The baby who arrived by train
- Credit: Archant
Author and therapist Jennifer Lynch’s new book explores issues that have loomed large in her own life. Sheena Grant went to meet her
WHEN she was 28 Jennifer Lynch set about looking for the birth mother who had given her up for adoption in 1962 as a six-week-old baby.
As part of the search, she was given the original file relating to her ‘case’.
“It still makes me cry every time I look at it,” she says. “The documents and letters it contains are so blunt and impersonal.”
Despite the fact she was adopted by a loving family and enjoyed a happy childhood, that unremembered wrench from her natural mother’s arms has informed almost every aspect of her life, an experience she believes is common for many children who are adopted.
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But Jennifer could in no way be described as angst-ridden. She’s got a warm, welcoming smile and appears confident and at ease with herself.
She lives in a hill-top house with vistas across open fields towards Stowmarket.
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Here she works as a massage therapist and reiki healer and here also she writes books, the latest which has just been published.
Skin Deep is hugely personal for Jennifer, dealing as it does with issues of adoption and relationships. But she insists that although parts of her own life have influenced the book, it is first and foremost a work of fiction.
“I have drawn on my own emotions and how I felt as a child about being adopted,” she says. “There is one part in the book describing a birthday party, which is really taken from my own childhood and was my party when I was seven. It describes how I felt about my friends coming round. I used to worry that it might be discovered that I was adopted and that people would treat me differently.
“I still feel that adopted people have a fear of rejection that runs deep into all areas of their lives. I see it with some of the people I work with as a therapist. I am not saying adopted people never settle down - I had a marriage for 13 years - but they do find it hard because they can carry that initial feeling of rejection with them their whole lives if they never look at it.”
Jennifer moved to Ipswich with her adoptive parents, Jill and Norman Kelbrick, when she was 12. Jill was a librarian in the town and Norman was assistant county librarian for many years. The couple also had two birth daughters, one older and one younger than Jennifer. Sadly, her older sister died in 1987, aged just 28.
Jennifer had been told from the age of three or four that she was adopted but says she couldn’t really understand what it meant until she was older.
She remembers being told how she arrived on a train and for a long time believed that was how children were born.
“My parents told me a story about how they went to get me and how I was wearing woolly baby clothes and I had a bright red face because it was a hot day,” she says. “I remember wondering for quite a while why my sisters didn’t come on a train too as I thought that was how people arrived in the world.”
She also remembers having a hatred of being photographed, aware that she was physically different from the rest of her family.
“I suppose I was about seven or eight when I started realising there was something different here,” she says. “I asked myself why I didn’t look like my sisters.”
Nevertheless, she had a happy family life with her parents and sisters, even though Jill suffered a devastating stroke when Jennifer was just 10. Jill worked hard to adapt to her new circumstances. and took up writing when she was in her 50s, penning fiction under the name of Gillian Kaye. She died, aged 81, in 2011.
Jennifer believes it was her adoptive mother’s career as a novelist and the fact that she grew up surrounded by books and classical music that inspired her own writing, something that may well not have happened if she had not been adopted.
She is now in touch with her own birth mother and half brother but says the relationship is more like having a big sister. Jill is the one who brought her up and the one she thinks of as her mother.
Like Rebecca in Skin Deep, Jennifer’s natural mother gave her daughter up through a Catholic adoption agency.
“She was Irish and living on her own in England in the 1960s and the father did not want to know,” she says. “I was adopted through the Catholic Children’s Society.
“In the book there is a place called St Catherine’s, which is fictional but I suppose has similarities to the place where my mother had me. Rebecca goes there and has her daughter, Bridgette.”
Although the novel can be read purely as a work of fiction, Jennifer hopes it will also act as a self-help book for people who are facing some of the issues it explores.
Jennifer herself had just had her second child when she decided to start looking for her own birth mother.
“It’s something that becomes important when you are pregnant yourself,” she says. “You keep thinking about it and thinking about your own mother. It seems to bring about a need to get in touch.
“When people trace their family trees it is part of the same thing - a human need to have a root and to know where you come from. I talk in the first part of the book about finding your roots. I felt quite lost until I found that. When I met my blood relatives I knew who I was, without having to be massively in contact with them. Now I probably have contact with my birth mother a couple of times a year. It feels like a relationship with an older sister rather than a mother.”
It wasn’t like that initially, however. At first, Jennifer’s mother did not want to know the daughter who had come looking for her after so many years.
“She was in complete shock when I first found her. It was painful but we gradually got to know each other after two or three years,” she says. “For people who experience this it can feel like a double rejection and that is quite hard.”
Jennifer admits that she has wondered how her mother could have given her away, especially since becoming a mother herself, but says it is not really fair to judge.
“I know why she did it. At that time there were no benefits for single parents and she was from Ireland, alone over here. It couldn’t have been easy. Because I have been a single parent myself I have empathy for her. How could you work and look after a baby? In the 1960s it would have been extremely difficult.
“I tend to think that even if I was living on the streets I would cling on to my baby but we can’t really judge. It was hard for them emotionally. Like my own mother, many women had to pretend their baby was dead just to get over it.
“My adoption was a good adoption. I really loved my parents and my sisters. I had a good life, in contrast to some people who have been adopted. But even though I was in that family part of me felt I didn’t deserve to be. Someone once said to me, ‘they chose you’, but I don’t think adopted people feel that way. You still feel that original rejection and it can bring out feelings of not feeling as good as other people.”
Jennifer began writing Skin Deep about four years ago.
“It does feel like a part of me is in the book, even though it is fiction,” she says. “I wanted to write it to get over how a mother might feel to give her daughter up and how the daughter might feel but also I wanted to explore this idea that ‘blood is thicker than water’. I don’t believe it is, even after tracing my natural mother.
“I have a good connection with my birth mother but there is something really deep and meant to be about me and the mother who adopted me. It felt right for me to live my life in that family.”
The issue is explored in the book when Bridgette tells her birth mother about a relationship she is having with a married man and is judged harshly.
“Bridgette goes on to tell her adoptive mother about the affair but this time is completely accepted for who she is,” says Jennifer. “This is fiction but I believe the person who is going to understand you most is the person who is with you all your life. That is why the book is called Skin Deep.”
Jennifer still finds it emotional to talk about some of the issues in her own life but says writing the book was not at all difficult.
“I wrote it as a novel so it was not emotionally gruelling. I just wanted to explore all the dynamics in relationships - the mother-daughter and boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.”
The book also delves a little into the workings and attitudes of the Catholic church - one of the characters is a nun, who has given up her own baby for adoption.
Skin Deep is a huge departure from Jennifer’s first book, which is called Silver Lining and explores spirituality, a subject she became interested in about the same time she started looking for her birth mother. Meditation is now part of her daily life and something she says keeps her sane.
She has already started work on her next book, a story about being a single parent, the stigma of divorce and coming to terms with being newly single - things she has also experienced first hand.
“Again, some of the things have happened to me personally and some are fiction,” she says. “They say that you should write about the things you know and I think that’s true. It makes it more realistic.”
? Skin Deep is available on Amazon Kindle at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AJBLDKQ and will be published as a paperback, available on Amazon, from March 4.