By ANGIE MADDISON
All we knew of my birth mother was typed on a small sheet of paper: Dutch Australian; blue eyes; 5’’3; fair complexion; 18 years old; Catholic.
Her age and religion coupled with the time into which I was born leave no doubt as to why she did not, could not, keep me.
Of the many parenting obstacles that saw my mum and dad stumble, the adoption thing was not one. They managed to make me feel that the way our family had been formed was both completely normal while simultaneously giving me the sense that I was special and so very wanted.
It was not that my birth mother didn’t want me but that she couldn’t give me the life I deserved. The decision to give me up signified that she was a good person. The adored second child in a loving family, I was never plagued with feelings of abandonment (although at around the age of 7, I took pains to point out our genetic mismatch whenever aggrieved – No lollies before dinner time? You’re not my REAL mother!).
It was only as I got older and viewed my adoption through the eyes of others that I began to question it. For a teenager, one is not so much ‘special’ as they are ‘different’ and the things that served to mark me as different became the things that caused embarrassment and shame.
But even as I sought to hide this piece of my history from my peers, it never poisoned how I felt about my birth mother.
I romanticised her. She was much younger and significantly cooler than the woman I called Mum. I was just like her, small and fair. Mum imagined her as a tiny but formidable figure in high heels and shoulder pads (it was, after all, the eighties).
I knew we would meet some day.
My older brother, also adopted, had met his birth mother. She had come looking for him the moment she was legally able to (his 18th birthday). Their meeting was a joyous occasion. We pored over pictures of her as a child, exclaiming at the likenesses.
It never crossed my mind that my story would not play out in the same way.
I turned 18 and no letter arrived. It’s not that I was anticipating it, hyper-aware each time I checked the mail. In fact, I always supposed I would be the one to go looking. But now, a precedent had been set. If my mother didn’t come looking for me, too, then what did that mean?
Years passed. Nine of them. Finally, I contacted Human Services and in a small, non-descript government office, the fiction of my birth mother began to alter under the weight of the truth.
The first crushing blow – her name. Mary. Mary? Mary was not the name of someone young and dynamic. Mary was old and biblical.
And then there was the name she had given me. Anne. So close to the name I would be given by my adoptive parents. And equally as uncool.
She was from interstate, shipped off to Melbourne before her pregnancy could become obvious and scar her younger siblings. She was madly in love with my birth father who was 20 and ostensibly underwhelmed at the prospect of a shotgun wedding and a baby.
October 1976, she birthed me and headed home to Sydney where she immediately returned to her university studies.