Archive for the ‘ DUAL IDENTITY ’ Category

A single meeting leaves a treasured memory

On the afternoon of Wednesday, 18 June my phone rang. It was my birth-mother. Considering that we usually only communicate by text messages, I knew the reason for her call had to be important. I wasn’t wrong. She was calling to tell me that my grandmother had passed away peacefully that morning. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while in her eighties, this old lady had lived to the magnificent age of 96.

Although I only met her once, she touched a special place in my heart, and the single memory I have of her I will cherish forever. I was very saddened at the news of her passing. I wrote about our meeting in my book, Someone’s Daughter, an edited excerpt of which I publish here, as a final tribute to her…

We met at a delightful tea garden in Durban. I was extremely apprehensive before the meeting. Irene [not her real name] had shown me a photo of my grandmother at our reunion. It was a family group shot, in which she looked very serious. As this was all that I had to go on, I perceived her to be very stern, so I was very wary of what she would be like in person.

We arrived at the tea garden and spotted Irene and her daughter sitting at a table. My grandmother was seated with her back towards us. As we approached, I fixed a friendly smile on my face, but my heart was beating wildly. I greeted Irene and my half-sister with a hug, then turned to look at my grandmother.

As our eyes met, all my misgivings instantly melted away. I felt an immediate connection with her and hugged her warmly without reservation. She was nothing like the sombre person I had prepared myself for. She was beautiful and gentle and loving.

I sat down next to her. As the waiter took our orders, I felt her eyes on me, staring at me intently, as if she wanted to take in every feature on my face. I chatted away to the others, seemingly oblivious to my grandmother’s appraisal.

What is she thinking? Is she remembering the day I was born, or the hour she and her daughter spent with me before they took me away? Perhaps she’s looking for a family resemblance, and it’s taking her so long because she can’t find one.

Unable to ignore her scrutiny any longer, I turned to her and smiled. She spoke, and her words revealed instantly what was uppermost in her mind: “Please don’t be angry with Irene,” she pleased. “We had no money. If her father were still alive when you were born, things would have been different, and we would certainly have kept you.”

I placed my hand on her arm and looked straight at her.

“I am not angry. If I were, I wouldn’t be here today. Everything is fine between Irene and me. Please, don’t worry about it anymore.”

I wasn’t sure if I had convinced her, so I decided to change the subject a little. I was eager to hear her version about my birth.

“Please, tell me everything you can remember about the time I was born.”

She responded without hesitation: “Oh, my dear, I can’t do that. I can’t remember anything these days. I have… Irene, what do I have?

“Alzheimer’s, Mom.”

“That’s right; I have Alzheimer’s. I can’t even remember when it’s time for lunch.”

I had no idea how to respond to this. Perhaps it was safer not to pursue the matter. I waited for the others to turn the conversation to general matters.

All through the afternoon, I was acutely aware that my grandmother could not take her eyes off me. She asked me over and over to forgive her. I tried to reassure her each time that she had no need for forgiveness, but I don’t know whether I managed to convince her.

Eventually, it was time to go, and we all hugged one another goodbye. I felt a terrible sadness when I hugged my grandmother and felt close to tears. I didn’t know when, or if I would ever see her again.

Rest peacefully, beautiful lady.

Birth-fathers Q&A

As an adoptee, I know very little about my birth-father. There is so much I would love to ask him but I doubt whether I’ll ever have the opportunity. So I’ve devised a list of questions for birth-fathers, and I’m hoping that your honest answers will provide some resolution for me…

  1. Did the birth-mother of your child tell you about her pregnancy?
  2. What was your reaction when you find out about she was pregnant?
  3. Did you stay in touch with her during her pregnancy?
  4. Where you in favour of your baby’s adoption?
  5. Was your permission for the adoption required by law?
  6. Did you see your child before he/she was given away?
  7. If you didn’t see your child, do you think doing so would have changed how you felt about the adoption?
  8. Over the years, did you ever think about the child you had fathered?
  9. Did you ever try to find out about or search for your child?
  10. Have you ever met your child?
  11. If not, would you like to?
  12. If you had an opportunity to do things differently, what would you change?
  13. If you married with a family today, do they know about your child?
  14. If not, why haven’t you told them?
  15. What are your views on the right of birth-fathers today?
  16. Any other comments you would like to provide?

The secret’s out, but the silence continues

When I first learned of my adoption around nine years ago I thought, great, now that the secret’s out my parents will no longer have to worry about someone blurting out the information to me and we will be able to talk about it openly. Sadly, that was not to be.

My parents were not only reluctant to discuss my adoption, indeed, they indicated strongly that I should “forget about it and get on with my life”. Of course, I couldn’t do this.

It took numerous weeks of counselling and many prayers for me to realise that my parents’, and especially my mother’s, unwillingness to talk about the subject was motivated not by spite or malice but fear and insecurity. But, through her faith in God and motivated by of her love for me, my mother was eventually able to overcome her fear and open her heart to understanding my need to search for my biological heritage. Not only did she give me her blessing, she even initiated the search for me. (I relate this story in more detail in my book. It’s one of my favourite memories of my journey because it affirms the scripture in 1 John 4:8:  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”.)

Months later, after I had found and been reunited with my birth mother, I was eager to tell my mother all about her. But the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is limited by our faith. My mother had gone as far as she was willing to. 

To this day she remains silent about my adoption.  She has not read my book, indeed, has not even acknowledged it. Naturally, I was hurt and disappointed at first, and turned to the Lord for guidance. How perfect are His ways. I love how He helps us overcome hurts by allowing us to relate to the experiences of others. Recently I visited with a friend of mine who had just adopted a baby girl and was eager to tell me all about it.

I was astounded at how different this child’s open adoption was to my closed process, and how far the adoption process has come in the 45 years since I was adopted. Then it was all done under cover of secrecy, “to protect the interests of the child” whose illegitimacy was considered a social scandal. For married couples eager to have a child but unable to because of infertility, adoption was considered the ideal “quick fix”. There was no counselling for the barrage of emotional issues adoptive parents could expect to encounter over their child’s lifetime.

Neither did my birth mother receive any counselling after relinquishing her baby. Once both parties had signed the relevant documentation, they were left to “live happily ever after”.

Where could my parents go with wounds that received no help to heal? My mother did what most members of her Silent Generation ddid with emotional hurts – she buried. She surrounded her heart with walls that became thicker and higher as time passed until eventually they were impenetrable. To talk openly about anything related to my adoption was to scratch open a fragile scar that had taken decades to form.

My parents and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to dealing with emotional pain, but I have come to understand their need for silence. I may not agree with it, and I wish with all my heart that I could change it, but I accept that this is not to be. That they respect my need to talk about my adoption in order to heal is enough for me.

My parents are in their seventies. I don’t know how much time we have left together, but I would rather spend it creating happy memories than trying to change things that, in their interests, are best left alone. As I do with all of my unresolved adoption issues, I have placed this one in God’s hands. There’s no safer place to leave it.

A powerful purpose

I stumbled across this image on the Internet recently and immediately associated it with my adoption.

“You were an answer to prayer,” my mother said to me when we discussed how their adoption of me came about.

Her statement caused me to catch my breath as I felt my heart skip a beat.

I was an answer to prayer.

Imagine two people praying to the Almighty God – the Creator who spoke the world into existence – for a baby and they receive you. Wow. God choosing me as a gift for someone – that in itself is a gift – to me.

Truly, God meant it when He said:  “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isa 49:15).

And He didn’t. When my birth mother decided she couldn’t keep me and wanted to ensure that her baby girl was given to a happy, Christian home, God looked down from Heaven, saw my mother and father and said: “This baby for that couple.”

The fact that my father had always wanted a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair had everything to do with it.

Adoptees are a gift from God to their adoptive parents. That you were given to them specifically is no accident. God had a definite purpose in mind when He caused you to come into each others’ lives. Even if your adoptive situation was not a happy one, it’s important to know that God can turn any evil into good to suit His divine purpose – if you allow Him to by submitting to His will.

It’s Powerful stuff. And it’s ours for the taking.

Go on, take it.

If my father had seen me, what would he have done?

So I’ve been following this TV soapie (we all have our weaknesses, and this is mine). In it, a woman (let’s call her Jane) has a relationship with a man (Dick) and falls pregnant. After much soul searching she decides to keep the baby, even though Dick  doesn’t want her to, and even offers to pay for an abortion. 

Enter a good friend of Jane’s (who, in true soapie style, is also secretly in love with her). He (Tom) not only offers to marry Jane, but also publicly accept responsibility for fathering her baby. He also negotiates an agreement with Dick to adopt the baby. So far, so good.

Until the baby is born. It’s a girl. Dick goes out of his way to avoid visiting mother and baby in hospital, but then something comes up and he has no choice but to go. While there he gets to see his child and even hold her for a few minutes while Jane takes a call on her mobile. Father and daughter share a bonding moment.

Later, Tom presents Dick with the adoption forms, but is taken aback when Dick asks for more time before signing them. Reluctantly, however, he agrees. While perusing the forms Dick reads the following line: “the parent shall relinquish all rights to the child”. A light goes on. He realises that he cannot sign away all rights to his daughter. While Jane was pregnant with her he was able to convince himself that she was an abstract entity. But since holding her in his arms, everything has changed. He finally decides not to sign the adoption papers.

Watching all this unfold on my television set I felt my chest slowly begin to constrict until eventually I had to rub it in an attempt to ease the tightness. It’s what usually happens when an adoption issue touches me on a personal level.

When my birth mother told my biological father she was pregnant with me, he left her. She never saw him again.

I often wonder whether he ever wonders what happened to the girl he got pregnant back in ’63. Does he wonder whether she had the baby? Whether it was a boy or a girl? Or did he forget about the whole episode, as my birth mother told me he probably did? I have asked several men if they would be able to forget about an unplanned pregnancy they had been party to and the answer is always an unequivocal no.

Back then it was not uncommon for men not to want to face responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy. South African birth mothers were not legally required to name the father of their baby, nor was the father’s legal consent required, as it is today, for the baby to be given up for adoption.

But I can’t help wondering… If my father had stuck around while my birth mother was pregnant and then visited the hospital where I was born – would the sight of me have caused him change his mind?

Would he have wanted to know me, perhaps even to keep me?

Would he have wanted his name on my birth certificate?

Or would he have decided to walk away anyway?

A fundamental human right

It’s hard to believe that in some American states adoptees are still being denied access to their birth records. This sad fact was recently again brought home to me when one of my Facebook friends (and a fellow adoptee) published a link to a young woman’s petition in which she asks for help in finding her birth mother because the state of Texas sealed adoptee birth records when she was born. 

That certain states in a first world country such as America continue to enforce such archaic legislation a decade into the 21st century is mind-blowing. What is their rationale? Who are they trying to protect? Certainly not the child. To know who fathered you and who gave birth to you is a fundamental human right and it should be up to you to decide whether you want access to that information or not. For legislators to make a blanket decision on adoptees’ behalf is a far cry from democracy and a violation of adoptees’ dignity.

The justification that to keep the records sealed is ‘in the best interests of the child’ has long ago been found to be wanting. Thankfully many countries, mine included, are trying to correct this grave mistake. In South Africa the records were unsealed in 1987, enabling countless adoptees to finally obtain at least some answers to the many never-ending questions they have about their birth. Today the Department of Social Development formerly assists adoptees in their search for the birth parents, provides psycholigical counselling where needed and facilitates the reunion process.

 To deny human beings access to information about their birth is nothing short of barbaric. It creates a wound that cannot heal, but only continues to fester, often to the extent that it invades all aspects of the adoptee’s life. Yes, the information that lies within the folders of one’s birth records can lead to painful disclosures, but I speak from personal experience when I say it is better to have a painful truth to deal with once and for all than to contend with ongoing speculation and fantasies. Sometimes the only way to heal a wound is to throw salt on it.

I wasted no time in signing Kim’s petition. If you’re reading this blog, regardless of whether or not you’re an adoptee, I hope that my words will compel you to sign it too.

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