Sally's voyage of discovery

EXCLUSIVEBy Dave GooderhamFOLLOWING the death of her adopted mother, Sally Rode embarked on a painstaking search for her natural family.It was to be a life-changing experience filled with frustration, expectation and, ultimately, one of wonderful surprise when she discovered she had 11 brothers and sisters from her birth family.

EXCLUSIVE

By Dave Gooderham

FOLLOWING the death of her adopted mother, Sally Rode embarked on a painstaking search for her natural family.

It was to be a life-changing experience filled with frustration, expectation and, ultimately, one of wonderful surprise when she discovered she had 11 brothers and sisters from her birth family.


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As she prepares to take her final steps on a remarkable journey and see her natural family for the first time, Mrs Rode, 53, spoke candidly about her hopes and fears and why she was filled with a hunger to find out the truth.

"I have an absolutely gorgeous family who I wouldn't swap for the world, but there was something with my natural family that I couldn't leave alone," she said..

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"I was conscious I had in the background a small piece of a big jigsaw of my life and I needed to find those small pieces.

"I always knew I was adopted from Barnardo's as a baby. When I found out I had 11 brothers and sisters, I was shocked and amazed, filled with disbelief."

Mrs Rode, a mother-of-two, began searching for her natural family after her mother died in 1992. She was initially told by Barnardo's she had five brothers and sisters, but that figure eventually rose to 11 siblings, although two have passed away.

"I had a superb childhood. I grew up with a loving family and a very dear brother. I was conscious I was adopted from the age of eight years old, but it didn't make the slightest bit of difference and it still doesn't – nothing will ever change that," she said.

"But I had this feeling that if my birth mother gave me a name, she must have cared for me a bit. So I began to go through quite a lengthy process to find them.

It was a process that involved birth certificates, internet websites and numerous counselling sessions to ensure she was full aware of the potential heartaches that might lie ahead.

Mrs Rode said: "I was driven by curiosity. I was never content with just knowing a little bit about my family, I needed to hear more.

"Something kept prompting me to try to find out more, even though I knew they might not want me to know me, might not even believe me."

After the internet drew a blank, it was the intervention of close friend Mary Wooldridge that eventually led to a planned reunion with her natural family who live in the East End of London.

Mrs Rode, who lives in Mundford, near Thetford, said: "It was about Christmas time when I gave her the go-ahead to search for my family. She carried out very painstaking research, writing a great many letters until one day we found them.

"I had rehearsed in my head for years what I was going to say, but when it came to it, all I could blurt out was 'I think I'm your sister'. It was incredible emotional."

The only one of 11 siblings to be adopted, Mrs Rode showed remarkable understanding in discussing her mother's, and any mother's, most difficult decision.

She said: "I was curious why I was the only one adopted. But Barnardo's explained that my birth mother, who at the time had little money and was living with five children in two rooms in London, realistically had little choice but to give me up.

"Life was never easy for her and I have absolutely no ill feeling towards her at all. If I could meet her, I would thank her as she did the most amazing thing for me."

Mrs Rode added: "She was a fighter and a survivor and to give up a middle child must have been a very difficult decision, but I admire her and she gave me a fantastic life.

"I never expected my mother to be alive, but I can take some comfort in that I have been told that I have an incredible likeness to her."

Now Mrs Rode, communications adviser for Forest Heath District Council, is preparing herself for possibly the toughest phase of her amazing journey – meeting one of her siblings for the first time later this month.

She said: "I have done the journey in my head over and over again. I don't know what will happen when I get there, but if anyone wants to take shares in Kleenex, now is a good time.

"Though my natural brothers and sisters have all said they want to meet me, you have to be realistic. They have all had between 40 and 60 years of being together and not knowing about my existence.

"I can't expect to be a fully-fledged member of such a close and very large family. I am just content to know what happened and that they are there. Anything else is a bonus."

Mrs Rode also sounded out a message of caution for any other adopted people looking to find their natural family.

"To anyone looking for a birth family, I'd urge caution. I know the force that drives you. I know the constant feeling of wanting to know more," she said.

"But I'm one of the few lucky ones. I ended up with two families – I am the luckiest person in the world – but not all stories have happy endings."

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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