It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie, but this story is 100% true. After being adopted as a child, Phyllis Whitsell was told her birth mother was dead. However, some research as an adult led her to discover that not only was her mother alive, but that they lived in the same city! In a further twist, Phyllis cared for her ill and elderly mother as her nurse, without ever telling her of her true identity.
Phyllis was adopted at age four by a Catholic Family in the UK to be a sister to their two sons. Although she had a happy childhood, she often wondered about her biological parents.
“I had always been told my parents were dead after contracting TB. Yet, still, throughout my childhood I was convinced, somehow, that my mother was alive. I told myself that one day, when I was old enough, I would track her down.”
Phyllis grew up in Birmingham and trained as a nurse, before getting married and starting a family of her own. It was then that she decided to begin her search.
Firstly she was counselled by a social worker, to make sure she could handle what she might find. After she obtained her birth certificate, she visited the orphanage where she was left as a baby.
“To my utter amazement, there was a member of staff who had been there since I was admitted at the age of eight months.
“She was reluctant to tell me much about my mother but it was clear that she disapproved of her.”
Next she was put onto social workers, probation officers and others, before finally tracking down her mother, whose name was Bridget Ryan. Sadly, she was not the fairytale figure Phyllis had envisioned, and her wayward lifestyle had earned her the nickname “Tipperary Mary.”
By this point Bridget was a chronic alcoholic, in a bad physical state, mentally unstable and abusive to her carers.
“Although my heart went out to the damaged woman who turned out to be my mother, I knew I could never allow her to disrupt my own family.
“But nor could I turn my back on her. She wasn’t the fairytale figure I had imagined, but she was still my mother.
“By then I was a district nurse. So I just – unofficially – added her to my rounds.”
She took her clean clothes, bathed her wounds and got her to talk about her life. It turned out Bridget had five children in total, and had given them all away.
“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.”
Phyllis went on to care for her mother as a nurse from 1981 until her death in 1990 at the age of 74, never revealing who she really was.
She was encouraged turn her story into a book by friend. The book, entitled Finding Tipperary Mary, will be published on November 28th 2015.