My mother abandoned me in a stairwell when I was a newborn. But it was her ....

Started by Sapphire, Jun 06, 2024, 05:01 PM

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My mother abandoned me in a stairwell when I was a newborn. But it was her reaction when I finally found her that was even more upsetting...

By Antonia Hoyle

Published: 02:16, 6 June 2024 | Updated: 09:39, 6 June 2024

It's the heart-rending story that moved all who read it this week. Three newborn babies abandoned in East London parks over the past seven years have been revealed to be siblings.  The youngest, Baby Elsa, was just one hour old when she was found by a dog walker on a freezing night in January this year, wrapped in a towel, umbilical cord still attached.  It made particularly painful reading for Toyin Odumala. She too was abandoned when she was just hours old discarded in a South-East London stairwell, umbilical cord still attached, wrapped in a denim jacket and placed in a plastic bag by her mother.  'I saw the news on social media,' says Toyin, now 22, who was put in foster care while police appealed for her mother to come forward, before being adopted at four months. 'Without knowing the circumstances it's hard to know what to think of the parents, or how desperate they were, but I'm shocked it happened three times.'

Toyin was moved to tears when she read about Baby Elsa, named after the Frozen character due to the freezing conditions she was found in. 'I started crying,' she admits. 'I was found by two dog walkers. It felt very familiar. I didn't want the baby to grow up with the emotional trauma I did. I'd blamed myself, wondering what I'd done wrong to be left alone, and who I really was.'

The story of the three abandoned siblings has given Toyin renewed purpose for the campaign she has launched.  Looking for potential solutions to the fact that as many as 16 babies are abandoned in Britain each year, she came across the U.S. concept of Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Temperature controlled safe havens where babies can be left anonymously by mothers, without threat of prosecution, they lock automatically when a baby is left inside and contain a sensor that alerts the authorities.  There is an affiliated 24-hour helpline for new mothers, and since the first box was installed in 2016, more than 140 babies have been surrendered and retrieved safely across the U.S.  Similar 'baby hatch' schemes have also operated in Chinese cities and European countries such as Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy, attached to hospitals and other public buildings.  In a bold move that shattered the secrecy around her own origins, earlier this year Toyin posted videos on TikTok revealing that she too was a 'foundling' before announcing her petition to bring baby boxes to the UK.  The posts went viral online, attracting 650,000 views so far, and her petition has been signed by nearly 42,000 people. The outpouring of support has provided her with an unexpected source of solace.  At first I felt exposed and embarrassed,' says Toyin whose middle name is Osie, after the registrar on duty at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, London, where she was taken after being abandoned in July 2001.

'But I'm happy people know now. Sharing my story has helped me and will hopefully benefit others. For a long time I felt ashamed at being "the girl abandoned as a baby",' says Toyin. 'But I'm trying to make something positive out of it. Saving babies feels like my calling.'

Toyin was 11 when she discovered she was a foundling and the ramifications have been far-reaching.  Once a diligent student, she fell into a depression: 'I stopped doing my homework. I zoned out at school. I wasn't eating. I didn't even want to wash. I had nightmares and cried to the point where I couldn't cry any more.'

When she confided in school-friends, they expressed concern for her wellbeing, but because she had a supportive adoptive family, they failed to understand 'why I was so focused on the past'.

Her adoptive parents her IT consultant father, 60, and mother, 57, a nurse tried their best to be supportive but Toyin didn't feel they really understood.  'As a child my parents were loving and protective. We went on lots of holidays and weekend outings,' recalls Toyin, a privately educated marketing executive who still lives at home.

She was seven when her mother told her she was adopted. 'I was shocked and sad. It was the beginning of my identity crisis.'

At that point Toyin wasn't told why her birth parents had given her up, or who they were, and nor did she ask. 'I had so many questions, but felt I should be grateful for the love my parents gave me, so I buried them at first.'

As the years passed, she could no longer keep her curiosity to herself, eventually asking her adoptive mother: 'Who's my mum? Where is she? Will I ever find her?'

Toyin's mother, a private woman who hadn't broadcast the fact that her child was adopted, told her she didn't have the information. Toyin recalls: 'She seemed to find it uncomfortable to discuss and got irritated. I didn't want to upset her, but I felt she knew more than she was letting on. We started arguing.'

When Toyin was 11, her mother visited the South London adoption agency that had given her her daughter and discovered Toyin's biological mother had come forward following a police appeal, saying she was willing to be contacted.  They weren't allowed to meet face to face until Toyin was 18, and only then after she'd had therapy provided by the adoption agency to ensure she was emotionally prepared. Instead Toyin wrote a letter, detailing her favourite subjects at school and saying she was an only child.  'I also asked if there was anything I should know about my medical background. And then I asked why she gave me up.'

The reply came weeks later. 'My biological mother wrote that she couldn't keep me because she didn't have the papers to remain in Britain and thought she'd have to return to the Ivory Coast, where she was from.'

She had split up with Toyin's biological father when she was pregnant, and was now living in South-East London with a new partner and three younger children, pregnant with a fourth.  There was no tangible sense of remorse. 'The letter was short and vague. I felt offended. She could have said something more to show she cared.'

There was a photograph of her enclosed, but Toyin says: 'All her features were different. There was no resemblance. I questioned whether she was actually my mum at all.'

The news she had half-siblings inspired jealousy. 'They were living with their mum, and I was on the outside.'

The fact that her biological mother was in the vicinity 'made me feel she wanted to get rid of me and move on with her life. I felt she didn't love me and made a selfish decision. I didn't contact her again.'

Toyin's adoptive mother produced a letter that social workers had written to her in 2002, which filled in some devastating gaps of what had happened on the day she was found.  'You were found in a stairwell of a block of flats at only a few hours old,' the letter read. 'You were dressed in a yellow and white baby grow and a denim jacket within a carrier bag to ensure you did not get wet.  Despite the extensive police investigations and appeals via national news your family of origin did not identify themselves.'

In shock, Toyin recalls: 'I didn't sleep at all that night. I'd imagined being given up because my biological mother was a teenager, or unwell, but never that I'd been left alone on a stairwell. Anything would have been better.'

Toyin's biological mother had been 26 when she gave birth and her father's identity was unknown. 'My mum had known I was abandoned when she adopted me, but had been told not to tell me, in case it was damaging. She had been trying to protect me, although I now know it can be more damaging for adopted children not to learn of their identity early on.'

Toyin flitted between longing to meet her biological mother and fury at her actions.  'I imagined myself hugging her, and thinking how it would feel to look into her eyes and whether we share the same mannerisms would she bite her nails, or blink when she's tired like I do? But then I'd remember what she did and change my mind.'

Falling pregnant at 18 raised more conflicting emotions. But developing post-natal depression after giving birth to her son in May 2020 helped her empathise with how vulnerable her biological mother might have been.  On the other hand, raising her son, now three, has proved cathartic. 'He's the only person I'm genetically linked to. He looks exactly as I did at his age and we have the same way of widening our eyes when we stop speaking. There is a different connection.'

Yet she now sees herself as a product of her upbringing, rather than her genes. There was no tangible turning point, she says, although writing down her emotions helped, as did her parents' love. 'It isn't your blood that makes you who you are, it's how you grow up.'

Toyin remains unsure as to whether she wants to meet her biological mother. 'I imagine I'll get emotional, and I don't want her to see me breaking down. Sometimes I want to see her, then think I'm not ready. But I don't think I'll ever feel ready.'


It's bittersweet reading stories like this and it's a shame that her mother's story wasn't shared.


Sad story although it does sound like she need to take plenty of time before taking that decision to meet her mother.