Phyllis Whitsell, who was adopted at age 4, had been told throughout her early years that her biological mother had died of tuberculosis, but she never truly believed it and was determined, someday, to find the woman.
Whitsell, now 59, recently told the Birmingham Mail a little about her search for her biological mother and what she found at the end of her journey. She has a book coming out in November, published by Troubadour, titled “Finding Tipperary Mary,” that tells the whole story.
“Finding my mother was always at the back of my mind,” she told the paper.
“But it wasn’t until I was an adult, a trained nurse and married myself with a family of my own, that I was able to do it,” she asaid. “In the past, information had often deliberately been withheld from adopted children anyway. Once I had left my adoptive parents’ home, I could take matters into my own hands.”
Whitsell added that she sought help from a social worker to prepare herself for what she might find before obtaining her original birth certificate.
She then traced her early days to an orphanage, where she had been handed over when she was just 8 months old. She spoke to a staff member but, she said, the woman was reluctant to talk to her about her mom.
"It was clear that she disapproved of her," Whitsell said.
Whitsell did some more searching and eventually found her mother, but what she found was, according to a book synopsis on the publisher’s website, “a trouble maker with alcohol problems and a tendency to cause mayhem.”
Her mother, whose real name was Bridget, was well-known in the area she was living because of her alcoholism and instability. People referred to her as Tipperary Mary.
But, as the book goes on to tell, Whitsell cared for her mother from 1981 until her death in 1990, and she never revealed to the woman that she was her own daughter.
“My job as a nurse protected me,” Whitsell told the Mail. “My uniform protected me. My training made we warm to her vulnerability and I could hide behind that role.”
She said that while she cared about her mother, she didn't want her to "disrupt my own family."
“But nor could I turn my back on her," Whitsell added. "She wasn’t the fairytale figure I had imagined, but she was still my mother.”
Whitsell told the paper that she was working at the time as a district nurse and added her mom, unofficially, to her rounds. She brought her mother clean clothes and coaxed stories out of her, getting her to talk about the five children she gave up for adoption.
“The day she spoke affectionately of ‘little Phyllis’ and told me my birth date accurately was the best, and the worst, day of my life,” Whitsell said.
Photo credit: Birmingham Mail