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.
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