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Letter to An Adoptive Parent

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Letter To An Adoptive Parent


Is This The Letter We'd All Like To Write?

The following letter was written by the natural mother of a child taken for adoption in the 1960's under what was then routine adoption practice. Her daughter had been adopted by a woman who was both a social worker and psychologist who had worked in the business and who had again controlled the situation by maneuvering a reunion between mother and child without any preparation offered but to drop the child at her mothers doorstep. This letter was written two years after the reunion when some equilibrium had been gained. Some mothers will identify with Sophie's response, others may not.

Dear Adoptive Parent.

How sad it is that I have allowed the civilised relationship we have had to deteriorate, however, I cannot retract anything I have said to you, or dismiss my anger at will, as just a step in the grieving process a la textbook, of the "be patient, you'll feel better eventually when you get to the acceptance stage" type.

I have been stricken by involuntary, frustrated, impotent anger at having seen my firstborn child entrenched as a member of another family, and at the poignant futility of changing that situation, because it is obviously irreversible and the parental psychological die long since cast. I am very female, very jealous, very normal and very, very angry because I have long realised (as I'm sure you must have) that this intolerable situation should not exist, i.e. No adoption should ever have occurred or indeed ever was necessary.

It hurts and enrages terribly. It is an in-eradicable hurt. I, nor anyone else, should ever have had to endure hurt like this. How dare you, complete strangers, living on the other side of the world have my child. How dare you try and turn my child into your own. How dare you call her your own. How dare you take her out of this country. I am positive that my anger and the indignation I feel at this situation is the most human and normal of reactions - and very valid. I have discovered that "Hell hath no fury like a woman" who has lost a child to adoption.

My anger is beyond my control, and quite unlike any emotion I have ever experienced before, But then of course, I have never experienced grief before and this is my first experience of profound, full-blown grief. Its ferocity frightens me. It has been an anger and grief which has been quite relentless, and is with me in a heightened way every waking moment, no matter where I am, who I am with or what I am doing. I have cracked a filled tooth clenching my teeth.

I shake with uncontrollable spasms of anger, I talk to myself, I grip furniture, I physically go through the motions of violently killing someone. The intensity of the emotion has never abated in the 18 months since it began, indeed, it becomes even stronger and more passionate each day. It comes over in regular waves. How I wish I could let go of it, or it would let go of me. It has forced me into recesses of the human mind I did not know, or could ever have imagined existed.

I wish I could accept the tragic and unnecessary adoption philosophically with a shrug of the shoulders, look positively to the future, and just be happy and content with my good fortune in getting my baby back. That would be so sensible wouldn't it, and should be so easy to do. But try as I might I cannot, and I will not. This anger has tripped me onto another plane from which there is no return. It is the anger of a woman who has lost her child, of an animal who has lost its young, of someone who has experienced grave social injustice. It is a certain indication that something is terrible wrong. It is an anger that is not easily explained and I doubt many people are affected by an issue of any kind to such a degree.

It has at least given me an interesting insight into the sustained anger that drives such people as Simon Wiesenthal, the Austrian Jew who lost eighty members of his family in the Holocaust and has pursued Nazi criminals relentlessly ever since, or here in Australia the anger experienced by Lindy Chamberlain who was accused and found guilty, quite erroneously, of killing her baby and imprisoned for three years for a crime she did not do, and then forced to fight that miscarriage of justice for years. It is an anger which cannot be ignored, its offshoot is a driving zeal for reform, or whatever is needed to correct its root cause. It is frighteningly powerful. It does not go away or dissipate with time.

It well may by a classic cause of grief and anger. If it makes you feel comfortable and in control of the situation to do so, by all means call it grief, but I resent clinical labels being put on me, as they are so limited and patronising. I appreciate your concern that I may be locked into anger and unable to move on. Unfortunately, it is not that easy to find the key, if there is a key to be had. I think that this is an impasse situation and that this anger and grief is a much more complex and grave emotional outcome to the reunion with Sarah than you seem to, or care to, want to understand.

Your limited understanding is evidenced in your attempts to talk about adjustment. What! Adjustment to the loss of a child in a very cruel way, acceptance that you are her legal parents, adjustment to the fact that you call Sarah your daughter when biologically she is not! That My Child Is Not My Child! Adjustment on your terms, deference to you, because he who paid the piper calls the tune, and its all too late to change the status quo - and too bad. Acceptance of adoption? How little you understand the human female mind, my mind. What bald-faced cheek you have, especially in view of the fact that I did not seek you out!

I certainly would not like to face you and Fred with, your biological, Henriette at my foot, in a hypothetical reversal of the situation, and tell you that she was mine because of a legal adoption and that you had better become adjusted to the idea. I don't think you would tolerate that at all, do you?

My understanding of grief resolution which is based on a television interview with the late Dr. Kubler-Ross, is that for the full resolution of grief there should be a viewing of the body, heavily bandaged if necessary, by the bereaved, and attendance at the funeral. In my circumstances there was no viewing of the body at birth because it was standard, shameful practice to whisk the baby away, lest its mother bond with it or go back on her sensible decision to give it away to worthy strangers, so I was left for 19 years.

I was not given a fair chance to come to terms with her birth, let alone her death by adoption. When I met the adult Sarah for the first time I saw the body of my dead baby for the first time. However, the body/Sarah was very much an alive corpse, and therefore it is very much an ongoing, living death, which will be perpetuated with the possible, eventual birth of my grandchildren. It is very open-ended.

Death at least is final for one who can grieve and then get on with life - as nature intended, but this kind of loss is different. There is a grief for which there is no standard cure because there is no standard death. Mothers Do Not Give Up. Nature does not let them give up. The yearning for the lost child, the concern for its welfare is fundamental to the survival of the species. It is a national, social scandal that nature was ever tampered with to such an extent.

It is significant to point out to you, although you are probably well aware, that present nursing practice in many parts of the world is to give a woman who has a stillbirth, the opportunity to hold the dead baby so that she may come to terms with the loss. Her potential grief and distress is taken very seriously.

This more enlightened approach makes what the baby snatchers carried out in the 50's, 60's and 70's, with the sheet over the face treatment, seem more appalling, for they were crude, deliberate unbondings of mothers and babies with no attempt made to deal with potential grief. In fact the possibility of soul-destroying, profound, unresolved grief doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone at all, or if it did it was dismissed as unimportant and secondary, something that women would get over.

It is so sad and now almost incomprehensible that there were people who thought they had the right to commit these acts of punitive, deliberate gross inhumanity to young woman. Had such events occurred in other parts of the world everyone would have cried "atrocity". Had you been treated in this way at your own daughter's birth you would be crying malpractice at the very least.

I wish to remind you that I was just as much a woman, just as much experiencing a birth and just as vulnerable emotionally. I was not a second-class citizen, or a member of a sub-species devoid of normal human feelings. I was a normal, healthy young woman who experienced a live stillbirth, and who has had to live with unresolved grief, a dreadful mental burden, and severe trauma for nearly twenty years in consequence. Sadly, and shockingly, I am merely one of thousands. Can you imagine the effect of such an experience on Henriette or Sarah, or even yourself?

I judge my anger to be completely valid because its root cause is social injustice and inhumanity. I have to some degree accepted my loss of Sarah to adoption as a fait accompli; one cannot deny the obvious, but I cannot, however, accept the cruelty of the situation or regard it in any way as valid. To fully accept Sarah's loss with brave, chastened resignation would be to condone the institution of adoption and ratify it, and that I cannot and shall never do. A spirited rejection of the whole vile, horrific process is the only valid reaction. Nature must fight back. Common humanity must reassert itself and prevail. This official baby theft must end. Thank God, it virtually has.

It well may be adoption was instituted with the best of intentions as you say so defensively, but then so was hanging, the transportation of convicts to NSW and the establishment of workhouses, but those practices have now discontinued because they were unacceptable. Society is constantly evolving and improving its social institutions, and adoption is defunct now because statistics speak for themselves. Adoption is becoming archaic, and if the experts are correct it will disappear completely from our legislation, and ideally cease to be an option, that is, even available for women to consider.

Adoption is and was an abhorrent social institution because it has caused incalculable, unnecessary hurt to hapless young women and exploited their vulnerability and plight. I see it increasingly in its historical perspective as a heinous, impertinent, meddling with nature which should have had no place in any society. You say it was done by people who thought they were acting in everyone's best interests. Please allow me the option or right to say that it was not in my best interests, and that it failed me.

It was in fact solely in the best interests of the adoptive mother so she could satisfy her frustrated maternal instinct. It was she alone who benefited from adoption. My thinking on this subject I suspect is well ahead of yours or has gone in a direction you and many others, who have used the system to their advantage, would prefer not to go. You wish still to somehow justify taking a young woman's baby, and you are trying to quell any pangs of conscience you may have, must have, by trying to comfort me and manipulate me into acceptance. As a victim of the system I have every right to a certain amount of righteous anger, and to question the system because it has affected my life so detrimentally and so needlessly.

The authorities who carried out those dreadful adoptions should be taken to task, and the whole era seen as a social disgrace because of the exploitation which the community actively encouraged and the hurt which it tolerated. It is now being viewed retrospectively as a most unfortunate social experiment which ran away with itself and which has failed because it has caused unacceptable hurt and interference in peoples' lives. Legally, there is concern at the secrecy involved and the denial of human rights.

It is said that in countries such as Sweden there is considerable embarrassment that adoption ever occurred there at all. In Australia there is now recognition that instead of questioning the morality of illegitimate birth, the taking of babies from young women in suspect ways and allowing those babies to grow up in a genealogical vacuum is the real moral issue. Adoption with its inherent cruelty and denial of human rights will in time be seen as one of the most discreditable practices in western social history.

I try to see myself in historical perspective as just another of the thousands of victims of that adoption-happy era, a fact which makes it all the more difficult to bear in light of the turn around in social attitudes and the much more positive and humane acceptance and treatment of ex-nuptial birth.

Too late, I've realised that social and cultural attitude is a fickle and unimportant mistress. I now see that Sarah's adoption was something that need never and should never have occurred. How tragic it is that I, a perfectly normal, well brought up young woman, lost my first child forever in such a dreadful way, and that at the time of adoption because of the legislation then in place, I knew and am ashamed to say, accepted, that I would not be entitled to know if she were alive of dead, and that any attempt to trace her would have been a breach of the law.

How barbaric and inhumane. I was to have no knowledge of my child's future, of this little creature who had been inside my body for nine months, someone who was part of me, but who I had been encouraged to believe I had no right to mother or even hold at birth. I was to subjugate myself completely, sacrifice my own mental health. What utter, cruel barbaric nonsense.

I steeled myself not to have maternal feelings for her so successfully that I have found it very hard to properly love the children from my marriage. I am afraid to love them. There is a mental barrier, a safety barrier. Hardly a good consequence of relinquishment for adoption on the female psyche. My reward for being honest enough to see the pregnancy through and brave enough to give up the baby for adoption was serious psychological damage and lifelong hurt. I was an honest fool.

I chose not to take up the offer to be told something about you, for that hurt rather more than I could bear. It still hurts and I still experience that same shocking feeling when thinking about you now, that I felt at the time of the adoption. You are the enemy yet. I was, and still am seriously traumatised and you are very much an incorporated part of the trauma. I get very angry indeed thinking of you parenting my child - especially when I could have done it all just as well.

How unfair it was that after that traumatic pregnancy, and frightening, painful delivery, someone else walked off with the baby I never saw, that the birth brought joy to one lot of people who were complete strangers, and hurt and trauma to me. What a cruel waste for me. What misery I went through gestating for you. I assure you I do not rejoice in having supplied complete strangers with a child, so you might have saved your thanks. I wonder how you can ever have felt comfortable about taking another woman's child under such circumstances. What specious, cliched nonsense you must have comforted yourself with and persuaded yourself to believe as you somehow tried to justify the cruelty from which you stood to gain so much.

What a brave, naive fool I was. I signed adoption consents just a few days after the birth, a time lapse which incidentally is now barely legal, not even really aware that I had been inadequately counselled, probably in a very vulnerable state of mind and certainly not physically recovered from a fairly difficult labour.

Easy pickings for the system. I can see now that I was used as just another public incubating machine which harvested my child - my genes made public property - as part of some monstrous and dreadful system. I and all the others were then conveniently silenced by stigma and trauma. No feeble bleats of protest from the slaughtered lambs. We were too busy trying to be normal - "to get over it".

No use weeping and wailing now and being insulting and rude to you for nothing can be changed. I acquiesced, my child was made available for adoption, and you can always defend your action by saying that this was apparently what I wanted and it is all now too late and too bad.

But It Should Never Have Happened. How Dare They Do This To Me! How Dare Anyone Encourage Me To Think That This Was The Course Of Action I Should Take. Why Couldn't That Damned Social Worker At Crown Street, Whose Number I Happened To Draw In That Waiting Room Full Of Misery, Have Understood That I Needed Help To Tell My Parents, That This Was Psychologically Disastrous, Not Only For Me, But For My Future Family.

Why was I so stupidly brave and resolute? How tragic that I didn't recognise and detect, stock-in-trade counselling spouted routinely by poorly trained people. How foolishly I let myself be placed on that conveyor belt of despair and be just another assembly line adoption in the state of NSW.

How frightening it is that such barbarism had community acceptance and approbation even from apparently intelligent, educated, caring people such as I'm sure you saw yourself. How terrible that adoption even existed as an option; how facile and short-sighted a quick-fix solution it was, and how callous was the complete disregard for fundamental human emotion that the system showed.

How alarming that we were all caught up in a mindset like that, that so many normal healthy young woman - and their babies were its victims. People needed positive help desperately, but were robbed of their children instead. Radical surgery was used to deal with a problem pregnancy; amputation prescribed and carried out with the crudeness of an American Civil War field surgeon. People cut off for all time from their real families.

However you might try to deny it or justify it adoption was tantamount to legalised, bureaucratically organised baby robbery, done with community connivance - and well you know it. It was called a neat solution which of course on the face of it was, but it was particularly neat for would-be-adoptive parents. The authorities who manipulated lives in this way rather forgot that they were dealing with human beings; Their human husbandry reminds one uncomfortably of Hitler.

The hardest thing of all to bear is that I blame myself. That in itself intensifies the misery. Why didn't I fight harder? Why didn't I somehow, half drugged as I was, struggle to get up from the table in the delivery room and demand to see my child? Why did I let myself be stripped of my baby with such indignity? Why was I so passive? Why didn't I channel my courage into facing the music at home and somehow work out a solution. It is a classic piece of tragedy, grounded as it is in flawed human character. All my own fault in every respect. So easy for you, you merely had to sit in the wings, put in your order for a baby and wait for a family tragedy to occur.

It was the done thing at the time and a perfectly reasonable thing to do, so I can hardly blame you, nor is it fair to pile contumely upon you for taking advantage of the system and me. I am sure you will understand, however, that I am now bitterly resentful of a system that worked that way. I needed short-term help, not the kind that took the baby away forever to satisfy someone else's frustrated maternal instinct. I needed a custodian, I needed time - and so did George, although I am not exactly rushing to his defence.

Why didn't I seek an abortion? How expedient it would have been. What misery I could have averted. Sarah has a university friend who has had three abortions. All presumably done on National Health. An Anglican priest I once knew used to say that it was more socially acceptable to have an abortion than to bear a child out of wedlock. How right he was. He never knew that his own daughter had an abortion rather than tell her parents. My respect for human life and the decision not to terminate the pregnancy has cost me dearly. The question of abortion is another issue.

Naturally, now that I have met Sarah I am glad that I didn't terminate the pregnancy, and am grateful for my decision not to do so, but I respect the common sense of those who did terminate pregnancies rather than lose a child for adoption. In the long term however, I think abortion is very sad and negative - but then so is adoption.

What untold hurt, cruelty and human misery has occurred in consequence of many situations similar to my own. The tip-of-the-iceberg stories I have heard are unbearable in their pathos. How sad that there was no shortage of people to capitalise on this particular human misery no matter how honest and idealistic their intentions, and thus perpetuate the system. How reprehensible it is that people used this very human predicament for their own ends so much so, that adoption was regarded as some sort of norm, that it became entrenched as a solution to infertility, and was seen as a wonderful community service. Such civilised horror, so conveniently hidden from the public gaze.

How cruelly ironic that the situation began to change in the 1970's soon after Sarah's birth. It seems that society cried "Enough! This has gone too far". The figures for children taken for adoption peaked in 1972, but began to fall off afterwards with the advertising of the sole parent's pension in 1973. Thank God women began to fight back. How I wish I had been one of them and not the cowardly creature I was. Nature in the end will not be cheated and I can only say a heartfelt thank you to those who have fought the system, and have had the courage to tackle seemingly immutable laws in an attempt to bring a little humanity into the whole process.

It is also significant and very sad that according to research done by the Adoption Research and Counselling Service at the University of Western Australia it is thought that a significant number of natural parents went on to marry each other and produce other children. Many adoptees have full siblings they may know nothing about.

There are many divided families and there is a great deal of parental anguish. I know of one couple who have learned where their lost son is living and occasionally drive to the school they suspect he attends in order to watch the children in the playground in an attempt to determine which child is their's. Is that fair? The pathos of that story deeply affects me. The system certainly let them down. Their run-away fertility didn't deserve that kind of punishment. There must have been a more humane option, a more helpful option, such drastic surgery surely was unnecessary. Ultimately, any thinking person can only conclude that No Adoption is best.

Counsellors themselves know, or increasingly, are becoming uncomfortably aware, that adoption does not work for all parties for all time, and that it has been a tragic failure. Arguable, of course, but the only truly satisfied customers seem to be adoptive parents. The now mature-aged women who lost their children to adoption in the 50s, 60s and 70s are becoming vocal, more overt in letting society know that this did not work, that it has hurt women and their lost children in an unacceptable way. How foolishly short sighted the adoption authorities were not to anticipate this eventuality.

How short sightedly and foolishly it was also assumed that the adopted child would never be interested in its origins, would accept being denied the basic human right of knowing one's own mother and father. They completely overlooked, or underestimated, the power of human curiosity, didn't they those clever people who set up adoption, and showed such an arrogant, disdain for human rights in the harsh legislation surrounding it. There are adoptees too you know who experience overwhelming anger at being denied their original birth certificate, their right to know who they really are. There are older people who have been angry for a lifetime at being stripped of their true identity.

I have tried to cope with Sarah's adoption by placing it in its historical perspective, as the unfortunate result of some now almost archaic practice that occurred in an era when insensitivity to social issues abounded, when there was still a lot of punitive, residual Victorianism in our culture and humanity and reform hadn't quite caught up with monstrous laws, a time when good social work was limited, a time when the social worker at the public hospital who was suppose to help you could only offer stock-in-trade advice of the, "Its selfish to keep the baby!" Next! Kind, and did not consider alternatives or fully explore the situation of the case before her, but to no avail.

I find myself instead increasingly wondering how many people tragically lost their children through biased and inept counselling, how many young girls were coerced by "counsellors" - both church and state, and foolish, scandalised parents into relinquishment. There is plenty of very disturbing anecdotal evidence to suggest that there were many. (I know there is considerable professional embarrassment and parental regret in consequence).

Society was tidied away nicely, and all incriminating evidence swept under the carpet, but at what a price, and did it really matter if the house wasn't completely in order?

I have discovered that there is a vast difference between the way one should feel and the way one truly does feel. I should feel grateful should I not because you reared my child, but as I was not entitled to have any knowledge of her welfare during her childhood it is of cold comfort to me. I doubt that you did it for me anyway; it was largely done out of your desire to be parents not out of a philanthropic desire to help someone. I acknowledge the fact that you took the responsibility seriously, but this of course was only because you had possession of my child, and officially could try to turn my child into your's. Would you have done it for a ward?

The sad and ironic truth is that you have supplied nothing that my own family could have not been able to provide in the way of education, material comfort and love. So I do not feel gratitude, but some relief that she finished up where she did and that it worked out as it has. I shudder to think of some of the hideous possibilities. Young women were easily persuaded to believe the myth that adoptive parents were paragons. Too late, many have realised that they were the most ordinary of people, that many adoptions were for the wrong motives, that adoption failed. I know of one adoptee who at seven years of age was subsequently placed in a series of foster homes. His natural mother was never told until he was an adult when she conducted her search.

Can you imagine her anguish? Adoptive parents can be alcoholics or child abusers just as can any other member of the community. They also divorce, apparently with great observed frequency, although I have no statistics to substantiate this statement. Women who surrendered their children to adoption threw them to the most uncertain of fates, something which they may not have realised as trusting young girls. No-one ever seems to have checked up on adoptive parents, and made sure that all was well with the adoptee. The adoptive parents, perfection was unquestionable.

My anger goes beyond the help of well-meaning but limited and clinical counselling that has been set up to cope with the tragic aftermath of the adoption era. It is almost amusing to see counsellors and agencies doing a kind of three-cornered hat dance as they adroitly step from one side of the adoption triangle to the other in an earnest bid to deal fairly with the respective problems of the client in front of them, but at least they're there even if too late. The fact that so many counselling services have been set up is an indication of the recognition by church and state the there are so many problems left in the wake of the tragic adoption era. However, counsellors can't give back babies can they?

They don't even seem to be able to understand how unbearable it is for a woman to see her own child established as a part of another family and the difficulty of having to stand by and tolerate that situation, of having to adjust to being the shadowy half mother, grudgingly tolerated, which seems to be the outcome of most reunions. They can only make suitable sympathetic noises, so I would prefer to do without tripartisan counselling thank you. As John Foster Dulles said "If you're not with me you're ag'in me."

There is I suspect a definite need for special counselling units to be set up for mothers. It is significant that ARCS here in Perth offers more sessions for mothers than any other section of the triad, an apparent indication that this is the group which is really suffering. They are certainly the principal victims of a most dreadful social era. Circumstances and stigma forced them to be the most silent in their suffering yet they have the deepest and most anguished of hurt and are in the greatest need of counselling. Many receive and will continue to need constant counselling.

I wonder if you in your text books ever thought of addressing the problem - the silent hidden anguish of having a child taken at birth and the consequent neurotic, dysfunctional behaviour. There must be thousands of woman affected in this way, living in the closet with their official secret, their problems attributed to something else, yet does anyone ever really worry about them? I've heard of two adult women who were close friends accidentally admitting to each other that they'd each lost a child in this way. It was later remarked of one that there was a certain look of suffering about her eyes that could be discerned when you knew the story. I know of two sisters who cannot even talk even to each other, so terrible is the trauma.

Have you ever imagined what it is like to listen to conversations about adoption, and having to remain silent, listening impassively while the knife turns deeper and deeper into the soul? The word adoption itself freezes the heart for a split second; it is tossed around freely in many different contexts, people always thoughtlessly assuming that it doesn't involve anyone present should the subject turn to the adoption of children. If only they realised how much it can hurt.

I believe that my angry energy must be harnessed in a positive way to let the world see what happened, to let it know that adoption was horrifically, dreadfully wrong, and to shake the community out of the lethargic tolerance and approbation of it which is displayed and to some extent still does, to make sure this never happens again to any women, and of course to provide comfort and support to the victims, some of whom will never find their children and will have to live with lifelong heartache and yearning.

It is no good crying and dwelling on regret and hurt, one must Fight and put things right. I cannot ignore this issue, and if I were to do so, it would boomerang back. It possesses me. Because I was the honest victim, I have become the honest would-be reformer. Virgil said "Anger supplies the arms."

I am angry that you had identifying information about me on the adoption papers which you could act upon, and did, when you were ready. I assure you the long term hurt is not so easily forgotten nor the anger dissipated because of the "fairy tale ending". You have put a simplistic anodyne for years of hurt with a snap reunion. Did you perhaps judge that I had suffered enough, or that I suffered at all?

I rather got the impression after talking with you in England that it was something of a new-found discovery to you that this had actually hurt someone so seriously. By showing me Sarah you have shown me what I've lost and cannot, may not, every really have - except for the polite scraps thrown my way, although I admit that your scraps have been comparatively, quite generous. Why didn't you leave me alone? I sometimes think that may have been kinder.

Your understanding is limited - though I give you full points for at least trying - and somewhat dominated I imagine by your rather old-fashioned disapproval of ex-nuptial birth. You are very much a product of your era and as such accepted quite readily the neat solution of adoption and obviously were able to suppress and ignore any pangs you may have felt about taking someone's baby. I wonder how you equate satisfying your own frustrated maternal instinct at the expense of someone else's with being the caring person you pride yourself on being.

How callously you must have ignored your suspicion that someone's life was deeply disturbed and disastrously effected by the whole shocking business. Did you really care? If you really cared you wouldn't have had the heart to take my baby.

You didn't have to care though, for that was how the system worked. How terrible. How would you have felt if you had learnt in time that I had been unable to have more children, or that subsequent children had died? That this indeed happened to woman of my acquaintance, and was a possibility quite ignored by counsellors who should have pointed this out to young women, and who should by taken to task for having failed to do so.

How you must have comforted yourself with all the platitudes you could dredge up, but after all you had the sanction of society and social workers to reassure you should there have been any misgivings. My hurt, that was unfortunate, but it was not, and still is not, your responsibility or problem. You therefore seem to have accepted the horror of the situation without too many qualms. What steel claws you have in your velvet glove.

What ruthlessness there is behind your gentle demeanour. I cannot accept that you were truly humane, because you were motivated largely by self-interest and you were very interested in possession because adoption is all about possession - otherwise there would be no point in it would there? You are as scrounging and opportunistic as any other adoptive parent seeking to solve your apparent infertility problem at the expense of some hapless young woman.

On the face of it of course, to an outsider, the anger I feel would seem unwarranted and a manifestation of downright bloody minded ingratitude because I have had nothing to be upset about have I? I've met the child who was dead to me, in a seemingly magical way, and we were all clearly on track for an all's well that ends well conclusion. You must have been congratulating yourself on having so easily managed an exemplary, text-book type reunion with the "birth mother" (the term deeply offends and hurts me), such as was only to be expected of a well regarded social worker and expert such as yourself.

Perhaps you secretly hoped to write a paper to be published in a journal and gain professional kudos on the ideal conclusion to the painful but sometimes necessary process of adoption! You could have explained how the reunion was accomplished with exquisite, well-controlled English civility and described how neatly we had leapfrogged the stereotyped stage of the jealousy, rage and vituperation, the clawing, scratching, and bitter wrangling over the child.

I now realise that I was deftly and smoothly steered (manipulated?) through that stage even when my incipient anger wanted expression. You pulled out all stops to woo me, to be exceedingly decent, and I fell into line because I am an obliging, sensitive, co-operative person. I put on my best manners, and allowed myself to be borne along with the tide of civility.

Of course, the family - your family - boundaries were there weren't they, but with exquisite tact I recognised them and heeded them, being very aware of your covert observation of all that was going on, ready to pounce if I overstepped the mark. It was painful to the extreme and was rather like walking a tightrope. One false move would be followed by sudden catastrophe. I was allowed to look at my child, but not to touch and make too many claims. I was essentially to be subservient and deferential, and so long as I remained so all was well. Rather like a poor relation in a Jane Austen novel. Perhaps you intended to be equitable. I appreciate how difficult it must have been for you too.

What a strain it must have been for you. Did it ever occur to you that you were probably sick after luncheon on that first day not because of dubious prawns but because of the sheer strain of my presence? Your child's real mother, the woman whose baby was taken for you, there in your very household. You must have been sick with apprehension, wondering if I was going to be difficult.

Throughout all this honeymoon stage, pure, natural, normal anger was building up. It was particularly triggered off on one occasion when I heard Fred on the telephone telling someone that "my daughter has just finished a law degree", bursting with pride at Sarah's success and at being able to give this quite irrelevant piece of information to the caller. I was incensed because that was my child he was referring to, not his, a partial composite of my intellectual capacity, and nothing whatsoever to do with him.

How dare he claim it for his own? It was I who supplied the mind. Certainly, I acknowledge how much Sarah's expensive education has cost you and how you must like all parents feel a sense of vested interest - I too have paid a fortune in school fees and thank you sincerely for giving education a high priority - but nevertheless that's my daughter you're referring to, not your's and the remark hurt.

My anger was given further impetus by such objects as the photo of the young teenaged Sarah which hangs on the wall in your bedroom, because in it I could see a fleeting resemblance to myself. A piece of me "forever in a foreign field". How dare you! I am deeply hurt and offended by the thought of that photograph. Imagine how you would feel if you were to go to a foreign household and find your image before you on a wall. How dare anyone have my child, how dare they claim my child for there own.

How dare they use my genes. She is not your's. She is a member of my tribe. She is my kinswoman. She is a one half composite of my ancestors. She is nothing to do with you. That photograph more than anything brings home to me just how I was used by you and was a victim of the system, and the sheer enormity of what happened. Don't you have a sense of trespass? I wonder if you have the imagination, sensitivity or humility to even feel it.

Remember always that she is my child, and no law from any land can change that. No law should ever have attempted to do so, or to meddle with something so sacred and inviolable. Be ever mindful of unalterable physical fact - Sarah is my child, I am her mother - not birth mother, Australian mother, other mother, second mother or natural mother - I Am Her Real Mother. Never think of me as anything other than Sarah's mother. Never use dismissive, categorising, clinical terminology about me. Give me my true title. Afford me respect and true recognition of who I am - in an unpatronizing way. In brief, please give me back my baby. There, I've said what you most dreaded to hear. I've arrived at the heart of the matter.

Please Give Me Back My Baby For She Was Never Your's To Have.

Furthermore, I was increasingly irritated by your cornering of me when we were alone anxiously seeking out a progress report on my mental well-being. Was that out of concern for me, or to ease your own guilty conscience at having another woman's child? Were these counselling attempts designed to make you feel better, or me? You patronisingly said you wanted to help me. That's a bit rich isn't it, you take my child, choose the moment when you were ready to drop her into my life with all those consequences, be the one who benefited from my personal grief and tragedy, and then try to console me, wearing your social worker hat.

At that time, however, I was too stymied with a whole mixture of un-distilled thoughts and reactions to be able to express emotion of any kind to satisfy you. I stayed in limbo for quite a long time after that going about my daily life while the psychological volcano built up steam, the cogitative processes working themselves through. And then one day back in Australia the eruption occurred with a momentous, explosive blast. Anger assailed me in an involuntary, terrible way. Every day since I have found myself saying over and over, How Dare You Have My Child! How Dare You! The honeymoon was over.

In retrospect I realise now that it was a serious error in judgement to visit you as a house guest and see you interacting as a family. I acknowledge that you could hardly behave otherwise of course, but I sometimes wondered if you didn't play it up to the hilt as a sort of subtle hint to me to keep my distance. It was much too delicate a situation. I would have saved myself considerable heartache and personal anguish if I had stayed well away from you all and had listened to the one bit of good advice I received of the "how can you bear to be anywhere near those people who have your child?" kind. Well, of course, how right that person was.

I should have applied basic common sense and kept well away from you all. I was hurt, and now regret the visit, although you tried so very hard to make me welcome and I do have some very nostalgic memories. Unfortunately, I had felt confident that I would not be hurt, that I would not mind seeing my daughter with her adoptive family, but in the end I found that it was too close to the bone for comfort after all. It did hurt, and still does - terribly. I am human, female, jealous, very normal and I found the situation in the end to be intolerable despite my own idealism and initial acceptance. I did not want to feel the way I do.

All I could do was stand by with rising, helpless anger. I think also it put unfair pressure on Sarah who was as puzzled as to how to deal with me as I was with her and must have forged a relationship well away from the adoptive family, and indeed were doing so very nicely through our correspondence. We both certainly should have had much extensive counselling before any meeting was attempted (I regard the term reunion a complete misnomer as I did not meet my baby at birth) because of the long term possible effects and implications for family, especially mine.

I certainly understand the reason why some women say no to a reunion; it forestalls heartache and keeps the lid firmly on the can of worms. It is most unfair that adoptive parents try to again use the mother of their adopted child in this way. They used her once to supply them with their family, they should not be allowed to use her again in a later stage of the adoption to supply the missing information they cannot provide.

In some perverse way I have found myself thinking that it was up to you who had long since recognised the major flaw in adoption, i.e. The denial to the adoptee of his or her heritage, to deal with Sarah's emotional and identity problems - you used me once, how dare you expect to be able to use me again. It was your problem, and it was up to you to deal with it. The reunion was done for that reason wasn't it? You didn't really care about me or my family. You most ill-advisedly and with rather too much over-confidence thought you could drop on me out of the blue. You say it was Sarah who wanted to find me, which she did, thank God, but I think you must admit that you orchestrated her search in every way.

I am very angry that as long ago as 1974 you knew where to start looking for me, angry that you always had identifying information which you could act upon any time you chose - and subsequently did. If you could circumvent the system for Sarah's sake so easily in 1988, why didn't you do so for mine in 1974? The consequences would probably have been the same, so it wouldn't have made much difference. Was it because you weren't confident that she was safely your's yet, or was it because of my presumed wish for privacy, which certainly didn't stop you in 1988? Of course, you couldn't disturb a little girl - or give her back to her mother, for that wasn't the way the system worked at all. She needed stability - and she was your's wasn't she, and I suspect you are tenaciously possessive.

You say that finding me and seeing her origins gave Sarah permission to be herself, by which I think you mean that she could see that she was not from the same mould as you and could understand personality and character differences, and that she no longer had to try and be your child. Does it interest you to know that it gave me permission to be myself too, that it released me from a long spell in the closet, from a very difficult marriage, and that I felt a sense of overwhelming release? Just as Sarah could have been condemned long-term to an identity crisis and a life without roots, so was I condemned to a private hell for my part in all this. So unnecessarily. I too am important, you know!

I recognise that you are idealistic about adoption. In many ways you are exemplary and you deserve better than this bitter tirade which has probably stung you to the core and angered you very much. I doubt that many adoptive parents would have been as generous as you have, or as enlightened in their approach. You have been inordinately decent. Please don't think that I am unaware of this, or ungrateful for it.

You have at least had the courage to face up to the fact that this adoption did involve someone else, and are by now I hope uncomfortably aware of just what a devastating horror it was. Many mainstream adoptive parents are very ordinary people blinkered to believe only what they want to believe, what they've been told to believe; they regard the baby as their scoop from the adoption pool, somehow miraculously their's and their rights to it safeguarded by harsh legislation. Please try to understand however that I find the adoption process and your involvement with it quite abhorrent.

Unfortunately, I was so inured to being alone with my problem that I had no idea that in the intervening years since Sarah's birth much has been done to rectify the tragic inadequacies of counselling services in the past, and that I could have sought and found help from the various bodies here in Perth, when confronted so suddenly and shockingly with the knowledge that she was alive and wanted to meet me. I desperately needed advice. You should know that some experienced counsellors I have spoken to since have been dismayed at the way the reunion was sprung on me. People need time to adjust to the shock.

Sadly I believed that there was no one to turn to for advice; it never occurred to me that there was help available because I had always been so alone with my sad secret. I had internalised the whole experience so deeply that the matter was dormant, but only in the same way that a volcano may lie dormant. The reunion was therefore a profound shock, and it triggered off an explosive situation, something which I don't think you fully understood then or now. I was insultingly de-powered.

In the months before the reunion I now realise I was just beginning to come out of the emotional coma I had been in for years, and was starting to develop that dreadful yearning to find the missing child which I have seen in other women, so at least I was spared that for which I do feel enormous gratitude. Wanting to find the child and not being able to find it is a terrible mental torment. It is another long term effect of adoption which comes along in the middle-age, and often sooner. Is it fair that anyone be forced to suffer lifelong hurt in this manner? One only has one life - it is untenable that anyone be condemned to spend it haunted by a misery so fundamental and terrible as this. Yet it is built into the legislation, all part of the process. You accepted it, and so did other "kind" people.

My major regret about the contact I have had with Sarah is that I haven't as yet hugged, and hugged and hugged her, and that I possibly never shall. I feel a desperate need to in order to properly complete the birthing process. I need to properly bond with her in a way that was denied me at her birth. If I could bond with her perhaps I could bond better with the other two. Do you know that when told of Sarah's existence, one of my daughters said to her father, "Now I know why Mum has never loved me"?

But of course, I didn't dare attempt to get too close to Sarah and she was not exactly forthcoming, appearing at times to be offhand, rather rude and distant, something I now realise was a symptom of nervousness. I rather recognised myself. I was fine as a mythical, romanticised Australian mother correspondent figure, but rather daunting as a flesh and blood person who could not be neatly categorised and interacted with accordingly.

I was not mother, sister, aunt, school friend, godmother or mother's best friend, but rather discomfortingly someone who was the very reason she existed and with whom she was more closely linked biologically than anyone else she ever met. I am her mother am I not? And because I am used to being a parent and mother, it was difficult, and still is, to find quite the right approach.

I think to a certain extent we have succeeded, having hit upon a relationship which rather transcends parenthood. Anyone can be a parent, but not anyone can establish a relationship based on like minds and a genetic link. I recognised much of myself in her. It is terribly wrong that we were ever separated, and that she was denied her birthright of being held in her own mother's arms, suckled at her own mother's breast. I think in time she may become very angry about this. I know that this has caused her considerable grief too. Mother and daughter are the same you see. It need not have been; we should never have been separated. The adoption was a tragic, foolish mistake. I am bitterly angry with a system and a society that would even allow and encourage it.

Does adoption really work? It didn't work for me did it? It most adversely affected my life. It didn't work for Sarah either, for after all she wanted to find her natural family, and had she not done so, might well have finished up somewhat psychologically disturbed. How would you have dealt with the situation had I said no to a reunion? You would have had a bad conscience knowing that the child you took to satisfy your needs was in fact unhappy, that you used her as much as you used me? It has worked for you of course, although now it must be uncomfortable to have a difficult real mother who fails to put the seal of approval on the adoption process and tell you how wonderful you are as you expect her to do.

What did you really want from adoption? You naturally claim Sarah as your family member, your possession, despite your espousal of the highly abstract Eastern philosophy of Kahlil Gibrahn, that no-one owns us, that the wish to possess one's own child is contemptible. What was the point of adoption however, if not to possess? You rather skirted around a lot of issues, in fact I think there are some issues you don't want to face up to, which is no doubt true of me. It is human nature to try and justify all our actions and blame others for what went wrong. I have therefore left you with plenty of ammunition with which to fight a strong rearguard action

What now for us? I'm not sure. I doubt that we are people who would seek each other out for a friendship in a normal way. I am not easily able to play "let's share the baby" with delicate compromise, which is my best and most civilised option, because with me it is all or nothing. I imagine this letter has angered you beyond words, and has delivered the coup de grace to our faltering relationship, but I'm afraid that what I've said, I've had to say. Respect my honesty. If you choose to have no further contact with me that's fine. We probably would both prefer to deny the existence of each other.

You said you wanted to help me. The only thing that can really help is for you to do something which you would now be unable, and I realise unwilling, to do - please give me back my baby for she was never your's to have. Call the adoption off. I relinquished nothing and rescind every dreadful document I ever signed. You may not have my child to call your own. Never again for the rest of your life think of her other than as MY child. You should have been no more than guardians of my child - custodians until I got my life in order and could care for her myself. I needed help.

I did not deserve to be stripped of my baby quite so crudely. I hope you have the good grace and courage to do a turnaround and admit that the system was seriously wrong and pathetically inadequate, and that you profited from it and used it to your advantage in a way that may have seemed acceptable then, but which is now being viewed with increasing horror and astonishment.

I am sure that in your heart of hearts you know this anyway. I suspect that Fred knows too. I hope that you as a Social Worker and Psychologist are disturbed professionally that you have been involved in something which has been so detrimental to and exploitive of a large segment of society. I know that you are not likely to be, but at least I hope I have dislodged you from your mindset and forced you to consider the other side of the coin. I have to live with this blight on my psyche for all time, I don't see why you should get off scot-free.

Remember Till The Day You Die That Sarah Is My Child, My Parents' Grandchild, A Member Of My Family. Don't Ever Forget These Unalterable Facts. She Was Your's By Unlawful Practices Which You Used To Your Advantage In What I Regard As A Horribly Calculating Way. Please, Don't Ever Again Condone The Misery And Theft Of Adoption.

This alone will help me. I understand that you can only say no to this. We are engaged in the classic tug-of-war over the baby, despite your attempts to avert it. Very basic stuff isn't it? Very human, very natural. A bitter stalemate. Contact with the natural mother is very risky isn't it and unfortunately for you, you got me.

I can no longer subjugate myself to an absurd idealism and pretend that all is well. All is not well. I feel what I feel in a very pure and honest way. It will be interesting to have you reveal your true colours, if you do, and to see the real Betty. I have laid my cards on the table. Rightly or wrongly, pride is bound up in this, and I am very proud. Nobody may have my child. I know that I have said what you and all adoptive mothers must most dread to hear.

I'm the mother who wants her child back - because I never gave her away. She was never your's to have. I have uttered the fundamental, primal truth which you always so neatly deflected with the skill of a professional fencer and would not allow me to say. I Want My Child Back. You don't have my blessing on the evil baby approbation which is adoption, and which I rather suspect you wanted in order to justify and feel comfortable about Sarah's adoption. I can only denounce adoption completely. Never, never again would you or anyone else get my child!

I say all of this not because I am vindictive, but because I must, and because I have been seriously hurt, as have millions of others. I have hit upon a hard core of truth which cannot be ignored. I am affected by an anger which will not dissipate. Please respect my thoughts on the subject and my responses, for they are very valid.

Please remember too that I did not come in search of you so I hope you will have the good grace to accept my reaction to this dreadful issue as something which was because of your actions. I think in some ways you deserve to hear what I have to say. As people say - you got what you asked for, although I'm glad that you did contact me for it has helped me to deal with this terrible episode in my life and rather released a lot of puss from the boil. It has greatly helped my personal development and restored my self-esteem.

I am deeply happy to have my child back; it seems however that great torment either way, i.e. Reunion or no reunion, is unavoidable. Again, therefore one can only conclude: No Adoption Is Best. It was a cruelly unnatural solution to a very natural problem. Solutions can take time, something not taken into account in the adoption process as it existed and which rode roughshod over so many people. It was railroading at its most lamentable.

Remember that I am Sarah's only and real mother. You may call yourself whatever you wish, but please let us not cheat nature any further - never forget that I am her mother. If you can acknowledge that in a very real way, then perhaps I can accept with better grace that you have been her parent.

Sophie V

 Email:   Lily

Copyright Dian Wellfare, Origins Inc, 1995