Jan Wiseman was born in 1942. She was brought up in Orpington with her sister Val by parents Norah and Stanley, a cruel man. When Jan was 16, Norah told Jan that she was adopted and that the revelation was to be kept secret. It was a horrible shock for the teenager but she did as she was told and didn’t say a word. Jan felt rootless, as if she didn’t know who she really was. But life went on and in 1962, she married Brian, the only person she had told about her adoption. A happy couple but unable to have children, Jan and Brian adopted Charles, pledging he would know his story from day one. To their surprise and delight, shortly afterwards, Jan fell pregnant with Ruth. Many happy family times followed. But when Jan was 46, the law regarding birth certificates changed and she began to look for her birth family. It was a long adventure full of surprises, sadness, rejection and ultimately love and acceptance. Almost three decades since she began looking, Jan found the family she longed for. Circles is available to buy for Kindle on the Amazon website, here.
Now read an extract from her moving story…
I took a piece of bread from the plate at the centre of the dining table and mopped up the juices from my beef stew.
“Pass me a bit, Jan,” said my sister Val.
I passed the plate to her. Then Val offered it to our father.
“Would you like some bread, dad?” she said. He took some but said nothing. I knew he wouldn’t eat it all and that any bread eaten would be thrown up after dinner.
“Mum?” I said.
She didn’t hear me.
“Oh. Oh, no thank you,” she said.
We chewed in silence. Then mum said to me, “Are you going to church tonight?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a special pre-Christmas service.”
A few minutes later, she said, “I’d like to come with you if that’s all right?”
I was surprised. Mum was Church of England and I went to St John’s Presbyterian Church. Maybe she was having a change of heart. Neither my father nor Val attended church. I’d been taken to church by Grandma Hook. She had met the minister, Reverend Morton, when she lived in Chatham some years before.
When dinner was over, Val and I cleared the plates and washed up. This was done to the usual soundtrack of our father vomiting in the bathroom. He was loud, dramatic. I tried not to notice. I dried my hands and put my coat on, and a hat and gloves. It was going to be bitterly cold when mum and I left church a couple of hours later. But I’d have taken the cold over having my world turned upside down any day.
I loved my church and especially at Christmas. There was a special atmosphere. Celebrating Jesus was so much more meaningful at the time of his birth. I liked to think of his devoted parents and the kindness showed to them by the innkeeper. This inauspicious birth for someone so magnificent. A couple of times I sneaked a glance at mum. She was partially disabled, so it had become a habit to check on her. But I wanted to know that since she had chosen to come to my church, she was enjoying the service. She seemed to be.
We stayed for a while at the end, exchanging Christmas wishes with the other churchgoers. It was a friendly place. I felt welcome there. Mum couldn’t stand for long, so we thanked the minister and left. I was looking forward to getting into my bed and getting warm.
“Gosh, it’s cold,” I said to Mum.
“It is,” she said. “Put your hands in your pockets. You don’t want to get frostbite.”
We should have turned right to walk to our house in Elm Grove, Orpington. But instead, Mum stepped off to the left. “Do you feel like a walk?” she asked.
I didn’t really.
“Are you sure you feel up to it?” I asked. Mum couldn’t usually walk very far.
“I think we should have a little walk,” she said. “Stretch our legs.”
We walked in silence. It was dark but the streetlights showed a frost glinting on the pavement and we could see our breath on the air. Worried that mum might slip, I kept my arm looped tightly through hers. After several minutes, she took a deep breath.
“It’s Christmas as you know, Jan.”
Mum paused. Then she said, “and at Christmas there’s always a lot of talk about babies and families.”
She stopped walking. I stopped too.
Mum went on, “Well, you’re not ours, Jan.”
My mouth fell open.
“Someone else gave birth to you.”
My mind spun.
“But you’ve been lucky.”
“We chose you, Jan.”
I stared at the frost.
“We adopted you.”
My Mum wasn’t my Mum? My Dad wasn’t my Dad? How did this happen? Why?
My heart thumped against my ribcage.
“Now,” Mum went on, “we don’t want the neighbours talking about this so you must never speak of it. It is to be a deadly secret between you and I.”
My mouth was still open, dry as a bone. I said nothing. It was clear that I wasn’t to ask questions. Mum turned for home. My legs were like jelly and it took me a moment to find my feet, but I followed her.
When we got home the house was silent. It smelled the same, the pictures sat on the walls and the curtains hung. It was the same as when we’d left it a few hours previously but it felt so, so different. The air was thick with secrets. The people sleeping upstairs weren’t really my father or my sister. I placed my coat on its hook and my hat on top. I tucked my gloves into my pockets. I watched myself, moving in slow motion.
“Best you go to bed, Jan,” said my mother.
“Yes,” I said. My voice came out small. “Goodnight.”
Mum didn’t follow me to tuck me in. She wasn’t one for kisses, hugs and bedtime stories. I could have done with a story that night, my own story, the story of how I came to be living in this house with these people, but it wasn’t a story that could be told. Not even to me.
In bed I drew my feet up into my nightie. I shivered, unable to get warm even with my winter blanket. Shock, I suppose. I closed my eyes and questions swirled behind my lids like fish in a pond. I was still Janet Anne Tyler but Mum wasn’t my Mum? Dad wasn’t my Dad? Val wasn’t my sister and worst of all, my beloved Grandma Hook who had died two years previously wasn’t my grandma? Who were my real parents? Why didn’t they want me? Did I have another family living somewhere? Were they far away? Had I ever accidentally bumped into them?
I’d heard of people who were adopted having a feeling that they didn’t fit in but that wasn’t how I felt. Yes, I looked different to my sister and my parents. I am petite with blue eyes and they are tall. Val is blonde with hazel eyes. But I hadn’t given it a second thought. Who does?
Mum wanted nobody to know about my adoption and I took that to mean that it was something to be ashamed of. There was something wrong with being adopted and there was something wrong with me. I was 16. I wasn’t who I thought I was. Did my Dad know that I knew the truth? Did Val?
I fell asleep with the questions swimming in my mind. When I woke the next morning the revelation sat on my chest like a pile of bricks. I carried on as if nothing had changed. But everything had.
family. It was a long adventure full of surprises, sadness, rejection and ultimately love and acceptance. Almost three decades since she began looking, Jan found the family she longed for.
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