by Debbie Nahid born in Iran, adopted to the UK.
I was born in 1968. My mother had concealed her pregnancy for eight months when she boarded a plane in the Middle East bound for London. On her arrival, she visited a doctor in a Harley Street clinic and asked for help to give birth secretly. The doctor contacted a private adoption agency who agreed to place me with an adopted family in England so she could return to her homeland and escape the threat of an honour killing. If her family discovered she was pregnant with me, we would have been killed to protect their honour and reputation.
We spent ten days together in hospital before I was removed and taken into temporary foster care. My mother had signed all the relevant documents but she had named a father on my birth certificate and it was this that prevented my adoption into a family. At two months, I was handed over to the care of another foster mother who had been deemed unsuitable by social services and desperately longed for a baby of her own.
I was taken on a train to Suffolk and raised in a rural community of white English people. My mother was a single woman who did not have any extended family or partner to support her. I did not look like her; I had thick black hair, dark brown eyes and a tan on my skin that never faded. I felt like an outcast not only in my town but in my own home too.
My mother refused to tell me the truth about my birth and I was raised to believe that she was my biological mother. She also claimed that my father had come from Iran and apparently died before I was born. She did not have a photograph of him or myself as a newborn. I can remember questioning her many times but she would not discuss how I came to be in this world.
I grew up feeling extremely lonely and isolated, not just by my physical difference but also by her inability to be open about my existence. Social workers used to visit our house regularly but I was never told that I was the reason for these visits; I thought they were just being friendly when they asked about racial abuse I was experiencing at school. My mother used to tell me that the social workers were bad people who wanted to destroy her life and I believed her.
When approaching sixteen I discovered the truth. My mother woke me one night to tell me I was not her real daughter but she would not explain how I got there to be with her. In that moment, my whole world froze before me. I felt empty and frightened. I did not know who I was and I needed to find out. She told me that the name I had been known by for sixteen years was not officially mine.
A social worker came round to explain that I had a different name all along, a foreign name and that I was ‘a foreigner’. I wasn’t given any counselling or support during this period and it has set me up for a lifetime of mental health issues. I don’t think you will ever understand how it feels to discover you are not the person you thought you were. Everyone and everything becomes a lie.
I began to run away from home and each time I did this I was picked up by the police and taken back to the place I was running from. I eventually made it to London where I found the adoption agency and met with the woman who helped my birth mother. However, she didn’t want to help me and insisted I should drop any idea of searching because I would put my mother’s life in danger as the threat of an honour killing was indeed real. She also said that my mother had ‘moved on’. I was bereft, with no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
There is no help for an intercountry adoptee, which is essentially what I was – no helpful social worker, no access to records and no intermediary. The only way I was able to trace my birth family was by travelling to go in search of them, which at the time was to an extremely dangerous region, as a war and then later an invasion all hampered my efforts but didn’t stop me from pursuing the truth.
I found my birth mother when I was twenty four years old. She was married and had four children. I was afraid that she would reject me all over again, but she didn’t. She wanted to meet me. I wasn’t aware that my arrival would trigger her shame and guilt for having a child out of wedlock in a Muslim society. At the time, I was overwhelmed by my own feelings and it felt like rejection when she insisted on pretending I was somebody else. It was deeply upsetting for me to have found my birth mother after years of searching to then have to pretend I was someone else. It felt like another lie.
For the first time in my life, I was in the same home as my biological mother and my half sibling. I saw likenesses and mannerisms; I saw a physical resemblance that connected us all and yet they were strangers who had a different upbringing to me. They were raised in a different culture to the one I had been brought up in. It wasn’t just about colour, it wasn’t just about race, it was about a cultural identity that I found difficult to partake in because it was so unfamiliar to me. I may have appeared the same as them but my mindset was completely alien to theirs. My birth mother was a woman who had grown up in a restrictive society and this prevented her from openly acknowledging me because she feared the consequences.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get long enough to know her because she died quite suddenly and by the time I received the news, it was too late – she had already been buried. I would spend the years that followed trying to build a relationship with my half-siblings and trying to reach out to my birth mother’s relatives who did not want to build any relationship with me. They wanted to keep my identity a secret to protect their family honour, which meant rejecting my existence.
I think my life would have turned out differently if I had always known the truth about my adoption because it wouldn’t have been such a shock. I didn’t know then that I was led by trauma and living a traumatic existence. I was searching for honest people but I only found deceptive ones. I had a right to the truth because it is my history, my biology and my genetic code. From the moment I was born until now everyone who could give me information has tried their best to withhold it from me, using the threat of an honour killing as a justification.
Now I am a grown woman with children of my own and I am searching for the truth about my biological father’s identity, so my story continues….
This article was also published at How to be Adopted.