Adoption’s ghosts – closer than we know

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.

Care fully for myself

My mantra for the next little while.

Balancing out the lifelong expectations of being an adoptee; an existence for my mother’s and others’ happiness.

I can't do this any more … time for me to live.
I can’t do this any more … time for me to live.

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.

Watch this space for changes …

IdentityRites – Adelaide

Visit the new website of IdentityRites: a peer support and advocacy group which gives a voice to Adoptees, at:

“We have been deprived of knowledge of identity, heritage, and medical information; issued with false birth certificates; and denied public acknowledgement and awareness of the lifelong impact of separating us from our blood families.

IdentityRites seeks to quench the yearning for the dignity of ancestral connection.

We are an Adelaide based Group of Adoptees with a common purpose to initiate respectful and non-traumatising ways to tell our stories.”

Contact: info [@]

With Apologies

Political Correctness in all your speak
While I am drowning in my grief
In your attempt to avoid offending
I am lost, why are we pretending?

There were mothers who lost babies
There were babies who lost mothers
There were fathers, and grandparents
And sisters and brothers.

Tiny baby broken body and soul
Your fragile world distorted by pain
Infant mind stormed by ghostly shadows
Of mother and other whose echoes remain

Political Correctness in all your speak
While I am drowning in my grief
In your attempt to avoid offending
I am lost, please stop pretending?

A Year On from the Apology

Tony Abbott said regarding those affected by past adoption practices: ‘They’re entitled to be feeling very passionate. They’re entitled to be feeling I think very wounded and that’s why the apology was so important’.
The Apology in Canberra on March 21, 2013 was overshadowed by Abbott’s talk of moving a no confidence motion against the Government at the time, led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Will it get a mention in Parliament this year? Will March 21 be recognised as a National Day of Mourning for those affected by past adoption practices?

Abbott and Furness Team for Adoptions

A morning tea was held at Kirribilli, Sydney residence of the Prime Minister of Australia. Invited were the celebrities who have advocated for changes to Adoption laws in Australia. Of note were Cadel Evans, Deborra-Lee Furness and Hugh Jackman and a host of child Adoptees from various overseas countries.
Furness explained to Lee Sales on the 7.30 report that adoption practice had been ‘spooked’ and ‘tainted’ by the stolen generation, the forgotten children, and the ‘forced adoptions’ and as a result Australia had the lowest adoption rates for some time.
So what had made the difference, Lee Sales asked:
‘A new government on board – we have to have a champion or leader’ and they had found that in Tony Abbott. Furness went on to say ‘let’s talk about adoption …let’s do it’.

My comments: It’s a shame Abbott isn’t the champion for the children in Nauru, Christmas Island and Manus Island detention centres. Regarding past practices, what has been learned to avoid the same mistakes being made and consigning another generation of adopted children to the consequences of ‘Adoptions Past’: higher incidences of complex PTSD disorder, mental illness, suicides, lung disease, auto-immune disease, unemployment … part of the findings of the AIFS Report before the Apology in 2013.

Furness fosters adoption crusade

In the Sunday Mail, Adelaide 14 December 2013, an article commenced with: “Adoption champion Deborra-Lee Furness has won the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to tackle Australia’s ‘anti-adoption culture’ “. I dispute Furness’s statement. Australia does not have an ‘anti-adoption culture’. Its policies are child-centric and slow, to ensure that adopters have adequate skills to provide a safe and positive adoption experience for infants and children.

Adoption cannot be about the needs of adults; it must be about children’s need for safety. We have not learned what contributes to positive and negative adoption experiences. Is today’s situation any different to the past? Where are the pressures to increase the number of adoptions coming from?

Are there guarantees that adoption will be done better by this generation of Adopters? The mistakes of the past were not just about forced removal of infants from their mothers, as the title of the AIFS study implies. The mistakes were also about the lack of options at the time, the needs of childless women in the post war boom time, the influence of the ‘nature versus nurture’ theory, and the overall conclusion that an infant’s mother could be replaced by another in the process of adoption. This belief remains unchallenged despite its inconsistency. On one hand there was community outrage when a mother was returned to Nauru without her newborn, and on the other, society accepts that an infant is transplantable from the familiar environment of the womb, to a totally strange environment, devoid of comfort and deprived of attachment.

There is ample research on the trauma experienced by newborns who were separated at birth and the importance of maternal attachment for healthy childhood development, yet the ongoing complex trauma and lifelong difficulties for Adoptees as they interpret life through the lens of trauma, is not understood, accepted or allowed for in funding support.

The adoption industry in the US does not provide a healthy model for parenting adopted children. Children with post adoption behaviour difficulties are labelled with Adoption Syndrome and treatment can be abusive. I believe this is a blind-spot in a culture that needs to believe in a romantic notion of adoption rather than dialoguing with Adoptees to learn from the past, improve adoption practice for the sake of the children. There are few potential adopters that are willing to learn from Adoptees’ experience.

Adoptees past, present and future have no champion, no voice and no audience.