August 22, 2012

Adoptees Bittersweet Journey

Adoptees Bittersweet Journey to find Mom
Stuart Rintoul  The Australian August 22, 2012

CHARLOTTE Smith was 28 when she began the journey to find her mother. The reunion, when it came, was fairytale joyous, but also fragile.

Learning that her mother loved her and had always hoped they would be reunited, "poured warmth into the cold, dark void inside of me", but sparing her mother the loneliness she felt as a child also left much unsaid.

"I found myself feeling as if I was walking a tightrope and if I should say or do anything out of step all would be lost," Ms Smith wrote recently in the Australian Journal of Adoption.
"I would have beautiful, magical afternoons with her in the nearby bushland that she loved so much, then go home and cry for hours without really knowing why."
Ms Smith's mother was 16 when she became pregnant to an American boy. Her parents were living as Australian expatriates in Beirut and to hide the shame of the girl's pregnancy, she was sent to England, where Charlotte was born and adopted out.
Her experience of adoption is one of hundreds traced in a new report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, which comes as NSW premier Barry O'Farrell announced the state would join others in issuing an apology to victims of forced adoptions.
An estimated 150,000 Australian babies were taken from their mothers, mostly young and single, from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1971-72 almost 10,000 children were adopted in Australia, compared with 384 children in 2010-11.

Mr O'Farrell said it was time "to face the past and reflect on those unlawful and unethical actions".

NSW Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said an apology would help the many women and children who feel "haunted and devastated".
The AIFS report, Past Adoption Experiences, which looked at both forced and unforced adoptions, found a strong desire among those who experienced the system of closed adoption, which sealed a child's birth certificate and effectively hid the identities of the mother and child, for greater acknowledgment, recognition, awareness and education.

It found that mothers whose children were adopted continued to be affected by feelings of grief, loss and shame and experienced lower levels of life satisfaction than other women.
The report, based on a survey of 1500 people and 60 focus groups and interviews nationally, found that adopted children were often left with problems of attachment, identity and abandonment and also had lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of psychological distress.

Almost 70 per cent of adopted children who took part in the study said that being adopted had resulted in some level of negative effect on their health, behaviour or wellbeing and that services were inadequate to meet their needs.
Those effects included hurt from secrecy and lies surrounding their adoption and a subsequent sense of betrayal, identity problems, feelings of abandonment, feeling obligated to show gratitude throughout their lives, low levels of self-worth and difficulties in forming attachments.

AIFS researcher Pauline Kenny said while previous reports on the trauma experienced by mothers whose children were adopted had pushed for better support services, "that hasn't eventuated" and there were still significant systemic deficiencies in dealing with adoption trauma.

For Ms Smith, adoption meant being passed into the hands of a loving family, but feeling unloved and torn between "the false self" that pretends to have been born into the adoptive family and "the forbidden self" that longs for truth and identity.
She said that when people learned she was adopted, they invariably responded by asking one of two questions - did you end up with a nice family? (meaning was it a happy ending?), or Did you find your birth mother? (meaning was it a happy ending)

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