When I was born, my mother sobbed. Not with joy, but because she hadn’t really wanted me to be born.
Because as soon as I was born, despite her howls of protest, I was taken away from her. She was eventually allowed to hold me once for a brief moment in time before I was whisked away again, this time permanently. At three weeks of age I left the quiet country hospital where I was born to start my life with an adoptive family.
Last Monday, Four Corners delved into the issue of forced adoption practices in Australia during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. During the program a number of women told their harrowing and heartbreaking accounts of being forced/coerced/pressured into giving their babies up for adoption during those years. The issue has been the subject of a lengthy Senate inquiry, and recently the inquiry handed down its list of 20 recommendations, which included a recommendation for a formal apology from federal and state governments.
These kinds of TV programs that pull at the heartstrings will always reduce me to tears. I have never been able to watch “This is your life” because I cannot make it past the opening credits and theme music without sobbing. As a child of this era of forced adoptions, I found myself actually shaking with emotion in response to what I was seeing and feeling as I watched the episode unfold. I genuinely feel aggrieved for the women who were forced to give up their babies. I am a mother and I cannot begin to imagine their pain and lifelong anguish.
But I would also like to tell my side of the story, as indeed the story is not just about the relinquishing mothers.
I was adopted into a family in which the adoptive parents already had six children, five of whom were their own natural born sons. My adoptive mother was 42 at the time they bundled me up and took me home in the back of the FJ Wagon.
Their eldest child was 18 and already in a serious relationship that would eventually lead to marriage. It would be almost unheard of in these modern times for a child to be adopted into a family who already had so many children, and I believe it was somewhat unusual even for the (very late) ’60s as well.
My birth mother was not told I was being adopted into a family who already had so many children. In fact she was sold the story about the wonderful thing she was doing by giving a childless couple “her baby”.
When watching the women of the Four Corners story recount their experiences, I heard time and time again the words my birth mother has said were told to her. Things like being asked how she could possibly think she could look after me on her own? (Remember, this was before the introduction of the single mothers pension in 1973.) She was told she could not provide for me in the way a married couple could – told too that she was selfish for wanting to keep me. And the clincher – being asked how could she really love me, if she thought I would be better off staying with her, rather than being given away?
As it happens, I did do pretty well out of the adoption.
I was loved, and told I was “special” because I had been “chosen”. I was looked after and well educated. I was, generally speaking, happy. But I have suffered self esteem issues all of my life, and as an adult I recognise that many of these issues stem from the place inside me where the small child still lives. The little child who is feeling “out of place” and “homesick”, even though she is in the family home.
The child who grows up believing her mother did not love her, and that is why she gave me away.
Even from within the bosom of my loving adoptive family, these feelings were omnipresent. In my teenage years, the feelings often lead me to abuse myself with overeating. As a young adult, I turned to men for my emotional abuse. As a 19 year old I met my birth family, not through my choice but that of my adoptive parents. The years since have been a mixture of good and bad, and the extremes of both.
I now know the full story behind my adoption, and my adult brain accepts my birth mother did in fact love me and had no real choice about giving me away.
The child inside still feels abandoned.
Often I wonder who I am, not feeling like I really belong anywhere except with my own children. In my birth families, there are all kinds of relationships formed over the 20 years or so I was not in their lives, and I can only ever really be a bit player on their stage. Even in my adoptive family, where I used to always feel I could truly be the ‘real me’, as I grow older I am being treated less like a member of that family.
For the record, it hurts like hell when you are the only one of your siblings not invited to your nephew’s wedding, and the reason is your adoptive status.
I believe it is imperative the Federal Government takes action to apologise and redress some of the grievances relinquishing mothers from this generation have.
But I also say – spare some time and thought for the children as well.
We’ve covered the story of the forced adoptions on Mamamia before and you can read that post here.
Alison Drew-Forster is your stereo-typical suburban wife and mother currently going through her own version of a midlife crisis. She’s the mother to two tweens, HR Manager for an RTO and hopes to one day make her living from full time writing. You can read her blog here.