My mother's daughter: Mum kept her painful secret for 30 years

Date12 December 2020
AuthorCiara McQuillan
Published date12 December 2020
It was yellowed with age, frayed at the edges, and scrawled across the front of the envelope was my mother's maiden name and the address of a home she had not lived in for many years. The letter was postmarked from England and even at the tender age of eight, the wording appeared mysterious and cryptic to my young mind. While I don't remember exactly what it said, I remember being struck by how vague the language was, mentioning how a mutual friend had inquired about my mother, not having seen her for many years, and hoped she was keeping well. The return address was alien to me, and of course the whole encounter piqued my childish curiosity. Naturally, I never mentioned the letter to my mother – that would have meant confessing that I was being "curious" around her things again, which had not worked out well for me on previous occasions. Over time, as I grew from a child to a teenager and eventually an adult, the memory of the letter faded but I never totally forgot about it and I instinctively knew that it held the key to something important from my mother's past. I just didn't know what that was.

My sister and I had always been somewhat aware of our mothers' life before we came along. We knew that after school she had trained as a radiographer and worked in the UK for a short while before returning to Ireland and enrolling in the Royal College of Surgeons to study medicine. We knew she had been engaged to a doctor before she met our father and that it had ended in heartbreak. We just didn't know the extent of her heartbreak.

Vocation as a GP

She had recovered, as people do, and went on to marry my father who she had met while completing her residency in a Dublin hospital, where he was her colleague. She had gone on to become a doting mother to two daughters and found her vocation as a GP. She cherished working in her garden and enjoyed restoring antiques. She was a loyal sister and a good friend. She had loved fast cars and cooking Indian food. She was a mother who adored her daughters and was hesitant letting them go, even when they became adults.

This last trait made sense later, when we learned about the secret she had kept to herself for so many years – a daughter that had been born while she was in the UK and placed for adoption. That portion of her life she had never shared with anyone, family or friend. Not even our dad, the man she would marry. It wasn't until I was a young adult, many years after I had discovered the letter, that my mother...

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