Sunday, March 14, 2010

The voice of an ADOPTED...

This guest blogger is an author of a book, "Someone’s Daughter: She’s adopted, but don’t tell." It shares her unique story and view point on her closed adoption. This is Aurette Bowes
story and her viewpoint. It is long but worth the read and is very insightful. Do you think that knowing your Birth Mother earlier in your life and having an open adoption would of made a difference for you? Meeting my birth mother and learning about half of my biological roots has helped me a lot. Although we no longer have any direct contact I would like to know more about her, as I think the more I know the more healing I will experience – it’s an ongoing process for me. I still feel there is a part of my life puzzle missing, however, because I don’t know my biological father at all, and I often wonder about him. But knowing half your origins is better than not knowing anything at all. So I think yes, an open adoption would have made a difference, as I would have been able to address all my questions to my birth mother along the way, as I encountered them.

When I was a little girl of about six or seven, my mother told me the following story: “Daddy always wanted a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair. One day, we received a phone call from the hospital. ‘We have a baby girl here with brown eyes and blond hair,’ they said. ‘Do you want her?’ And Daddy said, ‘Wrap her up, we’re coming to fetch her.’”

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this story was my first clue that I wasn’t my parents’ biological child.

Most children, at some stage during their lives, wonder whether or not they are adopted. The inherent knowledge that they aren’t is probably what enables them to confront their parents and deal with the question once and for all. Although I considered doing this many, many times, I was never able to gather enough courage to actually go ahead and ask, “Am I adopted?” I wrestled with this dilemma for my entire childhood and a large part of my adult life.

I was afraid to ask the question for two reasons: I was afraid of hurting my parents, and I was afraid of what the answer would be. Consequently, I was always on the lookout for clues that would bring me closer to a definite “yes” or “no” answer, and there were many that pointed to “yes”. Eventually, I convinced myself that it didn’t matter who my biological parents were. My mother and father had raised me and they were my parents. Who had given birth to me was irrelevant. I told myself this over and over again and eventually convinced myself that I believed it, that I had “made peace” with the issue and could put it behind me. Thus I pushed all my questions out of my head. I stopped looking for clues.

Psychologists will tell you that if you refuse to deal with any form of trauma or unresolved issue in your life and live in a state of constant denial, it will eventually catch up with you in one way or another. The question I had spent my whole life trying to avoid finally caught up with me when, at the age of 37, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My counsellor, Fred, believed my failure to deal with the question of my suspected adoption was probably the largest contributing factor to my depression. The problem was I still did not have the courage to face my parents and the mere thought of doing so brought me to tears.

Fred kindly offered to ask the question for me. He called my mother one Friday evening and asked her what I had been too afraid to ask for so long. Later she said that when Fred said he had an important question to ask her, she knew immediately what is was. “It was as if I had been waiting for it,” she said. That’s probably why she didn’t hesitate to answer “yes”.

Fred arrived at my house the following morning to deliver the news.

It’s one thing to suspect you are adopted, it’s quite another to finally have it confirmed. In one word, my entire identity was completely wiped out. Everything I had been brought up to believe about who I was, my ancestral roots, was no longer true. The same thought kept running through my head, over and over again – my mother is not my mother, Dad is not my dad… I wasn’t related to anyone in my family. The only two people I could claim blood ties with were my children. They were my legacy, but my ancestry was a complete blank. I felt as if I were floating in a huge, black vacuum.

Suddenly, where I came from did matter. I had to know who had conceived me and given birth to me? I had to be someone’s daughter, but whose?

At first, my mother didn’t want me to search for my birth-mother. Now that I knew the truth, she wanted me to “forget about it and get on with my life”. She also didn’t want me to talk about it to anyone, not to my husband’s family. Not even my own children. She was afraid that they would no longer think of her as their grandmother. As ludicrous as this may sound, to her it was a very real fear.

I did everything she asked, but my psychiatrist said it would severely inhibit my healing. This is where I began to gain insight into the pain she had experienced and was still experiencing. It took me a long time to fully understand that her need for secrecy was not motivated by any form of selfish spite or malice, but by pain. Once I did – and that took a long time – my anger diffused and forgiveness became much easier.

As all adoptive mothers do, my mother felt threatened by the mere existence of my birth-mother. Like all adoptive mothers, she firmly believed that once I found my birth-mother I would say, “Thanks Mom for all you’ve done up to now, but I’m off to live with my real mother.”

No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince her that nothing was further from the truth. I had no intention of doing anything of the sort. I just needed to establish who I was – biologically.

I prayed long and hard for a resolution to the problem. I desperately wanted to search for my biological mother, but it was important that I had my mom’s blessing, otherwise it would be detrimental to our relationship. God provided resolution, and it came from the most unexpected source.

Just as I could only refer to my adoption as “the A word”, so it was for my mother. Yet she found the courage to write to the Department of Social Services and tell them that her adopted daughter wanted to find her biological parents and could they provide information. They replied that according to the law, only I could request such information. Neither she nor my birth-mother was allowed access to my birth records. All I had to do, they said, was make a request in writing, and include my identity number and maiden name.

She had done all she could. Now it was up to me. I was astounded. I knew only too well how difficult it must have been for her to write that letter, but she was prepared to put her pain aside so that I could have the answers I needed. That spoke volumes of the depth of her love for me. I was reminded of the saying: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

So now I had my mother’s blessing to search for my birth mother.

I wrote to Social Development and three weeks later received a letter. It was very brief. It provided the full name of my birth-mother and stated that she had been 19 years old when she had given birth to me and had legally placed me up for adoption about three days later. She had not named my father.

The letter also stated the name she had given me. That was a shock, in fact the biggest one. I never knew that birth-mothers were required to name the baby they intended to give up. I thought that was very cruel, but I learned later that this is done purely for record-keeping purposes.

I read the letter over and over again, especially her name, trying to find some sort of connection. I looked at my birth name and wondered why she had chosen that particular one. Was it a name she had always liked? Was it a family name? Or was it one she had simply chosen at random? Now I had even more questions.

Someone really had given me away. Now I knew who she was, I wanted more than anything to find her.

With the letter had come forms for me to fill in if I wanted Social Development to conduct a search. I filled them in that night and faxed them the following day. Now the big wait would begin and I had no idea how long it would be, or what results it would yield. I had to prepare myself for one of three results – that she would already be dead, or that she would be alive but wouldn’t want to see me. That was her legal right. The third was that she would be alive and would want to see me. Of the two, I feared the first one the most. If she were dead I would never find the answers to all the questions I had. If she was alive but didn’t want to see me, that would be a big blow, but given time she could change her mind. Of course, the best would be that she was alive and wanted to see me.

I hoped that I would not have to wait long than two years for them to find my birth-mother. But when God is involved, things happen differently. Two months after I requested a search I received a phone call from my social worker.

“Mrs Bowes, are you sitting down? I have found your mother, and she wants to see you!”

Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t believe they had found her so quickly. But it would still be a few months before we would meet.

The social worker asked that I come see her so that she could explain the procedure to me. At our meeting she began by showing me the file of my birth records. It contained several documents, of which the social worker gave me copies. Together they told a story. First there was my original birth certificate with my birth name, the documents my birth mother had signed to give me up. There was also a non-disclosure form in which she agreed not to try to find out the identity of my adoptive parents. Then came my parent’s application for adoption, and the original social worker’s report on them when they had applied.

A brief description of my birth mother followed – that she had fallen pregnant and entered a home for unmarried mothers. Her specific request was that her condition remain a secret. I was to learn later that at the time only her mother and her sister knew of her pregnancy. Her brother only found out about my existence when I contacted her.

There was another document in my file legally placing me with my parents until my adoption was finalised. Six months after my birth I became their legal daughter, and there was a document stating this as well.

The social worker had one more document to show me, but the law prohibited her from making a copy of it, as only the original was allowed to exist. This was the document stating my legal change of identity from my birth name and surname to the name my parents had given me and their surname. My birth identity was crossed out with a large X and my new identity typed neatly next to it.

Many people have since asked me how I knew all these documents were actually about me. How could I be sure a mistake hadn’t been made and someone else’s file sourced. The answer is simple. I recognised my parents’ signatures. My father has a very assertive one and there was no mistaking it.
Social Development is very careful in protecting the identity and privacy of adoptees and their birth parents. Before Dawn and I could meet, we first had to communicate anonymously through the social worker and our respective counsellors. When I was ready I could write her a letter, which the social worker would fax to her and she would fax her response back. This would continue until we were both ready to proceed to the next step – a meeting.

We corresponded in this way for a short while, and eventually we were emailing each other directly. We asked all the questions about family etc. I learned that she was divorced and had brought up her three children alone.

Eventually we arranged to meet. When she saw me for the first time she burst into tears and clung to me for a long time. I was crying too but my tears were for a different reason. I felt no instantaneous connection with her as my mother. She was just another woman. In fact, for the first 20 minutes or so, I wanted to run away to my parents and wished with all my heart that they were there.

We spoke for a long time and I showed her photos of me growing up. She cried when she saw the ones of me as a baby. She answered all my questions, explained that she hadn’t had the financial means to enable her to keep me when I was born, and couldn’t deal with the social stigma of having an illegitimate child. She had named me after her sister and her brother.

She told me that after she told my father of her pregnancy she never saw him again. In those days it was not legally required for the mother to name the birth-father on the birth certificate and as she didn’t want any financial support from him, she had decided not to.

Shortly after this meeting, I became severely depressed to the extent that my psychiatrist told me I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and admitted me to hospital for about two weeks. Everything was simply too much to deal with and I was completely broken. I felt angry, betrayed, worthless.

For a long while I broke off all contact with my birth mother as I tried to heal. It took a very long time but counselling helped me to realise that I was only hurting myself by hanging on to my negative emotions. My birth mother and my parents had made what they honestly believed to be the right decision at the time. Over the years they had come to realise that they had made a mistake and now they were trying to make the decision right. “You can’t change the past,” my counsellor said. “Let it go.”

When I eventually saw the sense of letting go of the past, I was able to forgive and my true healing began. Shortly before my 39th birthday I telephoned my birth mother and told her I wanted to make peace and work at establishing a relationship.

After that we continued to correspond via email, but as time passed I began to realise we had less and less in common. Although she was a good person, essentially we were from two different worlds and had opposing sets of values and principles. The social worker had warned me that this often happened between adoptees and their birth-mothers.

The stress of having two mothers in my life continued to take its toll. My mother was being very brave and trying extremely hard to support me through everything, but I knew she was suffering emotionally. My father was also hurting, as were my husband and children. I felt as if I were constantly being pulled between the two women. Eventually I couldn’t take it any more. I was emotionally exhausted and my family was suffering.

I decided it was time to assert my legal rights. The social worker had told me that I could end the relationship whenever I wanted to and my birth mother would have to accept my decision. I emailed her a letter. She was shocked but accepted my decision.

To say my mother was ecstatic by my decision is an understatement. She had set me free and I had come back to her. I had always known I would, but she hadn’t.

At first I felt relieved that I no longer had to worry about keeping two mothers happy. Then I began to feel cheated. My birth mother had received what she wanted – she had always wondered what had happened to the baby she had given away and whether she was okay and happy – now she knew. My mother had received what she wanted – her daughter that she didn’t have to share with another woman.

But what had I got out of it all – nothing. In fact, I had come full circle – although I had learned the answers to some questions, now there were new ones to deal with, the answers to which I would probably never learn.

I felt like I didn’t truly belong anywhere. I had been conceived in error. I was a mistake. My mere existence was enough to cause others pain. My parents had been so desperate for a child they would have taken any baby, irrespective of whether she was a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair. How did I know I was truly meant to be with them? How did I know I was even meant to be?

My counsellor took me to the Bible…“I am beautifully and wonderfully made…” “I knew you when you were in your mother’s womb…” “Can a woman forget the baby at her breast? Though she may do so, I will not forget. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

God doesn’t make mistakes. Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

There was this childless couple who loved the Lord. They prayed earnestly for a child and he heard their plea. He saw a woman who was pregnant with a girl who would have brown eyes and blonde hair, and He said: “This baby for this couple.”

And so when I was born I may not have been in control of my destiny, but Someone else was. As the nurses took me from my birth mother and placed me in my mother’s arms, there was another pair of Hands under theirs, directing them – God’s Hands. It did not matter that I had no control of where I was going – He was in control.

When I was in the depths of depression and struggling to come to terms with it all, I used to cry to God: “Why did You let this happen to me?”

Now that the fog has finally cleared from my brain and I am able to place everything in perspective and can see where I am now and where I could have been, I ask God: “Lord, why were You so mindful of me?”

I still have wounds that open up and bleed from time to time. I still flinch when I hear the word “adoption” spoken, in any context. Birthdays are a happy-sad event, because that is the day my birth-mother gave me away. Mother’s Day and special family holidays such as Christmas are also an emotional time for me.

I am a work-in-progress but, thanks to everything I have learned over the past several years, I am better equipped to deal with the fallout as it happens. Most importantly, I have learned to place everything in God’s Hands.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever see my birth mother again before she dies, or whether, if something happens to her, her children will think to let me know, but that is in God’s Hands.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever have the courage to search for my biological father, because if I do I don’t know what I’ll find and whether I will like it. He may not want me to find him. But that too is in God’s Hands.

Having placed everything in His hands, I have peace. Because whatever the outcome is will be what God intended it to be. His Will is always perfect, and what is right for God is ultimately right for me.

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