Preface, I will not delve deeply into my natural mothers’ story – I’ll reflect briefly about what she has said on public record but it’s her story to tell.
When people think or hear the term: forced adoption, images of the mother frequently come to mind. Although not universal, the story of Philomena Lee, portrayed on film by Dame Judy Dench, raised peoples understanding of some of the issues of forced adoption from the mother’s perspective. Their accounts must be heard, and it is not my intention to speak for the mothers — they have voice. My intention is to speak to the range of complex issues and to highlight the voice of the (now) adults who were subject to the practices of forced adoption.
What is Forced Adoption?
Forced adoption remains a divisive and complex term to describe both ethically and legally. For example, and as aforementioned, I cannot speak for the mothers, but I have heard some explain that this term is inaccurate because mothers (whose babies were marked for adoption BFA) were, subjected to cruel, harsh and illegal practices (forced relinquishment) which is separate to the legal act of their baby’s subsequent adoption. Lawyer Mel Bryan (2013), differentiates another class (legal) of mothers who were pressured/coerced into giving their babies up for adoption. I find the legal differentiation by Bryan (2013) confusing. That is, forced adoption (as per the Senate Inquiry and subsequent national apology) covers the continuum of being told your baby had died (but had instead been adopted) to being: drugged, jailed and placed under duress and coerced into signing the consent form. Hence the complexity. Irrespective of the legal nuances, these practices were vile! In that spirit, I encourage those of you who are interested in these matters to have a look at some of these resources and the submissions to the Senate Inquiry:
- Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices
- Forced Adoption History Project
- Gone to a Good Home
- Mothers call for a Royal Commission
- Mel Bryan (2013) and (2016)
With all that said, and although our thoughts rightly go to the mothers and the fathers (those who were purposefully excluded such as the case of Lily Arthur) — we the adopted adult (then babies) must also live with this legacy. I was one of the babies taken and the echoes of my forced adoption and others must be heard.
I was born in a Catholic Hospital and immediately taken away from my young unwed mother. She was not allowed to see me or even know my weight. I only recently realized that I was made a State Ward for 6 weeks before my legalized adoption. I really don’t know where I spent the first four weeks of my life. I suppose it was in the hospital, but they destroyed my records and those of my natural mother. I do not know what happened to me and if I thrived. Who cared for me? Who changed my diapers? Did anyone comfort me or was I left to cry alone? Some of the mothers’ accounts reveal that they could hear screams of the illegitimate babies who’d been taken. Harrowing, yet it was argued at the time that we’d been taken under the guise of our ‘best interest’. But was it?
According to Delany (2002), best interest “relates to a primacy provision, whereby the “best interests” of children shall remain paramount.”
Some people will call me lucky because I was adopted (at approx. six weeks of age) in contrast to others who were never adopted and placed into institutions. Alarmingly, Meg Hale’s research revealed that in South Australia, the Adoption of Children Act 1967 allowed for babies to be placed in institutions if they could not be adopted but the consent form (signed willingly, coerced or illegally) did not authorize this — the mothers signed a consent to adoption only. This means that some babies were raised in children’s homes — unbeknownst to their mothers (or any kin). Bryan (2013) refers to this as shelved adoptions:
“In all states and territories, the authorities deferred adoptions where the child had medical or congenital problems, was of a certain race, where the doctors were concerned about the medical and psychiatric history of the parents, and, for general social reasons. Even babies with red hair would sometimes be placed on the deferred list. While most babies on the deferred adoption list would eventually be adopted, perhaps as many as one in three were never adopted and the mothers were never told either at the time the babies were removed or later on when the Department decided that the child would not be adopted (Bryan, 2013).”
Case in point, Journalist, Bryan Seymour, was taken from his mother and he reports that she was subject to duress and coercion and he was subsequently placed in a children’s home for nearly five years. His mother never knew. Likewise, my natural mother never knew that I wasn’t immediately adopted, in fact she went back for me but was told I had been adopted! Anecdotally I have been told that blond haired blue-eyed babies were preferred — I have brown hair and brown eyes (testament to my natural father who was Sicilian).
Pursuing the notion of ‘best interest’, not all adoptees went to homes where they were nurtured or loved. There are submissions and accounts by adoptees who allege shocking abuse at the hands of their adoptive parents. Adoptee Kerri Saint has spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered. She founded the Association for Adoptees and has started a campaign #adoptionredressnow
We don’t have accurate figures of the number of babies or children who were adopted under the formal term of forced adoption practices or in general (period), but figures vary (e.g., up 255,000) (refer page 6). We have had an inquiry (and subsequent national apology) into the horrific abuse that Forgotten Australians (again a complex term) endured (including: physical, sexual, emotional abuse and experiments) but nothing will salvage their loss. In terms of adoptees, there has, to date, not been any national data collection on our outcomes. We are largely invisible. This has to change!
Finally, I will leave you to ponder this thought: adoption is forced upon the adoptee because we never consented! Of course, there is more to be said about this but that is for another time. Our echoes of forced adoption will continue!
Echoes and Dedications
To the mothers who were brutalized, stood before us and fought for the truth — I stand on your shoulders in gratitude. Including but not limited to: Lily Arther and Linda Bryant!
Special thanks to the Australian adoptee activists and voices which include but are not limited to: Dr Catherine Lynch, Kerri Saint, Liz O’Keefe, Lynelle Long, Sharyn White, William Hammersley and columnist Grace Collier.
Thank you to all of the international adoptees who inspire, support and teach me — you are my nation!
To my natural family. Thank you to those who have embraced me. I know it’s not easy.
Thank you to my loving adoptive family who stand beside me as I share these accounts. I know that not all adoptees have the freedom to speak as I do — for that I am deeply thankful. My brother Steven, you are my rock!
Finally, to my ever patient husband — I am sorry! I promise to cook dinner and write my Uni assignment next week 🙂 x
Originally published at medium.com