Sarah Jayne King always felt separate from the neighborhood kids. Being the only biracial kid in town made her feel different. She felt detached and always questioned her own identity. Her adoptive parents did their best, but Sarah was unable to shake off the feeling of being different.
When Sarah was in high school, she found a letter from her biological mother that outlined the events of her birth. The letter told a lot to Sarah, and it became the catalyst for her to start her quest of self-discovery, digging into the past and discovering the awful circumstances surrounding her birth.
Sarah spent her childhood in Crowhurst, a rural village in Surrey, England. Sarah remembers her childhood in Crowhurst fondly, mostly filled with delightful memories. When BBC interviewed her, she recalled waking up every morning to look out across the fields and see farm animals.
But Sarah being biracial did not make socializing easy for her as a child growing up in a predominantly white town. She remembers that it made her stick out like a sore thumb amongst her peers in the neighborhood.
Sarah remembers that growing up, her skin color made her the center of attention and not always in a positive way. While her adoptive parents did their best to ensure she felt included, she got an absurd number of stares from neighbors, and she remembers that other children would touch her hair.
Needless to say, she felt more like an outsider. Even when she was too young to understand, she already understood that she was different. She was not like the other kids. The consistent feeling of being the odd one out began to affect her.
The efforts of her adoptive parents to make her more comfortable didn’t make her feel any less of an outsider, especially since everyone in her house was white. Her adoption was never kept hidden from Sarah, but her adoptive parents declined to share any information beyond that one fact.
Sarah did eventually learn a couple of things about her past, like that she was originally from South Africa, but nothing that would completely answer all the questions that she had. This lack of any further information about her background added greatly to her anxiety.
As a teenager, Sarah’s feelings of isolation increased and pushed her into a depression. Soon, people around her began to notice that she was withdrawing more. She would tend to choose to be alone, and because of this, no one really knew what she was working through.
Her depression reached a new low when she attempted suicide at age 13. Luckily, it wasn’t successful, but she remembers it was the darkest time of her life. She developed destructive behaviors such as an eating disorder, self-harming, and participating in toxic relationships.
A year after her suicide attempt, Sarah didn’t think she could take the cluelessness anymore and snuck into her parents’ bedroom to search for any information that could help her find answers. After searching through her parents’ things, Sarah saw a letter with her name on it.
The letter had been addressed to her! Although she had zero clue what was written in it, she knew that whatever it was, it must have something to do with her past. She did not even hesitate to open the letter and discovered some genuinely startling information.
The date on the letter was surprising because it was only one year after her birth. Sarah had absolutely no clue why her adoptive parents hid the letter from her, but whatever the reason was, she felt compelled to read it because it had to have the information that she was seeking.
As she read the letter, she realized why her adoptive parents kept details of her adoption from her. It turned out that they had good intentions for keeping certain truths from her. Sarah soon came to regret ever finding the letter because of what she learned from it.
The letter confirmed to Sarah what she already knew; she was born in South Africa. The letter also uncovered that Sarah’s biological mother was British and had a relationship in the ’70s with a South African man. When college ended, the man needed to return to South Africa.
Sarah’s biological mom needed to decide whether to pursue the relationship further and join him or go back to England. At the end of the day, Sarah’s mother chose to follow her heart and follow him to South Africa.
In 1979, they were living together in South Africa and both working at a hotel in Johannesburg. At this point, it was evident that their relationship wasn’t going well and that she felt miserable with the man. Soon, she started another relationship with the hotel’s chef, who was black.
Sarah’s mother and the chef began a romantic relationship. And though they both knew what they were doing was wrong, neither of them could nor wanted to deny their feelings for each other. It wasn’t long before the consequences of their affair came to a head.
The ramifications for this affair were more dangerous because this was during the 1970s when South Africa was under apartheid. According to the country’s laws, interracial romantic couples were prohibited, and the ramifications were catastrophic.
Because interracial relationships were illegal because of the racist laws that were in South Africa at that time, Sarah’s mother’s affair, were it to have become public, would have meant two things. First, she’d be arrested and taken to jail. Second, her reputation would be permanently tarnished.
Sarah’s mother got pregnant and thought that it might be her black lover’s child. There would be severe consequences with her husband if he found out, and her pregnancy would also be putting her at risk of arrest. She anxiously waited for the baby’s birth and ended her affair.
During pregnancy, Sarah’s mother had one wish: her husband was the baby’s father. However, there was a high chance that it wasn’t. Thus, she didn’t let a soul know about her affair. And as the delivery of the baby neared, her stress remained at peak levels.
She finally gave birth in 1980. The newborn—Sarah—looked white, which brought lots of relief to her. She believed that the baby was her husband’s and that her affair can remain a secret forever.
The new parents named their newborn Karoline, and they began their family just like anyone else would. But it would only be a number of weeks later when Sarah’s mother would start taking notice of the signs that disproved her initial assumptions about Sarah being her husband’s.
It became clear to Sarah’s mother that her child was biracial and was fathered by her lover. She knew that once people found out—especially her husband—her affair would be public knowledge. To make things worse, her baby would be evidence enough to convict her of a crime.
Sarah’s mother knew that the ramifications of anyone discovering her affair would even come back to Sarah herself; as a mixed-race child, the authorities would likely remove her from her parents and place her in an orphanage.
Desperate to get herself out of the situation, Sarah’s mother told the truth about her affair to her husband and their doctor. Her husband reacted to the news pretty badly, but both prioritized the baby’s safety. The three of them made a plan.
The plan consisted of telling people that the baby had a kidney disease that needed medical attention in London. It was, of course, a big lie; because they actually intended to do something that most people would think impossible were it not for their specific circumstances.
The story about Sarah’s medical condition was obviously a lie to get her to England to hide her mother’s interracial affair from people. While in London, Sarah’s mother had fully intended to put her up for adoption so she could have a better future than what awaited her in her homeland.
Sarah’s mother adored her child so much. Indeed, the plan to put her up for adoption in London was, as far as she saw it, the sole solution for both of them to live safely. Luckily, it didn’t take much time for them to find Sarah a good family.
It took one work of searching for the right adoptive family for Sarah. The prospective family was having trouble conceiving kids of their own and immediately loved Sarah. Sarah’s mother was devastated to give up her baby, but she saw it as the one way to ensure her safety. Thankfully, her baby went to a loving home.
Sarah’s biological mother could’ve never guessed how this decision to put her baby up for adoption—what she thought was best–would cause Sarah to feel abandoned. And Sarah’s life, because of what she learned from her mother’s letter, wouldn’t get any easier.
When the adoption of Sarah was finalized, Sarah’s mother intended on returning to normalcy in South Africa. But she knew that people would ask questions about the well-being of Sarah, and because admitting that Sarah had been adopted was not on the table in order to keep her affair a secret, she made up a story.
Sarah’s mother created a false tale about Sarah’s death. She told every person who asked that her baby did not survive treatments for her medical condition and passed away in London.
When Sarah discovered that her mother had told people that she died in London, she went from feeling abandoned to worse. She thought it was a beyond-awful thing for a parent to say about their child.
In the letter that Sarah later went on to write, she wrote that it is beyond her realm of understanding that the sole person on the planet who is supposed to unconditionally love and nurture her no matter what gave her away to other people. Sarah was overwhelmed with this realization.
Sarah felt more depressed from the letter than a sense of closure. It was tough for her to come to terms with the fact that she was abandoned as a child. Sarah thought that what her biological parents had done was considered so gross that she would have to be placed in a different country.
What was most damaging to Sarah’s mental health was that her biological parents’ choice to abandon her made her feel like an accident. Sarah spoke to this publicly, noting how much of a negative experience it was to learn about this aspect of her past.
Sarah’s inner frustration only grew stronger with time. She wanted to learn more about the people who abandoned her, the people who shared her DNA. She wanted to learn more: about her roots, who she looks like, which parent gave her a bad temper.
During college, Sarah thought that she could find out more about her past by contacting her adoption agency. She contacted them and discovered that her biological mother no longer lived in South Africa. The agency went on to share more positive news for Sarah.
Sarah learned that her biological mother had kept the adoption agency updated about her life. It appeared to Sarah that her mother was hoping for a reunion between them. After obtaining her biological mother’s address, Sarah chose to write her a letter.
She started by asking her mother for more answers about her birth. She also said that, despite everything that happened, Sarah wanted to have a relationship with her if her mother wanted that. Sarah sent the letter and waited for an answer. But the answer she got was unexpected.
The response Sarah received from her biological mother was incredibly painful. Her biological mother expressed no remorse in response to Sarah’s letter. What’s worse, her biological mother appeared angry that Sarah wrote to her. Her mother’s letter was filled with hate and distance.
When interviewed by the Sunday Times, Sarah shared her mother’s response, saying: “Leave me alone. You were the biggest mistake I ever made. I don’t want to be in touch with you. I don’t want contact with you.” Sarah was understandably devastated, and she didn’t understand why her mother would respond this way.
Sarah courageously chose to overlook her mother’s disrespectful tone. She wrote another letter and demanded a better response. Her mother responded with a copy of the original birth certificate and a picture of her biological father—the letter didn’t include an apology or signs of remorse.
After all this, Sarah’s depression only worsened, especially after her adoptive brother died. Everything combined led her to substance abuse. Sarah remembers it as an incredibly low point in her life, and when things appeared like they couldn’t get worse, it turned out that they did.
Sarah’s efforts to find her biological father had failed. While it was easy to find her biological mother, it felt like her biological father had disappeared entirely from the planet. During this low point, locating her father became less of a priority for her.
In 2007, Sarah lost her job in Dubai. Unemployed and abusing substances, Sarah chose to reclaim her life. She researched rehab programs that would support her to get back on her feet, and, interestingly enough, an acquaintance suggested one in South Africa for less expensive treatment.
Sarah reserved a rehab program spot in South Africa. Upon arrival, Sarah remembers being overcome with emotions. When she spoke to BBC, Sarah said: “We’re still in the air, and I thought, ‘Something momentous is happening. The plane wheels touched down, and I thought, ‘I’m home.'”
Sarah couldn’t believe who comfortable she felt. She thought it odd since she was a newborn the last time she was in South Africa, but the feeling was genuine, and it was mind-boggling. Sarah felt like she belonged there.
While she was at rehab in South Africa, Sarah continued attempting to get answers about her past and even made efforts to connect with long-lost family members. Sarah actually discovered that she had a half-brother. Though wanting to meet him, her terrible experience with her mother deterred her.
Luckily, her brother was nothing like her mom. He shared that he would be happy to meet her, too. Their first interaction was filled with emotions, and Sarah and her brother ended up building an immensely close relationship with each other.
Sarah had been flying between London and South Africa while she was in rehab, but she decided to stay in South Africa when her program ended. Sarah found a sense of comfort in her homeland. She decided to write her story in an autobiography, but her issues weren’t quite over.
Sarah later shared that she would cry in her therapy sessions for an hour after writing every chapter for her book. In 2017, Sarah finished her autobiography, “Killing Karoline.” Sarah had no way of knowing that her book would become the catalyst for something great.
Sarah went on a radio show to talk about her autobiography. Throughout the interview, she discussed being unable to locate her biological father, despite hiring a private investigator. Sarah said that no efforts of searching had brought her closer to reuniting with him.
After the show aired, people on Twitter who heard her story started their own investigation about her father’s whereabouts. And it didn’t take long for a few Twitter handles to find the answers that Sarah had been pursuing so long.
It only took a day-and-a-half between the radio interview and Twitter users finding her father’s contact information. Sarah was overjoyed with the support—she never dreamed that her father could be located by sympathetic online strangers who happened to catch her interview.
Sarah finally had the chance to contact her father. Sarah gathered the courage to call her father on the phone. While she was anticipating his answer, she couldn’t help but stress that he’d be as cold to her as her biological mother was.
Fortunately, her father was thrilled to speak to her. Their first phone call lasted half an hour, and the days afterward found them talking to each other every single day. They ended up becoming incredibly close and forging a close bond.
Finally, it was time to meet face-to-face. Sarah spoke to BBC about their reunion: “I will never forget him just walking around the corner, and we both just burst into tears, and he hugged me, and he said, ‘My daughter, my daughter.’ It suddenly dawned on me, I am someone’s daughter, and I belong.”
Sarah’s finally found the peace she had for her whole life. She has her answers and has made peace with her past. Sarah said, “England is not home. I will never go back to live there. There’s a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of pull attached here.”
She continued, “When you’ve been taken from somewhere you came from, and you have been essentially killed from that part of your life and then to come back and live as your true self is huge. I don’t view it as being on a permanent holiday. This is home.”
Sarah Jayne King’s story is heartwarming, though she’s not the only person who’s had her life changed by a letter. Kati Pohler grew up with an adoptive family in the US. Her adoptive parents were white, like Sarah’s, and Kati knew that she appeared different from her family.
Although her adoption was public, facts around her adoption weren’t. Kati soon found out about the devastating circumstances around her adoption and chose to journey back to her homeland to get her answers and meet her birth parents.