no fairy tale ending, I define who I am, no one else. There are a lot of people out there who were never told - consider yourself lucky and oh so astute!

        Commenter
        wow
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 9:01AM
      • Wow notanotheradoptee, do you feel like you need to diminish someone else's story to make your own sound good.

        Commenter
        Dee
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 10:11AM
      • I don't understand why you think being a geneticist means he should have known he was adopted. I mean, presumably geneticists don't go around insisting their family gives them a DNA sample for practice.

        I think this was a very interesting story, and how fascinating that the writer ended up in the same area of work as his birth father.

        Good luck to him and I hope that he resolves the issue with his birth mother.

        Commenter
        vj
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 11:01AM
      • Point taken, all. Again I learn that sending emails at 1.53am is never a good idea.

        I'm sure this chap is a fine geneticist, and apologise that I couldn't resist the temptation of pointing out the irony of his job vis-a-vis his story.

        Nonetheless, I take issue with the general theme that adoption per se makes an otherwise unremarkable bio suddenly so remarkable, and that this story is, as he says, "unique". Whilst any story of triumph-over-tragedy or seek-and-ye-will-find is obviously of human interest and whilst we are all pleased things are working out for this chap, the implication by example that agonies and searches necessarily follow adopteehood as night follows day can be unhelpful, particularly for those who, thus encouraged, seek yet do not find and are left feeling they should feel forever lost; or those who seek, find, and find a whole lot of mess they could have well lived without.

        Let alone the effect on the adopting parents, who may feel tossed aside in the process. The adoptee isn't the only stakeholder here.

        And I certainly agree with "wow" that we each define ourselves. Being an adoptee is a big deal only if you choose it to be a big deal, and is a pretext to existential doubts only if the adoptee chooses to wade in existential doubt.

        So, if you never seek your bioparents, that's fine. If you look and can't find them, that's fine, too. If you find them and all goes well, that's nice. If it doesn't go well, it doesn't matter.

        we each get to decide who we are. that is all.

        Commenter
        notanotheradoptee
        Location
        here
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 1:16PM
    • As a birthmother who was forced to give up my newborn daughter, your story has touched my heart. You are indeed unique with putting no blame but understanding on the circumstances that led you to your adoptive parents arms. Let me say, your birthmother has never forgotten you, and has thought of you each day. In her heart, she has privately celebrated your birthdays, wished you the best of holidays, and always watched other males matching your years of growth. i know, because i did that. i am lucky to have found my now grown daughter, have met her, her husband and my 3 beautiful grandchildren. i would add here, that even if you want to respect your own mothers privacy, and if you have her name and contact details, please send her a letter, letting her know how you have been all these years. Even if you get no response, she will treasure that information and it will give her comfort knowing how you turned out. Peace of mind helps ones health in the long run. She might even surprise you with wanting to meet should you offer. Thank you for your story. It has meant a lot to me to read it.

      Commenter
      cassie1655
      Location
      USA
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 5:17AM
      • Just because you care for your child doesn't mean others do. It would be wise to speak only on your own behalf when making assumptions of how a person feels.

        Commenter
        M. C. Parkes
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 10:28AM
    • What a fascinating story Andrew, thank you for sharing.
      I'm sure that both your mothers would be very proud of the man you have become.

      Commenter
      KD
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 13, 2012, 7:46AM
      • It's beautiful that you can be understanding of your mother's situation. I've known adoptees who are still angry and resentful.
        .
        I became a single mother in '74, and even then the pressure to give my baby up was tremendous, with the hospital pretending she'd been born dead when I wouldn't sign adoption papers, (I'd already located her and had her hidden in bed with me at the time,) and my parents threatening to disown me after feeding me rat poison in my dinner hadn't caused a miscarriage.
        .
        In Manly hospital I was in a ward of ~ 20 unmarried girls, some on stretchers on the floor, and I was the only one to keep my baby. Every one of them, I believe, was heroic, wanting to keep their much loved baby, but believing it was better for the baby to be placed in a "good" home. The grief they all went through, particularly when my baby was brought in for feeds, was heartbreaking.
        .
        Rest assured that your mother, whether or not she feels free to contact you, loves you very much, and will be thinking about you, wishing you all that is good, every day of her life. As for your father, he lost a great deal in never acknowledging you and knowing the joy having such a son could have brought.

        Commenter
        Kailassa
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        June 13, 2012, 7:57AM

        More comments

        Comments are now closed
        Featured advertisers

        Horoscopes

        Capricorn horoscope

        Trust others to think for themselves. Don't be snobbish about what seems obvious. Everyone learns at their own pace, including you.

        ...find out more here