Whilst this may be my experience, three women have taken part in this journey. I feel it is my responsibility to share these three stories of adoption. The pains of administration, of family acceptance and the emotional repercussions. And finding one another after 25 years of trying to find ourselves.
I was adopted
I’ve always known that I was adopted, It was just part of the vocabulary. Not a distinction of your what you are or are not, but telling people am adopted usually receives surprised sometimes even sympathetic response like “really?… I wouldn’t have known”. Some people are excited, others intrigued.
The first question is often “do you want to know your birth mother”?
Not every child wants to find their birth parents. Would you? Would you really want to challenge the relationships already present, to face possible rejection, to maybe leave in a state of higher unknowing?
Baby girl denied her mothers first embrace, three names before she was six months old. A life of searching… of confusion… and loss.
In The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adoptive Child, author Nancy Newton Verrier suggests that an adopted child will develop a fear of rejection, of not being enough. Excessive and compulsive perfectionist personality attributes tend to develop and have long-term effects on life and work relationships. There is often a significant fear of being alone; this is generally referred to as abandonment response.
A group of women talk about pregnancy, and birth. I don’t know if they even considered, or just avoided the awkwardness that mum had not shared the experience. Imagine feeling as though you have never had the real mother experience; the birth, the breast feeding, to carry that child, the nine months of baby hormones and nesting.
Words and labels such as Biological, Adoptive and Real become the structure of this experience. But nothing feels real, for any parties involved.
As a child, I would attack mum with comments such as “you aren’t my real mum”, and simultaneously I resented the biological mother. How dare she give up a child! How dare she not be a mother!
Society forgets, I forgot…
The biological mother made the decision to carry a pregnancy for nine months to allow a willing couple to become parents. She never held that baby, heard its first word or saw her take her first step and tumble.
This baby was a treasure. She was the one thing this couple could never have. This family could provide this child with an abundance of opportunity that she would have been denied otherwise.
A Mother reflects on her reconnection with a child she gave up for adoption…
I received your letter after 5 months of living in Samoa; there was fear, disbelief. What do I do, is this really happening?
All I ever wanted to do was see you but feared a negative interaction. I would look at little girls, teenagers and wonder…
I know that through my own faith I have been able to endure many things in my life. It is also my belief that every child should be given something in this case I refer to religion…and as we mature we can make our own decisions about what we believe and what we don’t, but at least one has been given an option.
Being Lutheran was the only hope I could live on. For you to be brought up in a safe and happy environment. (Religion) was the only thing that I could have influence in. This was is what my Mum and Dad, and particularly my Dad gave to me. I am grateful for the values that were given to me.
No body outside of my family knew that I was pregnant.
My first response was, what’s mum going to say?
My family were prepared to supportive me whatever decision I made. Funny, I can only remember Mum discussing things with me. When I did go back home, there was no discussion of what had occurred. And maybe to this day, Mum and I may have spoken of this only once.
The only service available to me was a Catholic Doctor who confirmed the pregnancy. I was in a state of absolute shock, fear and terror. With an active social life as a rower and an entrant in Miss Australia it was “impossible” to comprehend keeping the baby.
I was petrified: and the overriding thought of doing the right thing by my family. I was twenty, would have to live at home, and had no savings…
Fearing gossip or what you think people are thinking.
Check ups felt hurtful, just an exchange of facts and measurements. There was always an underlying how… again?
I moved to Adelaide, and shut myself away in a unit until the birth. It was very 1960s behavior – Only leaving the unit for Doctor appointments and necessities. I didn’t see my family for around 6 months, but did have telephone communications.
My closest brother lived in Adelaide and had his own daughter that June. It was ridiculous. He had no idea I was there. The only support was a Social Worker at the Queen Victoria Hospital whom I would visit when I had a doctor’s appointment and sign the documentation.
The birth was distressing, sad and lonely. There was a screen in front of my face. I was told to keep my eyes closed so that I couldn’t see the baby.
There was no mention of me having a baby from any of the staff post giving birth. There was no room for public sadness, regrets nor mourning, the decision had been made. I just wanted to go back home to my family.
I felt obliged to continue on in silence. Inwardly I was screaming.
No body talked about it, you just get on with your life. But hold things in your head and heart all the time.
I have suffered much insecurity from depression, body image problems, and for many years thought that people would not disapprove of what had happened and me.
My adoptive mothers journey
They married at 29, with the desire to start a family immediately. They started seeing doctors after a year or so, enduring a multitude of tests with inconclusive results.
They would have to have sex, fly to Adelaide the next day to see if sperm was killing the eggs. Three years of hormonal stimulants and they still didn’t know.
They applied to adopt in 1982. Application required five years of marriage and she posted the application form on their 5-year anniversary. A year after application her doctor placed her on IVF. AT this time IVF was still experimental with only 20% success rate. IVF could only be attempted every 6 months due to the intensity of the drugs.
They did five cycles of a literal tag-team process. They were required to fly to Adelaide every two weeks for hormone injections. Excruciating injections into the thigh to release eggs. Then surgery to harvest eggs.
In 1985 She decided to pull-the-pin as it was discussed that there were slim chances.
Her doctor said she was the most courageous and pragmatic woman that he had ever met.
Never giving up – she perused with adoption
Her parents welcomed and loved the idea. Dad had initially refused to adopt. From a traditional Lutheran family it was an unfamiliar idea. He had to get his head around it.
The Government dealt with it. They had someone to tell you the pro’s and cons. Families SA would assess a series of forms with details of financial, health status, doctors to approve mental stability, and character references. An adoption cut off list involved people attending prying-into-life interviews and psychological tests every six months in Adelaide, as well as annual submissions of financial status.
In June 1986 they received a call to attend a compulsory meeting in Adelaide. But it would cost them $400 just to risk it. They held off on booking the flights.
They received a call in February 1987 telling them it was unnecessary to attend.
We’ve got your baby!
“We’ve got your baby – it’s a boy”. “Oooh, wow, great”. “No No. I’m sorry! … It’s a girl!”.
They met the baby and were told to go home and think about it. Instead, they went straight out and bought her first teddy and a dress of her own to go home in.
Dads family came down from Murray Bridge and baby was cuddled, admired, welcomed by aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. As the final relative was waved goodbye dad asked, “Can I hold her”. He rarely let go after, and she followed him everywhere.
When you fight so hard and long…
Dad died when I was three, we lost mums dad three months later. I lost a part of mum to grief. A little three year old learns about death and loneliness before life has really begun.
Mum maintained 2000 chooks. Sheep farming, cropping and weekly trips to Nana’s. My closest relationships were with adult mentors. People who held my hand and kept me secure. The first time that I used the phone was to tell our neighbor “mum was on the floor” when mum had a physical breakdown.
I was her little angel. If I wasn’t there – she didn’t realty have much reason to keep going.
Adoptive parents are known to have a tendency to over compensate for what they feel may be missing. Beyond all the paperwork and legalities, not much is offered in the means of emotional preparation.
For any parties involved. I was never a lonely child and had friends over nearly every weekend. Pet lambs, chooks, pencils and dress ups. Acres of gardens and a multitude of books. Life was good.
But sleepovers at friends always had some level of pain of loneliness or a fear. A real empty ache, even if just next-door, I would fall in to a dream like anxiety. Present and conscious but somewhat detached, a dusty dehydration. This is still occasionally experienced today.
My best friend was also adopted. It has been a gift to us both; we have a depth of appreciation for the abundance within our lives. We shared a period of primary school alienation when the adoption taunts began. Luckily 7 year olds forget things pretty quickly. I think the Macarena phase took over attention. However the identity issues remained. The bullying sustained in different forms. I have forgotten parts of my childhood.
I lived with family friends in Adelaide when I began high school. But this physical detachment from mum, and internalised emotions, led to a start of depression so strong that the after effects and explosion of 13 years of anxiety, initiated a journey with antidepressants, with self-infliction and subsequent eating disorder.
When that inner child is screaming and screaming to be heard and “shrinking away” is perhaps the only way to actually be heard.
I started to become resentful. As my health declined, every Doctor was asking for medical history. I DON’T KNOW! – I AM ADOPTED! Was met with frustration from practitioners – unaware of the process involved just to find out if your biological mother ever had the measles.
Searching for my biological mother
So, the process began. A call to Families SA to obtain forms. An unexpected phone call from a social worker informed that the papers were available. The conversation concluded with “oh I think I should mention that you have a half sister born two years before you”. A simple transaction in a cold administration building. Here it was in my hands, the details of my life pre and during the adoption process.
I opened the envelope to a snapshot of my mother in words. Her name, age, and life circumstances and pages and pages of notes about the adoptee applicants. And a mis-interpretation of information, which lead to 5 years of believing that she didn’t want the baby.
I obtained her postal address from the state library. Her contact details were now in my trembling hands. Her postal address was five streets away and her picture was front page of the Messenger. I wrote explaining who I was, when I was born, that the information I had obtained indicated that “she” was my biological mother. She replied, and so began six months of pretty cards but no clear responses.
I eventually sent photo; months went past with no response. I was taking more steps across that bridge but getting no closer to my perceived destination.
Caught up in so much emotion, you forget that how you think it is may not be how it is. Feeling played along by ongoing I’m sure we have much to look forward to. I wrote a blunt letter expressing my frustration. I posted the letter on the Saturday and ceremoniously burned all the cards in tiny pieces on the beach. I received a letter on the Tuesday. I did not reply for two years.
Friends often offered to come with me to knock on the door, and things did still feel incomplete. But people forget that this is a real woman too, who is going through her own emotions, and her own journey. To just intrude in someone’s life could be catastrophic.
I had needs. I had to meet her…
I woke up, sent a text to mum and that afternoon knocked on the door of the address that I had. The woman denied knowing a lady with that name.
Unsatisfied, we went to a friend’s office. I had seen a woman in the courier messenger two years prior, and looked up her name in reference to the organization mentioned. This provided a phone number. I came home pulled out my journals and realized had wrong house number, we returned to a barren rental property.
Shattered and frustrated I called the number- her work colleague answered and took my details.
I didn’t hear back that day…
I left my phone at home the following afternoon to return to a missed call. A voicemail and I knew.
I pressed, “Return call” and there we were talking – after 25 years. We met on the Monday and have sustained contact ever since.
Do I Feel more complete?
In reflection. Do I Feel more complete? I don’t know. You aren’t socially or biologically constructed for these experiences, whether Mother A, Mother B or Child… there is no reference book or detailed social theory. All I do know is that I feel a sense of ease that through my experience and the experience of writing this article.