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.

 

 

 

A new day

So much has happened, so much is going to change but as I type it is all the same. And that’s OK.

I learned – in a very hard way – that some of my relatives read this blog. It appears that when they read this post they didn’t see a daughter deeply concerned for a parent, they saw someone saying dreadful things about someone else.

Those of you who know me know that could not be further from the truth. Your comments confirm this – offering advice and insights from your own experience or just empathy for when you are in a stressful situation with one you love.

It appears those relatives then decided, instead of calling me and asking what was going on and if there was anything they could do, advice they could offer, shoulder to lean on or ear to hear with, rang their own mother asking how and why I would say such dreadful things about my mine.

I want to say thank you to all of you who have commented, sent private tweets, emailed me, sent me texts and (gasp) spoken to me over the last stressful week to ensure I was OK, to see where things were at, to offer an ear or advice and to just show me that you care.

Your concern, understanding, love and empathy has been invaluable.

There are some very exciting times ahead.

Onward!

 

Happy 49th

Today is my natural mother’s birthday. Yes, I just turned 34, she just turned 49, you do the maths. I didn’t intend to write about this today, it’s not something I have actually written that much on and I’m not that sure why. I guess becuase it’s complicated, with multiple points of view, there are layers of time and emotion and so on and so forth. It’s also a subject that affects many many people, and – for once – I am very conscious of unintentionally upsetting people who maybe come at it from a different perspective or a different role in the whole adoption saga that is. Well, that was quite the disclaimer wasn’t it.

Anyway, I was having a really SHIT day today, peppered with incontrollable tears and blind rage. Delightful really. Then I finally rang H to say happy birthday, had a 40 minute chat with her and felt a whole heap better.

The end.

KIDDING. As a NYE special, here is the adoption story that is allconsuming’s.

I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I was adopted. My mum told me this story about fairies down the back of the garden and that there were some fairies that loved their babies so much, they gave them to fairies who couldn’t have babies of their own, because they knew just how special and loved those fairies would look after their babies.
That is probably the worst grammatical sentence I’ve written in quite some time and the likes of Bec and Suse have probably looked away in horror. Suckers.
Anyways.
Mum has a big family – six siblings – and Dad’s isn’t bad either – there were three of them. I don’t think my Mum will ever trully appreciate how alienating it was to see cousins who looked and were like your mother, when you had nothing. I see how sophisticated I have to be in dealing with Felix in particular (for you see, he is so like me) because I get his psyche. I never had this. I never had that compassion or understanding from my parents about who I was. They had NO idea that I had depression and quite frankly, by the time I was a teenager both of them were so caught up in their own personal worlds relating to divorce that short of a suicide attempt neither of them would have had a clue. That probably sounds pretentious, but this is my story, so fuck off.

My Mum’s family is deelpy competitive and not very nice to each other at all. It took a long long time for me to realise that their attitude and approach to me was very much related to the fact that I (and my brother) were an unknown quantity, and well, what you don’t know, you fear. Right? So, when me, the loud, sarcastic, drama queen with no arse and big boobs came along, the family of small waisted, big-arsed teacher/nurse brigade got seriously spooked.

The way they handled this was to treat me as the butt of most jokes. To pass judgment on my looks (and my weight) from around the age of 6. I’m sure it started earlier, but it was Boxing Day 1978, in my yellow crochet bikini which I LOVED at our annual family picnic at North Beach, Wollongong, that the first comment about my weight – and subsequent hearty laughs from the entire family, my mother included – was logged in my memory. It was the last time I wore a bikini and the start of life very focussed on my body and my weight. Thanks Aunty J, thanks very much. The last comment about my weight came at my cousin’s wedding two and a half years ago when I was in a size 12 skirt, size 14 shirt and some mighty fine kicky heels. My uncle – the husband of Aunty J – came up behind me as I was having a delightful conversation with my cousins, grabbed me around the hips and said, “ah, there’s a good bit of meat”. Yep. Mighty fine.

Now please, don’t get me wrong – I’m not even going to touch the whole arguement of would I/wouldn’t I have been better off with my natural family – this was the life I’ve had and I’ve gotten on with it, so really, the what if? hypothesis isn’t really that helpful.

Anyway, my natural parents H & L – were young randy things. Instead of going to the Easter show as they had told their parents, they stayed home and did it in L’s sunroom. It was H’s first time – and really, at only 14 you’d kinda hope it wasn’t happening at all – and the mentality at the time was you couldn’t fall pregnant on the first time. Apparently every time after that fateful evening protection was used. Too late!

H thought she was hiding my existence pretty well, but her Mum was clued in to the lack of – ahem – soiled underwear each month. Then she ran in the school cross country, and curiously, fainted. She was four months pregnant. When the school nurse asked her Mum if there was anything wrong, she collapsed in tears and wailed, “I think H is pregnant.” Which she was. So off she was packed to the single mother’s home. Curiously, they told the school she was going to a private girl school – the one where I went. Weird huh.

One of the most endearing parts of this story is that H’s two brothers, who at the time were only 8 and 10, or thereabouts, would every.day.after.school. make the trek from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to Sydney’s North Shore to visit her. On their own. Amaznig huh.

Meanwhile, L was kicked out of school half way through Year 11 and the principal tried to have him charged with carnal knowledge but due to him and a mate witnessing a bank robbery when they were about 10, and subsequent bravery awards, the local cops wouldn’t have a bar of it. Still, he never really recovered, dropped out of school altogether soon after that and went on to become a surfboard shaper – then a house husband. L and his wife S and their kids (my half sister and brother) just rock my world. I love them dearly.

When H had me, the hospital would bring groups of student doctors around claiming her to be the epitomy of a textbook labour and more people should be having children younger. Classy. She wasn’t allowed to see me, but said the glimpse she got was of these extraordinarily long fingers. L’s father and mother offered to keep me and raise me as L’s sister. H’s parents – her father – wouldn’t have a bar of it. She called me Lisa.

The day after she had me – her parents picked her up from the home and they went straight on their annual family holiday. Can you imagine? The day after giving birth, being picked up and expected to just go on with life as if nothing had happened, without your child? Oh, and that holiday? At the beach. H spent the entire time lying on the beach on her stomach because her boobs were leaking and like rocks and she didn’t know what to do.

Her mum and dad had counselling – the sum total of which was “the best thing you can do for H is pick her up and make no mention, no reference to the whole experience at all.” Nice. Can you imagine??? Here you have a 14 year old CHILD, and the advice is not to mention it? I mean, not even post-natal care. I get so mad about this on her behalf.

Cut to 18 years later. H was travelling overseas and got really sick in London. She was in hospital and this voice in her head just said, “go home.” So she signed herself out, got on the next available flight and got herself home. When she knocked on her mum’s front door, her mum couldn’t believe it. After all the squealing, hugging and kissing, she said to H, “Do you know what today is?”, to which H replied, “Lisa’s birthday” and for the first time ever, they talked about me.

Four years later I applied for my natural birth certificate, for no other reason than I discovered because I was a student and had a healthcare card it would only cost me $20 rather than $120. Sad but true. I mean, I always knew I’d look, but that was pretty shallow incentive, even by my standards.

My initial reaction was – OH MY GOD SHE WAS 14. The next reaction was “they called me Lisa, I had a name” – this was something I wasn’t expecting. And then their address – my neck of the words. Not the same suburb, but a nearby area. I was on the north shore, they were northern beaches. Yep, where we live now, L is about 8 minutes drive away and H is about 15.

I went to the state library and tracked her down in about 10 minutes. Then spent two hours looking harder, thinking it couldn’t be that easy. It would have been quicker but it took me a while to work out the microfiche. Then I looked up her mum in the phone book and got her number. I got home, rang, sounded all friendly and light – she gave me her new number. Then I rang her.

H: Hello
K: Hi, is H there?
H: This is H
K: I was after H
H: yes, I’m H
K: Oh shit. Oh. Sorry. Hi. Um. Look this is going to sound really weird, but did you give
H: is that Lisa?
K: Yes.

mtc