Scotland's National Catholic magazine

Extraordinary Lives: Dr Myrtle Peterkin

Dr Myrtle Peterkin, a retired consultant haematologist, talks conversion, migration, adoption, and Faith.

The church next door

I was born and brought up in Guyana, formerly known as British Guyana. When I was about eight or nine, we lived in a house which was located next door to a Catholic church. My mother would be out at work as a nurse, taking day-time shifts mainly. We would be left with the maid, whose interests were really not in looking after us! My two brothers had made a hole in the fence of the church so that they could go in and play on the basketball pitch that was there. After a week or so, the priest came out and said, ‘You’re having fun! It’s all been well up until now, but today we’re having a funeral, so you are not to be playing on the pitch today, but you can come at any time.’ Then one day, he asked them, ‘Would you like to come into the church?’ That was the start of it.

A young convert

A few months later, I decided to see what was going on over there. By this time, they had struck up a very firm friendship with the priest who asked if they wanted to learn more. Eventually, he came and spoke with my mother, she had no objection. We were baptised and had First Communion. So, I’ve been a Catholic since the age of nine.

Not coincidences, but God-instances

I have a belief that these are not coincidences at all. I call them God-instances, because they are so directed. We started going to the Catholic Church near where we moved to, but I did go back to the original church for Confirmation.

University

I went to the University of the West Indies to the medical school there. I was fortunate to live in a female hall of residence for virtually the entire time, except for in my final year. I was in Barbados, not knowing where I was going to live, and the nun who headed the group that would come over to my high school for religious instruction had opened a house outside the grounds of the university, literally across the road! And so that’s where I stayed.

Coming to Britain

I think people forget that we were colonised by the British, so that everything that we learned was about Britain, we learned British history. It always intrigued my colleagues at work that someone would ask a question about something and the only person who would know the answer would be me. It’s a great shame, even the traditions around Christmas, we were fed everything that our colonial masters wanted us to be fed. It really wasn’t much of a culture shock coming to the United Kingdom. However, there’s hardly a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the education that I have. I’ve been in Glasgow since 1979, so I think I’m a naturalised Glaswegian by now!

Children

The concept of adoption for me was not an unnatural or unusual one, because I had two siblings who were adopted. I have al- ways loved children. Children gravitate to- wards me. I always thought I was going to have at least six children! But I never got married, so the next thing was to adopt. My instinct is to help somebody.

Adoption as a single mother

I approached social services, went back a second time, they said ‘No’. When the law changed [to allow single-parent adoption], they came to me and asked if I was still interested. By the time my daughter came to me, she had been in five different places in five years. The one objection that was made was by her maternal grandmother, that she would be brought up as a Catholic. She was quite vehement in her opposition, but social services said I would be able to raise my daughter as Catholic.

The process

On the negative side, I know they do it with the best of intentions, I think social services could be a bit more open minded with the process of adoption. To be politically correct, and as a woman of colour in Scotland, social services started the process by looking in Scotland for a child of colour. They couldn’t find one, so they kept looking until they arrived in Sheffield. Can you think of the number of children between Glasgow and Sheffield looking for adoption? When you look at the number of children in need of a good home, it is absolutely heart-breaking. When you start the process of looking, you are overwhelmed by the numbers. I think if more people knew, more people would bring in a child.

Prayer

I pray about everything. It’s not really structured prayer. Sometimes I pray: ‘Help me through this moment; guide me through this thing.’ It’s natural. Pray in all things. For the slightest thing I thank the Lord. It’s what keeps me going and what inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing even when I’m doing the wrong thing!

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