Posts Tagged ‘ birth family ’

Switched at birth – to know or not to know?

I was deeply moved by the following story, recently published on parent24.com. While I am an avid proponent of a child’s right to know their biological roots, I can’t help wondering whether this is one instance where it would have been better for the parties involved not to know…

Switched at birth

Moms faced with terrible decision after babies switched at birth.
twin babies

Image: via Shutterstock

Two SA moms only found out after 18 months that their babies had been switched at birth, leaving them with an agonising decision- swap the babies they loved for the ones they gave birth to, or simply carry on as if nothing had happened, according to mamamia.com.au.

For many parents, the choice would be easy- who wants to bring up another mom’s child? But for Sandy Dawkins and Megs Clinton Parker, the 18 months of intense bonding with each other’s babies made them each choose to keep the ‘wrong’ baby.

How did it happen?

23 years ago, both moms gave birth in the same hospital – Sandy, a struggling single mom, and Megs, a wealthier and more secure mom were handed each other’s babies. A paternity test 18 months later showed that Greg wasn’t Meg’s son…

That was when the two moms were faced with the decision which has haunted them. In a Channel9 interview, in response to the question “should you have swapped the boys back, as you look back?” Sandy replies: “In retrospect, yes. Because in time to avoid them getting hurt – in time to avoid a lot of people getting hurt. We’ve actually – I personally feel we’ve done a lot more damage.”

The damage took years to appear: At first, the two moms spent lots of time together, the boys growing up as friends. It was only as a teen that Robyn began to notice that he was losing out, as he was living with Sandy, the less financially independent of the moms.

She was left “with no son at all”

Wealthier Megs realised that her biological son was struggling along, and, when he was 15, invited him to come and live with her. This meant that both sons now lived with her, and Sandy was left with no son at all.

The decision made so many years previously had effectively left Sandy childless – she now has no contact with either one of the boys, who are now 23.

Double vision: an adoptee’s view of family

Every once in a while I stumble across something from a fellow adoptee that sums up exactly how I feel about my adoption, but conveys these emotions so well that I would rather “copy and paste” their thoughts (with permission, of course) than try to echo them with my own sentiments.

Like the following blog by Rebecca Hawkes, adopted daughter and adoptive and biological mother – I think what she says is simply brilliant…

I sometimes wish I knew what it would be like to not be adopted. If you are not adopted, please think about that for a moment. Think about the things that you take for granted. Think about the simple, natural connection between you and the people to whom you are related. Even if your relationship with your family is not 100 per cent positive, there is a quality of your connection to them that you have probably never questioned; they simply ARE your family. They didn’t choose you; you didn’t choose them. You are connected to them by the interwoven threads of shared experience and biology.

For me, as an adopted person, things are not so simple. It occurred to me recently that being adopted is a bit like having Strabismus, or “Wandering Eye,” a condition in which the two eyes don’t quite work together as they should to create a single, unified picture. As a metaphor for the adoption experience, this translates to two separate visions of family. One eye sees the world through the lens of experience and upbringing. This is the “nurture” lens, connected to a definition of family as those people with whom I grew up, who cared for me, and shared the experiences of family life with me. The other eye is the lens of “nature,” or biology. It sees family as those people who share my genetics and genealogy, who are related to me in spite of our lack of shared history.

Some people with Strabismus compensate by favoring one eye over the other, and some adopted people do so as well, metaphorically. There are adoptees who will tell you that their real family is the one that they grew up in. Period. There are even those who express distance from, and disdain for, their biological mothers by referring to the them as “incubators.” On the other end of the spectrum are those who refer to their adoptive parents as “adopters,” rather than parents, rejecting the adoptive definition of family in favor of a strictly biological one. But many of us find ourselves in the middle, struggling to hold two (at times contradictory) definitions of family simultaneously, striving to create a single, unified vision from these two divergent points of reference.

Can I say that my life would have been better if I hadn’t been adopted? Would I be happier or psychologically healthier today? I can’t say that with any certainty at all; who knows where that unknown path would have led. Most of the time I am able to accept, and even celebrate, my life for what it is and to see the duality of adoption as an enrichment rather than a detraction. Usually, I am thankful that I have the love of not just one but two families. But to be honest, I’m not always in that place of acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes I wish that instead of families, I simply had “a family”.

Follow Rebecca’s blog at http://rebecca-hawkes.blogspot.com/

Letter to my ‘Prince of Wales’

Hello Rob

I am glad I am able to address you by your name. It’s about all my birth-mother knew about you; that and the fact that you were a Welsh naval cadet (when I heard you were from Wales there was a fleeting moment when I wondered whether you were the Prince of Wales). She also knew your surname, of course, but wasn’t sure of the spelling. She said she couldn’t remember the name of your ship that docked in Durban‘s harbour around September 1963. It had to have been then because that’s when the two of you conceived me.

After you found out she was pregnant you left, and she never saw you again. Which suited her as she didn’t want anything from you anyway. Not even financial support, although legally she was entitled to it. But that would’ve required her to name you on my birth certificate and she refused to do that. Unfortunately, naming the father of one’s illegitimate child wasn’t a legal requirement in those days.

I wish it had been. Because then I would have been able to conduct a state-assisted search for you, officially request a DNA test and finally fill in the missing piece of my life puzzle. I know nothing stops me from initiating my own private search , but for some reason I am hesitant to do that, although I think about it often. Almost every day, in fact.

Mostly, I wonder what you look like and whether I resemble you at all. And I wonder what personality traits, if any, I have inherited from you. When I was younger I wanted to join the Navy as a diver (yes, it’s true), until I found out that women weren’t allowed on ships but only permitted to do office administration work, so I discarded the idea immediately. Today I wonder whether there is any connection between you being a naval cadet and me wanting to join the Navy. But maybe that’s just me indulging in fantasy.

I wonder other things about you too. Like whether you ever think about the child you conceived all those years ago. Do you wonder whether you have a son or a daughter and whether my mother kept me? Would you be pleased to know that you have a daughter? And would you like to meet me? Would you like what you see?

Would I like what I see were I to meet you? I cannot help but have my doubts about someone who gets a girl pregnant and then leaves as soon as he is told about it. But, like my mother, you were young then, and not ready for the responsibilities that go with raising a child, so I guess I can forgive you for that.

The question is, are you still the same today? If you had the opportunity, would you change anything? If you had stuck around for my birth and perhaps laid eyes on me even for a few seconds, would you have changed your mind about not wanting to have anything to do with me?

I like to think of you as someone who, as a young man, had an adventurous spirit (like me) which led him to visit foreign countries. One of these was South Africa, where I happened. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind more than once that you may have had a girlfriend in every port and I may be only one of numerous illegitimate children.

But, as most young and irresponsible adventurous types do, you matured with age and went on to enjoy an illustrious career in the Royal Navy. Eventually you married, had children and now live quietly as a retired naval officer somewhere in the Welsh countryside where, on occasion, you allow yourself to reminisce on the days of your youth, when you stole young women’s hearts and indulged in all sorts of mischievous deeds for which sailors are so notorious.

Today I imagine you as a witty, lovable old rascal, who still has a keen sense of fun. Someone with a limitless number of thrilling stories to tell of his days at sea in the Royal Navy, but who also harbours a little sadness and regret behind his twinkling eyes. And I like to think that the sadness is for me – the child you never knew but dearly wished you had.

This letter is also featured on the blog 100 letters to you.

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Interview on Adoption Journey Into Motherhood

Mary Beth Wells chats to Aurette about her discovery as an adult of her closed adoption, and her journey of healing.

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?

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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