WHEN Noelle Brown decided to look for her birth parents, she was met with consistent opposition and stone walling, tough experiences she has turned into something positive through her play, Postscript.
Born into a mother and baby home in Cork in the 1960s, she was adopted at eight weeks of age. She grew up knowing about the adoption but had very little curiosity around it.
“I knew it from a very young age, which was great because I grew up at a time when people weren’t told. I knew people who were told when they were 21, which obviously didn’t go down very well but I suppose those parents thought they were doing the right thing as well. For me, there was no shock element to it.”
She grew up quite happily in a loving home and now she says her contentment with her lot may be why she didn’t spend much time thinking about her birth parents.
“It [her youth] was absolutely brilliant and I suppose that’s why I never went looking for so long. I was 35 when I started to make an effort to look and I did it with a bit of fear and trepidation because I didn’t really know what it was going to be like. It’s a massive emotional journey and I underestimated that. It took a long time to deal with the issues that I found.”
The decision to begin looking into her origins was made quite suddenly and Noelle quickly found out that she wasn’t easily going to get the information.
“I met up with a friend of mine, who mentioned that a friend of his had traced his birth family and I just went home and made the call. I rang the Barnados adoption service and started the ball rolling. The result of that was they gave me a number to ring and, unfortunately, at the other end of the phone was this very uncooperative nun and I nearly gave up at that point because she was so unhelpful. That kind of stopped me in my tracks for a while and I eventually rang Barnados and said, ‘I’m having difficulty getting basic information’. They got on board and put everything in motion again. Without them, I think I would have given up.”
While she kept going, the progress was quite slow because, emotionally, the process was draining her. She proceeded only at the pace she was able, with layers of opposition negotiated only to find new layers beneath them.
“People were being uncooperative, telling me I had no rights, telling me I wasn’t allowed this and I wasn’t allowed that, which was absolutely untrue but there was a real sense that they didn’t welcome you asking questions and looking for information. It’s a terrible feeling because it’s a difficult thing to do anyway, emotionally but to be slapped back down and told to forget about it. I found that really upsetting and it makes me very angry that it’s still going on.”
Even now, anyone in a similar position who tries to take the same course of action as she did may find themselves having the same problems, she warns.
“The people who set that system up are still there and they’re sitting on all these files, unfortunately. You can be lucky, you can have a good experience but a lot of people don’t and I think that’s a terrible shame because it’s so fundamental to who you are. Where you come from is so important.
“The same with birth certs; there’s a whole section in the play about me trying to get my original birth cert. We all only have one but what you have growing up as an adopted person is an adoption cert and you’re not entitled to your own birth cert, even if you have traced your family. You’ve no power over it. Someone else decides that. That’s another huge issue in Ireland and it shouldn’t be. There’s no other country in the world where you have to fight for your birth cert. There’s still a hangover from the past, unfortunately and I think this play kind of highlights that for people.”
Dealing with adversarial social services regarding such a sensitive matter may have been tough but she has no regrets now.
“With the whole thing you really don’t know how you’ll feel until you’re there but I’m very glad I did it. At the time, I found it very, very difficult but I was very glad that I went through it. It was very important.
“I think I probably would have done it sooner if I had kids because the first thing that’s asked when a child is born is who do they look like and they don’t always look like their parents, it could be someone generations back.”
Noelle works in the script department of Fair City, while the play was co-written with her friend, Michele Forbes.
Speaking about its format she says, “It’s done through a series of letters, me as myself telling my own story and also there’s another actor on stage, Bríd Ní Neachtáin, so you hear the voice of an old house as well and the voice of an interfering auntie in the midst of it all.”
An actor for many years, telling her own story was the role she found hardest. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a performer because I wasn’t playing a character for the first time in 30 years, I was playing myself and that was very, very tricky.”
While the experience was difficult and writing and performing a play about herself was difficult, she says the reaction to Postscript has made it worthwhile.
“We started putting the play together in 2013 and the response has been just incredible. I think it’s such an issue in Ireland still. It’s now that people are starting to talk about it and it’s no longer so hushed.
“We did a big tour last year for about six weeks and we had plenty of post-show discussions, met so many adopted people, adoptive parents; we had extraordinary conversations. It’s been a great experience and we’re looking forward to heading out on the road again.”
Postscript will be performed at Cultúrlann Sweeney in Kilkee on March 28 at 8pm.