Marguerite Penrose speaks to IrishCentral about her new memoir which explores her extraordinary life and resilience to overcome the odds.
Marguerite Penrose's story begins in the St. Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home in Dublin in 1974. The daughter of an Irish mother and Zambian father, she was handed over to the state presumably with no other choice given to her unmarried parents.
"Pregnant women walked through the doors of the home, and when they left, their babies stayed behind, That is just how it was," explains Marguerite in the opening pages of her debut memoir, "Yeah, But Where Are You Really From?"
To make a difficult beginning even more complicated, she was also born with severe scoliosis which led to her being placed in the "reject room" and kept away from prospective adoptive parents along with other children with medical issues.
Her life changed when at the age of three she was fostered by the Penrose family. What started as a temporary arrangement quickly turned permanent and overnight Marguerite had a family to call her own.
In her book, the following years are detailed with loving and joyful memories but there are also dark days that shadow these, from a failed operation to correct her curved spine at the age of seven to terrible moments of racial harassment on the streets of Dublin.
She never let these struggles define her but Marguerite also admits to suppressing a lot of her emotions. "We are a very open family but it would have been me who would have mainly not talked about stuff," she explains to me over a Zoom call.
It wasn't until recent years, stuck at home with the rest of the world, that she began to reflect on her life. She shared these thoughts on the social media page "Black & Irish" and from there she began sharing her story elsewhere, which eventually led to a publishing deal.
"I didn’t write [the book] with the intention of getting it published. I did go through a bit of anxiety wondering if I had done the right thing but now I haven’t looked back, the support has been so positive from family, friends, and messages from total strangers."
Getting the chance to express the gratitude she felt for her family was especially meaningful and she found she could "pour the love" she has for them "out onto the page". The memoir has also given her the voice she was reluctant to use when it came to talking about the past and coming to terms with parts of herself, such as her scoliosis, "I struggled to speak about my disability for years, even saying I was disabled I would go bananas. It’s been about learning to accept myself."
During her search for the truth behind her past, Marguerite shares in the book how she dealt with the grief of learning that her birth mother had passed away in 2014.
But, this part of her story has continued beyond the pages and recently through the work of the Tulsa-Child and Family Agency, she has been reunited with her biological brothers from her mother's side.
Her siblings, who were told when they were eighteen that they had a sister, have bonded easily with Marguerite, "It’s like we’ve never been separated, it’s that good between us which is very unusual." Through her brothers, she is also able to learn more about her birth mother.
"It’s hard for them because they are left behind to face me. I’m not expecting them to have the answers and it must have been so hard for them growing up and knowing this secret. It’s not just about me getting answers, I have to consider everyone else."
They are still missing pieces to the puzzle and the task to find answers from her father's side has been long and difficult. "It’s the process that’s broken, I’m about three years doing this and I still don’t have all the information on my African side and I don’t know how long more that will take."
Despite all this, she has no regrets about starting this journey into her past, "I would say to anyone to do it, you will get an answer and it will put something to rest in your head."
And where will the next part of Marguerite's story bring her? "Wherever the wind takes me!", she says with a laugh. What is clear though is that she will embrace the next step with open arms and strength.
'Yeah, But Where Are You Really From?' by Marguerite Penrose is published by Penguin Sandycove and is available online here.