I am adopted. Once I would have said ‘I was adopted’. But since I began writing my story with IdentityRites I have been corrected by the precision which comes from writing. My mother signed papers to allow my adoption on a particular date and 6 months later the court stamped an order for adoption which transferred me to an adoptive family.
By saying ‘I am adopted’, I acknowledge that this is an ongoing process that affects every day of my life. I can only know who my parents are if my mother agrees to it. I can only have a birth certificate if government departments act together and agree to it. My new identity is contained in a falsified birth certificate, every day of my life. When I go to the doctor with cancer I am asked if there is any family history and I have to answer, ‘I don’t know any; I am adopted.’ So I miss out on extra investigations I might otherwise be entitled to if I knew my family history.
Adoption is a word which covers up what actually happened to me as a result of separating me from my mother on the day of my birth. Neuroscientists have ‘discovered’ what mothers have always known. A bond is formed between mother and child during the nine months of pregnancy. A baby’s brain is growing rapidly and wiring to the experiences of its mother. It knows her intimately; it experiences her voice, her tastes and her smells. The baby is already wired to meet its mother, and can identify her soon after birth. Being cared for by anyone other than its mother sets up the trauma of separation which can have lifelong effects. The architecture of the brain at birth cannot integrate strangers, and it dissociates what it has learnt to start building new pathways for new strange voices, tastes and smells. For babies of the Forced Adoption era, there is also the burden of stress and the drugs administered to our mothers by a society that did not approve of single mothers. Many if not all of us were born into a hostile labour ward as adrenaline junkies with acute stress responses of fight, flight or freeze wired to last a lifetime.
For children traumatised at birth, there is a need for specialist services whenever the effects of trauma surface in the child’s life. The same is true for the rest of the child’s adult life. There is always a traumatised child inside the adult, needing understanding, reassurance and calming and a sense of belonging which could only have come from the familiarity of our mothers after birth. Our past lives on in us even though we may not remember it, and some of our lives may not show it.
We know that adoptees use more mental health services than children raised by their families. Research in the 1970s showed Adoptees are also disproportionately highly represented in courts and prisons, and in suicide statistics. Why is it so hard to find the outcomes for children who were adopted at birth? Apparently the Western Australian government noted adoption status on autopsy reports for some time, and may be still doing it – so a researcher could look at the relationship between adoption and suicide (and possibly other causes of death), but as far as we know the research has not been done.
None of these things were mentioned in the National Apology for Forced Adoptions, nor in the related reports. Research was done by participants self-selecting to be involved. Adoptees in prisons and other mental illness repositories were not sought out to be part of the research, thus skewing the results. It has been left to those of us whose experiences of adoption have not consumed every ounce of our energy to speak out for ourselves and those less fortunate than us. Why is it that society and government departments want to minimise the effects on the baby of separating a mother and child at birth? The mothers’ stories have been heard. Our voices have not. And our stories need to contribute to the ongoing adoption debates and surrogacy stories so as to protect other children from the ignorance of the baby trading markets and therapists.
IdentityRites was formed to give a voice to Adoptees. We want to do this for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. Reading stories of other adoptees’ experiences helps us to accept our own reality. Many therapists are unable to help us, because they fail to take into account the effects of separation of mother and child at birth, and do not know how to work with trauma and dissociation.
People who are not adopted don’t begin to understand the hole in the centre of our being or our need to connect ongoing problems to our separation issues to feel OK about ourselves.
Dr Paul Sunderland a psychiatrist says adoptees generally do not appear depressed, but when assessed by instruments to measure depression, they are usually way up at the top of the scale. We understand this in the same way as we appear to be functioning well, but at the same time all our energy is going to nurse a frightened child inside us. Through dissociation, on most days we can keep functioning in the world, but we know how easily we could give in to overwhelming grief.
So we think sharing stories centring adoption is important. We have developed an IdentityRites.org website now, and a couple of us have our own sites available to the public to promote dialogue.