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real lives: `I may never meet my mother; but I found my little sister' When adoptee Rosie Castle, 37, from Morpeth in Northumberland, began looking for her birth mother ten years ago, she could never have guessed what her search would yield.

`I had a happy childhood in Norfolk with my parents and older brother. Mum was 44 when I was born but I often wondered what it'd be like to have a sister. As a teenager I felt very secure and loved, although we had the usual rows over boys or homework. One day, when I was 18, an acquaintance of Mum's gave me a lift to the bar where I worked. I was telling her about a row I'd had with Mum when she said, "There are bound to be difficulties, Rosie. There's such a huge difference between you - you're adopted... "

`It was such a horrible way to hear something so personal. That afternoon I lay on my bed and cried. I felt angry that the people I'd thought were family - Mum, Dad, my aunties, everyone - had lied to me.

`A few days later I plucked up the courage to sit Mum down and say, "I need you to know that I know. It doesn't matter and I still love you. But I have to understand why."

`We both started crying as Mum told me they'd adopted me as a six-week- old baby. They had acted out of love, but I still wish they'd told me. Mum showed me a letter they'd been sent by an adoption agency in Muswell Hill, London. It described a "placid, blonde, blue-eyed baby called Sally".

`Mum told me how they travelled from their home in Lancashire to collect me. She was so upset, I couldn't ask why they'd changed my name. I didn't mind - I prefer the name Rosemary.

`When they collected me, she saw two young mothers: one of them crying hysterically, one - obviously mine - staring out of the window stoically, the way I used to.

`My mind raced through every possible scenario as to why I was given away, including the possibility that I might be the product of rape. With my parents' backing, I contacted Social Services and asked to see my birth certificate.

`My father wasn't named, but it showed that my mother was Carole Halverson, a shop assistant living in Chelmsford, Essex. She was only 18 when she had me. I comforted myself that she hadn't wanted to leave me, that there was some sad story and she was out there thinking about me. But I still wasn't ready to face what had happened, and I didn't take it any further.

`At 25, I married Dominic, a journalist at the local paper where I worked on reception, and two years later, in 1990, the need to discover my roots re-emerged, so I asked the adoption agency for my records.

`For Carole's address it gave a mother and baby home in Chelmsford. My father's name had been covered up, but he was a 22-year-old driver in the army. I broke down when I read, "The couple have discussed marriage but decided to part. The mother loves her baby very much but is not in a position to keep her."

When my adoptive mum died a few months later, I was grief-stricken and forgot about Carole. That's how I think of her, as "Carole", not Mum. In June 1997, I started looking again. I called NORCAP (National Organisation for Child Adoptees and their Parents) and was on the phone for three hours to their counsellor. She told me to check the register of marriage and birth certificates at the local library. I found Carole had married a man called Michael Pattenaud.

`I was ecstatic, imagining our reunion. Then I saw they had a daughter, Julie, who was a year younger than me. "I have a sister," I thought. But I also felt resentful. It wasn't fair that my mother had given me away and then had another child so quickly. In tears I asked for copies of the certificates.

`When they arrived, I was gutted to see Carole's husband had been a 19-year-old in the US air force so he was too young to be my father.

`Eventually, I learned that she had gone to the States with Michael and they'd had a second child, Steven. The relationship had ended and Carole had returned to England, leaving the children with their father.

`I was horrified. Would I even like this woman if I met her? I felt for my half-brother and sister, knowing that, in the end, she'd abandoned us all. Maybe she'd done me a favour. Who knows what my life would have been like if I had stayed with her? I was lucky - I'd had a stable upbringing.

`I found an address for Carole's older brother. He hadn't seen her for years either, but he did send me some old photos of her. In one, she was all dressed up to go out, in a short skirt. I scanned it closely to see if I looked like her. Sure enough, we had the same shaped face and eyes. I had waited so long to see what she looked like, and it finally felt like she was real.

`I then contacted an agency in the US, which was able to give me Michael's address. I wrote asking if he could put me in touch with Carole and Julie. On 1 May 1998, a letter arrived. When I saw my sister's name and address on the envelope, I knew my life was going to change.

`She'd had no idea I existed. She told me how she worked as a sales assistant, her husband Ray was a prison officer and I had two nephews, Kyle and Justin.

`On a complete high, we e-mailed every day, talking about our lives and what we knew about our mother. Carole left when Julie was four so she has no memory of her. Bizarrely, she'd started looking for Carole at the same time as me.

`In June, we had our first telephone conversation. It lasted nearly three hours, and we both cried. Julie sent a school photo of herself aged ten with a blonde bob. I dug out a picture where I look almost exactly the same. It seemed so unfair that now I'd found her, she lived 6,000 miles away, near San Francisco.

`A month later, I saw a Mars Bar advert on TV, about a competition to make people's dreams come true, so I wrote in saying how I'd found my sister but never met her. On 11 November I got a letter from Mars saying I'd won a fortnight's holiday to San Francisco for me, my husband and son.

`At the airport, Julie and I sobbed and hugged each other, unable to get over how alike we looked. She was everything I'd expected and more. We talked non-stop, like old friends, laughed at our similar gestures and kept saying, "I do that!" Often Julie would start a sentence and I'd finish it. Dominic and Ray would look at each other and say "weird".

`If Julie hadn't been my sister, I would have wanted her as a friend. I also met my half-brother, Steven. He's great and we've written since.

`I still hope I'll meet Carole but I've run out of leads. All I can do is hope someone who knows her sees this. I'd gladly make room for her in my life. You read about women who give up their children and think about them every day. I wish I could tell her Julie and I have done OK. I'd love to say, "We've found each other and you don't need to worry about us any more."'

Amanda Riley-Jones
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Riley-Jones, Amanda
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 23, 2000
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