The agony of monitoring down the mom who gave you up as a toddler

When I sat down to write about the search for my long-lost birth mother I had no idea that I would be opening a door into the lives of so many other people who had hauntingly similar experiences.

Ever since the Daily Mail serialised my book, Finding Margaret: Solving The Mystery Of My Birth Mother, two months ago, I have been overwhelmed with ­heartfelt letters, emails and telephone calls. People from all over the world have wanted to share their own stories.

Andrew Pierce with his birth mother Margaret who he tracked down at the age of 48

Andrew Pierce with his birth mother Margaret who he tracked down at the age of 48 

The political writer with adoptive parents, George and Betty, in the 1990s - 'the only mum and dad I had ever known, or wanted'

The political writer with adoptive parents, George and Betty, in the 1990s – ‘the only mum and dad I had ever known, or wanted’

Often unbearably poignant, more than once I have had to brush away tears as they described their struggles to find the parent who gave them away — and recounted the often crushing disappointment when they were reunited.

But there was also joy, with some inspired to search for their own blood relations after they read my story.

I didn’t start looking seriously for my birth mother, Margaret Connolly, until I was nearly 50. As I write in the book, there were extraordinary twists and turns in my search as she had no desire to be found.

Playtime with his brother, pictured right

Playtime with his brother, pictured right

Some of the people who contacted me were shocked Margaret never asked me anything about my upbringing with my adopted parents after they had taken me out of the bleak Victorian orphanage where I spent nearly three years.

But it’s clear from the letters I have received that many mothers, who often had no choice about giving up their babies, were unwilling to show any ­affection or to even try to bond with the child they gave away. Cruel? Or were they trying to avoid reliving the trauma of the separation? Whatever the case, here are some of their stories…


A smiling Andrew in his school uniform

A smiling Andrew in his school uniform

 MARIA, 79, wrote to me to say she was a happy-go-lucky 19-year-old, living in a tight-knit Catholic community in County Cork, when she was shattered to discover she was pregnant.

It was 1963 and the father of her unborn child, whom she thought was a marriage prospect, promptly vanished.

She concealed the pregnancy for six months until she moved into the now infamous Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. Her family thought she had gone to England for work.

‘The home was harsh,’ she wrote, ‘My job was scrubbing floors. One nun enjoyed kicking over the bucket of water when I had finished, so I had to start again. We were being punished for being pregnant.’

Margaret grew up in a tiny village in County Mayo ¿ in a two-roomed basic house, without electricity, gas or running water

Margaret grew up in a tiny village in County Mayo — in a two-roomed basic house, without electricity, gas or running water 

Maria gave birth to James and for three months they were inseparable until ­adopters were found.

‘I went to Dublin on a train with a social worker. James was in my arms for every precious second. I did not want to let go of him.

‘When we got to the municipal offices, I had to give him to the social worker, tears streaming down my face. I wasn’t allowed to see his new parents. Numb with grief, I went straight to the ferry to start a new life in England.’

Maria married and had three children, who were told about James. ‘At Christmas I bought presents for three children, when I should have been buying for four. His birthdays were excruciating.’

Little Andrew celebrates a birthday with his adoptive mother Betty

Little Andrew celebrates a birthday with his adoptive mother Betty

Decades later, Maria received a letter from social services in ­Sussex, passed on from Ireland. ‘I knew it was James. I was in shock.’

At Maria’s insistence, they met in the very same room in Dublin where she had given him away 45 years earlier.

‘My three children waited in an adjoining room. A social worker opened the door to where I last saw my baby and there he was. We hugged and hugged. It was the happiest day of my life.

‘I had never tried to find him as I feared upsetting his new life. He never blamed me for anything. He’s 60 this year and I will be 80. We’re having a joint celebration.’

In 2015, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was established by the Irish government to investigate what had happened to vulnerable women and children there.

Some 923 children died at Bessborough alone, which was open between 1922 and 1999 and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, but it’s feared up to 600 babies lie in unmarked graves. As Maria told me: ‘I’m one of the lucky ones.’

STEPHANIE’S mother Margaret walked out of their south London home when she was seven and her sister 14. ‘We never heard from her again,’ wrote Stephanie, who was raised by her father.

More than 25 years later, after giving birth to her son, Stephanie received a letter out of the blue from the Salvation Army family tracing service (which no longer exists). Margaret wanted to resume contact.

‘I was living in Australia so it came as a huge shock,’ Stephanie told me. She exchanged letters with her mother, which progressed to speaking on the telephone.

‘I was struck that she never touched on the past,’ she added.

Eventually her mother flew to Sydney with her husband, whom she married after she walked out.

‘It was not to be. She was ­incapable of being alone with me. After a week I asked if we could spend a few hours together to talk about the past.’

Her mother looked like she’d seen a ghost. ‘Absolutely not,’ she said. ‘Why would I want to do that?’

Stephanie calmly told her that if their relationship was to progress, she wanted to know why her mother had abandoned her daughters. Margaret’s response was icy. ‘Can’t we just forget about that and be a family again?’

Stephanie said: ‘I gently explained that I could not pretend it didn’t happen. Being a mother of a one-year-old, I did not have the capacity to do that.’

The conversation came to a shuddering halt. ‘I did not see her again. She flew out the next day without even saying goodbye.’

THE most startling phone call I received was from Marie, 87, who in 1944 was in the same orphanage, Nazareth House in Cheltenham, that I was in as a small boy.

‘It was horrible. There was ­cruelty to the children,’ she had written to me in an earlier letter.

Marie was put in the home aged seven after her pregnant mother had been committed to hospital and her father called up to fight in Egypt.

‘My brother, who was barely 12 months old, was kept in the other end of the building. I was not allowed to see him.

‘The place was so terrible I used to run away back to our house but the nuns dragged me back and there was always a thrashing.

‘Some nuns were brutal. They put boiling hot water into the bath and if you pulled a face when you dipped your toe into it they repeatedly slapped your

thighs until they could see their finger marks.’

She said the children at the orphanage were not allowed to make friends.

Marie added: ‘A nun slept in our dormitory and slapped anyone who cried at night. Your book brought it all back. It was a nightmare.’

JULIE told me how, when she retired at 62, she started exploring her family tree — and was astonished to learn she was adopted.

She found her birth mother, then 88, was living in warden-controlled housing in Newcastle. After a flurry of letters, they agreed to talk on the phone.

‘I was shaking as I dialled the number,’ she told me.

‘I tried to impress on her how I meant no harm but hoped she could answer some questions. She was terse, abrupt, with no warmth or understanding. She told me she had spent 62 years trying to put all that behind her and didn’t want to drag it up again.’

Her mother agreed to answer some written questions, but warned: ‘Then I want you to end contact. I don’t want to see you.’

In the event, she did not answer Julie’s ­written questions. Her mother, who never married or had more children, died four years later, alone and in poor health.

Julie, now 76, said: ‘If she had been 20 years younger when I found her, I would have knocked on her door but I couldn’t do that because she was already 88. So I never met my birth mother, although I have a couple of ­photos, I have no ­knowledge of my father, so know precious ­little of who I am. But just writing this gives me a feeling of ease. Thank you.’

GEORGE, who is in his 20s, thanked me for not giving my story the happy ending which seem to feature on programmes such as ITV’s Long Lost Family.

‘I’m adopted and believe the love a parent has for their adopted child is profoundly beautiful’, he wrote. ‘It is a love that is unconditional by nature. Reading of how you speak so reverently of your adopted parents reminds me how grateful I am to my own.

‘Thank you for talking about your story so honestly. There is such a misconception about ­reuniting with biological parents, partly because of the TV series.

‘Reunions don’t always go as hoped or even dreamed about. It’s why your book is so important. Thank you again.’

ONE of the saddest stories I’ve heard was Sue’s, who was born to a single mother in Wales 1944. Her grandfather found a couple and paid them to adopt her. ‘Gifts arrived on special occasions but under no circumstances were they to tell me the truth,’ she wrote.

Then a school friend overheard the woman she thought was her natural mother revealing that they had taken her on as a baby.

‘I was 12 when I found out. It was shocking,’ Sue said.

Years later, she tracked down her birth mother who initially refused to meet her, but then relented. ‘She laid down all these conditions. The meeting had to be in a public place, a cafe, there must be no sign of emotion and I could stay only 15 minutes.

‘I kept my word. We spoke a few times on the phone but she did not want any more contact. I was heartbroken.’

However, they kept in touch through Christmas cards and then Sue had a letter from her mother’s sister revealing she had died.

‘I then had six or seven years of wonderful contact with my new-found aunt until she died of cancer. Another tragedy but for those years I at last felt part of a family.

‘No one can understand the hurt of being rejected twice unless they have been through it.

‘I feel, Andrew, that we are ­kindred spirits.’

PETER’S wife Sally gave up her three-week-old son with another man when she was 16 so he might have a better chance in life.

‘As he was being taken from the hospital in Bristol to go to his adopted parents, she craned her neck from the window to see him for the last time,’ Peter told me. ‘It was devastating.’

Sally had given the baby her St Christopher medal. Peter said: ‘Half a century later, I promised her I would try to find him — and I did.’

Sally’s son turned out to be a successful professional who has since been in touch with her.

Sally never had children with Peter, but so far her son has declined to meet her.

Peter added: ‘She’s overjoyed to know he’s OK and that she has grandchildren who she hopes to see one day. I pray one day he will see her. He still has her ­St Christopher medal.’

MARY, like my birth mother ­Margaret, came from County Mayo, one of the most deprived parts of Ireland.

‘Irish girls who got pregnant like my mother went to Britain to save face, otherwise their family would be shamed,’ she said.

‘My mother, a teenager, was sent to Scotland, where I was born in 1950. I was brought back to live with my grandparents in a small village in Mayo where everyone knew I was illegitimate.

‘My mother married a widower in Scotland and they had a daughter. I was left with my grandparents. Life was hard on a farm, as in those days I was soiled goods and not good enough for anyone. My mother and I had no more contact. We’re scarred in ­different ways.’

Read all about Andrew's search for his birth mother in his recently published book

Read all about Andrew’s search for his birth mother in his recently published book

Names have been changed. Finding Margaret: Solving The Mystery Of My Birth Mother by Andrew Pierce (Biteback £20).

© Andrew Pierce 2024. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to 25/07/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25), go to or call 020 3176 2937.