It was excitement plus in our house! My husband had won a national competition and his prize was an overseas trip – our very first adventure outside of Australia!
We set about planning our trip and sent away for our birth certificates. We needed them to apply for our passports. But the day the mailman arrived with my birth certificate the excitement left me. I sat down on the steps, open envelope in hand, just staring a this piece of paper and trying to will it to explain to me what the hell did this mean!
In the half hour or so that I sat there on those steps, I felt confusion, doubt, disbelief, distrust, unease, distress … so many feelings of upset and misery. I knew my world had just been turned upside down but I wasn’t sure why.
When I first opened that envelope and looked at the piece of paper, I thought there had been a mix-up. They had sent me someone else’s birth certificate. You see it wasn’t my name at all! Instead of Kate I was seeing Maria. Instead of the surname I had as a child, I was seeing another.
As I look at the piece of paper a while longer, I could see my mother’s maiden name on the certificate. It did somehow relate to me then … but how? The certificate did not list a father. Why have they sent me this? What’s going on? My eyes are glued to the names …. unable to move any further down the page. My mind feels like it is buzzing … trying to decipher what my eyes are seeing. I can feel my heart beating louder. My chest is rising and falling faster as my breathing seems to be getting shallower.
I eventually read on. At the bottom of that piece of paper there is a statement which says that the person appearing on this birth certificate had their name changed by Deed Poll. The new name is my maiden name! It is me! This does belong to me!
Questions … so many questions. Why? How? Who? When? Just so many questions. What the hell is going on!
I’m upset but mostly I have this feeling of incredulity about what I’m looking at. I need answers. Mum. I need to speak to my mum. Can you explain this to me?
My mum’s face tells me that I have opened the door to a closet that she had hoped would stay closed forever.
As she tells the story of her youth, I quickly learn the truth. It seems almost unbelievable … almost fantastic at times.
I learn that my dad is not my biological father. I learn that I was born before she ever met my dad. My mum was 17 at the time. My father is Italian. So I’m half Italian? I ask shakily. Yes, she says. My father and my mother had run away together because his Italian family would not let him be involved with an Australian girl. But his family tracked them down and brought them back. Mum was afraid. She was on her own.
Mum explains she was treated badly by hospital staff when I was born. Back then, unmarried mothers were a disgrace and I was a bastard child. I could see how difficult things must have been for her. She tells me my father did come to see me at the hospital … once. He told my mum that he would like me to be named Maria. She obliged.
In the course of the next few years, mum met my dad. He was a bit older than mum. He was accepting of her situation, and of me, and so they got married. He wanted my name changed. She obliged.
The door had been closed for 26 years but it was open now. And the skeletons were out of the closet.