Three generations of adoption in one family is unusual. The story starts in 1936 when Ray Victor Lewis’s mother gave him up for adoption. She left with him a small Bible. Inside the front cover, the inscription reads, “Ray of Sunshine, Victorious over all.”Unusually, Ray’s name wasn’t changed even though he was adopted as a baby. Ray always knew he was adopted, that his birth mother couldn’t keep him as she was only 17 when she had him, and that she visited him until he was a toddler. ‘The last letter she wrote was one my [adoptive] mum treasured,’ Ray, 78, tells The Guardian. ‘I think she felt it would help me to have something to explain why my birth mother couldn’t keep me.’
Ray’s adoptive parents were already fostering children, but he was the only child they adopted. He remembers an idyllic childhood in the Kent village where he still lives. He has never traced his birth parents. ‘I never felt the urge to trace my birth mother. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life and was very close to my mum and dad, so I just didn’t see the point.’
When Ray married Janet in 1968, they decided to adopt a child. ‘It felt the most natural thing in the world – probably more natural than having our own because it was all I’d known.’ They adopted nine-day old Karen.
‘As long as I can remember, Mum and Dad told me I was special and chosen. There was no day where my whole world, as I knew it, changed for ever,” Karen told The Guardian. Karen knew nothing of her birth family and her mother, Janet, told her not to mention her adoption to anyone. ‘She worried that I might be teased and I was quite secretive about it. I still don’t offer it as information to strangers.’ But Karen wanted to know more. When she was 30 she applied for her birth certificate, discovered she had a different birth name, and met her birth mother once.
‘It was in a hotel, where we shared photographs and stories. She didn’t want to meet again and I was okay with that because that one meeting gave me what I needed – answers to what she looked like, what she was like and, most importantly, the reassurance that she was okay.’
When Karen married and IVF failed, it seemed natural for her and her husband to consider adoption. ‘Adoption is the norm in our family so when I didn’t get pregnant, we wasted no time in applying to adopt. In fact, social workers wondered why we hadn’t considered IVF first.’ Her daughter’s story is a little different, ‘Her adoption story is probably the starkest because she wasn’t relinquished, but removed from her birth family due to child protection issues” explains Karen.
The availability of information about the past is key when growing up, Karen says. ‘Details about your past are never easy when you’re adopted, no more so than with today’s adoptions, but it makes such a difference’.
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