kids

Following her adoption, Jo Lill felt she "had been left with ‘the wrong mother’.

I was removed from my mother Jane at birth and placed for adoption in 1972, during what is now known as the ‘Forced Adoption’ era.

My adoptive parents are wonderful and I have always known I was adopted. Despite knowing I was loved by them, I always felt I didn’t fit in to the family and that I had been left with ‘the wrong mother’.

Throughout my childhood, Jane was a constant presence in my mind. I dreamed and fantasised about her – what did she look like? What did her voice sound like? My adoptive parents always spoke highly of my biological parents and assumed they had loved me and wanted the very best for me.  I was assured they would support me to search for them as soon as I turned 18.

Jane had attempted to make contact with me as a child, looking for reassurance that I was alive, healthy and loved. On one occasion my adoptive mother also contacted the Department for Adoption, which saw fit to allow an exchange of non-identifying information about my health.

A letter from the Department for Adoption to Jane reads, “on 9th September 1981 I wrote to you advising you of the Department’s policy not to contact adoptive parents after an adoption order has been made… It just happened that the adoptive mother of your daughter contacted me and I used this opportunity to discuss with her your continued interest in your daughter’s welfare… she agreed to write to reassure you that your daughter is well, very much loved and growing into a pretty young lady. I have enclosed her letter and trust this will bring more reassurance for you”.

When I was 15, Jane made contact with the Department once again and it was decided that we could exchange letters with a view to contact when I finished high school. Jane included a photo of herself in her first letter to me. I remember sobbing looking at her for the first time – I was struck by a feeling that my life had just begun.

'I simply stood smiling at Jane. It was the most wonderful moment of my life.' Image supplied.

I finally met Jane in 1989. All my life I’d been made to accept I might never meet the woman who gave birth to me. Despite expecting to burst into tears, I didn’t and nor did she. I simply stood smiling at Jane. It was the most wonderful moment of my life. I kept half expecting my alarm to go off and find myself waking up.

In a letter I wrote to Jane the day after we met, I reflected: “Saturday was the greatest day of my life, as I always hoped it would be. However, today does not seem quite so merry. I woke up feeling very strange. I think I miss you already. I miss not being able to ask anyone about my family. I feel like crying. Actually in the last few sentences I have been.  The thing is, I feel I had known you for years once I started talking to you.”

During the two years we exchanged letters, Jane shared with me the circumstances surrounding my adoption. She also told me about her relationship with Gary and described the deep love they felt for each other. While my contact at this time was with Jane, Gary was very much in my thoughts and I was hoping to meet him in the future.

ADVERTISEMENT

After I met Jane, I asked her to help me contact Gary. I recognise that if she hadn’t told me who my father was I would probably have had a lot of difficulty finding Gary, as his name was not on my original birth certificate or the adoption order. After meeting with Gary, Jane noted in a letter to me, “He registered with Jigsaw but no one was terribly helpful – even Community Welfare did nothing. I told him how easy it had been for me to find you. Obviously fathers are considered second best”.

Jane also reassured me he still had "all the letters and photos I gave him 18 years ago," adding, "He said he gets very emotional on your birthdays and really wants to meet you. He said he has never stopped thinking of me and has longed to find you."

After being so tremendously happy to meet both Jane and Gary it became clear to me that our reunion was not going to magically heal the pain of our 17-year separation. Being reunited with my biological parents is all I ever thought about when I was growing up, but I gave little thought to how I would navigate the relationships I have with my adoptive parents.

'It became clear to me that our reunion was not going to magically heal the pain of our 17-year separation. ' Image supplied.

Reconciling and integrating these two parts of my life has been an ongoing challenge. I always tried to protect Jane and Gary from the pain of seeing what they missed out on by not having had the opportunity to raise me. At the same time I didn’t want my adoptive parents to be hurt by seeing how comfortable I felt with Jane and Gary – that when I was with them I felt like I had come home. At 17 I was given the responsibility to work all this out on my own. There is no rule book to navigate this process and I had no available role models to guide me.

On top of this I found the ache of loss and the sense of “not fitting” into either my biological or adoptive families continued to plague me. I think this is what led me to need to blame someone for my ongoing grief, and sadly Gary was the person on whom I heaped this responsibility. I thought that if he had just married Jane (even if the marriage failed) I would not have been robbed of my mother, family and heritage.

For many years this undercurrent of simmering anger I felt toward Gary made it very difficult for us to negotiate our relationship. This was a situation compounded, I believe, by Gary’s family who made him question his right to consider himself my father — and in later years, the Grandfather of my children.

In the end, after 15 years of reunion, I requested that Gary have no further contact with me or my children.  It hurt me deeply to make this decision but I just needed to find a way to stop the pain caused by our complicated relationship. I remember thinking at this time ‘you relinquished me first but I relinquish you now’.

ADVERTISEMENT

I had been estranged from Gary for four years when Jane died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Her death left me once again grappling with feelings of being left with ‘the wrong mother’.  The process of healing this deep grief led me to revisit the letters Jane wrote to me. Jane’s description of meeting Gary for the first time after 18 years made me understand the impact my adoption had had on him.

“Gary came to see me last Tuesday as planned. It is very difficult to describe my emotions as they were very mixed. In a way I was frightened and yet I did want to see him. Eighteen years ago we did not have the chance to talk about the circumstances or end the relationship. We were literally torn apart and separated from you. After talking things over with him, I can now see that he was also traumatised over losing me and you. I no longer feel bitter… I feel happy and at peace after meeting with Gary. It was a healing process for us”.

I think Jane was the only person who could have led me to this truth.

'Being adopted permeates every part of my identity.' Image supplied.

After recognising that Gary had also been impacted by losing me to adoption, I phoned him and asked to meet, which he enthusiastically agreed to. We ended up talking for two hours, and for the first time we were able to hear the enduring impact adoption has had on each of our lives.

Gary liberated me from having responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of him and my adoptive parents. He encouraged me to stop “siloing” my different families. This was the greatest gift he could have ever given me; I felt a heavy burden lift, and I am now better able to integrate all my parents. This has been particularly beneficial for my children, who now feel more connected to all of their grandparents. Gary and I now share a strong and loving connection, and he has a wonderful relationship with my children and has settled comfortably into his role of grandfather.

Being adopted permeates every part of my identity. It is impossible to know just how much it has impacted my life because it is all I have ever known.  I used to wonder what sort of person I would be if I had been raised by Jane and Gary, but I soon realised that such thinking is pointless. This is the hand I have been dealt in life and it is the only reality I know.

Adoption has left me with a sense of never really belonging anywhere. The upside of this is that I have developed the ability to find a way to fit in anywhere I find myself. I have ongoing pain from being adopted – you never really stop being adopted – the impact is often just sitting under the surface ready to reveal itself.

Jo is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 8.30pm (AEST) on SBS, which speaks to the fathers who had no say in forced adoption. #InsightSBS

00:00 / ???