In many ways, my mother has carried certain emotional scars with her throughout her life which are most certainly linked to her adoption at the age of 3 after her own mother died of toxaemia several days after giving birth to her second child, a baby boy. Due to financial difficulties my mother’s father asked his brother and his wife, who had no children of their own, to adopt my mother. The new baby was in turn adopted by his late wife’s family who never forgave themselves for not having adopted both children, but this was during the depression years in England and money was extremely scarce. For a little girl of 3 years old who was expecting her mummy to return from hospital with a new baby to suddenly never see her mother again, and having to go to live with an uncle and aunt, would more than likely necessitate the intervention of a child psychologist in today’s world.
Both her real and her adopted fathers died when my mother was 9 and 13 years old respectively. Her younger brother was more like a cousin than a sibling, and although they saw one another fairly regularly, they never lived together. In many ways over the years I have come to realise that my mother still carries the sadness and loss of not having her own mother around while she was growing up. She was made to feel that she had been given away like an unwanted possession, probably the words of an unthinking relative at the time. The difference between this situation and other adoptions was that there was always contact with her extended family whilst she was growing up so she wasn’t left wondering who she was.
Having read many case studies, watched a lot of documentaries regarding adoption and knowing people who are adopted or who have adopted children, there appear to be some factors which are a common denominator in cases of adoption. Feelings of being unworthy and unwanted, as well as needing to know who one’s birth mother was seem to be the golden thread linking many adoption stories. It is a basic human need to know where we come from, and who we are and, if a child has been adopted and only finds out by chance that the people they know as their parents are in fact their adopted parents, the results can be devastating.
With changing attitudes nowadays, at least in Western societies, it is common to let a child know, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that they were “chosen” and therefore “special” and it was because the birth mother was not able to care for the baby herself that she had to make the extremely difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption. Where a mother died in childbirth, and a father was unable to care for the baby, the emotions felt by the adoptee may be more feelings of sadness and loss and less of abandonment. Sometimes it seems that this need to begin the search for the real parents raises its head, either during late adolescence or once the adoptees themselves become parents. It would appear that the desire to search for one’s birth mother is far more common than a need to know who one’s father is. Obviously this is a generalisation, but does seem very often to be the case.
The laws in many countries have been relaxed regarding adoption, and nowadays it seems to be quite common for adopted children to gain access to the names of their birth mother through the adoption agency in order to try to contact her. Many times the birth mother has had some contact with the adoptive parents, and has even received photos of the child she had to give up. Years ago this was totally taboo and, in the case of single mothers, babies were literally wrenched out of their arms at around 6 weeks of age and handed over to the new parents. The heartbreak felt by the girl/woman having to give up her baby to strangers would seem to be a pain which often never heals. The memory of that day would be likely to stay with her for the rest of her life.
The adopted parents must go through really tough times when their child decides to investigate and find their blood relatives. It takes a very strong relationship to be able to face the fact that you may be losing your child to strangers who just happen to be linked by DNA. Counselling seems to be the way to go when an adopted child decides to contact a biological parent, as often there is a degree of disappointment, anger and distress once the meeting takes place. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the adoption it may result in the biological mother refusing to meet her child. This could be due to the pregnancy having been the result of rape, or just the disgrace of an illegitimate birth and possibly never having revealed the fact to her current husband and other children.
I find adoption to be a very emotional and intense issue which cannot be taken lightly. For parents adopting a child of another culture, or ethnic group the issues are even more complicated. There needs to be a lot of support all round and honesty and family discussions would appear to be a critical factor. Care and love are the basis of a happy childhood but we humans remain creatures who have a need to know who we are, where we came from and what characteristics and potential health issues we may have inherited from our parents. When a baby or child is adopted by family or friends of the biological mother, there is likely to be adequate information available regarding her which could be a source of comfort as the child grows up and becomes curious about the family background.