I attended the apology in Canberra last year, and came to a new understanding about what was going on in the media, regarding adoption. I always felt adoptee issues were left unsaid, continuing the secrecy inherent in our lives.
I arrived at Parliament House early. I had heard the early morning political round and knew Julia Gillard would be lucky to survive the day as Prime Minister, and I hoped she would be in the position long enough to give the Apology, although I feared it was so insignificant to everyone in Canberra, because it did not get a mention that morning.
People from Adelaide had not organised to meet, so I had to find strangers to talk to. The first group I tried looked older than me, so I asked if they were birth mothers, and got my first lesson for the day. ‘We are not birth mothers, I was told’. Something derogatory was snapped then – I’ve forgotten what, but it concluded with the statement – ‘We are natural mothers’. They weren’t interested enough or polite enough to enquire as to why I was here, and that was probably as well because I was speechless. The command to be seen and not heard rings in my memory. OK I’m thinking – did I ever have a natural mother? My mother gave birth to me, then I had another mother by adoption, neither seemed very natural really. I was cringing about why I thought it was a good idea to be here.
I wished Adelaide people were meeting as a contingent like some of the other states – there did not seem to be any other isolated individuals like me. Later I approached another group of women – there did not seem to be any other isolated individuals like me. This time I was more cautious, and I asked what their involvement was with adoption. They said they were mothers who lost children through forced adoptions, and they inquired about me. I said I was adopted. A moment’s hesitation, then it was said –oh! that’s right you were invited too! At this stage I’m not feeling like it’s going all that well for me. Adoptees really are the poor relations in this gig
I found a group of Anangu people from the central desert. I said, wow, I had not expected to see so many of you here – I didn’t think so many were adopted. An elder said to me ‘lost, stolen, adopted it’s all the same – they took our children. We went on talking, and I stayed with this group until the main event was about to begin.
I am very grateful to have heard the apology. I’m glad it came from Julia Gillard. I wish it had been the main event of the day. I wish it had been a known event of the day.
But I came to understand something during the speech, which I had not known before. The mothers had done all the hard work for 30 years to get to this day. Adoptees were only included because we were the parcel that was transferred to other owners. Nobody really knew about our lives, because we had not yet spoken up.
Yet when research was done to inform this apology, adoptees responded in numbers, greater than all other groups together. So I took heart that others wanted to be heard as well, and with a few other people began a new advocacy group for adoptees – IdentityRites – to give a voice to adoptee stories, and I have written my own short story.
Who would have believed I would be here just a year later, ready to speak up. I didn’t have the confidence to attend the SA apology, but I was happy to set off across the country to go to Canberra. I had worked in Canberra, and I had friends there, so I knew I would not be alone. Over the years I had heard plenty of news about the terrible way mothers were treated when they were having their children adopted. But I never heard anything from other adoptees, and I longed to relate to other people’s adoption stories – as if to make mine real.