Dear Mum: Three letters from grateful daughters
Holly and Helen
Holly Shaw, 29, from Warrington, is a teaching assistant. Last year she received a kidney from her mum Helen, 63.
Waking from my kidney transplant last October, my first thought was, How’s Mum? You were on a different ward in the same hospital, recovering from your own operation to have your kidney removed and donated to me.
Still drowsy from the anaesthetic, I insisted on phoning you from my bed and when I heard your voice, and you heard mine, we both broke down in tears of happiness and relief.
You were with me that day in 2005 when I was first diagnosed with kidney failure. Aged just 17, I’d been suffering from what I thought was a stomach bug, but when my blood pressure rocketed and I developed bruises, my GP sent me to the hospital for further tests.
Within hours, a consultant had delivered the crushing news that both my kidneys had failed. They didn’t know why, but my only option was to begin dialysis immediately and be placed on the transplant list.
In an instant I felt like my life had been put on hold, and all my plans and dreams—to go to university, to get a job working with children, to travel—had been snatched away from me. It was you who reassured me that I’d get through this.
I wasn’t surprised when you immediately offered to be my donor. I understood your maternal instinct was to do anything you could to help me, but secretly I was relieved when doctors discovered that your body carried a virus, caused by having the flu, which meant we weren’t the best possible match. You were upset but I didn’t want you to risk your health and life for me.
I spent the next three and a half years on dialysis, three times a week. It was gruelling, leaving me exhausted and nauseous for days afterwards.
"No matter where I go in my life, I will always have a piece of you with me"
You never let me wallow though, always keeping my spirits up and encouraging me to try and lead as normal a life as possible. With your support I even managed to complete a university degree.
In 2008, I got the call that confirmed that a kidney had been found for me. We were both elated, and after a successful transplant I was finally able to start living life properly again.
Then, in January 2015, my donor kidney began to fail and I was placed back on dialysis and the transplant list. I was devastated. All my independence was taken away again, and I felt like I was back to square one.
Again, you volunteered to be my donor and this time doctors explained that medicine had progressed enough to mean they could overcome the compatibility problems we’d had last time.
I was getting sicker and sicker, and with no guarantee of a stranger’s kidney, I knew I had to accept yours, but I was still reluctant to let you risk so much for me. There was no stopping you though.
For so long you’d had to sit by my bedside, feeling helpless, while doctors made decisions and treated me. Now, you could help me in a very real way, and I saw how empowered that made you feel.
Five months on from our operations, we’re both recovering well and I feel like I’m getting my life back again thanks to you, Mum.
Without you, and your kidney, I could still be on dialysis, or even dead. Every morning I wake up and know I am a healthy, happy, normal young woman, because of you.
No matter where I go in my life, I will always have a piece of you with me—your kidney. It’s a special connection not many mothers and daughters have, and I treasure it.
Thank you Mum, for my health and my future.
Hannah and Heidi
Hannah Carpenter, 24, works in public relations. She was adopted at the age of nine weeks by her mum Heidi, 56, a research nurse and dad, Alan, 59, who works in IT.
You didn’t carry me inside you, or give birth to me, and we don’t share any of our DNA. Yet our bond as mother and daughter is just as deep, maybe even deeper, as it would have been if we’d had a physical connection.
Even though I’m in my twenties now, we still celebrate my “special day”’ every June; the anniversary of the date that I legally became your daughter, and was brought from my foster home to live with you and Dad.
We have a cake and you buy me presents. It’s just like having a second birthday and we’ve celebrated it every year of my life. It’s a date that I never want to forget, because it marked the beginning of our lives together as a family.
I was just nine weeks old then, given up for adoption by my birth mother the moment I was born, and placed into foster care. I don’t know much about her, only that she was 24, single, and wanted me to grow up in a proper family, with a better life than she could give me.
You and Dad couldn’t have children of your own, but you were absolutely desperate for a family. You’d put yourselves through the gruelling adoption process—until finally you were told that a tiny baby called Hannah was going to be yours.
I’m certain that I’ve had every opportunity in life that my birth mother would have dreamed for me. You paid for me to go to a private school, and encouraged me to study hard and to go on to university. When I was a teenager, you were my taxi driver, ferrying me to diving competitions and cheering me on from the sidelines.
"The greatest gift that you’ve ever given me was to feel proud about being adopted"
Every year we took family holidays, to Arran in Scotland or to New York, which is where I turned 13. As an only child, because you and Dad understandably didn’t want to put yourselves through the difficult adoption process again, I was always spoiled with toys, and so much attention.
Probably the greatest gift that you’ve ever given me was to feel proud about being adopted. It was never kept a secret in our house and you were always very open about how I’d come to be your daughter.
I’ve had to learn that not everyone thinks adoption is as positive a thing as we do.
Do you remember that day, when I was just nine, and I came home from school upset, because a girl in my class had joked that my birth mother had sold me? It was the first time I realised that for some people, being adopted was seen as a shameful thing and that there was a taboo around it.
Her comment stuck with me for years—but as I grew older it just made me determined to celebrate my journey and to never be ashamed of it.
I’ve never wanted to trace my birth mother. I don’t hate her, or resent that she gave me up. Rather, I’m grateful to her that she made that sacrifice to give me a better life. She could have aborted me, but she chose to go through a pregnancy and that must have been hard.
You’re my mother in all the ways that really matter, Mum. When I’m stressed with work, or heartbroken over a failed relationship, it’s you I call. When I’m sick, you’ll drive to my flat to look after me, when I have something to celebrate, we’ll go out together. You’re my confidante and my best friend.
Almost anyone can get pregnant and have a baby, but it takes a very special woman to become a mother through adoption. And they really don’t come much more special than you, Mum.
Jules and Gloria
Jules Osmany, 53, from Northampton is a make-up artist. Her mum Gloria, 83, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2013.
It’s so hard to write this letter, knowing you’re never going to be able to read it.
These days you mainly sleep, and when you’re awake you’re just a shell of the vivacious woman you used to be, unable to see, speak or move from your bed. When I kiss you on the forehead, the way you used to do to me when I was little, or play your favourite music for you, sometimes there’s a flicker of recognition. But it’s gone in an instant.
You were diagnosed in 2013, but the signs that things weren’t right started around 2010. After your second husband, Ken, died, I noticed such a change in you. Normally always so upbeat and extroverted, it was as if you retreated into yourself. At times I wondered if you were depressed.
You began to neglect your appearance and you were no longer taking the same pride in how you looked. You often became forgetful and clumsy.
When you agreed to move from your home in Shropshire to a care home near me, I felt reassured by having you closer. But I realise now that the dementia had taken hold of you by then, and you’ve been slipping away from me ever since.
I cope by remembering the woman you used to be, before this cruel disease ravaged you. Glamorous and beautiful, you were so different to my friends’ mums when I was growing up, with your pencil skirts, stilettos and bubbly personality. Unlike other women of your generation, who were often content to keep themselves in the background, you brimmed with confidence and always wore your signature red lipstick.
"When you decide that you finally want to stop fighting, I will understand"
You always said, “You never know who you’re going to meet, so always look your best.’’ To this day I do my make-up and hair every morning—my little homage to you, Mum.
We were like sisters as well as mother and daughter, and as I grew older you were my confidante. We talked about everything.
After I left home, we spoke every single evening, no matter where we were in the world. It was our time, and it was sacrosanct. How I miss those chats, Mum.
When I had my two children, Louis, 16 and Alexa, 12, you were there supporting me. I only wish they had more memories of you from before you became ill.
I’ve also struggled with feelings of helplessness since you became ill, wishing I could do something to stop this from happening to you. As a tribute, I’ve spent the last two years fundraising for the charity Dementia UK, raising over £13,000. I know that you’d be proud of me.
Although it breaks my heart to say this, I’m ready to let you go, whenever you’re ready.
You’ve always been so strong Mum, and you’ve defied the doctors so many times. When you decide that you finally want to stop fighting, I will understand.
Until then, whenever I close my eyes I see you as you once were. Laughing, with your red lippy on. My gorgeous Mum.
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