relinquished

The Australian current affairs program 4 Corners did a story tonight on mothers who were forced to give their babies up for adoption in the 60s and 70s. To say watching this program was fraught for me would be an understatement. I was born in 1972 and ‘relinquished’ to be adopted by Mum and Dad. I watched the program grieving for these women mourning their lost children while wincing at the blunt force trauma these sorts of stories are for my mum.

I was, in essence, a virgin birth. My birth mother,H,  and father, L,  only 14 and 16 respectively. H hid the pregnancy until she fainted during the school’s cross country race when she was about four months pregnant. The school’s nursing sister had a quiet conversation with my maternal grandmother who promptly burst into tears as it confirmed her unspoken suspicions. H was promptly sent to Carramar, an Anglican single mother’s home on Sydney’s North Shore in the suburb Turramurra. Her brothers were told to tell her friends that she’d gone to PLC Pymble, ironically the school I would attend a mere 10 years later. In the meantime L was expelled and the principal tried to have him charged with carnal knowledge. A childhood act of bravery years before won him a reprieve, the police refusing to do so as he and a friend had witnessed a bank robbery and could identify the bandits.

Apparently L’s family had offered to keep me and raise me as L’s sister – something H relayed excitedly to her father. He flatly refused on the grounds she had bought enough shame to the family already.

Shame.

That word, so laden with guilt and wrong-doing and punishment is, in my experience, a cornerstone to adoption.

Shame on the single unwed mother. Clearly promiscuous and debauched and everything in between when in actual fact it was just a case of dumb bad luck. That, ovulation and sperm that could swim. Clearly.

Shame on the adoptive parents – often unfairly squared on the woman’s shoulders for being barren. Who knows what men of that era felt if it was their ‘fault’ they could not have children of their own.

Look at that: shame, barren, fault.

And in the middle there somewhere is a child. A life. A person.

If I recall correctly, there are higher rates of adopted people in prison. Higher rates of suicide, self-harm and mental health issues. There are higher rates of divorce in couples with adopted children. It’s like we’ve tapped into the motherload of human guilt and torment all from a system put in place to ensure the ‘best outcomes’ for the child. Social policy in the 60s and 70s has so much to answer for.

In New South Wales in 1991 changes were made to the adoption laws making it far easier for birth parents and adopted children to find each other. If you wished you could put a contact veto on your file but if you didn’t do so then it was possible for either party to get the original or corrected birth certificate and instigate a search.

I did this in 1993. It was a whirlwind of adrenalin and emotion and excitement at meeting H and her family. Uncles! A baby half-brother! (who has just finished his HSC at the school Felix is now attending. I KNOW.) Meeting L and his family. A half-sister and brother! People who looked like me, who I was like, who ‘got’ me.

And then the sense of betrayal. Mum was devastated I had found and met my birth mother. She felt the law changes were the ultimate betrayal by the government to adoptive parents. That they had signed legally binding documents saying this child was theirs and here they were changing the laws so it was now more of a ‘kinda’ that a sure thing. She was so hurt. The day after I had met H mum went to work and had to face the blackboard all day because she couldn’t stop crying. (Both Mum and H are primary school teachers. They also went to the same teacher’s college.) She told me once that her greatest regret in life was that she hadn’t actually had my brother and I herself. The pain of not having children ‘of her own’, of the whole world that is desperately wanting to have children but not being able to is something I see in my mum every single day.

For nearly half the time I’ve known H we have lived here with mum and I realised last year how I had subconsciously put an arm’s length between me and H in respect to mum. A lot has changed in the last 12 months and I’m not willing to do that any more. My mum is my mum. I am who I am because of the efforts my mum put into raising me. She will always always ALWAYS be Mum.

So how do you then explain the inextricable link I have to H and indeed to L. I am such a blend of them both – creative, feisty, funny, a perfectionist and on it goes. And now with my own children – you could put H’s son next to Felix and simply think they were brothers. Oscar reminds me so much of L. You could put Jasper with my paternal cousin’s daughters and say he was their brother. It’s uncanny.

Biology is undeniable.

But I see the havoc my existence has wreaked on these lives – people and families changed forever and not necessarily for the better.

H, sent to the single mother’s home at 14, forbidden from seeing me, fighting a student doctor to pull down the pillow he was holding up to try and see me. Her parents being told the best thing they could do was pick her up and never mention it again. Even though her brothers would catch the bus from Sydney’s northern beaches to the home to see her after school (no mean feat, even trying to do that today is ardous). Having a team of student doctors brought around after I was born and having them talk about her labour even though she wasn’t allowed to see, touch or hold me. Having the head obstetrician stand at the end of the bed and say she had had a textbook labour and that more people should have babies at 14.  Being picked up by her parents three days after I was born and going immediately on their annual summer holiday. Having to lie on the beach IN A SWIMMING COSTUME on her stomach the entire time because her boobs were leaking. It just goes on and on.

And my mum and dad? Their marriage slowly disintegrating for myriad reasons but their inability to have children together penetrating all of it.

And what of me you say?

I used to feel gravely responsible for the havoc my existence played on H and L and I still feel ‘weird’ about what impact my presence in their lives now, manifests. I used to strive to be good and better to make up for the fact I didn’t come from my mum’s belly. But now I’m not quite so tarred with the brush of being relinquished and adopted. My mum is my mum, H and L made me, I love having all of them in my life and I want them there for the rest of my life.

Dreadful things happened to some mothers during those years of peak adoption and wrongs need to be made right, but so much good also came from that time. So many babies to couples desperate to have a child and raise a family. Many children so much better off to have been adopted than raised in a home where they weren’t wanted or were viewed as a constant reminder of shame brought to the family by a ‘naughty’ daughter.

Life is messy, people get hurt, awful things happen and sadness can prevail but in my experience good always comes from bad, what doesn’t kill you can indeed make you stronger. You can fall down seven times and stand up eight. From shame, guilt, fault can come bravery, strength and acceptance.

 

Onward.

 

 

 

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  • Maxabella

    Powerful, beautiful. Your story is going to stay with me for some time, Kim. So much to think about. Especially your grace. x
    Maxabella recently posted..Giveaway: Kindness in blogging and in all things

  • jac

    Family stuff is always so complicated… throw in more families and it only gets more so, I think! You seem to have such a good take on everyone’s perspective – although that might make it harder rather than easier…

  • Beautifully written Kim. Having an adopted child I can really identify with what you have written. Our son was not relinquished till he was 9-10 months old.,now 18. Yet I know he has a sister twenty years older than him so now about 38 , born to her then teen mum in a girls home. Scant other details but his brth mother had so few choices ! I bet it affected her with her other children and life choices .
    Trish recently posted..WIN 1 OF 3 DOUBLE PASSES TO A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN ~

  • Dee

    My uncle, Keith .C Griffith was adopted, the first adopted person to speak openly in public in NZ about adoption issues and who campaigned relentlessly to see open adoption become a part of NZ law. He compiled a library of material, of research about the issues faced by adoptees and adopters, and later, by IVF, surrogacy and the like that now resides in the law library in one of NZ’s leading universities.

    NZ, and Canada owe him a huge debt for that work, and by extension other countries who have come to understand the incredible impact adoption has on families and people and how everyone really needs to know who they are.

    Kudos Kim, great post.
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  • Oh Kim. You are so gracious and eloquent on this. I have not watched 4 Corners yet. (Tonight, via iView.) But I suspect you have haven me an additional slant when I do.

    xx
    Lucy recently posted..Brag…

  • Mark

    Kim, a powerful look at the world of adoptees and their adoptive and “relinquishing” parents. Your experience is very similar to mine except I was born in the ultra-darkness “socially” of the mid-50s. My bio-Mum has lived with guilt all her life since she had me, and still will not reveal my existence to her other children from a subsequent marriage. I have reasonably regular contact with her, but only met her the once. I don’t push it as I’m grateful that we had contact, and that I was eventually able to meet my bio father, to discover I’m a carbon copy of the guy. He wasn’t interested in me, fine, given he’d abandoned my mum anyway, and I only met him once, discussed family medical history, took a few photos, then had no further contact.

    Watching 4 Corners was certainly a roller coaster.

  • Goodness me. The layers of complexity and emotion and confusion and then in the middle an innocent baby. You. Amazing post lady, THANK you for sharing x
    BabyMacBeth recently posted..Smokin’ hot. Not.

  • WOW, onward as you say!
    Ruth recently posted..relinquished

  • This is so powerful. Please send it to a major newspaper – it deserves a very big readership.
    Thank you for writing and please be kind and gentle to yourself x
    librarygirl recently posted..short and spotty posts this week

  • Such powerful, eloquent writing. Thank you for sharing.
    Naomi recently posted..Shrug it off.

  • Wow. Big brave words. Thankyou for sharing. Thankyou to Baby Mac for pointing me this way. We have a “non biological member” of our immediate family. It has also created angst, stress, complications – on all sides. Would I change things? Not a chance. Has it been easy? Not at all. I hear your words and understand them.
    Alli @ Ducks on the dam recently posted..One for the weekend……

  • What a beautifully honest read. Thank you.

  • We have so much in common. Haven’t watched. Not sure I can/will. xxx

  • Beautifully written post Kim. I am the same age as you and we know so many adopted people. Look after your self x

  • Elizabeth

    Was thinking about you the whole time I was watching that last night honey. As everyone else here as said this is such an eloquent, honest and powerful piece of writing that should be shared further.
    xxxx

  • Di

    Beautifully and powerfully written Kim. A harrowing tale. Such hearbreak. Such remarkable lives and people.
    xx

    (I really shouldn’t have read this while I’m at work)
    Di recently posted..Remote Craft Camp.

  • Oh Kim. I knew this story but still…thank you sharing. Life is messy.
    SawHole recently posted..Mr Bipolar Needs A Baby

  • Beautiful writing. I am not adopted, but I wrote about it in my last novel, and it’s also something I look at in in my next (not out yet)- I am fascinated by the relationship between blood and family, by the ways we make family, by exactly what family IS. Thank you for adding to that, and all the best to ALL your family.

  • Submit it Kim, submit it. When you write about your own truth nothing is more powerful.

    x
    Mary recently posted..Postcards Seventeen

  • Linda

    what Mary said.

    by the way you are a teacher just like your Mum and K

    only instead of teaching in a classrom you ‘teach’ others through your writing

    • Linda – I had never ever thought of it like that. Thank you so much for putting it into my head. I like it. A lot. And here I am investigating doing my Grad Dip Ed by correspondence!

  • I watched some last night – so hearbreaking.
    Kate recently posted..Binding and More Crosses

  • Megan

    You write about your birth and the life you have lived from so many points of view and with deep deep compassion. Such a powerful story and so moving to read it. Thank you.

    It really is beautifully written, perfect for the Good Weekend. Send it to them and see what happens.

  • Life is messy and complicated and all the rest. You write so incredibly about it all. A story that should be shared, thank you. x

  • Mary

    So well written and wonderful of you to share your thoughts and feelings with us. Must keep an eye out to view a repeat of this show…I was born in the late ’60’s to an unwed mother. For me, life turned out differently as my maternal grandparents insisted on me ‘being kept’…maybe it was the fact that they themselves had already lost one baby during childbirth and my mother was their only child. They also took in numerous foster children over the years, it was an easy decision for them, and a decision for which I will forever be thankful for. Sadly, the only regret for me is that the subject of my birth father became ‘taboo’ and was never discussed or mentioned and if I brought it up (as I did in my late teens)…it was brushed aside. For me I have no option of ‘corrected birth certificate’…my birth certificate merely has a blank space where my fathers details should be….I recall that pain as a young adult when I needed my full birth certificate for my passport application….just staring blindly at that space, tears filling my eyes. I’m sure there were (at the time) valid reasons for omitting these details….but it only creates far more questions than protecting me.

    • For me the concept of unanswered questions was what largely drove me to find my birth parents. That and coming from a large family and yet having cousins resemble my mum while I resembled no-one. For me that was hugely alienating and lonely.

  • Such a powerful story. Thanks so much for sharing, and for showing all sides. You are so right about the shame. It’s a silly thing shame – people who impose it should be the ones ashamed of themselves, instead it’s self-imposed. Humans are funny arn’t they. xx

    • they are indeed. Shame is – as far as I am concerned – one of the most powerful emotions we can ever feel.

  • Beautifully written, Kim.
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  • Suz

    So moved by this. This reminds me too of the women of those times who experienced stillbirth or neonatal loss and were never able to see or bury their babies. So many were buried in mass, unmarked graves with parents not having a place to go and grieve. So many mixed emotions for everyone.. Thanks for your thought provoking post.

  • What Mary said. Beautifully written, Kim. And I feel so deeply for your mum, not being able to bear children or experience pregnancy is a very challenging thing for many women/couples.
    Amelia recently posted..And then Sweetie turned 1

    • Having children of my own made me so much more empathetic and compassionate to both ‘sides’ of the adoption realm.

  • Kill

    I am so proud to know you. Love and hugs

    • Paola

      Powerful yet humble. Your way with words is fantastic even when you describe such a delicate, intricate, complex matter.
      Thank you Kim.

    • I love you too beautiful lady.

  • I’m a child of the 1972 era too, and I know many people that were adopted into loving homes and are still loved enormously by their adoptive parents and love them too. I am glad you found your life story. Several of the people who I know who are adopted have refused to find out their circumstances, which I understand, but as a mother myself, makes me sad for their birth mothers.
    Nessaknit recently posted..Open Your Diaries to Sunday, 19 February 2012

    • It is just such a complex thing – and as I believe to the core of my soul every single adoption story is different. Unique.

  • What a haunting and moving story, Kim. A beautiful piece that’s going to keep me thinking of you for a long while. You are an inspiration.
    x
    Paula Petralunga recently posted..This is how much of a girl I am…

  • Deidre Abdy

    My eldest son is adopted. He was only 16 days old when we picked him up from Crown Street Women’s Hospital. What a beautiful baby he was. I then went on to have 2 sons naturally. He has been treated no different to the other 2 because of adoption. I’m his Mum & he is my son. Sometimes he wants to find his biological parents and other times he doesn’t. It is entirely up to him. I will always be there to help him should the time arise. Yes there has been problems with him with drinking a little too much but then we don’t really know the full family background either. He sometimes says he thinks it’s in his genes. A little quote my Dad gave me when my son was little.
    “Not flesh of my flesh,
    Nor bone of my bone,
    But still miraculously my own.
    Never forget for a single minute
    You didn’t grow under my heart
    But in it”
    I have that framed in my bedroom.

    • Diedre – I adore that. Thank you so so much for commenting and sharing that quote. I adore it.

  • Lou

    Stumbled across your story while visiting Four Corners website. Thanks for sharing. I also have incredible, loving adoptive parents. This past of taking part in online chat to do with the Senate Inquiry has been traumatic. There are lots of loud seriously damaged birth mothers out there who’s pain will never be healed. My birth mum passed away before I could meet her but I’ve got a nice extended maternal birth family. But my parents – adopted – they are my parents. If you know what I mean.

  • Stacey

    Kim, your story is so beautifully written. My partner was also adopted in 1972 and his biological mother has a similar story to H’s – sent away from her family, wasn’t able to see or hold her baby after giving birth, then sent home to continue as if nothing happened. His biological father never told his parents that his girlfriend was pregnant, nor that he had a son. They ended up marrying a few years after his birth, but didn’t have any more children, which I find incredibly sad.

    He met his biological parents about 10 years ago (they have divorced but he met them together) but they don’t have an ongoing relationship. I don’t think meeting them was something he was comfortable with and he felt that he had betrayed his (adoptive) parents, his Mum particularly, by meeting them.

    We have spoken about his adoption due to the media attention on this issue over the last few days – he is worried about how his mum and biological mum are coping. I doubt he will ever ask them.

    As an aside, a few years ago when there was all the media attention about Nicole Kidman having a baby via surrogate, his Mum said something along the lines of ‘I’m glad she’s had her own after adopting’. Clearly that didn’t go down well, but his Mum said she had forgotten he was adopted. He was just her boy. That still makes me teary.

    • Oh Stacey, thank you so much for sharing. So complex. I was so hurt when mum said her only regret was not having us herself, I felt like nothing I would ever do would be enough, that nothing I could do could fill that void. And that sense of betrayal, I know it so well.

  • Mrs Woog

    without words

  • A deeply moving piece. So complicated no matter which way you look at the situation. Thank you for sharing.
    Janine Fitzpatrick recently posted..Blogging My World

  • Wow, at least now I know I’m not alone in the crazy mind of an adoptee. The guilt, the shame, the feelings of never being good enough, the lonliness, the despair, the worry and the simple wish if I had been aborted none of this would ever have happened.

    So complex. And no control.

    But, onward.
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  • Denyse Whelan

    Oh Kim, that is your life not a story and such a powerful and confronting truth. Your explanation of your Mum’s shame is something I’d not considered. How “bad” does shame make us feel? It’s dirty and nasty.
    How I too was made to feel by my mother ( much less extent by my father) when they “guessed” I was pregnant to B ( fiancé) add to that he was Catholic & double the “talking to” I got. But, we wed with my parents’ eventual blessing & I had DD in Aug 1971 at Tamworth. The shame though clung to me until my mother’s demise 5 years ago.
    By the way, she & her first grandchild were incredibly close yet I was left feeling the “shame??”
    I would be honored to help you in anyway you might need as you take the journey to become a qualified (ie by govt) teacher.
    Much admiration to you
    Denyse
    Denyse Whelan recently posted..Ready. Set. School.

  • Absolutely amazing piece of heart-writing, Kim. Wow.

  • New to your blog. Wow – stunned. Powerful words. And heartbreaking ones too.
    Deb @ Bright and Precious recently posted..I’m Sorry

    • Thanks Deb, I promise I’m not normally this intense!

  • I had friends the same age, in the same situation. It is amazing what went on in the name of what was “right”.

    A great post!
    sam-o recently posted..Where O Where Have my Time Management Skills Gone?

  • JanetLinda

    One of the chapters in Dawn French memoir Dear Fatty is a letter she writes to the birth mother of her daughter it is fabulous and worth a read.

  • You’ve looked into so many souls with such compassion and understanding, even your own.

    One of my best friends was born in 1976 from rural NSW, her mum was put in a girls home in Sydney until she was born. She was told to give her up. But her mum refused and made a life for her in Sydney. Her mother’s family supported her through catholic schooling and she was never wanting. She is a wonderful mother now too. At her wedding her Dad made a speech and said that his daughter would not be was wonderful as she is today if it wasn’t for her mother who fought for her. My friend has limited access to her Dad, but it was a true vindication on her mother and her mothers family. The best thing too is that one of the nuns who counselled my friends mother when she was in the girls home is still involved with my friend and her mum. It was great to even meet this nun at my friends 21st years ago! My friends mum has suffered that shame and guilt but I am so glad she did what she did.
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  • See, I don’t get this. ALL my friends ( and when the laws changed I had a group of 150 adoptees organised within 24 hours – we were on the reasons the commission was convened in the early 90’s) who are adopted do not talk or feel this way.

    So for me, I sit and read your beautiful, evocative words and go “What the?”

    Because this is not a reality I know. This is so far outside my personal experience as an adoptee it is like reading a lovely, emotive piece of fiction.

    And I am sad for those who feel that way. But wonder, as I wondered in the early 90’s whilst watching a documentary which revealed these law changes allowing strangers, and that is what they are, access to MY details, how many of these statistics are people looking for an excuse, a reason to go “Oh, I stuffed up but it is because I am adopted.”

    JMHO.
    Madmother recently posted..Fussy Eaters – A Blog Trail of Hope!

    • I totally get where you are coming from. I am of the firm and unwavering belief that because this is about people every single experience is unique and true. I also concur with your last point about it being used as an excuse or a crutch. We have to each accept our reality, whatever that may be and then forge forward to change what we don’t like, rise up from what we have experienced and not make excuses. I really really appreciate your input here.

      • Well said. I will add that I grew up in a little country town with a not-so-good economic demographic so I am surprised the experiences/stats of which you speak were not more evident there.

        But it was not. In fact as there were a lot of us 1960’s adoptees (my best friend, my cousins – two lots, and many other kids/friends/aquaintances) it was something we all openly talked about with the innocence of children and the supportive love we all felt secure in.

        I do think seeing into another’s world is educational, for all.
        Madmother recently posted..Fussy Eaters – A Blog Trail of Hope!

  • fi

    I was going to comment on the piece about your back pain today – but got sidetracked here. I do hope you feel better as sciatica is hell. I remember!

    I found my birth mother in England last month – we have had two conversations and I have two sisters- one younger, but surprisingly, one older. I am the result of an affair after she left an abusive husband.
    She is easy to talk to – and did care for me for 10 days, knowing she could never keep me. Her mother never even knew.
    She has not dared tell the other girs yet – I really am the shameful little secret.
    DIstance is hard – I might meet them – i might hear from my father…
    My other parents, who raised me and made me what I am, are in their 80’s, fit and well and have accepted my searching…. but I do feel i have betrayed them.

    Such a complicated issue – I have been luckier than many and although I recognise many of the issues you write about, I am mainly ok – I guess the damage might be there – but who can say what is the fault of the adoption and what would have happened if she had kept me.
    Coincidentally, my partner of 8 years moved out last week. I was just reflecting this morning that i had lousy taste in men, or perhaps I was just doing it all wrong… but I am what I am 🙂

    • Oh FI, we could talk about this for HOURS. my advice is just to do what your gut tells you, the rest will follow.

  • SkandieD

    Kim, you have expressed exactly how I feel towards my birth mother and adoptive parents. My parents have and will always be my parents. I’m sorry to hear your mum went through a hard time when you met your ‘natural’ parents. I guess my mum was fortunate to have had two ‘natural’ children & two adopted. I think I have the best of both worlds with two families that, although very different, have made me into what I am today, by nature & nurture.

  • Mylittlebox

    I’m hoping my email is now recognised and this works as I’ve had a few failed commenting attempts. Kim what a brave and beautifully articulated article. I think we can get caught up thinking everyone’s family is perfect apart from our own so when ‘real’ people open up and talk about their experiences it’s so powerful. I’m not adopted but I could relate to a lot in the article – my parents got married in their late teens due to religion and pregnancy and sadly it didn’t work out. My Dad only saw me once in Hospital when I was born and then left and set up in a new life here in Australia with a new wife and 2 kids. I carried a lot of shame not knowing who my Dad was and finally decided to track him down aged 27yrs old. It was weird meeting a whole bunch of relatives and noticing similarities in personality traits and appearances. The whole nature vs nurture debate fascinates me! Unfortunately, it didn’t work out with my dad and his family but I have no regrets about getting in contact – my mum still struggles to understand why I had this desire. I think it feels good to piece together your life story! Anyways, I could keep writing but I better try and wind things up or this comment might be the length of your article, lol. You’re inspirational Kim and i’m so glad I came along to your workshop recently! I want to follow in your footsteps and catch a ‘real’ persons perspective on life and it’s ups and downs! 🙂 Sorry i’ve not managed to have read at your blog earlier, I had some medical stuff come up after the course! Anyways, I think you and your blog are fab! PS loving your the new hair! 🙂

    • I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your wonderful comment. Life is messy, huh. It definitely feels good to piece together the bits, even if the picture ends up not being what you expected or even hoped for. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the class and I do hope you have started and keep going. xKim