Without Edinburgh-based charity Birthlink, Mervyn Miller’s experience of searching for his birth mother might have been very different.
Mervyn, 73, was born three months premature in 1944 to a young unmarried inmate of Saughton Prison, locked up for shoplifting.
Mervyn was born with Spina Bifida and he believes that the pressure of having to provide for a disabled, mixed-race child before the NHS was why his mother abandoned him at a few months old at the children’s centre in Gorgie that cared for him. He spent the rest of his childhood in care.
But Mervyn is upbeat about his experience and doesn’t feel he lost out growing up in orphanages and a special needs school. He said: “I’ve got family. I had lots of mothers and was well looked after. I didn’t want for anything growing up.”
Although he was happy, he was a sickly child and at 18 needed to have both feet amputated after years of ulcers and fevers. There were no family members to sign the paperwork and it was the first time he thought about contacting his birth mother, thoughts that were shelved for another 50 years..
After a six-month recovery in hospital, where he “ran wild”, playing football on his stumps and charming the staff, he “was off running” taking up wheelchair basketball and playing for Scotland in the 1973 Stoke Mandeville Games in Heidelberg, Germany, where he also won a silver medal in fencing.
He worked as a tailor and in pubs before moving to London in the 80s. Retirement brought Mervyn home to Edinburgh in 2014 but a tuberculosis diagnosis slowed him down and during his recovery thoughts of his birth mother returned.
In 2016 Edinburgh City Council connected him with Birthlink, a charity that helps people affected by adoption access vital information. They helped him make sense of his paper trail – much of which was handwritten.
But Birthlink lost its vital funding for its Care Connect service last year and while the service still exists, the criteria has changed and had Mervyn approached them now, they couldn’t have supported him in the same way.
He still hasn’t found his mother, the trail went cold in Liverpool. Last year he met his first family member, a cousin. An uncle and an older half brother who was adopted have also been traced.
“I can’t thank Birthlink enough. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them. They’ve done such a fantastic job.” He believes that without their help he would have died without knowing anything about his birth family.
What concerns Louise Wilson, case worker at Birthlink, is most people in care have difficult stories. She still holds out hope that the council “may” be able to reinstate funding in time, but admits it is a worrying time. Without the previous cash allocation, their hands are tied in what additional services they can provide.
She said: “There are lots of vulnerabilities for people who have been in care. Many cases involved abuse and if that landed on your doorstep with no-one to help you process it, it could be very damaging.”
Edinburgh council said it understood, adding: “We always ensure there is a trained social worker available.”