Elaine Henderson’s search for her mum didn’t have a fairy tale ending...

Journey of discovery...Elaine's search for her mum led to her publishing Believe. (Pic: Michael Gillen)
Journey of discovery...Elaine's search for her mum led to her publishing Believe. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Elaine Henderson was barely hours old when she was given up for adoption by her birth mother.

For the first three years of her life, she was nurtured and cared for by a number of women at the Blairvadach Children’s Home in Glasgow.

As a toddler...Elaine received tender, loving care from the Blairvadach staff. Incredibly, four women who cared for her kept pictures of Elaine which helped her piece together the jigsaw of her formative years.

As a toddler...Elaine received tender, loving care from the Blairvadach staff. Incredibly, four women who cared for her kept pictures of Elaine which helped her piece together the jigsaw of her formative years.

She was then fostered out to a family in Kirkliston, where she lived until she was 22 years old – attending Kirkliston Primary School and Queensferry High.

Sadly, her experience of the ‘care’ system was not a positive one, leaving her with emotional and physical scars she has spent many years trying to heal.

Luckily, she managed to escape the system when she met her husband John and moved in with him in Falkirk.

She said: “I told him we’d have to get married because I was never going back there.

Elaine never knew she was blonde as a child so the pictures she received from Blairvadach staff were an eye-opener.

Elaine never knew she was blonde as a child so the pictures she received from Blairvadach staff were an eye-opener.

“I wasn’t able to tell John about my experiences for a long time but he had an idea.

“It was still difficult to cut the ties completely though as I was scared that, if things didn’t work out, I would be completely on my own.”

Happily, John and Elaine did get married and they had their own children, Kate (18) and Thomas (16).

But in her mid thirties, Elaine started wondering about her own mum and what had happened to her.

She said: “I’d be giving the wee ones a bath, telling them a story or feeding them and I’d start to think about mum.”

So Elaine set out on her own journey of discovery.

It was a long, hard road but she was determined to find the answers she was looking for.

She said: “I thought social services would give me a file and I’d get all the answers.

“But I discovered my mum had also been adopted – I needed her real name to find out more.”

Elaine’s social worker Jill pointed her in the right direction though.

“We were looking at the adoption record which had been issued by Glasgow Sheriff Court,” recalled Elaine. “Jill said, why don’t you write to the court for more information?”

The court allowed Elaine to see her mother’s adoption papers, crucially finding out that her given name was Elizabeth Hay.

She also discovered that her gran had been just 15 when she became pregnant and 16 when she gave Elizabeth up for adoption.

Elizabeth susbequently had eight children, including another two daughters with Elaine’s father – all of whom ended up in care.

Elaine said: “I wanted the fairy tale ending but it’s not like Long Lost Family – it just didn’t work out like that.

“I met my biological father several times and ended up in tears each time. He didn’t deserve to be called a dad and the last time I saw him, I cried for days afterwards as I knew I would never see him again.”

Elaine always harboured hopes of meeting her mum but her search led instead to a graveyard in Glasgow.

“She was a very ill woman who took her own life when she was aged just 42,” said Elaine. “

“Her grave in Lambhill Cemetery was unmarked and I used my own savings to erect a headstone.

“Kate and Thomas designed a rainbow with eight colours, signifying all of her children, and a yellow tulip for the headstone.

“I now have it tattooed on my left writst and Kate has a yellow tulip on her ankle in memory of her gran.”

While it wasn’t the fairy tale ending she hoped for, Elaine’s search also brought much joy into her life.

She has started building a tentative relationship with her sister in Glasgow and has been in contact with her other siblings too.

“My sister and I both stood at mum’s grave when the headstone went up, thanking her for giving us life,” recalled Elaine. “We felt nothing but love for her.”

Elaine has also found a new family –her gran’s large extended brood in England.

She said: “They knew nothing about me or my mum – gran had taken her secret to the grave with her.

“But they welcomed me with open arms and, when I’m with them, it’s amazing.

“I truly feel I’m part of the family – I still can’t believe I’ve found so many people I’m blood related to.

“I’ve seen pictures and videos of my gran too.”

Elaine’s search also led her to four women who cared for her at Blairvadach.

She said: “They still had pictures of me as a toddler. I couldn’t believe it.

“My hair was blonde when I was wee. Kate was too but I didn’t realise she got that from me!

“I was nurtured and cared for by these women and they gave me the love I needed.”

Despite tracking down relatives and a number of people who knew her mum, Elaine was unable to find a picture of her.

But Kate persuaded her to join Facebook and it helped her find that missing piece of the jigsaw.

She said: “We sat down as a family, putting pictures of me up and as much detail about mum as we could.

“I asked all of my friends and colleagues to share it – we got 2500 shares.”

Elaine also shared it on several websites.

She added: “A lady from Dunoon who went to school with my mum saw the post and got in touch.

“She had class pictures of mum, aged 11 and 13, and was able to share them with me.

“I was in shock when I first got the email through – I couldn’t believe I was looking at my mum.

“But it was incredible to finally see her face and to see the similarities there.”

Elaine hopes that, one day, someone will send her a picture of her mum as an adult...her search continues.

Book helped me Believe

During her ten year search, pounding pavements in Glasgow, taking pictures of places her mum once lived and researching her family tree, Elaine started writing.

The painfully honest account of her life and birth family was for her children’s eyes only.

However, Elaine’s husband John and her social worker Jill encouraged her to share it with a wider audience.

Believe was self-published in December with the help of Lumphanan Press in Aberdeenshire and only 14 copies of the initial 200 print run now remain.

The book cover depicts the rainbow and tulip design created by Kate and Thomas for their gran’s headstone.

It is available on Amazon and Far From the Madding Crowd in Linlithgow, priced £7.99.

Elaine (46), who is a support for learning assistant at Windsor Park School in Falkirk, said: “I was delighted Far From the Madding Crowd agreed to stock it as I have fond memories of Linlithgow.

“When I lived in Kirkliston, I used to take an elderly neighbour to Caffe La Ronda – it was an escape from my life.

“When I had my own children, I started taking them there too.

“I still go if I want an hour or two to myself as there’s comfort in the familiar.”

Elaine was apprehensive about sharing her very personal story but it has helped her too.

She said: “It was cathartic writing it all down. There were times when I was swinging from the chandeliers and other times I was crushed.

“When I first started the book I had low self-worth but by the end I truly believed in myself – which is why it’s called Believe.

“John and I have brought up two wonderful children – they know they are loved and I’ve broken the care cycle.

“If Believe helps even one person, I’ll be happy with that.”