I’m delighted to welcome Joan to the blog today. Her letter speaks for itself. I expect the sentiments in the letter have been echoed by many over time, even if they weren’t written down. Joan comes straight from the pages of Finding Nina by my good friend, the fabulous author, Sue Barnard.
16th May 1944
My darling Stella,
I really don’t know how to begin this letter. If I’m honest, I think I’m writing it as much to myself as to you. I need to get things clear in my own mind.
I’ve never been in this position before, and I find I’m thrilled and terrified in equal measures.
I’ll never forget what Mother said to me when we brought you home: “Babies don’t come with an instruction book.” I’ve heard that said before, when my friends and work colleagues had babies of their own. Now I fully understand what it means. But in my case there’s an added layer of complication. You were given to us, which in some ways brings even more responsibility.
With effect from yesterday, when we went to court, I am now officially your mother. But I still can’t get out of my mind the image of that poor young girl at the adoption offices. I don’t even know her name, but she looked no more than seventeen at the most. My heart went out to her as she handed you over to me. The social worker told me afterwards that she’d insisted on doing this herself, even though it isn’t normally allowed.
All she said to me – and I can still hear her voice now, six months later – was “I can’t keep her because I can’t marry her father. Please look after her.” Then she started crying, and the social worker led her away.
That was the moment when I first realised that our happiness – having a child of our own after so many years of waiting – is the direct result of someone else’s heartache. Yes, you will call us Mummy and Daddy, but there’s no escaping from the harsh fact that somewhere out there you have another mother who was forced to give you away.
A friend who adopted a baby a few years ago told me that I need to start telling you the truth as soon as possible – before you’re even old enough to understand it – and that way, there will never be a time when you haven’t known. “Tell her that you chose her,” she said. “It will make her feel extra-special.”
So that’s what I’m going to do. Starting tonight. It will be our own bedtime story. You’re still only six months old, but the sooner it begins, the easier it will be.
One day you will have to know the truth. I can only hope and pray that when that day arrives and you fully understand what this bedtime story really means, you will not stop loving us.
With all my love, from your new mother,
About Finding Nina
1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.
1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.
1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints. Life goes on.
2004: Everything changes…
FINDING NINA is part-prequel, part-sequel to the bestselling NICE GIRLS DON’T, but can also be read as a stand-alone story.
About Sue Barnard
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad. Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird”. The label has stuck.
Sue now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.