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Sheila Thomas and Jacqui Denton
Sheila Thomas, 64, lives with her devoted husband David on the beautiful Sussex coast but despite her seemingly idyllic life, Sheila has always been haunted by a decision she made as a teenager.
Sheila grew up in South London in a busy working home, where money was tight. At fifteen, Sheila left school and started work as a receptionist. During this time she fell head over heels in love with a married man. Not long into the relationship, Sheila discovered that she was pregnant but at only 17 and unable to ask help from her boyfriend she was left scared and confused over what she should do. Eventually, she knew that she had to break the news to her parents.
Her mother and father instantly took charge of the situation - Sheila had to quit her job and part ways with her boyfriend. Meanwhile arrangements were made for her to be sent to a mother and baby home. It was here on Boxing Day 1967 that Sheila gave birth to a baby girl she called Jacqueline.
Sheila remembers the first time she held her daughter, she says: “I’ve just thought, I’ve got to care and look after this child now, that bond is so strong, it did not dawn on me that that child would be taken from me.”
Despite Sheila’s initial hopes, plans had already been put into action for her baby to be adopted. She recalls the last time that she saw her daughter, only six weeks after giving birth.
She says: “That is the last day, that is the last time. You have the child in your arms, a lady came in from the side and said, I’m going to take your child now.”
The one thing that Sheila asked as her baby was taken from her was whether her adoptive parents would keep her name. The response was a cold ‘I can’t tell you that!’ With that, Jacqueline was gone from Sheila’s life, something she has regretted every single day for nearly fifty years.
She says: “I don’t know how I could have done it, how I could have let myself be taken along with it.”
Sheila has one precious memento to remember her daughter by, a single photo taken in the mother and baby home of Sheila holding Jacqueline, gazing adoringly from her mother’s arms. The photo is a bittersweet reminder to Sheila of all she has lost.
“When I look at that it just takes me back to when I was with her, dressing her, smelling her. I can still smell it. I can still smell her.”
Nearly ten years after the she lost Jacqueline, Sheila married David and they built a happy life together. Riddled with guilt over the adoption, Sheila explains that they never went on to have any children.
“I knew that I couldn’t [have children] because I would be a bad mother. I don’t deserve children. I gave one away, how could I? I just gave her away without a fight.”
“I don’t see myself as a mother now, I can’t see myself as a mother. I haven’t had that real opportunity of bringing a child up all through the trials and tribulations that kids go through. I haven’t done it.”
Using the assistance of an adoption specialist, Long Lost Family was able track down Jacqueline to her family home in Kent. When he arrives at her home, Jacqueline, now called Jacqui tells Nicky about the shock she felt when she heard that her birth mother had come looking for her. Having had a loving and tight knit family she never expected that she would get in touch.
Jacqui is saddened to hear that Sheila never had any more children because of her guilt over Jacqui’s adoption. After reading a letter from Sheila, Jacqui is determined to reassure her that she made the right decision in giving her up and hopes that perhaps she might be able to ease some of the guilt her birth mother has been carrying for so many years.
Davina travels to Sussex to tell Sheila the news that her daughter has been found. Sheila is utterly overcome with emotion and overwhelmed at the news that Jacqueline’s adoptive parents kept the name she gave her daughter.
As she reads the letter from Jacqui and finally sees a picture of her baby girl grown up, the cloud of guilt that has overshadowed Sheila’s life begins to lift.
Just forty-eight hours later, on a gloriously sunny day, Sheila and Jacqui prepare to meet in Alfriston, East Sussex. The pair come together with arms open wide, and Sheila is able to finally hold her daughter for the first time in nearly fifty years.
Sheila says: “I knew her immediately, it was her, her eyes lit up immediately to me and she hugged me. I was going to ask if I could touch her and hold her again and she wanted to hold me and it was the best ever!”
Jacqui’s adoptive mother has also come to along to meet Sheila and in a touching moment the pair hug like old friends, united in love and gratitude.
With a new chapter beginning, Sheila realises that this is a time to move forward and she finally feels able to shed the pain she has harboured over so many years.
Stephen Andrews and Janet Johnson
Stephen Andrews, 49, is a loving father of three, who lives in the Welsh borders with his wife, Sheila. But despite his settled life today, Stephen wants to find his birth mother hoping to answer questions that have plagued him throughout his adult life.
Stephen was adopted in 1964 by Terence and Betty Andrews. He found out that he was adopted when he was eight years old, but it was only when he was a teenager, struggling with his self-esteem that the impact of his adoption surfaced.
He says: “The fact that have you have been given up does come with a sense of shame.”
“I never would have told anybody at school and possibly run the risk of being ridiculed for it or being known as the child that was adopted. It wasn’t a label or stigma you want.”
Struggling with feelings of shame and rejection, Stephen kept the fact he was adopted private, even as he moved into adulthood – never telling anyone outside of his immediate family.
Then, after the death of his adoptive mother, Stephen decided it was time to face his past. But, a discovery in his adoption file raised yet more difficult questions. His papers revealed that at the time of his adoption, his birth parents were planning on getting married.
This revelation has driven Stephen’s need to find his birth mother. Why, if his parents were planning on marrying, could they not keep him?
“I hope she has feelings for me, that a mother can never break with a child, but I’m still apprehensive about what I might actually find out. I might not hear what I want to hear”
Long Lost Family was able to track down Stephens’s birth mother, Janet, and Nicky travels to meet her at her home in Hampshire. She tells Nicky how pleased she was to get the news that Stephen had come searching for her.
She explains that she was only fifteen when she found out she was pregnant and it left her frightened and unsure how to cope.
She says: “We had no money. I don’t know how we would have looked after a baby. I just thought adoption is going to be the way out, it had to be done, it was a horrible thing to go through.”
Janet tells Nicky that giving Stephen up was not a decision she made lightly and it was very painful for her. She goes on to explain that she did eventually marry Stephen’s father and they went on to have two sons together, Stephen’s full brothers. Like Stephen, she also struggled with feelings of shame surrounding the adoption and as a result could never bring herself to tell her sons about it.
She says: “I didn’t tell them - maybe I felt ashamed. Maybe they would think I was a bad mother for what I did!”
When Davina delivers the news to Stephen that his mother has been found, he cannot hold back from asking her the one question that has been on his lips so long, did his parents stay together? She gently delivers him the difficult truth that they did marry, and not only this, they also had two further children together.
He says: “The shock of having brothers is perhaps the biggest shock of all. It is perhaps
just too much to contemplate that first of all my mother and father did marry, and then
they stayed together and then they had children.”
Davina reassures an emotional Stephen that he wasn’t forgotten and that Janet is desperate to speak with him in person and explain in her own words the circumstances.
At a reunion at Powys Castle, Stephen gets the answers he wanted.
He says: “To hear my mother just tell me in her own words, I could see from the emotion in her eyes that she did find it really difficult to give me away and I think it was really important for me to find that out. I think that will help in the healing process of any hurt or shame that I had.”
Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell present a brand new series of the Bafta award winning series Long Lost Family, which traces and reunites families who have been apart for most of their lives.
Across eight episodes, viewers are taken on a moving journey, from the moment relatives reveal how they lost contact with a family member, to being told their loved one has been traced, to their eventual reunion.
Series four features mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers searching for loved ones who they are desperate to find. The programme travels as far as South Africa and Australia and with the help of Nicky and Davina, families are guided through the heart-rending reunion process.
Davina said: “Long Lost Family is unlike anything else I've ever been involved in - it's emotional, it's heart-warming and it's life changing for the people we reunite. It's such a huge honour to be a part of their stories and ultimately to help them find loved ones.”
In each programme, Long Lost Family explores the background and social context of each family’s estrangement and why it occurred. Many of the people in the series were adopted or gave children up for adoption when they were younger and Nicky Campbell has personal experience of this. He was adopted as a child, before searching for and being reunited with his birth mother and father as an adult. Nicky is now a patron of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.
Nicky said: “The previous series have been compelling and emotional and unmissable but I think in this series we have some of the most extraordinary stories that we’ve ever told, from some of the most amazing people.”
During production of Long Lost Family, producers Wall to Wall worked closely with adoption expert Ariel Bruce, a leading independent social worker who specialises in tracing people. The protocol devised and worked to throughout the making of Long Lost Family complies with current adoption legislation and was modelled on the protocols and best practice that leading Ofsted-inspected adoption support agencies work to when searching for, contacting, reuniting and supporting adopted people and birth relatives.