The arrangement to adopt a baby came about by a chance meeting at a bus stop. One day Terri Heron, married and childless, met a priest while waiting for the bus. They started chatting and when he heard that Terri had no children, the priest asked if she had ever considered adopting. What followed was an illegal adoption leaving that baby, Eileen Heron, now in her fifties, without the true facts of her birth.
In May 1965, baby Eileen was delivered to the Heron’s home in Churchtown, a suburb of Dublin, Eire, with birth and baptism certificates. Years later when Eileen started to research her birth family, she found both certificates were false. Although she celebrates her birthday, she admits she has no idea if this is correct. ‘I actually don’t have a single piece of reliable information about who I am,’ she told the Irish Times. When she met the priest, he refused to help. Though against the law, illegal adoption was common at this time, perpetuated by the shame of the mothers who were reluctant to seek help.
Eileen, now a mother herself, realised the mystery of her identity no longer affected only her. So she enrolled on a course for adult adoptees run by Barnardos Ireland.
The group covered topics like what it was like to grow up adopted and how to search for a birth family. A birth mother and an adoptive mother also give their perspectives; the course ends with a final discussion of what can happen after a reunion. The course has been running for 20 years and its content has evolved in that time to include the use of searching via social media. ‘We would advise people against using social media as a way to approach either birth relatives or adopted adults,’ said Christine Hennessey, Barnardos post-adoption services project leader. ‘It’s a very abrupt tool and it can be quite frightening for people.’ Instead, Barnardos encourages mediated contact.
Listening to the stories of other people attending the course, Eileen realised how her situation differed from those who had been legally adopted, ‘the chances of me ever finding my birth family are terribly small. That was like a bereavement.’
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