Real Life

‘I found my family on Facebook'

John Ashton has social media to thank for reuniting him with his long-lost kin.

By Aroha Awarau
It’s a question Margaret Ann had been fearing she’d hear for more than 50 years. And, when she was confronted with it, it unleashed a deep secret that Margaret thought would destroy her family.
“Did you have a baby and give it away when you were 16?” asked Margaret’s daughter Olivia just two months ago.
That morning, Olivia had been contacted by a British man called John Ashton on Facebook, claiming to be her long-lost brother. Shocked to have such a personal question asked so directly, Margaret (72) initially denied it, but when Olivia (39) asked again, she relented, finally admitting that there was indeed a skeleton in her closet – one that has plagued her since she was a teenager.
In fact, as the memory of giving away her newborn baby came flooding back, Margaret found herself crying constantly for the following three weeks.
Margaret at 17.
But now the secret was out and the Auckland mother had discovered that her only son was living in London and wanting to meet his biological family. Margaret knew it was time to come clean to the rest of her family – daughters Vanessa (45) and Natalie (43). Each of her three children are full siblings to John, as Margaret had more babies to her teen sweetheart Tommy once they were old enough to marry.
“I was only 15 and living in Liverpool in the UK when I got pregnant,” begins Margaret. “When I told my parents I was having a baby, they threw me out of the house and I was sent to a home for unwed mothers. For a young Catholic girl to have a baby was such a sin. I was made to feel ashamed of myself and carried the burden for the rest of my life.”
A devastated Margaret only lasted two days at the home before running away to her grandmother’s. She was only allowed to remain there until her burgeoning belly began to show – at that point, she was once again turfed out on to the streets.
Taken pity on by Tommy’s mother, she gave birth to her son, but intially refused to give him away. Such was the shame, Margaret was forbidden from leaving the house and was forced to hide in her bedroom with her baby so no-one would see her.
“I soon realised I couldn’t support a baby on my own, so after three months I made the painful decision to give my son up for adoption,” recalls Margaret. “As soon as I gave him away, my parents took me back in. The memories of having had him were so devastating that I burned all his booties and photographs of him.”
Margaret and Tommy on their wedding day.
For his part, John (55) says he knew from an early age, growing up in the UK’s Lake District, that he was adopted. He says his adopted parents provided him with a great upbringing, and he had another sister, who was also adopted. But it wasn’t until he was diagnosed and treated for bowel cancer seven years ago that he suddenly became interested in locating his birth family. Unbeknown to him, his biological father had died from the illness in 2002.
John found his own birth certificate after contacting the agency involved with his adoption. They had kept a letter his mother wrote to him when she gave him up, explaining how desperately she had wanted to keep him. As John tells the Weekly about reading the letter for the first time, he breaks down in tears.
“That meant so much, knowing that my mother wanted me,” John says. “I was also happy to learn that my mother stayed with my father, and that they had three more children, which makes them my full siblings.”
John eventually tracked down Margaret’s uncle by putting an advertisment in the local Liverpool newspaper, and was told the family had moved to New Zealand. Next, he made contact with his sister, Olivia, on Facebook, and immediately arranged a trip to New Zealand to meet them. John says he spent hours looking through Olivia’s photos online before mustering the courage to contact her.
“I knew from the family resemblance that she was my sister,” he adds.
When Margaret was told about her son’s visit, she was extremely nervous. But as soon as she laid eyes on her son, she recognised him straight away, and finally all the guilt and shame she had harboured through the years disappeared.
Fifty-five years since giving John up for adoption, Margaret could finally let go of the guilt she had held on to all this time.
"John was so giving and loving, and he turned out to be a really nice man,” Margaret explains, holding John’s hand for support.
John, who works in the British parliament as a civil servant, spent two weeks in Auckland, getting to know his family. He will return to London having filled the void that was missing in his life, and plans to visit frequently. He may even move here when he retires in five years’ time.
“Hearing my mother’s story was really sad,” he says. “But we are all glad there’s a happy ending.”

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