I WAS ‘RELINQUISHED’
The ABC current affairs program Four Corners featured a story this week 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” were aged 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 of 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 charge him 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.
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