Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power doesn’t quite remember the first time she learned she had been adopted.
“I was about nine or 10,” said Ms Power, who lives in the Bayside area of north Dublin with her husband, Fionnan Sheahan, political editor of the Irish Independent, and their two dogs, Frankie and Charlie.
She will never forget, though, the moment she met her birth mother: “It was on Aug 27, 2007, in the office of Barnardos. When I saw her walk in the door, I could not say anything and neither could she. We just hugged and cried.”
Since then, Ms Power has got to know a whole new set of relatives that she didn’t know existed when she was growing up. “I never thought I was adopted until my parents told me,” said Ms Power, 35, describing the experience of feeling different from her siblings from an early age.
“It never occurs to you that you might be adopted, but I always thought that I was a little bit different to the rest of my family,” she told Miriam O’Callaghan yesterday on RTÉ radio’s John Murray Show.
“I don’t look like anyone else for a start and, personality wise, I am quite different too,” she said. “When I found out, things started to make sense and, as I got older I started to wonder and think where my birth Mum was and whether I had any brothers and sisters.”
She began to think more and more about her birth mother until, finally, at the age of 18 she contacted the Adoption Board, assuming that they would be able to put them both in touch.
“It was a bit of a shock when they said that they could only give me the name of the agency and that there was no automatic right to contact or even a birth cert,” she said.
It would be years before the law was changed to make contact easier, allowing both birth mothers and adopted children to register their interest in meeting. If both agreed, they would be ‘matched’ and a meeting arranged.
In 2006, a form came through the door indicating that Ms Power’s birth mother also wanted contact. More form-filling followed until a few months later, a letter came saying that she had been matched with her birth mother and that a meeting could be set up.
“I sat down and cried,” she said. “It was the most incredible piece of post I had ever received. I could not believe this was happening. I wanted to meet her to see if I looked like her. I had wondered how she was doing and she had wondered about me, too.”
Her next emotion was concern for her adoptive parents: “I was afraid that they would be upset or feel I didn’t love them, which was not the case at all.”
For weeks, she fretted over telling them. “I need not have worried. I made them lunch and sat them down and told them that I had found my Mum,” said Ms Power. “My parents’ reaction was ‘thank God. We thought you might be sick.’ I need not have stressed myself out so much about telling them.”
She and her birth mother met through a mediation service run by the children’s charity, Barnardos. “Before we met, I was given counselling, because it can be quite a frightening experience.”
On their first encounter, the physical similarity was striking. “She looks an awful lot like me and we have similar personalities, too.”
Her mother’s experience was like that of thousands of single, pregnant women in the Ireland of the 70s. “She really didn’t have a choice,” said Ms Power, who feels no resentment at the fact that she had been put up for adoption. Her birth mother later married so, as if life wasn’t busy enough, she now has two families.
“I have two half-sisters and a half-brother that I have gotten to know since, which is fantastic,” she said. “I now have two mums giving out to me for working too hard and my husband has two mothers-in-law.”
Knowing her background gives Ms Power a sense of completeness. The only trouble is that there are no Fianna Fáil supporters among either family. “That’s something I have to work on,” she said.
* Adopted children and birth mothers can register their interest by contacting the Adoption Authority of Ireland at www.aai.gov.ie.
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