The right to know adoption is trauma

I was separated from my mother at birth and had no further contact with her. For the first month of my life, I stayed in the hospital’s nursery for ‘babes for adoption’. After being assessed medically as free from disease and defect and suitable for adoption, I was placed somewhere unknown to me for an additional ten weeks, until the 12 months my adopting parents had been given to add a room onto their house, had elapsed. It was not an ideal start to life for any infant.

I remember vividly the moment I embraced the possibility that my adoption was trauma. I was attending a Professional Development workshop on Trauma and raised my hand to ask the question burning within me, quite oblivious to others in the room “you mean my being separated from my mother at birth was trauma?”

It’s the only explanation that makes sense of the difficulties I experience in my life.  Yet if I look through support websites and texts on trauma, I find no mention of adoption as one of the early life experiences with adverse effects, or describes the adoptee as a survivor of trauma, except perhaps for intercountry adoptees who have been removed from their original culture.

The Inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 implies adoption is trauma in its discussion:  regarding “current areas of practice—including intercountry adoption—we need to avoid the risk of continuing the mistakes from the past. Some of these ‘mistakes’ identified by participants included:

  • cutting ties between biological parents and their children;
  • failing to provide young people with information about their heritage, culture and family;
  • prioritising the desires of prospective parents to have a family over the needs of existing (and often vulnerable) parents and children;
  • failing to recognise that family ties are for life; and
  • the trauma of interrupting the bond between parents and children, which can have lasting effects for all.”

When separation at birth for adoption is recognised as trauma, it allows:

  • adopted persons to identify  and name the cause of the difficulties they experience, and to receive assistance from practitioners skilled in trauma interventions;
  • adopting parents to understand the needs of the children they have adopted, seek assistance and training to provide a trauma-informed response;
  • the dominant discourse of adoption as good for all involved, to be challenged at a time when there is pressure from groups such as AdoptChange to increase the number of adoptions;
  • lessons from the past to challenge surrogacy and other ways of family formation, to ensure children’s needs are central.

Adoptees have a right to know that being separated from their mother at birth was trauma.

Progress in Adelaide

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The Adoption Act is being reviewed in South Australia.  Adoptees have petitioned the Act be changed to legislate and uphold the right of Adoptees to have their birth information recorded on their Original Birth Certificate.

The rights of the Adoptee challenge the rights of adopting adults and their reasons for wanting to be listed as the ‘parents’, rather than the infant’s biological parents.  Adopted infants grow into adults who experience lifelong “grief and pain” having “lost their identity, heritage and family”.

These words are etched in stone on one of two large blocks of granite, an artwork to acknowledge that “lives have been profoundly affected by adoption separation practices”, and can be viewed in Grundy Gardens, in Adelaide, just east of the University footbridge.

Turning 18 again

In October 1998 I received a letter that informed me that I was adopted. I was forty three years old.

It confirmed the suspicions that had only sprouted during the last couple of months. Throughout my life I had never suspected I was adopted and that my understanding of myself, was anything other than what I had believed for the past forty three years of my life.

On a fateful day in Sydney I met a woman I knew only as a name, as a beneficiary in my father’s will.

My quest was for information regarding my son who has Asperger’s syndrome; her agenda was to prove to me that she knew my father intimately by showing me the love letters that justified the benefits she received in his death. ‘Not my concern’ I thought, ‘What’s done is done and it was never about the money’.

We said our farewells and parted.  She continued to add tit bits of information on life with my father: ‘The lady next door said that your father had said two of the children were adopted’.  This was third hand information but the seed was planted and this information relevant to me, demanded to be proved or disproved.

Letters sent, suspicion grew regarding my birth certificate which did not contain my parents’ details.  Research on adoption stated that adopting mothers were reluctant to talk to their adopted children about their pregnancy and birth.

I tested this on my mother and was astonished by her text book dismissal of my question about her pregnancy and my delivery was “Oh it was all so long ago” but she happily recounted details about two of my brothers who were her natural children.  My heart sank and all that remained was the letter dispelling or cementing my fear.

That was seventeen years ago now.  In another year it will be eighteen. I’ve had seventeen years to integrate totally new information about my parents, my heritage and ethnicity, my birth and adoption.  All that remains is to find out where I was for the first three and a half months of my life before I went to live with my mother and father and two brothers.  I’d like to be a grown up then, having integrated the old me and the new me and come to a place of peace where I can celebrate who I am.

Womb to Lette

It’s not often I write but the opinion piece ‘Foetal Attraction’ by Kathy Lette in yesterday’s Advertiser requires a response from me as an adoptee (Advertiser, SA Weekend, March 28-29, p. 31).

Lette commences her light hearted approach to this serious subject: ‘would you rent your womb’ and goes on to say why she would do this for her son as ‘like most mums, [she] would do anything for her children’.  What she does not consider is the effect on the child’s psyche and the potential complexity of her relationship with her son, and his child,  as mother and grandmother (mother from the child’s in-womb experience).

My response to the question raised in the Advertiser: ‘Would you go through a pregnancy to help your child?’ was:

In a word – no! Kathy Lette’s article portrays a romantic notion of surrogacy and adoption separated from the known implications for the baby who is destined to a life of psychic disconnect. While her generosity is out of love for her son she has not considered the implications of parenting a child who is separated at birth from his/her known world. The experiences of those affected by adoption are well documented for those who want to hear. 

Discussions about surrogacy and adoption continue to focus on the rights of the adults who want to be parents.  Serious research is yet to be conducted to objectively capture the life-long effects of developmental attachment trauma on adoptees who as newborn he infants were removed from the familiarity of the womb and placed in a strange environment often with parents who were grieving  their inability to produce their own offspring. It is not difficult to extrapolate their experience to surrogacy.

‘Without Consent – Australia’s past adoption practices’  will be officially opened tomorrow 30th March 2015 and will be travelling around Australia. The exhibit will continue to be available online at the National Archives of Australia website, as a chronicle of the pain of adoption.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Matt 11:15).

Adoption and Surrogacy – what prospective parents won’t be told.

In Australia Adoptees are finally being given an opportunity to express the reality of their lives as Adoptees.

The Apology to those affected by the Australian Government’s Policy of Forced Adoptions is mounted on the wall in Parliament House, Canberra. The Forced Adoptions History Project is finalising its plans to travel around Australia to give voice to the pain expressed by Adoptees around the country.

And yet ‘in the next room’ so to speak, a new conversation has begun amongst prospective parents as the technology of Surrogacy is promoted as the hope for this generation of individuals and couples wanting to create a family.

The conversation however, is still adult focused and does not adequately explore the reality for the product of surrogacy, the new-born infant. For those interested in researching the effects of adoption/surrogacy, start with the development of the new-born infant – what happens at the moment of birth when the new-born meets her/his mother and is comforted after birth; the mirroring that begins with their first exchange; the role of smelling and tasting mother on the outside as this matches and correlates with the mother that s/he knew on the inside; of lying skin to skin against her breast and hearing her heart beat providing comfort, the security and continuity of existence; the shaping of the neurological connections; the production of hormones that begin the infant’s ability to experience joy…

Now imagine that for some reason these events do not happen.  Imagine the effects on the new-born as it grows into childhood and adulthood … and you may be closer to understanding the experience of Adoption/surrogacy.

Read the stories of Adoptees. The e-journal Australian Journal of Adoption at http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/ajaand, has dedicated the current issue to their stories. their struggles with depression, disconnection, trauma, attachment and experiencing joy.

It’s time these stories were told to avoid another generation being affected by adoption/surrogacy that promises the joy of children to adults yet ignores the reality of development and attachment disruption and the long-term effects on the children and the parents.

Adoption’s ghosts – closer than we know

I grew up in Bathurst, New South Wales as the only daughter of immigrants from the Netherlands. I can understand, read and speak some Dutch.  Every Christmas our family would celebrate in our variation of the Dutch tradition, going to the midnight church service and coming home and feasting on ham and bread rolls served on the crockery my parents had brought with them from Holland.  The Christmas tree was adorned with Dutch trinkets and the myrrh man ‘roked’ his characteristic smell that made every Christmas Dutch.  Most years we received a parcel from my family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents with the hand-me-downs and gifts, and the lingering smell of pipe tobacco that was my link to family and my Dutch heritage.

When I was 43 I found out I was adopted and I lost this.

Recently I have delved back into my ancestry and discovered that on my mother’s side I have an ancestor, Jimmy Young, from Xiamen, China who came to NSW for the Goldrush, and another, Peter O’Neill from Wicklow, Ireland who was sent to the Penal Colony of NSW for being involved in the Irish Rebelllion. After he was pardoned he settled at Homecraft, Rockley, in the Bathurst District, not far from where I grew up.

I’m not sure how to respond to this. After the excitement of finding these characters in my family, I am angry with a system of closed adoption that not only cut me off from the roots that established my identity, but also transplanted me into a location where my family ‘ghosts’ and connections resided outside of my awareness and possibility for connection.  How many grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins lived nearby?  Lost opportunities for connecting to a wider family that is important in developing a sense of who I am.  My dream is to be re-grafted back onto one of the family trees that I was cut off from, to be accepted and belong as ‘one of them’ despite the separation, scandal and politics of adoption.

Care fully for myself

My mantra for the next little while.

Balancing out the lifelong expectations of being an adoptee; an existence for my mother’s and others’ happiness.

I can't do this any more … time for me to live.
I can’t do this any more … time for me to live.

Give give give … until there wasn’t a drop left and I crashed.

“Care fully for myself” is my starting point before I make decisions on what to do for others and myself.

I risk sounding selfish but I am overdue for an energy audit that is based on the energy that I require as the mother of a son with a disability, a mother of three other children, and a grandmother of two gorgeous girls. And then there is the energy I need for myself. Now isn’t that interesting that I put myself last on this list. Hmmm.

Watch this space for changes …