It’s a cliched phrase but when my now-fiancé asked me to marry him, it really was the happiest day of my life.
We’d moved in together during lockdown having lived in separate cities since meeting, so when we started living together, it was something I’d dreamed of in the year and a half since we’d started our relationship.
Soon we started planning our wedding, deciding who would be in the bridal party and what venue we would choose to hopefully accommodate my large family and his comparatively small one when the time came. Coronavirus has made many elements of wedding planning less certain but we wrote a rough guest list of who we’d like to share our day with us.
I was very excited thinking about how it would soon be my turn to have a wedding. But eventually I started thinking about the past and a time when, as a young adopted adult, I started my journey to look for my birth family and find out the story of the people who had given me away, whom I had never met.
At that time, I was 20 and a student so marriage couldn’t have been further from my mind. As I started to search, I went to a support group run by Barnardos for people who are adopted. Due to the demographics of people who were born and adopted in Ireland, the group was probably directed at adults older than I was, many of whom were already married. At one of the groups, the facilitator asked us to carry out an exercise. She told us to visualise our wedding and if we chose to invite them, who would attend from our birth family and where we would seat them during the ceremony.
Would they sit in seats near the front with my adoptive family, would they sit with aunts and uncles - important members of the family but not front and centre? Would they be seated discreetly near the back with other friends and neighbours? Or would they be invited at all, provided you knew and had a relationship with them?
It was an exercise that had a big impact on me at the time and now that my wedding is on the horizon, it’s one that came to mind as I wrote my carefully crafted guest list. Families are often not straightforward but I’m very lucky to be close to my parents and siblings, all of whom have made such a big fuss of me since I shared the news I was getting married.
But for an adopted person, the drawing-up of a guest list can be an extremely loaded exercise based on your feelings alone if you happen to be post-reunion with any members of your birth family. When the facilitator at Barnardos first asked me the question about my hypothetical future wedding, I was ideological about the perfect relationship I would have with my birth family when I met them, that they would accept me into the fold of their family and we would all get on like a house on fire.
It’s definitely something a lot of adopted people feel, a craving for your birth family to fall in love with you and maybe in some ways regret having - in the adopted person’s perception - rejected you when you were just a small baby. In many ways it would complete the perfect feeling of acceptance no matter how brilliant your relationship is with your adoptive family.
When I first met my birth family, it felt like being in a new relationship, full of excitement about the possibility of the future. Later I felt like I was in the midst of a recent break-up, scarred by past encounters and in some ways regretful about what had gone on. Now, I feel something not unlike what might result from meeting an old friend with whom you’re not necessarily close or have much in common with any longer, just a shared ground that is sometimes difficult to describe.
What my experience of reunion did offer me was a better understanding of all the years that go into building a family as you see each other at both your best and worst while showing your commitment to each other. It’s something I’ve experienced with my adoptive family and am building with my future husband. I’m not bound to any of them by blood but we’ve created a solid unit with based on love and acceptance.
In my position, my decision on whether to invite any members of my birth family to my wedding was mine, and mine alone. It might not be the relationship I thought I’d have when we first met and in fact, I’ve gone through all of the Barnardos stages of deciding where they would sit if invited and even whether they would be there at all. But eventually I decided that like my future husband and our choices around our wedding, my birth family represents a part of me and should be invited to watch me say ‘I do’.
LOOKING FORWARD TO..: The wedding of a friend in the newly-renovated Magheramorne Estate this weekend, with the hope of good weather on the horizon.
I’M READING... The Housewives: The Real Story Behind The Real Housewives by Brian Moylan, a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Bravo matriarchs.