Tiegan Boyen’s start to life was very different to most children.
Born behind bars, she spent her first few months in the world locked up within a mother and baby unit.
Then, at just five months old, she was sent to live with her father, Jay, in an attempt to keep her with family.
However, sadly, the plan didn’t work out and by the time she was two, Tiegan was placed in foster care.
“He did the best he could but it was tough for him,’ explains the 20-year-old student.
It was when she was four that Tiegan finally found her forever home, and was adopted by her two devoted mothers, Maggie and Anne. However, she says, she never forgot about her dad.
‘Growing up, I would think about him,’ she remembers. ‘At school, we’d all be making cards for Father’s Day or I’d see my friends with their dads and it would make me miss him.
‘I don’t have an earliest memory of being adopted. It was a very traumatic time so I think my brain has shut down those memories’ adds Teigan. ‘But I’ve always known I was adopted and it was always an open discussion with my adoptive mums.’
Throughout her childhood, Maggie and Anne encouraged Tiegan to keep in contact with her birth grandparents, and would help the the little girl write to them about how she was getting on in school, telling them all about her latest hobbies.
“My mums would help me write notes to them, keeping them up to date with how I was doing,’ Tiegan recalls. ‘We’d send pictures of me too so they could see what I looked like. They were very supportive of me keeping that line of connection open.’
Then, when she turned 18 in October 2020, Tiegan was given her dad’s telephone number by a family member. Immediately, she sent him a text saying who she was.
‘He knew I would be in contact but I think he was surprised by how quickly I messaged him,’ she says. ‘At first, we sent text messages back and forth daily before organising a call in December 2020.
‘We decided to talk over our PlayStations so that we could play video games together if we were struggling to talk.
“But in the end, there was no awkwardness and we didn’t need to play any games,’ adds Tiegan, who lives in York. ‘It was like we had never been out of each other’s lives.’
Although she and her dad were eager to meet up in person, Covid lockdowns prevented the reunion from happening. However, in hindsight, Tiegan admits it was a blessing in disguise.
‘Not being able to meet up straight away turned into a good thing because it gave us time to bond and get to know each other first,’ she explains.
‘We spoke on the phone regularly and were texting daily. He was really open to getting to know me and I think he was delighted that I wanted to be in touch with him.’
It was in September 2021, that Tiegan finally arranged to meet her dad Jay, now 47, at Burton Agnes Hall, a nearby stately home.
Recalling the day, she says, ‘My mum, Maggie, had barely pulled the car to a stop and I was jumping out of the back.
“I ran over to him and threw my arms round him. I don’t have any memories of him from childhood so to actually spend time with him in person was nice because I got to see his mannerisms and quirks.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Hello Tigger’, a nickname he’d given me as a baby.’
Amazed at being able to see and speak to each other in person, the pair excitedly caught up. Then, Jay brought out a small and crumpled picture covered with countless faint lines from all the times it had been folded up and kept safe.
As he handed it to his daughter, he explained that he’d kept it for this special day.
The picture was a precious sonogram image of her as an unborn baby – something Tiegan could never have imagined she would be able to see, let alone hold in her hands. Having had such a traumatic start in life, she had simply resigned herself to the heartbreaking fact that there were no treasured keepsakes or photos linking her back to those early days.
‘I was amazed. I never thought I’d have anything like that of myself,’ she admits. ‘Most adopted people don’t have baby photos, let alone ultrasound pics, so it’s very special to me.
‘It’s like a piece in a puzzle of who I am. He kept hold of it all these years and has now given it to me.’
Since that day, Tiegan has met up with her dad numerous times and even visited her paternal grandmother too.
‘I went round to her house and she was showing me a little chair that I would sit on as a toddler,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t believe they had kept it.’
Now, Tiegan – who has also had contact with her birth mum – is supporting the national adoption campaign, You Can Adopt, to highlight the importance for adopted people of knowing where they came from and feeling connected to their past.
‘Sentimental objects can be a very important part of that,’ she explains. ‘A lot of adopted people won’t have baby pictures but they might have a blanket or teddy from their past. Holding onto these things helps to give us a sense of identity.
“I think it’s important to be told you’re adopted from the very beginning. My mums knew they weren’t just adopting me, they were adopting my whole history and family as well.
“There are still struggles – you’ll never get every piece of information,’ admits Tiegan.
‘But there were four years of my life before I was adopted, and that’s still part of my story.’
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