Phyllis Whitsell was always told her biological parents had died of tuberculosis, but she never really believed it.
“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,” the 59-year-old told the Birmingham Mail.
Story continues below
Abandoned at eight months old and adopted at age 4, Whitsell was raised in Birmingham, U.K., and grew up to become a nurse.
Determined to find her birth parents, she tracked down her original birth certificate and even found a staff member at the orphanage where she was left as a baby.
“She was reluctant to tell me much about my mother but it was clear that she disapproved of her,” said Whitsell. “I had no idea why – I thought it was just because she had handed me over to the orphanage at such a young age.”
After more investigating, Whitsell found her mother, Bridget Ryan. She was an alcoholic living in the red light district of Birmingham, known locally as “Tipperary Mary.”
“She wasn’t the fairy-tale figure I had imagined, but she was still my mother,” said Whitsell.
As a district nurse, Whitsell decided on her own to include Bridget in her daily visitation route, taking care of her ill mother.
“I took her clean clothes, bathed her wounds and got her to talk about the five children she had given away, including me,” said Whitsell.
“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.”
From 1981, Whitsell took care of Bridget until her death in 1990. She never told Bridget who she really was.
Whitsell continues to take care of others in a nursing home and has written a book called Finding Tipperary Mary about finding and getting to know her mother.