National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM) is coming and in Australia the conversation on adoption during November, will again be dominated by the voices of Deborra Lee Furness and her corporate machine, AdoptChange.
In contrast, NAAM can be a difficult time for Adoptees, of sadness, of anger, and feeling powerless against dominant voices.
I am an Adoptee, who has joined with three others to write and publish a book of poetry, I have more to say on what Adoption Is for me, and I encourage others to continue to speak up on what Adoption Is for them. Join me!
Photo credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images firstname.lastname@example.org http://wellcomeimages.org General Lying In Hospital, York Road: nurses weighing a baby. Photograph, 1908. 1906 Album of photographs and cuttings pertaining to dr. Basil Hood
Settling on a baby’s name is usually done shortly after birth by the baby’s parents.
For adoptees, this is rarely the case. I was unnamed and labelled on my records as Baby Dunning.
Other adult adoptees I know, talk of the name changes their adopting parents or they themselves made, throughout their lives, in the process of choosing or reclaiming name for identity.
My choice of name was settled when I needed to decide how I would appear in print as one of the four authors of ‘Adopted’, a book of poetry and prose completed and printed in July 2017. I settled on Diana Dunning, retaining the first name my adopting parents chose for me, which ironically is the same as my birth father’s sister’s second name, and Dunning which is my birth mother’s maiden name. For a few moments I struggled with an internal dialogue regarding permissions, and whether I was ‘allowed to use my mother’s family name’.
I have also changed the name of this blog a few times, seeking a title that describes my reasons for blogging. As a late discovery adoptee, I’m just catching up.
So … I’ve settled on a name, for me, and for this blog:
I am Diana Dunning (aka Di Dunning Saunders, retaining my married family name).
I was separated from my mother at birth and had no further contact with her. For the first month of my life, I stayed in the hospital’s nursery for ‘babes for adoption’. After being assessed medically as free from disease and defect and suitable for adoption, I was placed somewhere unknown to me for an additional ten weeks, until the 12 months my adopting parents had been given to add a room onto their house, had elapsed. It was not an ideal start to life for any infant.
I remember vividly the moment I embraced the possibility that my adoption was trauma. I was attending a Professional Development workshop on Trauma and raised my hand to ask the question burning within me, quite oblivious to others in the room “you mean my being separated from my mother at birth was trauma?”
It’s the only explanation that makes sense of the difficulties I experience in my life. Yet if I look through support websites and texts on trauma, I find no mention of adoption as one of the early life experiences with adverse effects, or describes the adoptee as a survivor of trauma, except perhaps for intercountry adoptees who have been removed from their original culture.
The Inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 implies adoption is trauma in its discussion: regarding “current areas of practice—including intercountry adoption—we need to avoid the risk of continuing the mistakes from the past. Some of these ‘mistakes’ identified by participants included:
cutting ties between biological parents and their children;
failing to provide young people with information about their heritage, culture and family;
prioritising the desires of prospective parents to have a family over the needs of existing (and often vulnerable) parents and children;
failing to recognise that family ties are for life; and
the trauma of interrupting the bond between parents and children, which can have lasting effects for all.”
When separation at birth for adoption is recognised as trauma, it allows:
adopted persons to identify and name the cause of the difficulties they experience, and to receive assistance from practitioners skilled in trauma interventions;
adopting parents to understand the needs of the children they have adopted, seek assistance and training to provide a trauma-informed response;
the dominant discourse of adoption as good for all involved, to be challenged at a time when there is pressure from groups such as AdoptChange to increase the number of adoptions;
lessons from the past to challenge surrogacy and other ways of family formation, to ensure children’s needs are central.
Adoptees have a right to know that being separated from their mother at birth was trauma.
It’s not often I write but the opinion piece ‘Foetal Attraction’ by Kathy Lette in yesterday’s Advertiser requires a response from me as an adoptee (Advertiser, SA Weekend, March 28-29, p. 31).
Lette commences her light hearted approach to this serious subject: ‘would you rent your womb’ and goes on to say why she would do this for her son as ‘like most mums, [she] would do anything for her children’. What she does not consider is the effect on the child’s psyche and the potential complexity of her relationship with her son, and his child, as mother and grandmother (mother from the child’s in-womb experience).
My response to the question raised in the Advertiser: ‘Would you go through a pregnancy to help your child?’ was:
In a word – no! Kathy Lette’s article portrays a romantic notion of surrogacy and adoption separated from the known implications for the baby who is destined to a life of psychic disconnect. While her generosity is out of love for her son she has not considered the implications of parenting a child who is separated at birth from his/her known world. The experiences of those affected by adoption are well documented for those who want to hear.
Discussions about surrogacy and adoption continue to focus on the rights of the adults who want to be parents. Serious research is yet to be conducted to objectively capture the life-long effects of developmental attachment trauma on adoptees who as newborn he infants were removed from the familiarity of the womb and placed in a strange environment often with parents who were grieving their inability to produce their own offspring. It is not difficult to extrapolate their experience to surrogacy.
‘Without Consent – Australia’s past adoption practices’ will be officially opened tomorrow 30th March 2015 and will be travelling around Australia. The exhibit will continue to be available online at the National Archives of Australia website, as a chronicle of the pain of adoption.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Matt 11:15).
I grew up in Bathurst, New South Wales as the only daughter of immigrants from the Netherlands. I can understand, read and speak some Dutch. Every Christmas our family would celebrate in our variation of the Dutch tradition, going to the midnight church service and coming home and feasting on ham and bread rolls served on the crockery my parents had brought with them from Holland. The Christmas tree was adorned with Dutch trinkets and the myrrh man ‘roked’ his characteristic smell that made every Christmas Dutch. Most years we received a parcel from my family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents with the hand-me-downs and gifts, and the lingering smell of pipe tobacco that was my link to family and my Dutch heritage.
When I was 43 I found out I was adopted and I lost this.
Recently I have delved back into my ancestry and discovered that on my mother’s side I have an ancestor, Jimmy Young, from Xiamen, China who came to NSW for the Goldrush, and another, Peter O’Neill from Wicklow, Ireland who was sent to the Penal Colony of NSW for being involved in the Irish Rebelllion. After he was pardoned he settled at Homecraft, Rockley, in the Bathurst District, not far from where I grew up.
I’m not sure how to respond to this. After the excitement of finding these characters in my family, I am angry with a system of closed adoption that not only cut me off from the roots that established my identity, but also transplanted me into a location where my family ‘ghosts’ and connections resided outside of my awareness and possibility for connection. How many grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins lived nearby? Lost opportunities for connecting to a wider family that is important in developing a sense of who I am. My dream is to be re-grafted back onto one of the family trees that I was cut off from, to be accepted and belong as ‘one of them’ despite the separation, scandal and politics of adoption.
Balancing out the lifelong expectations of being an adoptee; an existence for my mother’s and others’ happiness.
Give give give … until there wasn’t a drop left and I crashed.
“Care fully for myself” is my starting point before I make decisions on what to do for others and myself.
I risk sounding selfish but I am overdue for an energy audit that is based on the energy that I require as the mother of a son with a disability, a mother of three other children, and a grandmother of two gorgeous girls. And then there is the energy I need for myself. Now isn’t that interesting that I put myself last on this list. Hmmm.