06 March 2018

"Failed adoptions" and "Change of mind" mythology in adoption

“Write hard and clear about what hurts” – Ernest Hemmingway

“She changed her mind” is something we read and hear about often in the world of “failed adoptions”.   This phrase has never sat well with me – primarily due to personal reason and I am willing to believe my experience and feelings around this terminology are not isolated.

I am a mother who supposedly “changed her mind” about adoption.  And yet, even the judge who would eventually help my daughter’s baby thieves successfully steal her from me, could not ascertain the moment in which I had this “change of mind”. 

If anyone through the course of my pregnancy and post birth stage was actually listening to me, they would have heard me, very clearly, utter my strong desire to keep and raise my daughter and that adoption was NOT my choice and never would be.  If my voice was ever heard, that is what everyone around me would have known, including those who stole her.  It was not like I never said it, it was just that I had no voice, therefore no choice and so, acted accordingly.

From the moment I discovered I was carrying my daughter, I was keeping her.  Why would I not?  Adoption certainly was not my decision, and yet, 20 years ago to the day, I signed “consent” forms.  How in the name of all that is sacred in this world, did that happen?

Picture this if you are able, and try to imagine yourself in her shoes.

A young mother has recently given birth.  Due to a criminal amount of stress and pressure on her whilst pregnant to separate herself from her child, she has given birth 6 weeks early and her baby is now in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  She has hardly had a chance to see her baby daughter, save for a few moments when she refuses to take no for an answer and they wheel her to her daughter’s side.  There she sees her precious infant for the first time – attached to tubes and wires.  She is grunting in an effort to breathe and the nurses in charge of her explain if this grunting continues, she will be moved to a higher level of intensive care.  They show her how to touch her beautiful baby so as not to cause pain to her sensitive skin.  They tell her she will unlikely open her eyes or react for some time as she is struggling and yet, the moment her mother speaks her name and whispers that she is there and loves her, the tiny infant opens her eyes and looks at her.   Only a couple of hours later the medical team inform the mother that her daughter needs to be moved to the higher level of NICU where she is placed on a machine to keep her airways open and clear the fluid gathering in her lungs.

The mother, beside herself with concern for her child, finds herself back in her room barely 7 hours after giving birth, under a barrage of questions from those she thought were her friends but instead wanted to know when she would be signing the consent form and had “they” been contacted yet.  Apparently, they had but the mother had informed the nurses taking care of her that she did not wish to see them. 

The following days were much the same as the mother lived two entirely separate existences.  One where her infant daughter and her existed solely for each other. Where the mother sang, talked, bathed, fed and nurtured her daughter, whilst the daughter responded to her mother and improved under her care, as noted by the medical team and the beautiful bond commented on often.

In the other world, the mother was under attack on a daily basis from interfering church goers, the couple wanting her child (not respecting her wishes to be left alone) and visitors – all asking when she would wrench herself from her child.  When she fought back, she was assaulted all the more – told she was selfish and that if she loved her child she would place her.  That keeping her child would ruin her child’s life, she wasn’t enough for her daughter and keeping her would ensure her daughter hated her once she was grown up.  In one bizarre visiting session, she was bombarded with pro-adoption propaganda in the forms of articles on open adoption and the photocopy of a “lifebook” created by another mother who had placed 5 years earlier. 

Finally, exhausted with the constant pressure but buoyed by the love for her daughter, she mustered enough strength to inform all and sundry that the adoption would NOT be proceeding.  During the following blissful days where she was moved to the nurses’ hostel, she finally felt at peace.  Away from the constant assailment it was just her, her daughter and her mother and for a fleeting moment, peace ruled and everything was as it should be.  Alas, this ephemeral flash of serenity was not to last.

News came her daughter was well enough to be out of NICU which meant the mother moved back into the hospital to care for her, where once again she became vulnerable to the invasion which had only intensified in light of her decision to keep her baby.  However, this time, the assault included something else, a direct threat she would lose her child.

It came time for the mother and child to be discharged from the hospital, however, now the mother had nowhere to go, nowhere safe.  The only places open to her offered by the church were offered on the proviso she would sign a consent.  Given this quandary of having nowhere to go, she was informed (incorrectly as she would discover much later on) that her daughter would be made a ward of the state and she, her mother, would have no say in her daughter’s future.  Placed in this terrifying predicament, the mother requested a meeting with the social workers, her mother and prospective adopters to discuss the option of guardianship.  This was, in her mind, the only way out.  But the baby buyers wanted full ownership and told her flatly it was to be adoption only.  The male adopter seeing her desperation broached an idea of a trial period whereby the mother would sign consent and see how it went but if she still wanted to raise her child, they would give her baby back as they “did not wish to take her child from her”.  Seeing no other options available and trusting their word, the mother agreed naively to this arrangement.  A trial period of 3 days with either herself or her mother communicating what she wished to do would commence following signing of the consent.

And so it was, with the threat hanging over her head of losing her child to the state or getting her back after 3 days, the mother signed a form, not informed of her rights – or rather, lack of rights – under the New Zealand Adoption Act of 1955.  She did not know that once her signature was on that piece of paper, there was no going back.  The Adoption Act of 1955 which governs all adoptions in New Zealand, offers no revocation period and where it might, the practise has been to have none whatsoever.

The moment of signing said consent came in a blur.  The young mother held onto her daughter until her mother was asked by the lawyer taking consent to take the baby out.  The mother was now alone, with a man who had constantly pressured her – afterall, he was an adopter himself and adoption was the only outcome possible in his opinion – which he had made clear.  When it was done, she immediately made to depart but was physically barred from leaving the room so the lawyer could make small talk with her.  This “chit chat” would be used against her at a later date to say she was “calm and composed” as opposed to in shock, traumatised and in a dissociative state which is a more apt descriptor.

The following night, as instructed, the mother dutifully wrote an essay letter, copied in her own words, from the letter in the lifebook.  This was “in case” she didn’t ask for her back.  She has no memory of what she wrote in that letter other than it was words and sentiment borrowed from another.

Of course, the day her daughter was taken from her arms and she had returned to Australia, she informed her parents she would be getting her daughter back and her mother informed the couple on day 3 as had been agreed to.  Of course, this trial period had merely been a ruse to get the mother’s consent and the thing she had been avoiding, losing her daughter, happened.  Not however, before a series of court cases in which the mother did win the first of as there was no reason for the adoption to proceed in light of there being no consent.  Sadly, the baby buyers took the mother back to court – in later years, they would claim they had no choice, it was just the way it went but the truth is, they made the active decision to continue the court cases when they should have walked away. 

And so there it is, in all it’s ugly detail.  At what time did this mother change her mind?  She didn’t.  The problem is, no one was listening to her, to me, because what I was saying wasn’t what they wanted to hear. 

I don’t believe mothers change their minds for the most part.  I believe that once the pressure comes off and the threats are suddenly removed, the mother is able to find her voice and so raises it.  That isn’t changing her mind.  That is just letting her voice finally be heard.  The way mothers are pressured and threatened to sign consent whilst recovering from childbirth in the midst of other difficulties is simply criminal and those involved should be charged with criminal activity.

Any consent that is procured under duress is not consent.  It is merely the bullying and intimidation of a person in a vulnerable time of their life.  It is no different than the procuring of false confessions from women accused of witchcraft or other crimes in days gone by.  A signature on a piece of paper gained through such means is not an informed, confident decision and should never be relied on in the making of such a momentous change to a person’s existence where the mother is expressing her desire to keep her child.

In the cases where mothers do change their minds, I say they have that prerogative – after all, this is HER child and if she changes her mind, so what?  I celebrate every so called “failed adoption”.  Because these are not failures, they are successes.  Every adoption that takes place in the face of a coerced mother is a failure.  A failure of humanity to protect the mother-child dyad as it should be protected.  A failure of women to care for each other.  A failure of man to allow such travesties to occur.  A failure.

Mothers who have changed their minds are talked about as if they are the devil incarnate, like they did the unforgivable thing by saying, “Hey wait, I want to step up and raise my child”.  How can this be a bad thing when research shows that children separated from their mothers suffer trauma at a pre-verbal level which impacts every part of their life – regardless of whether they are aware of this or not?  How could it not impact a child?  The unique bond that is only shared by mother and the child she birthed is engineered in our DNA for survival.  That bond is more than just a sentiment; it is vital for a child to become.  Studies have shown trauma suffered by the mother during her pregnancy impact the growing foetus, especially during the latter part of the pregnancy.  Infants are born already traumatised in cases where the mother has been subject to trauma.  This bond is symbiotic in nature – mother and child are one and to force this separation before a child is ready to process it at the usual age of 18 months to 24 months, causes the infant permanent trauma, which they may never even bring to their consciousness, but impacts everything they do.

Given this, it should be celebrated when a mother chooses to raise her child or, if she has had the rare opportunity to make a clear and informed decision free from pressure, changes her mind.  Wherever possible and is right, humanity should be avoiding trauma and not creating it simply to fulfil a desire.  Not being able to have a child is tragic.  But creating a situation where a mother and her child are torn away from each other just to fill an ever-growing demand is much, much worse because it is a deliberate action knowingly causing harm, thus, a form of child abuse.

I did not change my mind.  I made a clear decision – one that is echoed through my diary, at times in block letters, begging someone to step in to stop the madness.  But if I had decided to place and then changed my mind, that would not have been a terrible thing either and I am tired of seeing mothers demonised for wanting their children.  Afterall, it is the most natural thing in the world to want one's own child!

Do not be part of an industry that causes trauma and pain knowingly.  Celebrate children who remain with their mothers and correct those who talk about “failed adoptions” because the only good adoption really is a “failed adoption”.