In 2006 I was asked to share my experience at a Conference held in Melbourne about the effects adoption has on Mental Health. This is my paper. Again, it is another long post, not quite as long as the last one though! Thanks for reading. Myst xxx
Open Adoption. Closed Adoption. Either way you look at it, ‘Adoption’ features in both phrases which means at some point, a mother and her baby must be separated in order for strangers to become parents of another woman’s child.
My name is Myst and I am the mother of a precious 8 year old girl who was taken for open adoption in New Zealand. I hope to share with you today a little of my journey through an ‘open adoption’ and the private pain I have had to live with daily since I lost my daughter.
To introduce this paper, I would like to share with you a short story. It portrays a little of the raw feelings I experienced shortly after losing my daughter in 1998 and as such, is rather emotive.
Eyes closed, she steps forward. She doesn’t need to see nor does she wish to feel what is about to happen.
The night air grips her, shrouding her, feeding her fear; her terror. Pain ignites her body as he plunges the knife in. Her mouth automatically opens to scream but she cannot.
She drifts into unconsciousness – one from which she will never wake, at least not in the physical sense.
When she next opens her eyes, she feels no pain, merely a hole – a gaping space in her middle. Picking herself up, she happens to see a body lying where she had been. Clenching her eyes tightly, she waits a few moments before opening them, hoping the body will be gone. When she does reopen her eyes, she finds to her horror it is still there.
The body is covered in blood; saturated in the crimson life force that had only moments before flowed through her veins. The face is the face of a woman, a woman that she knows?! Struggling with herself she tries to remember where she has seen that face before. She knows but doesn’t want to believe or accept it. The woman’s body before her cries out to her in silence, a sound more agonising than screams. In her chest there is a wide hole exactly where her heart had been. Only now there is nothing.
She finally grasps the reality of the cruel sight before her. The body is hers. She is nothing but a ghost staring at the remnants of her life, once young and innocent, now lost, gone in the cruellest way possible.
Why? It makes no sense to her, but then none of it does. Why?
Then she remembers: her baby…they stole her baby…. They had wanted her baby and she had fought for her, fought to keep her motherhood intact.
She screams but no sound fills the air. She is condemned to drift the earth, a mother without her baby, a ghost with no chance to rest…
(Break for 5 seconds)
My nightmare began in 1997, whilst I was living in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was during this time I was sexually assaulted by an old ‘school friend’ and shortly after, discovered I was pregnant. My family had moved to Sydney Australia 6 months before so I was isolated and vulnerable. I made the decision to keep my child, however I did not realise this very personal decision would be challenged and I underestimated my vulnerability and the determination of others.
Indeed, from barely two weeks into my pregnancy until the day my daughter was taken out of my arms, I was told on a daily basis how I would ruin my child’s life if I kept her, I was selfish, unloving and my child would grow up hating me for not giving her up. I was told if I loved my baby, I would give her to a deserving couple who could not have children so she could be raised in a good home.
A good home? A deserving couple? What made me such an unsuitable candidate to raise my own child? After all, I was not a smoker, rarely drank alcohol, was not promiscuous and I was a good church going girl, you know, the twice on Sunday kind of gal. Not only that, I was a trained professional in Early Childhood Education and Care, and, up to this point in my short life had cared for up to 50 children. So, why did my daughter need to be adopted? When I voiced these questions, I was told I was merely an incubator, growing this child for someone else, to see myself as a surrogate mother and that God was using me to bless another couple with a baby.
These statements day in and day out did my head in to the point I was like a robot, systematically programmed to do its masters bidding. My essence, my voice, was frozen inside, only daring to come out at night when I would cry over my belly, sing and talk to my ever growing babe. I would whisper to her repeatedly how much I loved her and how much I wanted to keep her but wasn’t allowed. I look back and barely know that girl but I do remember being her and it scares me I was once so fragile.
A was born on a warm blustery February morning in 1998, after I went into labour only hours earlier and literally ran away to have her. The adoptive couple, chosen by my church and whom had ‘befriended’ me during the latter half of my pregnancy, had pressured me into having them present at the birth. I had been, at this stage, trying to find any way to get out of the adoption. I strongly opposed the idea of the adoptive couple being in the same room with me or even at the hospital when I gave birth but the pressure was intensified. It was due to this stress I went into premature labour and my daughter was born 6 weeks early. Running away and not telling anyone except my family in Australia ensured the adopters would not be present and so I had my baby alone.
She was the most beautiful, amazing little girl I had seen and I bonded instantly with her despite knowing there were people waiting to get their hands on her. My stay in hospital was strange. It was as if I lived two existences. Most of the time I was by my daughter’s side in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit, encouraging her, telling her I knew she would get better, that I was there and loved her very much. The other time was spent in my room under a barrage of pressure from the prospective adopters, church people and my so called crisis pregnancy counsellor, an adoptive mother with her own agenda. I decided, despite the pressure I would keep her. My only support during this awful time was my family, in particular my mum who had flown over from Australia to be with me.
After deciding to keep my baby, the pressure worsened. Confused and at breaking point, I spoke to my lawyer about other alternatives to adoption. Being an adoptive father himself, this lawyer, also handpicked for me by my ‘counsellor’ sat me down and told me adoption was my only choice while showing me photos of his adopted daughters. Still not happy or satisfied, a meeting was called with my mum, adopters, social workers and myself, to discuss my feelings. I asked the couple to consider a Guardianship Order so I wouldn’t lose A as I really wanted to keep her. They told me they were only interested in adoption. I was devastated and let them know I didn’t want to part with her. They persuaded me to sign the consent and promised if I still felt the same way after signing and wanted my daughter back, they would return her to me. There was to be a ‘3 day trial period’ after which, if I still wanted to keep A, the adopters would return her to me. I trusted this promise.
Eventually, under extreme duress which I just wanted to stop, and not realising the full implications or legalities surrounding the consent, I signed. My daughter was taken out of my arms at Christchurch International Airport and I flew back to Sydney with my mum. After arriving in Sydney with my front wet with milk, barely three hours after she had been taken out of my arms, I told my mum I still wanted my daughter and was going to get her back.
I thought this would be okay, the adopters had promised me I could have her back, right? Wrong. First, I found out under the Adoption Act of 1955 in New Zealand, once signed, an adoption consent is irrevocable, unlike Australian law which gives a period of 30 days. I was not informed of this before I signed and had believed my consent was not binding until the Final adoption Order was made, 12 months later. Second, I found out the promise the adopters made me was merely a way to get me to sign the papers.
I decided to return to New Zealand and fight for my child. Against all odds, I won my first court case and the order for interim adoption was denied. I lost this case on appeal but the judge redirected it back to the family court to be heard on the best interests and welfare of the child. I was elated as I thought I would win this, I should win this….until I heard who the Judge would be and then I knew I would lose. I did.
By this time my beautiful girl was now 8 months old. I decided, to reduce further confusion in her life, to end the fight. This decision broke my heart. I returned to Sydney empty handed and prepared to die. I lay in bed for weeks praying and begging with God to let me die in my sleep. He didn’t think it was such a good idea.
My mum convinced me get a job and while I hated it at the time, it was the best thing she could have done as it helped integrate me back into ‘normal’ life.
Since then, I have married and had another equally beautiful and precious daughter. But the wound remains, open and raw, equally painful with no relief in sight.
As for the Open adoption bit? Open Adoption is really a farce; a term coined by adoption professionals to entice young women to part with their babies. Why? Adoption figures, which had been so high in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s due to the unethical practises of that time to literally take babies, were falling. Government assistance and contraception had become more readily available. However, the demand had not changed. The professionals came up with an ‘idea’. It had been known for many years the pain and loss Adoption causes to both mother and child. Adopted babies, now adults, had grown up and spoken out, wanting more information about their roots and families. To ensure the future of adoption, Open Adoption was introduced. It is basically a system that encourages women to adopt their children out with the belief they will not really lose their child. Unlike the closed adoption system, Open adoption supposedly means names are disclosed and there is a varying degree of contact, from annual letters or photos to phone calls and visits to the very ‘fortunate’ few. However, Open Adoption has not worked as well as those facilitating them would have you believe.
From the research I have conducted and mothers encountered participating in open adoptions, all too often, within the first couple of years or as in some instances, even weeks and months, once the adopters have the baby they covet, their address and telephone number is changed and they move to where they cannot be found. Open Adoptions are not legally binding in many countries and while they are in some states of Australia, the Open Adoption agreement in most places is reliant on merely the 'good will' of the adopters. The adoption can be, and in most cases is, closed. In other instances, the effect of seeing your child with another couple and seeing all you are missing out on means many mothers cease contact when the pain gets unbearable. Open Adoption is like dangling a meaty bone in front of a starving dog. He is allowed to sniff the bone, lick it even but just as he goes to take a large bite, it is whisked away, leaving the poor dog desperate and still just as hungry.
Open Adoption is torturous. In my case, the adopters closed the adoption shortly after claiming my daughter. They wrote courteous replies to my mother’s letters but had no contact with me. When my daughter was 2, they moved to Sydney Australia. Knowing she was in the same city and country as me was too much so I wrote to the adopters and begged to see my girl. They met with my Mum and I first and laid out the rules. Desperate to see her I agreed to whatever they said. I have now seen her a handful of times since she turned 4. Dictated by the adopter’s rules, each visit is a farce, a game of pretend where we play at being happy about the situation. My daughter is not allowed to talk to me on her own and the adopters stand over my shoulder at every turn. Each visit is like ripping open my ever present wound. I relive losing her at the end of each visit and watch with a breaking heart as she is driven away. I do not sleep, eat properly or function well in the weeks leading up to a visit or in the weeks afterwards. I lie in bed wondering what she is thinking, hoping she is thinking of me like I am her. I cry myself to sleep nights after these visits to the point I have no tears left.
How can this be better? Sometimes, I truly wish I could separate myself from this situation, live the next ten years of my life without this torture. I have been told to count myself lucky that I get to see my daughter at all, that I know what she looks like. Lucky? To see my own child? Lucky? Those who have told me I am lucky have not walked in my shoes, have not lived in my skin and experienced my heartache. I am NOT lucky. My daughter should never have been adopted.
In the mental health arena, I have encountered many professionals who have no idea how to deal with this issue. Each session seems to earn me a new label, a new mental illness. To date I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Mood disorder, Anxiety disorders, Severe Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Separation Trauma. Could it be I am just suffering indescribable grief from the unnecessary adoption of my daughter? This trauma is not validated by most in the Mental Health profession. The counsellors I have visited want me to close this chapter of my life, to move on to bigger and better things secure in the knowledge I have done the best I can and nothing else can be done. Do they not think if this was possible I would have done it by now? I walk out of these sessions in utter disbelief and usually angry at the lack of understanding and compassion these people have. Due to the social conditioning surrounding issues of adoption, many do not want to change their thinking and see how negative adoption is. The majority of society I have spoken to about adoption chose to see it as a beautiful act of love, apparently ignorant of the ugly truth lurking under all the gloss.
So far today, I have spoken of my experience of open adoption, from a mother’s perspective. I do not and cannot speak for the adoptees who have had to live through this as well but, in closing, I would like to share a story I found while researching on the Internet. It shows the perspective of the open adoption experiment from an adopted person, written by a 16 year old girl.
“I am a product of the Open Adoption experiment. I was born on December 24th, 1988 and I was soon transferred from one mother to another because my first mother, wasn’t married to my birth father.
I have been told that December 24th, 1988 was a cold and cloudy day. The black clouds meant much more than a weather forecast of rain to come; it was the day that the lives of four people would be profoundly and forever altered; much more like a forecast of doom, rather than rain. I went home with a new family, new name and a new life while my first mother went home to her old life; one of high school parties, dates and the prom.
My second mother began to write letters to my first mother during my second month of life, updating her on what I was wearing, what I was doing, and to remind her of how thankful she was for the gift she freely gave, ‘the gift’ being me.
I would grow up never having to question who I looked liked, where my strawberry blonde hair came from or where I got my green eyes, because I had a picture of my first mother taped on my vanity mirror. I also had a photo album full of pictures. I would never have to wonder where my smile came from.
I remember the day I found out my first mom was having a baby. I was barely nine years old, and confused because she wasn’t married. When my second mother explained to me that my first mom would be raising the baby, more confusion set in.
Just before thanksgiving vacation, my little sister was born. I went to bed knowing that in the morning, I would be woken up to the news, but what they didn’t know; was that I was awake until almost morning crying into my pillow and praying that she would arrive safely and unharmed.
I was unable to see my little sister until she was 10 days old. My second mother took me shopping to buy her a present and I picked out a small, brown stuffed hippopotamus. My second mom was less than thrilled with my choice and wanted me to choose something else, something cuter. After begging, pleading and pouting, she decided on a pink bunny for the baby, and agreed that I could have the hippo for myself. Today that hippo is my favorite possession and he is kept on my bed, maybe someday I will give him to his rightful owner.
At about the age of 12, I started becoming an out of control pre-teenager. I would test both my first mother and adoptive parents constantly. As punishment, I would lose my video games, cds, and phone privileges. Eventually I would start losing my visits with my sister. I was unable to see my first family from the age of 13 until age 16. But every year, like clockwork, a basket on Easter, a present on both Christmas and my birthday would arrive.
Last year I finally learned that if I truly wanted something, I would have to keep my emotions tucked inside and play by the rules. It’s still working.
I look at the photographs of my childhood and I can see the big smiles. I can see how most people would look at me and see a happy adopted 16.5 year old girl. Most people would think I am lucky to have two families, other adopted people may think I am fortunate to know my genetic history, my heritage and where I came from. But what I see is different from what other people see; I can plainly see the pain behind the smile.
My memories are more than just visits with my first mother and my sister. My memories are of a constant battle between happy appearances with an inner turmoil.
My memories take me back to that cloudy and dreary December evening. The day that my life would drastically change and the person I was meant to be would never be.
My memories take me back to the day that I was a ‘happy’ toddler running around the park, laying my eyes upon my first mother for the first time in two years. I must have learned very early. My memories take me back to that horrible night, etched into my brain is the memory of pure terror that my little sister would die, or I would never see her, or she would be given away. I will never forget those tears in my pillow and all the prayers said that night in fear.
My memories take me back to being a little girl who fell in love with an ugly hippo and wanted desperately to give it to her 10 day old sister, but was unable to.
My memories take me back to the feelings of jealousy and inner rage, each time my first mother would pull out of the driveway with my sister in the truck. We would stand on the porch and wave. Damn that hurt.
My memories are of missing my sister’s Kindergarten and first grade graduation.
My memories are built around being what some refer to as a chosen child, but I call it being broken at birth.
My memories are of fighting feelings of being unloved and unwanted, even though I was constantly told how much they loved me.
My memories are of sitting on the same fluffy pink vanity chair and staring at her picture, the picture that was still there, throughout all those years, while trying not to allow the tears to smear the makeup I was putting on.
My life is not a solution to a problem or the fix for another problem. I am angered that I was a part of a failed experiment and that my life was devalued by trying to prove that it could work.
On Friday June 10th at 11:15 am, my little sister will graduate from the second grade. Of course I won’t be there.”