A to Z on Adoption

A is for Apologies for Past Practices of Forced Adoption

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.

B is for Born

Decision made months before
After the strife the pregnancy caused
Cultures clashing Greek and Brit
Adopt out! the answer and that was it.

Royal Women’s Hospital
Admitted as ‘Hunt’
BFA born Valentine’s Day
Mother discharged on fourth day.

C is for Complex Trauma

John Briere’s “Principles of Trauma Therapy”, describes Complex Trauma as a result of child abuse and neglect, when children are most vulnerable. At which point in child and human development is an infant most vulnerable? Although Briere does not comment on adoption, it seems obvious to me that the most vulnerable time is at birth, or soon after. This is the time infants are separated from their mothers for adoption.

This is also the time that the “Babe for Adoption” entered into their infancy and childhood of neglect, and possibly abuse, that had a compounding effect on the initial trauma of separation.

D is for Documents

A person who is not adopted is issued with a Birth Certificate.  It is not that simple for Adoptees. We carry a folder of Documents, our paper trail of letters, forms, receipts, certificates, and charts giving us clues to our Identity.

In 1998 when I found out I was adopted, I had two pieces of identifying information: a Certificate of Particulars of Birth, which I thought was my Birth Certificate, but is not. The other was my little pink Baby Reference Card from the Hospital which has my adopting mother’s name on it. It took years and numerous application and processing fees to obtain my “Birth” Certificate, which ironically was not my real Birth Certificate, and then my real Birth Certificate which I cannot use Officially. What a silly fraudulent system.

I have yet to write to the NSW Supreme Court to find the last piece of the puzzle: who cared for me between the time I was discharged from hospital when I was a month old, and the time I joined my family – a time gap of two months, that is unexplained.

E is for Enigma

I am an enigma. I grew up believing I was an almost twin.  It was part of my story that made me feel special and being sure that if I survived in the womb after my brother was extracted, then it must have involved a miracle and I was on this earth for some special reason.  I never questioned this fact of my existence.

It was very handy to have an almost-twin brother in the same class all the way through primary and high school so I could benefit from his natural ability to do well.

When I was 43 and found out I was adopted, the miracle shattered like glass.  Everything I knew about myself was in dispute and needed to be replaced with the truth from pieces of family information and personal preferences to understand who I am.

My enigmatic me is sometimes a source of amusement that I go along with – how could I not know I was adopted? Living in ‘la la’ land, perhaps a part of the dissociation that characterised my life, kept me in the space where secrecy veiled the truth of my life. Not at all funny.

F is for Faith

Of all the events in my life, the way I discovered I was adopted, was the most influential in confirming my faith. I am not a regular church attender (faith and ability to worship is complicated by the attachment disruption that is my experience of adoption) and I am sure God is okay with this.

So what led to my finding out? One of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome and an intellectual disability, and over the years I had asked my mother questions regarding other family members and particularly my father who was peculiar, and had left my mother when we were teenagers. I asked my mother about him and what he was like, and was given a dismissive reply so I looked further to people who knew my father. Also because my son has a disability, I found myself working in the disability field, and being sponsored to attend a conference on Early Intervention in Sydney (short version of this story). As the funding was limited to $1000, it covered the conference fees and airfare but not accommodation so I stayed with friends in the inner city. My hosts were going to be away over the weekend of the conference and were very apologetic about it. I saw it as an opportunity to contact people who knew my father.

In hindsight, this was one of my “magic carpet” moments – when God wants me to find out something, I just need to hang on and see where He takes me.

G is for Gossip

I found out I was adopted through gossip. While I was in Sydney for the conference I looked up a woman who was a beneficiary in my adoptive father’s will.

I had questions on what he was like and she was willing to meet with me.

Saturday afternoon at McDonalds at Maroubra in Sydney. She had her own agenda to convince me that she was more than his house keeper and was in fact his lover and therefore de facto. I wasn’t interested in any of that. At the end of the conversation she just dropped the information … two of us four children were adopted. What! I knew when I was a teenager that my oldest brother was adopted. She was fairly sure that my father had said it was the older two children. In fact he hadn’t told her, her neighbour had gossiped this to her. Gossiped gossip. At the time I was convinced that as she said, my two older brothers were adopted.

On return to South Australia I wrote to the Department of Community Services in NSW, and because of Privacy Legislation I could only ask the question for myself, and then by a process of elimination, conclude that my brother was adopted. Wrong.

The letter came back “Our records indicate that you were adopted. Many people find it distressing to have their adoption confirmed, even when they have suspected it for many years. If you would like to discuss this with a counsellor…..”

The letter confirmed what I had started to suspect over the previous few weeks as I observed my mother answering my questions regarding her pregnancy with me … “it was all so long ago”, and noticing that my “Certificate of Particulars of Birth” did not contain any parental information.

There were family theories about who my father was, perhaps I was a result of an affair. My mother told a story about a woman on the boat on which they emigrated to Australia. The woman had died during childbirth and because my mother had been a “social worker” in Holland, she had requested with her dying breath, that my parents bring me up.

My family in Holland still do not know that my parents adopted two of their four children. I have had comments on how much I look like my Dutch cousins … but have let it go.

The betrayal and secrecy of Late Discovery Adoption is a large part of the argument for  open adoptions, abolishing Information Vetoes and issuing accurate Birth Certificates so children do not have to learn through gossip that they were adopted. It hurts. Sorry.

H is for (un) Healthy

With the return to parent-centred policy on adoption pushing for more babies to be adopted, perhaps a thought for their health could be considered.

The AIFS study released in 2012 showed that the physical and psychological health of persons who were adopted was lower than the Australian population as a whole.

For myself, although I did not know I was adopted until I was 43 years old, my body knew, and by the time I was 22 I had severe rheumatoid arthritis, which was diagnosed decades later as Relapsing Polychondritis by a rheumatologist who took my symptoms seriously, and informed me without alarming me, of the fatal potential of this disease which attacks cartilage including the trachea.

Another common illness that adoptees have is lung disease, and in my early 40s I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis after a winter of continual chest infections. It would be good to know the reason why.

My mental health has at times been swamped by life’s difficulties and I did not have the resilience to weather the death of a child, followed by the stresses of fighting for a child with a disability. My well was depleted if indeed I had one in the first place. Through discovering my identity, abilities and passions in life, I have begun to rebuild and filled that well.

I is for Identity

Still re-developing my Identity. Historical archaeological digs have unearthed a knight of the realm, my great-grandfather Sir Edwin Harris Dunning, his aviator son, Edwin Harris Dunning (the first pilot to land a plane onto a moving ship and tragically killed on his third attempt), and my grandfather John Denzil Dunning, who fell out of favour with his father because he went AWOL from the army. More recently I’ve traced my family roots to the Scrase family of the 1400s.

I am accepting that I could be an emerging artist though I am unsure what art really is or what sort of art to call it – ecological, sustainable??? I have a fascination with broken things and have collected in one year over 10 kilograms of beach glass and pottery from Adelaide’s beaches. I have used the glass to embellish a coffee table, a broken sewer pipe and an ivy branch, determined not to buy craft materials that I can acquire from scrap or make. This art-istry started through drawing I as I was experiencing I in the present, in the boundary of a circle (a mandala). I and the figures I drew would argue and through this I got expressed in all my rage and darkness.

I am 61 years old and happy to retire although I don’t know what I am retiring from having not really worked out what I did for the last 40 years. I went to university, studied Pure maths in an arts degree, then a teaching diploma, then special education, then worked as a typist for a lawyer. Finally counselling but still unsure what I want to do. And in the freedom of deciding this just before I retire, is ironically where I find my identity.

J is for Journey

There is an understanding in counselling circles that Life is a Journey.
Along the way there have been companions, there for a while and then life takes them in a different direction until our paths cross again.
Friends who are there for the long haul are indeed a treasure.
In April this year I joined a peer support group of fellow Adoptees initially thinking they could benefit from my experience and counselling skills. Ha ha! I benefit from just being with them, free to be myself with my pain, anxiety, paranoia and experiences without judgment or comment. However skewed my vocalisations of life as I see it through the lens of adoption, these fellow travellers understand. We meet and share our journeys and are there for each other in a way that others cannot because they do not know what it is like to be an Adoptee and in a perpetual state of wondering.
And so the journey continues mostly on my own with my peers at base camp to come back to.
May you go well in your journey wherever it takes you.

K is for Knight

Not every Adoptee finds they have descended from a knight and I am thankful to my birth mother Barbara for passing on the family history.
My great-grandfather was Sir Edwin Harris Dunning. He made his fortune from diamonds in South Africa where he was a contemporary of Rhodes. He moved back to England with his wife and children taking the role of mayor of Tiverton and living in Jacques Hall.
My grandfather John Denzil Dunning although discharged from the Army was also a pioneer bringing retreads and the spinnaker to Australia from the US (according to Barbara).
At times when I have felt discouraged I see and hear my great-grandfather on his horse, sword held high and shouting to me “you’re a Dunning”. And I dust myself off, take his hand to mount my horse, hold up my sword and ride with my Knight.

L is for Late Discovery

The Late Discovery of my adoption.  At 43 is late, and I the last to know.
So hurt and betrayed she was, the woman who I thought was my mother.
So shocked. At least she knew.   Who told you … was it your brother?
No … Mum …  It was a gossip!
This is love – so they were told. A clean break and nurture will overcome nature.   I felt no bond with her, loved her as best I could with my little heart of stone.

M is for Mother

To Barbara Grace Dunning, my mother. Barbara was 20 when she gave birth to me.
Her parents had helped her rent a unit in Potts Point as it was closer to the hospital than Turramurra where the family lived.
Away from the judgemental glares and scorning tongues of gossips as her belly grew with me inside. It was what had to be done. Even her sister did not know.
Hunt was the name used to rent the unit and for admission into hospital.
On the fourth day of confinement she signed me away.
On the eighth day she returned to her normal life, girlfriend of my father, devoted to him and helping him complete his medical degree. No contact with me. No curious peeps in the nursery.
On the sixteen thousandth day I learned of her existence, she who’d given life to me.
On the sixteen thousand four hundred and twenty fifth day, I saw her face and touched her skin.
On the twenty thousandth day she let me call her Mum.
And then I lost her again shut out by people who spoke for her when she couldn’t for herself, who didn’t respect and understand the connection we had. Death the final separation.
No place to mourn and grieve the little time we had together, the relationship that adoption had destroyed, the pain of separation and re-union and disappointment.
Barbara my mother. Rest eternal Barbara.

N is for Name

Or names … I have four Christian names …

Diana was chosen by my parents as a hybrid between my mother’s and my father’s names, apparently. It’s a wonderful name meaning divine and moon goddess with a quiver of arrows with which to hunt in the forest and have lots of babies. Very prophetic except for the hunting in the forest.

My second Christian name is my mother’s sister-in-law’s name, and the third is my mother’s other sister-in-law’s name.

And the last, Isabel was the name of my mother’s best friend who was obliterated by a bomb during the war. A sobering thought often shared along with other war stories.

I have called myself Di since moving to South Australia where Dianne (pron: die-yannnn) is used. I’m sure my readers will understand.  It’s just Di … I can’t make it shorter but I can spell it out when people still get it wrong.

O is for Order

Order was the court order by the Supreme Court of NSW re-assigning my parental information from being the female infant of Barbara Grace Dunning to the lie that I was the female infant of my (adoptive) parents. My legal birth certificate reflects this change without using the words adopted anywhere. Legal does not make this practice right and there are many adoptees who have been prevented from accessing basic information about their lineage.
Order is also for my need for order in my dealings with life and to keep stomach churning anxiety at bay. Becoming an anxious paranoid angry “control freak” is what happens when an infant is detained in the Babies for Adoption nursery for a month followed by ten weeks in institutional care where staff believed that babies actually preferred to be left alone at a time when attitudes justified actions. Alone is my default position. Another way of being detached dissociated and reverting to the familiar and controllable order of unanswered protest and despair.
Sorry is all that’s said as the Baby Trade continues around the world.

P is for Pain

Sleep baby sleep. You have to learn to sleep. Baby don’t cry. The hours will soon go by.
Sleep baby sleep. You have to learn to wait. Baby don’t fuss. The days will soon go by.
Sleep baby sleep. You have to learn to rest. Baby don’t stir. The weeks will soon go by.
Sleep baby sleep. You have to learn to wait. Baby don’t ask. The years will soon go by.
Sleep baby sleep. You have to learn to cope. Baby don’t feel. Your life will soon go by.

Q is for Quest

The Quest of searching for myself, amongst the rubble of demolition and despair.         Am I really there.

R is for Requiem

A red candle in my Ikea lantern reminds me of the people that have left my life through the gate we call death.

R is for regrets and while the candle burns is a time to surrender the regret for the things said and unsaid to those who’ve died.
As an Adoptee I have the privilege of having four parents who are all now dead. Somehow I missed all their funerals. I was told about my birth mother’s cremation after the event. This was what she wanted even though our relationship was I thought a close one.
My birth father died almost two years ago and I found out when I googled his name. Through reading his obituary later I found out about his struggle with Parkinson’s and of his contribution as an orthopaedic surgeon.
My adoptive father died in the January of 1991 and my adoptive mother thought it best to tell me the following April when we visited her.
I saw my adoptive mother 6 months before she died. I could have said what she wanted to hear to reassure nothing had changed between us despite keeping my adoption secret but I couldn’t – all I could do was let her know I was doing the best I could.
On the day of her funeral my Nav diverted me through a scenic but un-traversable part of NSW which ended in a river. It provided an unmissable opportunity to demonstrate to my children how to check the depth of the water across a ford as I took off my boots, rolled up my trousers, equipped myself with a staff and waded into the freezing cold river. The decision was made to turn around and go back the 50 km and try again. We were over 2 hours late and in time to say a prayer and throw a clod of dirt onto the coffin.
I had spent a day with the living, three of my children in some beautifully wild country and relaxed in believing it was meant to be this way. No regrets!

S is for Separation

Gurgling, churning
Noises swirling
Heartbeat of my mother.

Caressing holding
Fingers following
Contacting my mother.

Tightening squeezing
Pushing screaming
Expelling me from mother.

Cold and aching
Crying shaking
Give me back my mother.

T is for Treasure

Beach glass – a metaphor of my life as an Adoptee, reclaiming the pieces, valuing myself, identity and worth.
As a young girl I was fascinated with see-through objects especially if they were red. A tiny red clear plastic ship, a playing piece in a game I’ve long forgotten. Blood red curtains bathing my laundry bedroom with warmth and ownership. The stained glass windows in the church, spilling patches of heaven on the pews and carpet.
Walking along Adelaide’s beaches, I cannot recall the first time a piece of beach glass caught my eye, seduced my senses as I picked it up, massaging my fingers with its rounded edges until it was dry. Its pocked surface, dull when dry, restored to satin gloss when wet.
Ten kilograms of brown glass as well as clear and green, aqua and blue, crockery and tiles. No particular purpose in mind. Broken rubbish to someone else, to me they are valued treasures, mementos of many trips to the beach.
Trips that have motivated me to exercise and dispel the gloom. Trips that provided a way to be alone, or grace moments with family and friends I hadn’t planned to meet.
Walking with seagulls and dolphins, children and dogs, the sound of playing joining the symphony of the waves relentlessly crashing and retreating. I can lose myself here, walking for hours, again a child looking for a shiny treasure along the shore.

U is for Unconscious

Unconscious; unawake and unaware, the opposite of being conscious. Through sleep, anaesthesia, secrecy … and adoption when the full awareness of identity is hidden from the Adoptee, and replaced by attempts to transplant a child into a new environment.
Ironically unconscious also means that part of an individual that is not in conscious awareness. However, as memories are stored holographically in every cell in our body, the truth of who we are resides alongside the constructed self, and will slowly work its way into consciousness. Questions that demand answers, inconsistencies, anger … Something’s not right.
As each fragment of identity is reclaimed it is escorted to consciousness, its arrival celebrated, its absence mourned, and its truth integrated into the whole.
One fragment closer to wholeness.

V is for Vulnerable

Hardened armour. Cringing inside
Smiling face. Sad not alive
Performing. Surviving for you.
Will you leave too?

Can’t you see my pain?
I want to scream.
Linked to you I despise.
You who broke my heart.

A word I speak watching it fall.
Will you catch it, catch me?
See me, hear me, affirm me?
Or analyse, criticise, genocide.

What’s wrong with me?
That my words fall at your feet.
Turning away. You give me yours.
Words you dreamed take their place.

Pick them up. Then we can talk.
You. And I. Speaking your lines.
A perfectly choreographed life.
For you. Performed for you.

W is for What

What do you know?
What do you know about yourself?

Questions only Adoptees and Amnesiacs ask each other.

X is for eX

Ode to a good man – my eX.

I met him when I was 17.
A month since I’d left home.
Just wanted to be with him.
Does this mean I love him?
Does this mean I’ll marry him?

We were engaged a year later.
Married the year after that.
Booked the venue.
The organist and cars.
Made myself a dress – $20 then.

One week before.
Reception plans weren’t made.
Friends suggested morning tea.
An aunt to bake the cake.
Mum gave a washing machine.

Thirty three years and five children later.
Through the valley of the shadows.
Exhausted. Is this what I wanted?
Is this what I planned?
Nothing left to give. Dying inside.

I left. Hardest thing I ever did.
Ignoring my feeling responsible.
His needs or mine.
Listening to my starving soul.
Be self-full or you will die.

I met him when I was 17.
A month since I’d left home.
Still like to be with him.
Doesn’t mean I love him.
Doesn’t mean I’ll marry him.

Y is for Yes

You ask me if I want to.
And yes is my reply.

You ask me if I like this.
And yes I do pretend.

You ask me if I love you.
And yes comes out again.

I ask me why I do that.
Why no comes out as yes.

And vow to push away my fears.
You’ll love me any less.

Z is for Zig Zag

My life may progress one second at a time to complete the days and years. Time may be linear but my experience is more like a zig zig, darting to the right or left, deviating from my well intentioned plans.
The effects of Adoption and the associated attachment trauma explains the reasons why.
The three biggies of trauma for me are hyper-vigilance, intrusions and avoidance. Hyper-vigilance is like a gardener digging up carrots every five minutes and finding that they are not doing so well. Conclusions are drawn and a change of plan executed along with the stunted carrots. Intrusions are the emotions and sensations that are triggered but not necessarily processed in a rational way so decisions are again based on insubstantial evidence. Avoidance makes it all feel better as it has many times before and becomes a default reaction rather than response.
So it makes sense that I would zig or zag from the plan reacting and avoiding intruding awfulness. While this makes me a champion at the Art of Quitting it doesn’t provide the resilience to complete tasks and give me confidence past being a Jill of all trades, mastering none despite a drawer full of parchments.