‘It’s just a skin wound’ she told me.
‘It’s just a skin wound’ I told myself
and anyone else who would listen.

‘How did you get here’ she asks me.
‘I drove my van’. She looks surprised.
‘You shouldn’t drive yet’ she says.

‘Why? You said I could do what I did before’
She struggles for an answer.
Most patients don’t question her.

‘It’s just a skin wound’ I repeat.
‘Yes, but it’s a fairly large skin wound,
I think you’re doing too much’

‘It’s just a breast’ I tell my friends;
Not a part of me I still need
not an arm or a leg or inside my head.
I’ve fed my children and loved and lost.
I’m not trying to attract a new mate.

I’ve loved and left and loved and been left.
Nothing hurts like loving and being loved
where love is forbidden.

‘It’s just a skin wound’ my surgeon’s words in my head,
and I look at the hollow in my chest.
‘It’s just a skin wound’ I tell myself, and I see the depression
where once there was a breast.

Another hollowness; different depression.   Another lost breast
The mastectomy is a skin wound.
Separation for adoption is a deep unhealing penetrating violation of motherhood.

Through adoption law I lost my mother and never knew my father.
Through the Public Trustee I lost access to my family of choice
No law made it alright.

A breast is a part of my body I’ve known and used; a part I can do without.
It’s not the first body part I’ve lost, and I wonder:
‘Was I the first body part my mother lost?’
‘Did she have 14 years intact, until the scar of separation marked us both.

Unresolved grief surrounds me, drowns me, as I pine for parts unknown.

‘It’s just a skin wound’ you need to know.
It does not hurt my heart, or sear my soul.
Better to lose my breast later in life, than a mother’s breast at birth.

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I have the opportunity to visit a coastal town in the south-east of South Australia.  I am beaming beyond belief at the opportunity to be back in the area.  I’m thinking of going down there this weekend to try to get my bearings.  I feel lost as I try to understand where a new development will be in relation to a particular farm where many years ago my heart softened, and opened to vulnerability for just a moment of my life.

The truth is, I am lost: lost in my own love story. A piece of my heart got left behind in this remote coastal strip.  I call in to the motoring organisation to buy a map, as if that will locate me better than Google maps have on my computer at home.  I think I need to find a location in the landscape, but it is really the location in my heart that is lost.  My memory tells me the turn off to the beach is almost opposite the farm.  I’m sure it is opposite the rangeland where my friend and I used to walk at dusk or in the moonlight and watch and listen to the nocturnal native animals.

The tears begin to fall like floodwater as I recall the details of my secret life on this coast. We travelled around in ‘Suzie’ the new ochre coloured small 4-wheel drive Suzuki.  The old grey British Land Rover from our earlier exploits was long gone, and the yellow one that replaced it in the years we were apart is not really part of my story.  It rested in the implement shed.

We had explored a lot of South Australia in that old Land Rover. We first met when I was about 16 and she was mid 30s; older than my biological mother, but fitting the gap in my being.  I don’t know why we formed this friendship.  She had so much to offer me; I had so little to offer anyone except my company.  She owned a farm in the Adelaide Hills.  I left home to live in the middle of her farm.  I commuted to Adelaide for school, and later for University, but weekends and holidays I accompanied her on her rural ventures.  She bought and sold horses and we went to occasional cattle markets.  She taught me how to live in the landscape, and encouraged my relationship with animals.  We were active in voluntary work for community services and often helped out in the local hospital.  We both had backgrounds in medical studies.

She bought an old building down the coast that she thought should be heritage listed, and we began renovating it as we went backwards and forwards to Adelaide. I remember some horror trips as the wind and rain buffeted the Land Rover through the Coorong. I did a lot of driving because she would often get migraines when we were heading for home.

We both had other lives as well. One long weekend, I took a group of my activist friends for a holiday in her partially renovated cottage.  In that coastal town I became friends with a man who later became my husband, who later bogged our new Kombi on the town beach and where I later still, holidayed with my children when separated.  Yet they are not part of this love story.  They are part of my life story.

My friend was unhappy that I married and had children. She said I was making the same mistakes she had made.  Yet for me, it was something I wanted.  I didn’t know any of my ancestral flesh and blood, and I thought I could fix that by having a big family of my own.  My husband bought a 9-seater Kombi after our first child was born.  Having my own doubts about the big family thing after the birth of one child had not dampened his enthusiasm.  The Kombi held the road through the Coorong a bit better than the Land Rover.  My friend moved further away in the Adelaide Hills. I remained in the house, and we purchased a few acres of her farm. The trips down south ended.

I did not adjust to my new family life without her. I didn’t know then what I know now.  A child separated from her mother at birth, can do loss and grief as depressingly as anyone – perhaps like no other.  Subsequent losses add to the first unresolved loss and disenfranchised grief.  I lost a second family before I was three years old.  My adoptive mother died soon after the first birthday of my third child.  We had never been close, but while she was alive, her presence in my life covered the gaping hole left by the early losses.  After her death I fell into the hole.  I just could not work a marriage partnership as my friend had predicted.  By ending the marriage I had to let go of my home – in the middle of the farm which used to belong to my friend.  It was the last debilitating loss – my last connection with her.  I made another ill-fated attempt to salvage the marriage in another house in the city.

One day my adoptive father phoned to say there was a death notice in the paper for my friend’s husband. He thought I might want to go to the funeral.  For some reason even my adoptive parents realised how much good had come into my life with this friend.  They said I spoke differently (copying her accent), and behaved in a more ‘civilised’ way, something they had not nurtured in me.  I didn’t know how I would be received, but I went to the funeral.  My friend was glad to see me.  Her husband had many loyal business connections and his distinguished air force career was acknowledged by serving officers.  They all understood the continuing trauma in a man who saw too much horror as a bomber pilot.  His friends were her acquaintances.  My friend and I exchanged new addresses and phone numbers.

She had bought a farm just out of that same coastal town; her husband had died, and I was divorcing my husband. Soon after the funeral a mutual friend phoned to say my friend was ill.  She was in the coastal hospital where we used to stop for medication for her migraines on the way back to Adelaide.  I was told she would love to see me.

I never felt the stirrings of love until I was with my friend again in her home down the coast. I was about 30, divorcing from a marriage where I produced my three children.  I loved my husband in the same way I had initially loved my friend; I wonder now if I could only feel love for him while I had love for her.  Of course I loved my children, but there was always an obstacle to feeling love or loved.  I lived in fear my children would be taken from me as I had been taken from my mother.  I was considering some hard choices.  My friend wanted me to move in with her.  She had investigated how to get the children to and from school in the town.  Whenever the children had access with their father, I disappeared to the farm.  I tried not to think about the eruptions that would occur if I were to move the children so far away to the farm.  My husband was trying to prove my unsuitability as a mother on the basis of mental illness so he could have custody of the children.  How much more ammunition would I like to offer him?  Two women living together . . . this was 1980 – questions would be asked and assumptions made about mental illness.   Too far from him for access . . . emergencies . . .



We were lying on the lush green grass in the middle of the court yard. Different parts of the farm house surrounded the lawn, so it felt enclosed except for the infinite stretch of clear sky forming a ceiling beyond reach.  We were talking about nothing in particular when the hardness in my heart dissolved and I wanted to roll over closer to her as the sexual urges began moistening my body.  I got control of myself quickly, wondering if she felt it too.  She was softer now as well; surely she must have experienced the jolting electricity.  How long has she been waiting for me to dissolve into submission?  I wondered how things would change now?  Could we complete the circuit, or would we disconnect the wiring?  We were together at last, but we were both fiercely independent creatures.  Sexual urges were normal, but the stirring of feelings of love were something new and frightening and out of control.

We had known each other for maybe 15 years, from a time before I ever thought about my future, or knew my husband. We had been apart for large parts of those years, but we had some intense experiences together.  We were both unlicked cubs, who never developed a relationship with our mothers.  We were both searching for the missing pieces of ourselves.  She knew her history – it stretched back for generations, and across continents.   But like many of the British aristocracy in India she had been wet-nursed and cared for by Indian servants until it was time to be bundled off to boarding school in England at the age of 5 while her parents remained in India.  Later she was sent to ‘finishing school’ in Switzerland.  She was an only child who knew incredible privilege, knew who her parents were, but did not know much about relating to them.  I was adopted then soon to lose another family and knew nothing about life and love except what I had learnt from her.  My adoptive father, like my friend was also a child of the British Army in India.  His family moved to Australia when he was young, but he grew up not really knowing his father whose life was always somewhere else.  There was not a lot of love or familiarity around us.  I could never understand why he didn’t try to stop this friendship when it first started.  He tried to stop most everything else he knew or thought he knew I was doing.

My friend and I had travelled the country, studying its intricacies and learning from whoever was teaching, trying to find our place of belonging. But I did not think our re-newed relationship could incorporate my children, even though she was offering. Nor did I think I could part with them for the sake of a love affair.  I did not trust permanency, and I feared losing everything. I could not face the embarrassment of the scandal it would create.  It was too much to bear thinking about.  I eventually chose the care of my children over the love of my life.  I closed my heart and returned to the city.  She said she was going back to New Zealand which she thought of as home, even though she had never lived there.  I believed her.  I tried to forget that other life, and mostly I kept so busy I did not think about it too much.

My children grew and got jobs and left home and my work took me to Canberra. I completed the work project, undertook another one then had a breakdown.  Suddenly there was the gnawing yearning for my friend and my life down the coast.  I came back to South Australia, and stayed with one of my sons who lived and worked in the south east.  I returned to the coastal town and met someone who knew my friend.  She told me she had not gone to New Zealand, and had in fact remained in the area until quite recently.  She assured me there was no chance my friend was still alive; she sold up when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She gave me an address, but said she had had mail returned from there.  I never wrote; I knew she had gone – that was when I had the breakdown.  I wondered what I might have done differently if I had known she was still there all those years.  But I had done what I had to do.  I gave my children the best I could.  But my heart was heavy again and I felt so alone.

I learnt to love in that coastal area. I’ve never understood why my life takes the turns it does.  Nothing in my life has made much sense to me.  I’ve learned to follow my instincts and trust the existential promptings that come, because in time understanding might follow.  At least that is the way I like to describe to myself the apparent chaotic nature of my life.  I have attributed my wide ranging experiences at different times to leadings of the spirit, ancestors, gifts of the Universe, goddesses or the winds of change.  I’m a team player with the cosmos; I never credit my own agency. It is only now in my retirement years I begin to see a bigger picture of incredible opportunities I have been given to overcome the pain of separation from my mother at birth.

P1010584I try to stem the tide of tears; the tears of the years. I hope I can contribute something worthwhile to stem the march of madness that seeks to clear the vegetation from the dunes; the vegetation that roots the dunes together for all time, and canopies the burrows and nests of the most vulnerable creatures of the land; the vegetation that feeds and heals the lives of us all.  As I have been held together, rooted, protected, nurtured and loved in this environment; I want it to continue for the healing of all the vulnerabilities of humanity.

I did not need to travel the roads again to remember the profound feelings of loss and grief, and regret that I could not embrace all that was on offer 35 years ago. The memories of that coast bring back the memories of the love that opened my heart to fully experience the life I live.




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Notes for a talk on IdentityRites

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 website now, and a couple of us have our own sites available to the public to promote dialogue.

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(Share this with anyone who thinks adoption is rescuing a child from poverty)

One day I met a beautiful man who brought me to tears.

He told me he and his wife had been in a foreign country.  Outside a church they met a young woman with a new baby.  The woman offered to sell the child to them for just $20.  They were speechless and did not know how to respond.  They were childless, but they had decided long ago that they could live with their lot.  They had both come from poor beginnings, although they were now able to live with some modest comforts.  They walked away from the offer.  But, on returning to their accommodation in this strange land, they decided what they should do.

The couple went by the church every day, but did not find the mother and child there.  Then the last day, the day before they were to leave this country, the mother and child were at the church again.

The man said to the mother:  ‘I will adopt your child.  But there are conditions.’  He did not ask about the father of the child, or the circumstances that brought this mother to be trying to sell her child.

He said: ‘You must not have more children.  And you must educate the child.  When she qualifies for University, she will come to my country, and we will take care of her.  When she finishes University she will be free to decide where she wants to go and where she wants to live.’

‘For this, I will send you money every month, and we would like to keep in touch, and be able to visit you occasionally.’

The mother agreed, and in time she brought herself a modest home with the money she received.  Then she bought some farm animals so she could earn a small income from their produce.  Later she met a male friend, and she consulted her sponsors.

He said:  ‘You are free to live the life you want with this man, but should not have more children, because it would return you to poverty.  The mother and her new friend agreed to this.

The man had tears in his eyes as he told me the joy of visiting this wonderful child over the years, and shopping for presents to send to her regularly, and now arranging to foster her while she is in his and his wife’s care at University.

I had tears in my eyes as I understood the humanity of this couple.  They took a stranger on trust.  The mother could have taken the first payment he sent, and not complied with his wishes for the child.  She would have more money than she asked for when she was trying to sell her child.  But he trusted that she would want to care for her child in the best way possible if she was given this chance.  And he was right.  He and his wife had the joy of knowing they had given a mother and child the gift of freedom to live their lives together, without the trauma that would have ensued for them both if they had been separated.

This couple could live near you.  They might work in your workplace.

Do you know people who have this kindness and respect for the human condition?  Where children are born into their mother’s care, and remain in community with their mother then the child grows in the security of familiarity of the sounds and smells and tastes she began to develop in the womb.  She does not begin life with the traumatic wound of separation.

Or are you neighbours the sort of people who would need a piece of paper to transfer ownership of a child before they would spend money on her?  Would your neighbours want the child to grow up with a fraudulent birth certificate that stated they gave birth to this child from a foreign land?  Would your neighbours only settle for an adoption certificate?

And what about you?  Could you give a child the gift of freedom that this man and his wife gave to an unknown woman, with a baby she thought she could not keep, in a land that was not your own?

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Suicide Risk for adoptees

Perhaps like the psychiatrist Paul Sunderland once did, you wonder why a particular acquaintance of yours keeps ‘banging on’ about being adopted.  Perhaps you could then acquaint yourself with some of the evidence of adoptees’ troubled lives.  The scar of separation and loss remains inside every adoptee.  It may appear to be less for young babies separated at birth, but that is because it is buried deep in the subconscious, driving decisions and actions in life.  Paul Sunderland says it is ‘remembered, but not recalled’.

Here is a link to another website, where you can get the latest evidence of  many adoptees troubled minds.  Adoptees attempt suicide at approximately four times the rate of teenage offpring.

Read it here


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PAUL SUNDERLAND                               notes from LIFEWORKS LECTURE

Adoption is a word that does not describe what has happened to a child that results in them coming into services at a very high rate.  It is a word that works to cover up, or deny the wound of relinquishment, a wound that is a developmental Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  There cannot be relinquishment and adoption without trauma.  The word adoption also hides another aspect of the trauma of relinquishment.  Adoption usually only happens once, whereas there may be many relinquishments for the separated child.

Adoptees are massively over-represented in therapy.  Adoptees are situated within a duality.  They have divided attention with two sets of families.  They are conflicted over wanting to belong yet fearing belonging.

Adoption is the enormous grief of a child who has been waiting nine months to meet someone they are not going to meet; the enormous grief of a mother who cannot live without her child, and the enormous grief of the adoptive mother who is not able to have a child.

The normal biology of pregnancy has the baby set up for bonding with its mother, and the mother who relinquishes her baby goes against her biology.  The child experiences life-threatening abandonment.  The ‘chosen child’ is the story of a child entering a family that does not genetically fit them, with an impossible job description to be someone they can never be – to fix a wound of infertility.  Infertility is a failure of expectations and contract within a marriage that sex will result in family.  There is enormous grief for everyone, but for the child this stuff is pre-verbal and can’t be recalled but it is remembered.

The human brain starts working before it is fully built.  Experience is the architect of the brain.  Experience is the cue for connections and hook-ups of the billions of neurons formed before birth.  In other words, neurons that fire together, wire together.  If life begins with a trauma of separation and abandonment, that feels life-threatening, that is how the neurons will fire and wire.  The human brain is a reflective organ, reflecting on past experiences, so it would be normal for abandonment issues to always be there in relationships.

For the adoptee there is real fear in relationships.  There is a great desire or hunger to attach, causing you to sometimes behave against your best interests, but with the conflicting feelings that this is not safe.  The feelings are held in the limbic system which will always override the frontal cortex, but it is the thinking brain – the frontal cortex which takes people into therapy.

So for these adults who have a very early trauma, which cannot be recalled, there is no pre-trauma personality as a reference point.  They believe the post trauma personality is part of them.  So it is referred to as Developmental trauma, rather than PTSD.

Bowlby was the first person to describe attachment theory and the internal system of a child that means the child is born ready to meet its mother.  We now know human infants can detect smells within 24 hours of birth, and they show a preference for their own mother’s milk.  Mothers who read aloud to their child before birth had babies who showed preferences for their mother’s voice and the story she read.  The preferences are shown by head turning and changes in physiology such as respiration.

Mary Maine asked the question about how an adult will be as a parent after difficult life experiences.  People say they try to do the opposite of their parents.  But doing the opposite is not necessarily a healthy option either.  Maine showed that the emotional stability of the human child is 75% dependent on the parent being able to know herself – to tell an emotionally coherent story about herself.  Then the child has a good chance of being emotionally stable.  How does this work for an adult who believes their post trauma personality is part of them?

Sunderland sees many adoptees in his addiction clinics.  He says people come into therapy in a small window between one relationship and another.  They have other addictions as well, but he calls them love addicts, and says he gets incidental disclosures of adoption.  He describes love addiction as the need to regulate mood by having the positive regard of a significant other; its about anxiety and shame, and using the positive regard to regulate these.  Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed.

The adopted people he sees often appear very well put together.  They rarely talk about being adopted – it’s just by the way.  When he does a bank of psychometric tests, he finds these people score very extremely high on the measure of depression, but you can’t actually see it.  Sunderland began to question what this was about and found there is an awful lot these people have in common.

It used to be said that; ‘You can’t remember, you were only a baby’, but that is such a nonsense.  It is remembered, it just can’t be recalled.  Looking at traumatology research it is no surprise that adoptees are over represented in addictions. The break in the mother infant bonding has an enormous impact on brain chemicals and neurotransmitters.  Cortisol and adrenaline are raised in trauma, and there are reduced levels of serotonin.  These things happen from very early on, and may be repeated with multiple relinquishments, which result in new and unrecognised environments.  ‘Where am I’ is the constant question.

Concentration and focus are affected by cortisol and adrenaline levels.  Increased concentrations result in the person living on red alert.  It is not surprising that Nancy Verrier found 90% of adoptees are diagnosed with ADHD.  ‘What do I have to do to get on around here?’  There is a slow loss of self.  The child fears they cannot be themselves because the first time they did it was pretty disastrous.  ‘I’m going to have to be hypervigilant.’  Being on red alert affects sleep regulation, gastrointestinal disorders and mood difficulties.

Serotonin levels are decreased in the early trauma, and serotonin is the chemical of soothing.  These children can be so hard to soothe, and are often reported as crying, or screaming a lot as babies.  Addiction is about self-soothing.  Attempts are made at self-soothing with, for example sugar, or early masturbation, sex and love addiction, and drugs.  A low level of serotonin means the person will not feel OK.  Serotonin helps you manage shame.  They will feel ‘I’m not OK’.  We know that failed mother child bonding creates this.  People become addicted to adrenaline, and return to dangerous situations repeatedly to keep the adrenaline high.  They try to create stress to manage mood, and develop rashes, nervous disorders, gastro problems and sleep disturbances.

Because the trauma can’t be recalled, many other life events can’t be recalled either.  These clients will often record counselling sessions, because they can’t recall the sessions once they’ve gone.  This is due to the link with the preverbal condition – there is some link to not being able to recall the session.

There are clients who ‘give up on themselves’.  They start out with good intentions on any new project, and manage well at the start, but then just give up.  When you listen to their words, you hear what they are saying about themselves.  In early life, they were given up on.  It is no wonder they then give up on themselves repeatedly.

There is so much evidence for a trauma of relinquishment.  They exhibit enormous amounts of hyper vigilance, anxiety and catastrophic thinking – because the wound was a life-threatening one.  They develop shame and anxiety, afraid to show who they really are.  And they develop self-reliance – ‘if you want to get something done, do it yourself’.

Shame and Anxiety are the underpinnings of addictions.  Anxiety is played out in the script – the world is not a safe place; they’ll kick you when you’re down; better not be vulnerable; don’t show who you are.  Shame is the ‘bad baby’ script – there’s something wrong with me; I’d better not tell anybody; how do I need to be to be accepted because being me in not acceptable, I’m unlovable’.  People who were adopted have this in bucketloads.

Addictions are places to put the shame and anxiety and make it acceptable.  And when addicts try to reform, and get near their goal, they often self-sabotage, because the reform does not have anywhere to put the shame and anxiety.  There is a need to create a new catastrophy as a creative attempt to contain the anxiety.

This is why 12 step programs are successful – because they are mood altering, and shame and anxiety management programs.  And all addictions are about shame and anxiety and how to manage insecurity.  Compulsive behaviour is another way to manage.  ‘As long as I keep busy I can focus all my attention on what I have to do.’   Compulsive debtors think it will be OK when the debt is paid off, but when they get near their goal they get really anxious again – because the money was just a stage for anxiety.

Shame for adoptees – If my mother gave me up, I don’t have value – I’m a bad baby.  It’s an attempt by the infant to explain the unacceptable by saying it is their fault; to organise it by taking responsibility – to make it manageable.  Freud talks about “his majesty the baby’ – the frontal cortex is not fully there even at age 20.  The child up until the age of 10-12 sees itself as responsible for everything bad that happens – self-centredness of a human child. Bad baby hypothesis plus, taking all the responsibility for everything bad that happens.  So for a child with no pre-trauma personality – this will be the way they resolve their insecurity.

Bowlby – divided up secure and insecure attachments.  We now know, it’s not what happens to you in life that throws you, but how secure your beginnings are.  Looking at the storm analogy – the trees that blow down in a storm are the ones whose roots are not strong enough to hold them up; it is not because the wind is strong – it is the poor attachment to the ground.  For children with a secure base, they have more resilience when the wind comes along.  These early experiences make an enormous difference.

One of the functions of trauma is that the part of the brain that regulates time is missing.  The child’s brain has to adapt like a tree that has to grow around a rock.

What we are talking about is not adoption, but adaption, due to relinquishment.  Not talking about adoption may be because of the insecurity of the adoptive family who may have infertility problems.

The original trauma, remembered but not recalled, results in a compulsion to repeat itself later in life, which is played out with anxiety and fear and catastrophic thinking, such as with sex and love addiction.  There is an enormous hunger for attachment which often has people acting against their own best interests; a desperate need to bond and the need is so great that partners can’t possibly provide because of the enormous need for attachment.

Catastrophic thinking has the person saying ‘what does it matter, I’m on the streets now; everyone knows it’s my fault’.

The person believes the person they have become is who they are, and that is not the case.  But they have no reference point of a pre-trauma personality.

Addiction and adoption/adaption will often go together.  Sunderland sees them as having co-occurring disorders of addiction and PTSD, due to developmental trauma from relinquishment.  The developmental PTSD is stored in the limbic system, where the fight, flight or freeze response is initiated.  And the limbic system deals with trauma and kicks in straight away before there is a chance to experience the feeling of rejection.  These people often feel schizophrenic – living with a duality, and have an ambivalence in decision making because making decisions feels life-threatening.  Never give advice to a person with developmental trauma.

In couples work – If you have an attachment wound you have not managed to become a separate person – you spend your time trying to work out what you have to do to be accepted here.  The challenge in a relationship is to be ‘myself’ and everything in the limbic system says ‘DON’T!’  Relationships can’t work when one person is trying to please the other, rather than be themselves.



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Jennifer Lauck, Blackbird and Found

Found shows we never really understand the full effects of separation from our first mother until later in life.

The author says:  ‘Blackbird was a book I needed to write.  Dead parents, a spate of homelessness, and countless moves from Nevada to California and back to Nevada had me emerge from my childhood in a spinning haze.

‘The voice I discovered was that of a child who seemed to be in shock.  Writing was like debriefing a disoriented witness.  As I wrote, I tried to form opinions about all I had gone through, but like my narrator, I could only feel numb and amazed.  I found myself asking a series of questions instead:  Did my life have to have some meaning beyond all the loss?  Was there some higher purpose to suffering?  Could a person heal from such a childhood?

‘Over the next few years, a series of extraordinary events unfolded and are detailed within this book.  It seemed that in writing Blackbird, I had begun a long journey that, in the end, would provide answers to all my questions and much more.

‘Blackbird was a witness account conveyed by a little girl.  Found is a widened perspective narrated by a reflective woman and mother.  Both memoirs are my truth.  As part of the creative process, I have taken liberty with conversations, with time, and with identity.

‘My great hope is that this story will be of benefit to all who read it.’

Jennifer Lauck, Portland, Oregon

I read Blackbird first and wondered how a young child could live through so much.  I thought it was not a book I would recommend to other adoptees, because whatever happened to Jennifer in that book was about her personal experience of adoption in the USA, which would not necessarily apply to others.  Personally, I was also a bit jealous of the intimacy she appeared to have with her first adoptive mother, who was sick when she adopted Jennifer.  Other people probably won’t have that reaction.

I was really glad I had read it when I came to read Found.  It was good to have that background, although not necessary.

Found shows we never really understand the full effects of separation from our first mother until later in life.  There is a powerful account of the changes in an adoptee woman after giving birth to her own children, and the fears that arise when returning to the Labour Ward as a mother, but also as a child with a relationship severed from her own mother at birth.  I relived my own experience, and could even hear the words of my first son when his first child was born.  He had the same sense that his child had to be with its mother from the moment of birth, and strode the hospital corridors to make it happen.  It is a sign that such experiences are stored in our memory, even if we cannot recall them.   Other people might be distressed to be momentarily separated from their newborn child, but for a child born for adoption, there is an overwhelming sense that the separation will cause death.  In reading this I felt some affirmation of my own experiences, which at the time I felt were completely weird, and did not see them in relation to the separation from my own first mother.

Jennifer also meets her first mother, and provides amazing descriptions of the internal battles and driving needs, as well as the fears and reluctances that are in both sides of the reunion.

Jennifer makes the decision to have children.  This book may not work so well for adoptees that have made the decision to not have children, or who have not thought purposefully about such a decision.  With those provisos, I thoroughly recommend reading Found.

Jennifer shows what we believe to be true.  To be enfranchised in our own lives we need to tell our stories.  Jennifer was a professional journalist and did it by writing beautiful books that she shares with us.

How will you record your story?  Who will you share it with – your family, other adoptees, or the whole world?  You might like to contact IdentityRites for some ideas.

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When I began writing songs I knew way in the back of my mind (so deep that I can’t say I actually knew, it was more like a whispered inkling), that someday I’d write a concept record called The Foundling. Creativity is funny that way, it always seems to be one step ahead at all times, and I’m always just trying to catch up.

My life story was aching to come out of the shadows, and my subconscious was guiding me to it, to begin healing and reconciliation with truth, through my work as a songwriter.

See, I was adopted.

I feared losing my family if I asked my origins. I did not dare ask to ask where I came from. This is not an uncommon fear among adoptees, many of us decide wait till our adoptive parents are dead to search for our original families, our original identities. The fear of losing our adoptive family keeps us from searching earlier, from asking hard questions.

But my subconscious was busy trying to help me put the pieces of my fractured past together as best it could. I needed to claim my truth to grow up, to be a whole, integrated person, to become truly real—and let go of the weight of not knowing, walk lighter, and be useful to others.

As hard as it is to explain, I deeply believe in this mysterious impulse for the mind to heal itself. Following it has led me down beautifully twisted roads, led me to the songs I sing, and given me this creative life I love so much.

As hard as it is to believe, the truth of own story was not available to me until I wrote the songs on The Foundling. Writing helped me make sense of things that had haunted me from the day I was born.

It took me a decade as a songwriter before I was able to tackle this project. It took me another two years of focused writing to complete the songs. It was by far the hardest work I’ve ever done as an artist—hard emotionally, physically and spiritually. I had to poke my head under my bed in the dark and come face to face with some damn scary monsters. I had to make myself sit at my desk for 10 to 12 hours at a time, week after week. I had to research trauma, childhood trauma, and adoption trauma, and come face to face with my own denial of the effects of what had happened. But the inner work I was doing in therapy coincided with the work I was doing as an artist, and The Foundling songs crept up and out, cracking the floorboards of my fear, one at a time.

Keep reading on her website here;

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Birth Mothers:  Surrogate Mothers:  Relinquishing Mothers: Adoptive Mothers:  Who do you think has a legal right to own a child?

The child is a person in its own right.  It cannot be owned.  It can only be cared for, loved, cultured and socialised.  But it will never belong to another person.   A child has a consciousness from its ancestral history when it is born, and it is pre-wired to bond with its mother after birth.  Birth brings a physical separation, but not a psychic separation.  It takes at least another nine months before the child begins to see itself as a separate person.  We know that human babies separated from their mothers at birth suffer enormous loss and grief, and this sits in their subconscious mind ready to disorganise their lives at some time in the future.  We know that baby animals separated from their mothers at birth are difficult to raise and often die; we can often see signs of a disordered personality in the animal.  Psychotherapists who work with human adoptees refer to a ‘primal wound’, or attachment disorders.

I am adopted.  I have had many surrogate mothers.  But the mother who carried me in her belly for the most significant part of my development is the woman who has influenced my life more than any other.  The rest of my development occurred on top of a separation trauma.  Other adoptive and surrogate mothers invested a lot of time and energy and money into my life; it could be said, much more than my birth mother.  But even a good building on shaky foundations will always shake.

In my mother’s belly I developed my tastes in food, my hearing for her language, friends and her environment, and through the amniotic fluid I was surrounded in the smells she smelt.  The first hormone soup I was exposed to was provided by her reactions to her environment.  If only the people around her had surrounded her with love and comfort, I might not have been exposed to her stress hormones, and been born an adrenaline junkie.  A birth mother is never a surrogate; she is foundational.  The rest of the mothers are surrogates, regardless of where the DNA comes from.  Ancestral connections matter; genetic connections matter; it is our connection with a distant past that lives in us, but medical research in epigenetics has already shown that genetic coding can be changed by environment.  We have no idea of the issues that might be faced by children born through surrogate arrangements with a mixture of genetic material which may or may not be related to the mother growing the embryo.

You cannot rent a womb in the way you can rent a room.  You cannot clean up the mess, walk out and close the door and expect your bond to be refunded.  The bond in the womb sets up a lifetime relationship in the baby’s rapidly developing brain.  Separation at birth breaks a bond that can never be replicated.  It is foundational and building a stable life depends on it, in the way a building depends on its own stable foundation.

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My birthday

It’s my birthday.  Sixty five years ago my mother expelled me into the world.  I had just spent nine months getting to know her intimately, and my brain was wired in preparation to meet her.  But it was not to be.  I arrived in the world and was whisked away from everything I knew.  There would never be those familiar smells and sounds and tastes that would have provided a secure foundation for relationships in future.  I would forever feel lost and abandoned.  My primary relationship with my mother was severed, torn asunder at birth.

People say ‘Happy Birthday’.  And I know they mean well.  And I want to be happy.  But I want them to recognise this is the day my body screams out at the loss of my mother.  How do they expect me to celebrate this enormous loss and grief?  I think of my mother, and what it would have been like for her to have to give up the child she had grown inside her on my birthday.  Certainly I was exhausted and hormonally and emotionally re-arranged after giving birth to each of my children.  But I had a healthy baby to take home each time; the bond was not broken.  My mother went home alone, to people who did not know, or expected her to forget and not talk about what had just happened.

I receive cards.  I’m grateful to think surviving members of my adoptive mother’s family still treat me as family.  They want to believe I was just like ‘one of the family’.  But they know I was not.  Many families have a black sheep, and I was theirs.

I have lunch with my friends.  They bring me presents.  Birthdays are the days you celebrate coming into the world.  I can’t be miserable.  Each woman in the group has a child who died.  I never had that.  One woman lost her mother to death at an early age, and lost contact with her siblings for many years.   We all carry much sorrow.  But today the sun shines and the food is good and we care about each other.  I’m happy in their company.

They know I am adopted.  It was so long ago, they think it is a past event.  They don’t know that everyday something is said, or happens to remind me that I don’t really know who I am.  I had breast cancer; the doctor asked if there was any history of breast cancer in my family.  I say I don’t know my family.  The doctor has not been given a script to run for that answer.  If I said yes, I would get testing for a particular gene.  If not, it is not deemed necessary.  If I don’t know my family she could treat me either way, but no knowledge is treated as no history of the disease.  I walk out of her rooms distressed that I have no family history.  The breast cancer is just a nuisance I’ll let her deal with.

I come home from the lunch to my own private grief.  I will remain a hermit for a few days as I gather the courage to face the world again.  No one wants to talk about the loss of your identity through separation from your mother prior to adoption into a make believe world.  My birthday is the day I was born.  My birth certificate was falsified by government agencies on the day of my adoption.  I have twin identities, neither of which really identifies me.

I will face the world this week.  I have a supportive group of mature adoptees.  We share our understandings of how our lives have been affected by the loss of our mothers.  We talk about the high incidence of substance abuse, depression and suicide amongst adoptees, and our own self-defeating behaviours.  We work to bring into awareness of the general public, the lifelong effects on mother and child of separation at birth.  Human babies, like puppies and kittens need to spend time with their mothers after birth if they are to remain mentally healthy.  Research tells us this, yet the money-making baby market ignores the research, and its supporters want to silence us.  Together we give each other courage to tell our own stories.

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