Losing my boy almost destroyed me. Finding him again made my life WORSE
For 23 years, Philippa longed to meet the son she was forced to give up, but the reunion didn’t go quite as she’d hoped
PUBLISHED: 23:40, 3 July 2012 | UPDATED: 09:35, 4 July 2012
The toxic mixture of fear, guilt and excitement was like nothing Philippa Hornsey had ever experienced before.
As she sat outside the pub, scanning the faces of every young man filing past her table, Philippa realised this was something very few women ever experience in life. She was a member of a very exclusive — and unenviable — club.
She was waiting to meet her son Tony — the son she hadn’t seen since she was forced to give him up for adoption 23 years earlier when she was still a teenager.
Her last sight of him was as a tiny, bundled-up newborn in his hospital basinet. She’d managed to ‘steal’ a few minutes alone with him, against social workers’ advice, before he was quietly spirited away to an unknown couple and an unknown future.
But now he was back. She recognised the slim, blond, blue-eyed young man, striding past her table, straightaway — he looked so much like her — and felt a shiver of pride and pain.
‘I would have known him anywhere,’ says Philippa, now 50. ‘My first instinct was to rush up to him, take him in my arms and tell him I was sorry I’d given him away. But I felt so scared.’
This is the point in the story at which any scriptwriter would start preparing for a big, happy ending, with tears and hugs as mother and son are finally reunited, undoing more than two decades of pain. And, initially, Philippa and Tony played their parts perfectly.
But the happy ending soon led to another even more painful chapter in their story, which placed an almost unbearable strain on Philippa’s marriage, and led to a bitter falling-out between her and her son.
So bad are relations between them that now, despite the 23 years they spent longing for a reunion, Philippa and Tony haven’t spoken in three years.
Theirs is one of the estimated 40 per cent of adoption reunions each year which don’t work.
Philippa was 19, and living at home in Essex with her very strict, middle-class parents, when she discovered she was pregnant in December 1980.
‘I’d just split from my fiance,’ explains Philippa. ‘He’d accused me, falsely, of cheating on him and had dumped me. The break-up was so acrimonious I didn’t tell him about the baby — but I knew I wanted to keep it.
‘I knew my parents would pressurise me into having an abortion, so I decided to conceal my pregnancy and was six months along before my mum became suspicious and confronted me. By then it was too late for a termination, but, without even discussing it with me, she announced that my baby would be adopted.’
An adult with a good job in the civil service, Philippa was within her rights to defy her parents, but she admits she was cowed by their dominance over her.
‘They made it clear they were ashamed of me and threatened to throw me out if I tried to keep my child. They said I’d lose my job and end up homeless.
‘Although I objected strongly when my mother began making adoption arrangements, no one would listen to me.
‘Even the social worker assigned to my case, who’d said she would help me, abandoned me when she came up against my mother.
‘I felt so helpless and alone. I’d lie in bed at night sobbing as I felt my baby kick and prayed Mum and Dad would change their minds.’
Cruelly, by coincidence, Philippa’s older — and married — sister was pregnant, too, just a few months further along.
‘I watched my parents fuss over her and buy things for the baby, while my pregnancy wasn’t even discussed,’ she recalls. ‘When my niece was born, they adored her. I did, too — and it made me yearn to keep my child even more.’
Philippa gave birth alone in Orsett Hospital, near her home, in August 1981. Her parents never visited her or their grandson once, although her sister did.
Initally, the baby, whom she called Robert David, was taken to the hospital nursery, and Philippa tried to keep away, terrified she’d fall in love with him.
After 48 hours, however, she cracked, and sneaked off to hold him: ‘I counted his fingers and toes, just like any other new mother does. He was perfect in every way. I told him I loved him, and would always love him.’
But the following day, when she tried to see her baby again, he’d already been taken away. ‘I didn’t have a clue where he was or even have a picture of him. Everyone just kept saying it was for the best.’
Back at home, Philippa sank into depression. Her son was never mentioned, and a bitter rift developed between her and her parents.
It was another five years before Philippa found the strength to leave home, after which she rarely went back to visit.
When she was 32, Philippa met Rick Hornsey, then a 24-year-old salesman. They married in November 1993 and, at last, it looked as though her life could begin.
‘I felt so guilty about the adoption that I told Rick I didn’t want children. But as time passed and I saw how much he wanted to be a father, I wanted to have a child with him, too,’ says Philippa.
However, the couple were shocked to learn that Rick was infertile and, as Philippa was by then over 40, she did not qualify for IVF in her local health authority area.
‘I thought I was being punished for giving my son away and had lost my one and only chance of motherhood,’ she says.
‘Though we considered adoption, we hated the idea that an adopted child may one day want to return to their birth parents. Yet this is exactly what I hoped would happen to me.’
In August 2004, that longed-for contact finally came. Philippa had joined the family-tree website Genes Reunited and noticed that someone had entered her details in their tree.
She fired off an email asking how they were related, and almost immediately a reply came back: ‘I think you know who I am.’ Philippa immediately burst into tears, shouting to Rick: ‘He’s found me! He’s found me!’
A flurry of emails followed before mother and son were reunited the following month, in Brentwood, near the home of Philippa’s son, who had been renamed Tony by his adoptive parents.
‘I followed him into the pub, and stood next to him at the bar. We looked at each other and there was a smile of recognition on both sides. In that instant I fell in love with him all over again,’ remembers Philippa.
‘I was happy to learn he’d been brought up in a comfortable middle-class home with loving parents who had given him every advantage. He’d been well provided for, had gone to good schools and university, and was preparing to go to Canada to continue his studies.’
Like Philippa, he’d also been damaged by the adoption. ‘He told me there was never a time he hadn’t known he was adopted, but when he was younger he never liked it being mentioned because it reminded him that his natural mum had given him away.
‘He thought I hadn’t wanted him, and admits he’d always had this sense of not belonging and said he had never felt close to his adoptive parents. He’d felt that they had such high expectations of him but he’d always disappointed them.
‘It made my heart go out to him even more, as I told him I had wanted to keep him. I could have provided for him, sent him to a good school, taken him on holidays — I was just never given the chance.’
While mother and son were getting to know each other, however, Philippa’s husband Rick experienced his first twinge of unease about the reunion.‘I’d been desperate to have a child,’ says Rick, now 43. ‘So when Tony arrived in Philippa’s life, I was very jealous.
‘She had something I didn’t have, and although it sounds ridiculous, sometimes it felt as though she loved him more than me. They chatted online and by phone every day, sometimes for hours.’
Philippa admits it was difficult for Rick: ‘Tony wanted all my attention. I was enamoured with him. But it was torture for Rick and caused painful rows.’
The intensity of the relationship between the newly reunited mother and son dimmed when Tony moved to Canada for two years, as planned, to complete his studies.
But the pair maintained contact, and when he returned to the UK in December 2006, Tony asked if he could move in with her and Rick at their home in Hartlepool, County Durham, to get to know them better. ‘It was only supposed to be for a short time while he found a job, and I was thrilled,’ says Philippa. I had a chance to be a proper mother and every time he called me “Mum” I’d break into a soppy smile,
‘I loved it when he fell asleep on the sofa, his head resting on my shoulder, as we watched TV.’
Rick says he made an effort to be Tony’s friend as well as his step-father, and at first all was well. But after a few months of living in close proximity, tensions began to rise.
Philippa says Tony, who was by then in his mid-20s, seemed to regress, and would behave like a petulant teenager.
‘He’d speak loudly to his friends on Skype throughout the night, keeping us awake,’ she says. ‘In the mornings, he wouldn’t get up or go to the Jobcentre to look for work.
‘He’d spend long periods shut in his room, which he wanted us to stay out of, but he never cleaned or tidied it. When we did sneak in there, we found piles of dirty laundry, bags of rubbish and food wrappers strewn all over the floor.
‘Inevitably, it led to Rick having words with him and rows when he laid down the law, asking Tony to be more respectful of us and our home.
‘I found myself caught in the crossfire. The loving relationship I’d had with Tony cooled to the point where I felt as though I was a big disappointment to him.’
Despite the tensions, Tony lived with Philippa and Rick for two-and-a-half years, during which time he even moved house with them. But relations between them became intolerable and, in April 2009, things finally came to a head.
‘When I finally snapped, I told him I was sick of him treating my home like a hotel and that just because I loved him, it didn’t mean I was a pushover,’ says Philippa.
Tony moved out two weeks later. Although he did thank her for having put him up, and they did meet again — just once — communication between the two trickled to a halt.
‘I’m ashamed to say I felt relieved when he moved out, but I also felt a failure,’ says Philippa.
‘I’d wanted to reunite for such a long time, but then it went so wrong. I think Tony’s expectations of me were too high and I felt I wasn’t good enough for him.
‘I no longer have a career, due in part to painful arthritis, I’m not glamorous and we don’t live in a big house. His adoptive parents, with whom he didn’t always have an easy relationship either, could give him more material things than me, and I couldn’t really give him anything except my love.
‘Sadly, too much time had passed for me to be a proper mother to him.
‘Even finding Tony could not help me get over the fact I had been forced to give him up for adoption and the feeling that he had been stolen from me. I could never make up for those lost years.’
She adds: ‘In a way we were both damaged by the adoption.
‘I will always love him more than he could ever know and I blame myself for the reunion not working, but I won’t be making contact with him again. All I want now is for him to be happy.’
Likewise, Tony is adamant that he will not see his biological mother again. He told the Mail: ‘I’ve moved on — I’ve got a good job now, a partner, a step-daughter and I’ve bought my own house.’
And, heartbreakingly for Philippa, he also revealed that he had recently become a father himself, to a baby boy, and hadn’t even told his natural mother about her grandson.
‘I don’t dispute that Philippa loved me, but I don’t think our reunion would ever have worked even if I had not moved in and things had been less intense,’ he says.
‘And if she thinks it’s because she’s not good enough, she’s right. But not because of material things — none of that mattered to me.
‘I just felt suffocated and manipulated during the time I lived with her and Rick. I had a period of not working and wasn’t really myself. I am disappointed with many things that happened. It was a very unhealthy situation.
‘But I don’t regret finding Philippa because it’s helped me move on, and neither would I want to discourage people from seeking reunion. But you must be aware that it doesn’t always work out.
‘I don’t want to see Philippa again, and I don’t want her to see my children either.
‘There won’t be another reunion because I know that it would never work.’